Recent statistics show that fewer than 8 percent of high school athletes play a sport in college. Los Altos native Zack Walz beat those odds and even played professional football.
Now he is helping other high school athletes beat those odds.
Walz, 38, is the co-founder of Student-Athlete Showcase, a recruiting service based in Phoenix that tries to find the perfect college fit for high school athletes around the country. Walz’s motivation for creating the company stemmed from his own recruiting experience at St. Francis High in Mountain View.
The former NFL linebacker was a standout defensive player for the Lancers, who won the Central Coast Section championship his senior year (1993-94). While Walz put up solid stats, he was deemed undersized and not fast or strong enough for NCAA Division I football.
When January rolled around and Walz still had no scholarship offers, he had to come to grips with reality.
“My dad set me straight with some ‘real’ talk and I listened, and the result was some lower-level programs, but programs that not only wanted me – programs that offered me an opportunity to play early and often,” he said.
After sending out video tapes to several colleges, Walz attracted attention from Dartmouth College, which offered him a spot on the team if he could get into the school academically. Walz got in, fell in love with the school and enjoyed a stellar college career that included a spot on the All-American team.
He was drafted in the sixth round of the 1998 draft by the Arizona Cardinals, “well ahead of most of the four- and five-star recruits who signed with top colleges during my high school career.”
Looking back on his college recruiting experience, Walz was glad he ended up at Dartmouth.
“If I had gone the big-school route, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here sharing my experience, because I could only imagine how little playing time, if any, a 185-pound linebacker would get at a Pac-12 school,” he said.
After a third NFL season ending in injury, “the writing was on the wall,” according to Walz. His career was coming to an end.
Walz said he wanted to help families of recruits understand the recruiting process and felt that he could help out based on his experiences. He soon met Rex Stayner – who shared Walz’s goal – and they co-founded Student-Athlete Showcase in 2003.
“We soon discovered that we had the same intoxicating passion for helping student-athletes realize their dreams of playing in college, and we both shared the same philosophies for making that a reality,” Walz said.
Since 2003, Student-Athlete Showcase has taken off. The company’s website advertises a network of 40,000 college coaches available to recruits and boasts a 94 percent success rate for clients playing their respective sport in college.
According to Walz, the company has attracted clients internationally, with prospective athletes from Australia, Canada and South Africa, among other nations. Student-Athlete Showcase has the same goal for each athlete, “(to) find the perfect college fit in the United States,” Walz said.
He stresses the importance of finding a practical fit in a college for a student-athlete.
“Everyone wants to play at the ‘who’s who’ of college programs, but so few are actually qualified,” Walz said.
He added that it is important for recruits to be realistic about where they can play in college and to keep an open mind about colleges throughout the country. Walz advises parents and athletes to get an early start in the recruiting process.
According to Walz, having a plan and being proactive are vital to an athlete’s chances of getting recruited. College coaches have deadlines after which conversations with high school athletes are permissible, but recruits should not wait that long.
“What’s important to realize, though, is that parents and student-athletes should not wait for these dates to arrive before becoming proactive,” he said.
Although Walz works in Phoenix, he hasn’t forgotten his Los Altos roots.
“If I could raise my kids in any neighborhood, it would be (one in) Los Altos,” he said.
In April, Walz returned to the area for induction in the St. Francis Hall of Fame, an experience he called “surreal.”
He recalled playing football outside the St. Francis football field on game nights when he was an elementary school student and dreaming of one day playing for the Lancers.
He did that – and more – and has helped St. Francis athletes get recruited.
For more information on Student-Athlete Showcase, visit student-athleteshowcase.com.