A child who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, James Sackville has spent countless hours playing Australian football, a popular sport in the country that involves teams hitting the ball through goal posts to score points. Sackville was a talented athlete, but he wasn’t good enough to compete professionally, so he looked elsewhere for a competitive solution.
In 2015, Sackville began working with Prokick Australia, a program that trains Australian teens to become kickers for college football and NFL teams. That year, Prokick’s coaches posted a YouTube video of the Sackville rowboat ride, and that led to a scholarship offer from Southern Methodist University.
After four years of punting at SMU, Sackville had the opportunity last year to transition to a Southeastern Conference program. But instead, Sackville decided to give up his gaming ambitions and form a company, Athletes in Recruitment, or AIR, to help high school players connect with college coaches and fulfill a dream he have lived.
Sackville compares AIR to LinkedIn and dating apps in that it provides a networking service to reach people who are usually difficult to connect with directly. Through AIR, players create a profile and upload their height, weight, phone number, email address, cumulative grade point average, field accomplishments, stats, videos, contact details of their coaches, parents and coaches and any other information. they want to share. . Coaches who register can view any profile and contact any player.
AIR is free, but like LinkedIn and the dating apps, players can pay a fee to upgrade their accounts and gain more access to coaches. For now, only soccer players and coaches can use AIR, but the app plans to expand to other sports, including boys and girls basketball from early next year. .
Since AIR’s launch in May, 71,000 users have signed up for the app, according to the company, including 1,050 coaches from 405 colleges across all levels, from college to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level in the league. division 1. Almost all of the players are based in the US, but kids from Australia, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, Germany and other countries have joined as well.
NCAA rules prohibit coaches from directly contacting high school football players until their junior’s September.
âThere will always be athletes in the world who need more exposure forever and ever,â said Sackville. âThere will always be a burning desire for the next level. And on the coaching side, if the coaches fail to recruit the best talent they don’t win that many games and if you don’t win that many games then unfortunately you lose your job. They need as many tools as possible to be able to find the best players.
Sackville noted that AIR provides players with the first point of contact with coaches and vice versa. From there, if a coach is interested, they will contact the players and seek more information and possibly go see them play or train.
As such, AIR is primarily aimed at gamers who have gone under the college radar, whether it’s because they play for low-profile high schools, live in cities or regions where recruiters are typically not active. and do not have the financial resources to travel. at camps and showcase events or integrated links with varsity coaches. And while coaches from major Division 1 college programs have signed up for the app, coaches at smaller colleges can benefit even more as they don’t have the budgets to see players compete across the country or visit their homes, especially if they live far away.
âWe’re not making any promises that a student-athlete will be able to get a scholarship (through AIR),â Sackville said. âAt the end of the day, someone on the other side of the phone or the screen, who in this case is the college coach, has to love the player in return. It’s as if a user of a dating app sweeps directly over 1000 people and gets no matches, that’s not the problem with the dating app’s algorithm. The market is the market.
Still, Brandon Taylor, a former Houston Baptist University wide receiver, sees AIR as a more level playing field for young athletes than more traditional recruiting avenues. Taylor, a 2018 Houston Baptist graduate, now leads the Evolve Sisu training program in Nashville, Tenn., For athletes from elementary school students to professionals, working with them on their speed, agility, strength, and specific skills in the sport.
Taylor recently signed up with AIR to promote some of the players he works with, and he encourages kids to do the same. He has seen some players or their parents pay hundreds of dollars for bogus recruiting services that promise access to college coaches, only to see that money wasted on bogus claims about scholarships or exposure. But with AIR, the app is free and players and coaches must authenticate. In addition, no one promises scholarships or visions of greatness.
âI wish I had had something like this when I was in high school,â Taylor said. âA lot of people, including parents, are pressuring the high school to recruit their children. But it’s not necessarily the high school’s job to do that. And then you have people here making deals and links with these colleges. It also puts a damper on the business. I feel like the AIR app eliminates these two. You can take advantage of your own recruiting.
Addison Nichols, an offensive lineman and top rookie who will enroll at the University of Tennessee next month, is also an AIR supporter although the app wouldn’t have helped. After all, Nichols was a four-year newbie at the Greater Atlanta Christian School, a powerful Atlanta program well known to college recruiters. Nichols received his first scholarship offer from Vanderbilt University when he was a freshman, and then received dozens of other offers, including from Georgia, Ohio State, and USC.
Still, Nichols knows other players who haven’t had the same exposure as him.
âI saw the difficulty in recruiting, especially when you are not in the spotlight and you are not on social media all the time,â he said. â(AIR) is perfect for getting you in the game. It gives you your first few contacts with the coaches and then once you connect with those coaches and talk to them, it can lead to better things.
Nichols had contacted Sackville a few months ago when he first heard about AIR through social media, which is the company’s preferred marketing method. In fact, AIR has made deals with current and former college athletes who have high following on TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms. These players are paid to promote AIR and can share the revenue if players sign up and end up paying for the upgraded service.
One of AIR’s most successful partnerships is with Jon Seaton, an offensive lineman at Elon University, a Division 1 championship football school in North Carolina. Seaton isn’t a big name in the sport for his playing on the field, having only played three games this season and was an overlooked player at Hillsborough High School in New Jersey. And yet, Seaton has amassed 34,700 followers on Instagram and 1.6 million followers on TikTok, where his videos about football and his life have garnered a devoted following. Seaton has promoted AIR on several occasions via social media.
â(Seaton) is not a conventional superstar on the pitch,â Sackville said. “He’s a walk-in offensive lineman in an FCS program.”
But, added Sackville, âAIR is the perfect platform for someone like Jon who is under-recruited and willing to work to find their way. This is the perfect example of someone who can relate, who is a current student-athlete and who has the attention of our consumers, who are high school athletes.
AIR recently closed a seed funding round for more than $ 1 million from undisclosed investors, according to Sackville. The company also plans to start fundraising early next year for a $ 10 million Series A round, with most of the proceeds going to branch out into sports other than soccer and basketball. ball. In fact, Sackville envisions a future where AIR is accessible to any athlete for any sport. He wants the company to expand its revenue base to include advertising and events as well as upgrades to the free app service.
SJ Tuohy, director of football operations at the University of Central Florida, said that for now, UCF and other colleges are using AIR as a small part of their recruiting operations. For the most part, college programs still find players using the traditional method of attending games and camps and developing relationships with high school coaches and coaches. It won’t go away in the future either. Nevertheless, AIR can serve as a complement and a means to make it easier for players and coaches to establish this initial connection.
âI think the advantage is huge,â said Tuohy. “If it works now, when you have more coaches and sports, I think it might explode.”
He added, âAt the end of the day, if you’re a coach, you’re going to fish where the fish are. We are an adaptable group. The more children going up (AIR), the coaches are going to have to start taking note. “