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The long road through the recruiting process
By Ericka Wilk | Special to the Daily Herald
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Published: 2/5/2010 12:53 AM

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"Every so often, we come across a diamond in the rough that develops into something great. I think you are that diamond," a college cross country and track coach said to me on a recruiting visit last month.

My intention at the beginning of the recruiting process was to be a walk-on athlete at a Division I university. I was hoping to find a coach who was willing to give me a chance. God opened doors for me, which has given me the opportunity to sign a National Letter of Intent and receive scholarship money at a top-20 program.

I am a 5-foot-6 brunette chasing after my dreams and hoping to make a difference with a size 7.5 running shoe. I have an incredible mother, who has supported me and taught me how to believe, many friends who keep me in line, and teammates who have pushed me further and further everyday. Above all, I know a God of Love that directs my paths and I will continue to run after Him.

Following graduation from Wheaton Academy this spring, I will be continuing my running career at Baylor University and am looking forward to the next stage of my life.

In December, a month before I verbally committed, there were only four schools being considered of the 20 or so I eventually came into contact with. When reflecting upon this journey and its extensiveness, my indecisiveness is hopefully understandable. "Indecisiveness" is probably the wrong word; I like to think of it as being thorough and intentional.

"Some coaches will be more responsive than others. Don't let unanswered e-mails discourage you," was how my recruiting journey began. My cousin is the author of this quote. I cannot thank her enough, because without her encouragement last Thanksgiving, my life would not be as enriched as it is today.

She helped me compose the first e-mail I sent to a college coach. It had all of the necessary information and mentioned both my athletic (18:18 for 3 miles, 11:15 for the 3,200 meters) and academic achievements at Wheaton Academy. I started by e-mailing coaches and various others eventually started to e-mail and call me.

My first recruiting visits took place during spring break of junior year. I started at Baylor and then moved on to the University of Texas and then Louisiana State University. We knocked out all three unofficial visits within the one week.

When I look back on it, I shake my head because those three schools are among the nation's top running programs. I had no idea what I was doing. I remember driving to meet with coach Todd Harbour at Baylor and my dad turned to me and said, "Ericka, you know they're, like, really good?"

I blurted out, "What?! Are you kidding me? Let's turn around now because I don't want to embarrass myself."

As we were pulling up to meet Harbour, I was sweating bullets and my mind was racing. Despite all the anxiety, the visit went surprisingly well.

At LSU I remember watching the sprinters work on their relay handoffs during practice and being blown away by how fast they could run. Coach Dennis Shaver then called me over to where some other people were practicing. He introduced me to Kelly Baptiste and Richard Thompson, who was second to Usain Bolt in the Beijing Olympics. Meeting and talking with them was my "this is for real" moment.

I visited other schools and spoke with other coaches since those 3-in-1 spring break festivities. I went on a few official athletic visits, which are a unique experience.

Usually official visits are paid completely by the athletic department: food, lodging, everything. When I was at the University of Kansas, my mom and I were able to see a men's basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse, which was an unforgettable experience, so awesome! Also, official visits are cool because I was able to spend time with the team - when the coach is not there - which allowed me to see what the team was really like. Some hosts I naturally clicked with more than others, which will obviously be different for everyone.

Another thing I found interesting was the difference between BCS bowl-type schools and non-BCS schools. Obviously, BCS schools have a lot more financial resources to use on their athletes. Their facilities are always state-of-the-art and their student-athlete services are unbelievable. At every Division-I university, athletes are required to complete eight tutoring/study hall hours a week. At BCS schools the eight hours are completed one-on-one with a tutor, whereas at a mid-major university, the hours are completed in study hall-like fashion - a library with one facilitator. As someone with a learning disability, this played a part in my decision.

After the visits last spring, I compared every coach to Harbour and every school I compared to Baylor - except there was no comparison.

Austin Bussing, a distance runner at KU, said to me: "The whole recruiting thing is about finding a coach you believe in."

I believe in coach Harbour, so I went back to Baylor in January, just to reassure myself of the decision I already made in my heart. I was able to spend time with him again and hang out with the team. I loved the other runners; they reminded me a lot of my friends here. The fact the coaches and many people on the team are Believers was another huge selling point.

In a nutshell it felt like home. Baylor was my first and last visit in the recruiting journey; there is no such thing as coincidence. I called coach Harbour seven days later, let him know I wanted to be a Baylor Bear, verbally committed, and the rest is history.

Going through this process has been such a blessing, as my junior and senior seasons did not go as planned due to injuries and broken promises. The quote mentioned at the beginning is from coach Harbour. He reassured me that I am still able to compete at a college-elite level. I am excited to reach my running potential and see how good I can possibly become.

I am the diamond in the rough. I am ready. My running career has been a testament to God's faithfulness, so be fearless. Everything is going to work out!

I am convinced every student-athlete will find their niche and end up in the best place possible. We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them, so be happy.

C.S. Lewis summarizes my thoughts about next year in his book, Mere Christianity: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

Wheaton Academy senior Ericka Wilk recently completed an internship with the Daily Herald. On Wednesday she signed a National Letter of Intent to run cross country and track at Baylor University.