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  • Writer's pictureLTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

Becoming a U.S. Service Academy Collegiate Athlete

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Athletic recruitment is a bit different with USAFA, USMA, USNA, USCGA and USMMA

Would you like to play baseball for the U.S. Air Force Academy? Perhaps play lacrosse for the U.S. Naval Academy? What about being on West Point's rifle team or fencing team? All are possible, but unlike many other colleges and universities, athletes at the U.S. service academies must go through the same extensive admissions process that all other candidates for these schools must complete. The entire process, including a nomination, interviews, essays, fitness testing, medical evaluation, and all other components, must be completed by every candidate. Some athletes, however, will receive some added advantages because they are 'recruited' to play a sport.

There are three 'types' of collegiate sports participants at the service academies: recruited 'blue-chip' athletes, high skill-level athletes and walk-on athletes. I'll discuss each athlete's journey in the next few paragraphs.

Recruited athletes have a great advantage in the admissions process. I use the term "recruited" deliberately as many athletes incorrectly believe they are recruited athletes simply because they have had a conversation or two with a coach. Coaches regularly "recruit" candidates who may have the potential to make the team, but are not considered recruited athletes by the Admissions Office. A candidate is only considered a recruited athlete by Admissions if a coach uses one of a limited number of recruited athlete designations for that candidate. Informally, these athletes are referred to as a "blue chip" recruit, but the formal term is typically a "recruited athlete."

A recruited athlete must still meet all minimum qualifications, obtain a nomination, and compete for an appointment with all other candidates. The advantage lies in the fact that a qualified recruited athlete, who does not win a Congressional or qualified alternate appointment, will very likely be appointed as an additional appointee which may be selected out of the order of merit. Also, a recruited athlete who is found academically unqualified has a good shot at being selected to attend one of the Prep Schools (AFAPS, MAPS or NAPS). The number of recruited athletes vary considerably by sport. Major sports, such as football and hockey, will have many more than other sports.

Typically, a recruited athlete will receive a Letter of Assurance (LOA) in the fall of their senior year. There are some exception, especially for minor sports. Coaches possess some limited ability to give nominations outside the normal process by using a Superintendent's nomination. A recruited athlete that earns a Congressional nomination helps a sport coach manage the resources that he or she has to use to bring in an athlete. Winning your slate as the appointee from your Congressional district or state through one of your Senators is a bonus!

As a high-skill level athlete, you will likely speak to the coaches and may even be considered for one of the 'blue chip' recruitment slots. You will not receive an LOA as a high-skill level athlete. However, your coach will add points to your Whole Person Score, which may very well allow you to win your appointment as the top nominee in your slate.

Finally, a walk-on athlete, can be anyone who wins an appointment. All cadets and midshipmen are on full scholarship so coaches are very open to adding members to their teams. Unlike other schools, there is no additional costs for 'walk-on' athletes joining the team. NCAA rules likely limit the size of teams that dress for games and travel, but your ability to practice and to improve your skills with a team is almost unlimited.

My advice to any athlete is to compete as a strong candidate. Then, allow the school to 'discover' your athletic talents and your ability to make a impact on one of the teams at the academy. Clearly, your participation and performance at the high school level and with club teams my also allow the service academy coaches to 'see' you when you compete. Your current coach may have some good ideas around this part of the recruitment process.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Go to each academy athletic site to complete an information sheet on your interest and your capabilities in your sport. You can find the forms on each of the following websites:

  • Participate in a summer sports camp at one or several of the service academies. Use the same websites noted above to find out availability, timing and pricing. Please note that the USMMA does not host any summer sports camps.

Summer sports camps are offered through the athletic departments. One feature is that attendees will meet and work with the team coaches and assistants along with academy athletes. The camps provide an ideal opportunity for coaches to observe your skills. For a few strong athletes, your performance may generate enough interest to be 'recruited' by the school.

By the way, camps are available for all ages and a multitude of sports. An attendee does not need to be a superior athlete, but should simply have a desire to improve their skills. The camps allow attendees to stay in the dorms, meet students and staff and see the different facilities at the school. For anyone, the camps provide an ideal way to visit any of the service academies.

Playing a collegiate sport at one of the U.S. service academies can be rewarding. If you desire to play on one of these teams, then you should initiate plans to apply to the school in your Junior year of high school. Use the academy sports websites to complete forms of interest, and perhaps, attend a summer sports camp. Focus on competing inside and outside the sports arena, and you will likely reach your goal of becoming a collegiate athlete at one of the U.S. service academies.

[I would welcome a chance to discuss details with you. I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process . . . including the unique aspects of being a recruited athlete! Contact me at chris@cbbrechin.com, 503.515.7406 or complete my contact form on the home page.]


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