1. Your kid might be an elite prospect before you know it
Sometimes, you know well in advance.
"That moment for us came early, I'd say his sophomore year," said Adam Hansford, father of top-25 outside linebacker Aaron Hansford, who is considering a number of schools, including Ohio State and Penn State. "(Aaron's) greatest asset is his size and speed. We had a sense that as long as he was surrounded by the right people, he would emerge as one of the top in the country."
Other times, a kid is a top recruit before his parents realize it, as was the case with Brandon Wimbush, a New Jersey QB who signed with Notre Dame in 2015.
'I said, "I'm like, a little bit, what is going on with this recruitment and these eighth graders? They are no better than my son."'
(The response from her son's high school coach) completely shocked her.
'He goes, "Well, Brandon has five offers." I was like, "What???"'
'He didn't even have any varsity film,' she continues. 'I was kind of in shock. I was expecting him to say, "Well, Heather, he only played freshman and blah blah blah." I'm telling you, I was clueless.'
2. You're gonna spend a lot of money on food
Samayra Smith, the godmother of 360-pound four-star Kendell Jones, is happy to discuss the financial relief she'll have when the Texas defensive lineman heads to Alabama.
"$700 a month," Smith said, when asked about how much the family will save on its grocery bill per month.
"When he was a baby, he would always cry and was too hungry to feed with a regular bottle, so you had to use a two-liter bottle to feed him."
Kendell Jones, Student Sports
3. Understand recruiting is a business
"It's a sales game and a business," says Murray Starkel, father of Nick Starkel, a QB from Argyle (Texas) Liberty Christian committed to Oklahoma State. "(Coaches are) there to put the best athlete they can in the best position, based on what their team needs. There's no shortage of data that you can look at, and you can go and talk to people in and around the program and find out as much as possible.
"And realize that when a coach tells you, "Your son is my No. 1 recruit, and if he comes here, I'm going to build the program around him," you realize there may be a bit of truth there. But (that coach) may not be there (in the future), and also he's not the only kid he's talking to."
Schools who aren't ready to offer a prospect will say almost anything, as current QB recruit David Moore found out.
"They said they want to come to a spring practice and see how I command an offense in person," Moore says.
The hangup is largely geography. Moore says A&M told him it prefers in-state quarterbacks because QBs have to be recruiters, and it's easier to do that if they're nearby.
It's also a business for the apparel companies that pump millions of dollars into recruiting camps, hoping to indoctrinate a top prospect into the brand, knowing he has a better shot than most of ending up in the NFL.
"The most surprising thing for us has been that, in our nation, (prep) sports is a huge industry," Hansford said.
4. Keep the focus on academics
"There's this moment where it just became too much," said Wimbush. "All the coaches were just hammering away ... and I think he just got overwhelmed. And Brandon, being that he's not a talker, he wouldn't want to be rude to any of these coaches, but he got literally sick of talking to people."
It's not just practices and games. Recruiters will attempt to contact your child at all hours of the day -- in school, late at night, during dinner -- if you don't set ground rules.
"Stay focused on his academics at school," Hansford said. "Coaches are reaching out to these kids on Twitter, Facebook, social media, and it can be overwhelming. It's nice to be needed and wanted and there's a lot of pageantry in that, but first thing's first, focus on your schoolwork."
"He shuts the phone down on school nights at 11," Starkel added. "No more calls. Stay off the social media."
Aaron Hansford, Student Sports
5. But social media matters
"Social media is a part of every young person's life, but how they use it is important," Starkel said. "Be very careful about what you say on social media. We'd actually talked to a couple kids that lost offers based on what they said on social media."
"If you have a social media nickname or something on your Twitter account that makes me sick, I'm not going to recruit you," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said at SEC Media Days, with other coaches having said the same. "I've turned down players based on their Twitter handles."
"We wanted to be very careful on how we spoke to the media," Starkel said, noting coaches will use a recruit's Twitter to gauge his interest. "Just because we didn't want to give the wrong impression."
While that should be common sense, there are ways to use social media to a recruit's advantage.
Prospects will often tweet about which coaches they've spoken with and where they are visiting. Smart recruits will keep tabs on who else a school is recruiting. Keeping that information digestible is important.
"You really get information overload. You have to find a way to organize it," said Starkel. "Otherwise, you lose track. Nick had six offers. I can't imagine having 30 and trying to keep track of when you talked to coaches."
6. What does a recruit's parent worry about?
"What I don't worry about is him going out and assimilating into a program," Starkel said. "I don't worry about him getting homesick or anything like that (Nick Starkel is a military brat). I think he'll adapt very quickly. The only thing I worry about is him packing weight onto his frame, but with nutrition and fitness programs I think he should be okay."
Concussions are another worry.
"I think about it a lot, especially at the quarterback position," Starkel said. "I look a lot at the lineman, and look at the skill set, especially at left tackle. I want a beast, 6'8, 300 pounds with great hips and feet. If I can see a tackle out there doing a 360 dunk, that's who I want protecting my son."
"I don't think Nick thinks about it as much. His first big hit is going to be interesting, since he broke his arm last year. I've thought about doing a (baseline concussion test) to see (where he's at before the season starts)."
7. This is a major investment
Parents are in favor of an early signing period that would allow for official visits in the spring of a prospect's junior year, rather than waiting until senior year.
"That would be huge," Starkel said. "It would help get a much better feel for the program and take away some of the uncertainty. If you're able to sign early, that would've been a game changer for us."
"Moving to the fall season at the start of their senior year, they're not going to get a break until probably November," Hansford said. "They're not going to have an opportunity to do official visits if you have a game on Friday and then school again on Monday.
"You don't know if a (college) is on a semester or quarter system, you want to fit in a weekend where they have a home game and see what campus is like, what college life is like and see how they would fit in. There's a lot of planning that goes into it in the fall, and then a short window to make a decision. So yeah, it would help to have more flexibility."
Being able to better use official visits, which are paid for by the school, could defray costs.
"$30-to-$40,000, maybe, over the past three years, probably," Starkel said when asked how much camps, combines, coaching and campus visits totaled.
And even when you're at home, you're still investing time in your kid's recruitment.
When (Wimbush's mother talked) to Melissa Fitzpatrick (mother of Minkah Fitzpatrick, a five-star cornerback who signed with Alabama), she realized just how much she had to learn.
'She was like, "Brandon needs to go here, and here and here,"' referring to offseason camps and showcases.
Melissa had been posting Minkah's highlights on YouTube since eighth grade. Minkah loved the offseason stuff, and already had a full slate of events planned for that summer after freshman year. He and his parents already understood the process.
Nick Starkel, Student Sports
8. Be flexible
Understand that coaches change jobs. The situation you commit to in June can be much different come December.
"We know things are going to change before National Signing Day," Starkel said, referring to the national coaching carousel and end of the recruiting cycle.
"(Nick is) going to have additional interest from other schools, and things could change at the school he's committed to. There's so many things that you have no control over. Nick and I spend a lot of time talking about that, the bucket of things you have control over and the bucket of things you can't control. You can talk to coaches, you can accept an invitation for a phone call, you can do your research. But you also can't control where coaches are going.
"Good advice for a parent of a child being recruited to the highest level of athletics is just do your research. Their choice may not be your choice, but you have to trust them."