In 2016-17, the National Federation of State High School Sports counted 1,039,079 high school football players nationwide. That put football just ahead of basketball and just behind track and field among the most popular high school sports. It’s still by far the most popular sport for boys, by 400,000 over track and field.
College football has lots of players, too. In the 2017-18 academic year, the NCAA counted 40,733 players between FBS, FCS, Division II, and Division III. Football had more than twice as many athletes as any other sport.
But because of the quantity in high school, the odds of playing varsity college football are tiny. The NCAA counts the overall percentage of high school players who will play in college at 6.9 percent — and the probability of playing in Division I at 2.7 percent. The chances of a college football player then reaching the NFL are 1.6 percent, it says. Only about 3.9 percent of draft-eligible Division I players get picked, the NCAA estimates.
The long odds start when players are recruits.
The NCAA said in 2013 there were 310,000-some seniors playing football. Here’s how long their odds are to reach various recruiting ratings, using class of 2018 data from Rivals, if we settle on 300,000 football-playing seniors as a fair estimate.
- 30 five-stars, or 0.01 percent of the class
- 380 four-stars, or 0.13 percent of the class
- 1,328 three-stars, or 0.44 percent of the class
- 1,859 two-stars, or 0.62 percent of the class
- 296,403 unrated, or 98.88 percent of the class
Players rated three-stars and up, who make up almost all of Power 5 recruiting classes, are roughly 0.6 percent of seniors playing high school football. No matter what the exact number of senior high school players nationwide is, not more than one in 100 gets any kind of star rating. Most who play in college are unrated recruits filling out lower-division rosters.
Let’s look at it in graphical form.
So it’s really hard to even get on a coach’s radar.
It can be easier if you live in the right place. Some of the most populated states, like Texas and California and Florida, are teeming with college recruiters and with talent evaluators who set star ratings. That’s part of why those states consistently lead the country in four- and five-star recruits.
On another hand, there are a few states that have never had a blue-chip-rated player come from their borders. It’s true that there’s less top-end high school football in those places, but recruiting is an inexact science.
One thing’s true, though: if an athlete’s good enough to even be a two-star recruit with Division I interest, that’s an achievement.