COVID-19 implications on track and field recruiting: Aneel Gillan’s journey to Illinois State University
Streamline Athletes hopes to highlight collegiate track and field recruitment stories and experiences of all kinds to provide soon-to-be high school graduates with more insight into the recruitment process and tips as to how they can start and progress with their own journey.
As we often talk about here at Streamline Athletes, every student-athlete leaving high school has his or her own unique recruiting journey. Each makes their decision about where to pursue sport and education on their own and each has their own set of priorities and goals that make the process unique.
And with the impacts of COVID-19, recruiting has only become more personal and complicated.
Aneel Gillan is a freshman decathlete at Illinois State University whose recruiting journey was as unique as they come. And boy, does it ever highlight today’s climate.
We wanted to share Aneel’s story because it shows not only how student-athletes like him can still find their college or university during these times of adversity, but also because it shows how coaches and their recruiting staffs at the collegiate level can be flexible, accommodating, and tenacious despite the implications of COVID-19.
Aneel is a decathlete from White Rock, British Columbia, Canada, where he trains and competes with Ocean Athletics Track and Field Club. He began in the multi-events in the 9th grade and rapidly found success in the decathlon through his high school years, highlighted by his national pentathlon victory at the 2019 Canadian Indoor Track and Field Championships and multi-event success at the BC High School Track and Field Championships. In his 10th-grade season (2018), Aneel won the octathlon and the following year, became the decathlon champion as a grade 11.
Unfortunately, due to the cancellation of this year’s provincial championship, Aneel did not have the chance to defend his title in 2020 or to improve upon his PRs from last year. Below are Aneel’s best marks in the dec, pent, and each of the decathlon events set before his senior year of high school that allowed him to become an NCAA Division I track and field student-athlete:
Decathlon total score — 6042
Pentathlon total score — 3225
- 100m — 11.66
- Long jump — 6.17m
- Shot put — 14.93m
- High jump — 1.71m
- 400m — 51.89
- 110mH — 14.93
- Discus throw — 34.66m
- Pole vault — 3.65m
- Javelin — 38.08m
- 1500m — 4:45
A natural talent across a multitude of events and a disciplined approach towards his training not only helped Aneel find success at the provincial and national levels but opened up recruiting opportunities at the NCAA Division I level in as early as grade 9. Since then, D-I has always been his focus, but the route there has not been easy.
Aneel describes his recruiting journey as a “rollercoaster of emotions” composed of multiple unofficial and official recruiting visits and quickly changing plans due to COVID-19.
Highlighting his keen and proactive nature, Aneel’s efforts to contact collegiate coaches with the intention of being recruited began at the end of his grade 9 year. It wasn’t until a year later that he received his first response.
In September of grade 11, Aneel took his first unofficial visit to the school he now calls home — Illinois State. Aneel’s sister plays for the ISU women’s soccer team, so it was an easy unofficial visit to take early on.
The following year, Aneel was fortunate enough to go on five (the maximum permitted) official visits. Between September 2019 and March 2020, Aneel visited:
- The University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Eastern Washington University
- Illinois State University
- Purdue University
- California State University, Long Beach
When it comes to taking visits, Aneel offers his advice for high schoolers going through their own recruiting processes: “Be a sponge, absorb information, ask as many questions as you can. Do not make a decision while you’re on a visit. Lay it out at home on paper or a whiteboard, go through it with your parents, compare options.” He adds, “Buildings are buildings, gear is gear, but people are what matters. You can train in a $100 million facility in the newest Nike gear, but without the right people — your team and your coaches — it doesn’t matter.”
He also suggests focusing on three areas and collecting all the info you can on those. For Aneel, those three areas were:
- The coaching staff — How do the coaches interact with their athletes? How are they as people away from the track?
- Support — How is the program supporting you off the track in terms of academics? Is tutoring provided? (At the time of writing this, Aneel has been at ISU for just over a month and is already taking advantage of the career support provided at ISU.)
- Team mentality — Who are your potential teammates for the next four or five years? On his visits, Aneel looked for teammates who he could tell would want him to succeed. For example, he liked to meet student-athletes who would hype up their teammates and talk about the progress and success of others.
After several visits to a handful of impressive Division I schools, Aneel weighed his options, talked it over with his parents, and ultimately came to a decision, committing to Cal State, Long Beach. His decision to head to Long Beach was based on the coaching staff he’d have the opportunity to train with there, the sunny west coast climate, and the big city vibe.
Aneel was thrilled about his commitment, but things changed quickly. COVID-19 spread and had significant impacts on LA county, which in turn, would prevent many incoming international student-athletes from relocating to Long Beach. Alert and dynamic, Aneel began to reach out to other schools where COVID-19 was less prevalent and where restrictions on academic attendance, training, and international students were a little looser. He contacted some Canadian universities, but also re-engaged with Illinois State to express that, despite the fact that it was August and the semester was weeks away from starting, he was still interested in the opportunity to study, train, and compete there.
Since Aneel had been diligent, polite, respectful, and communicative in his initial interactions with ISU, the door was still open. Aneel offered some advice with regards to declining college track and field offers: “Do what you can to keep relationships healthy and positive — even if you’re not committing to a school. You never know what can happen down the line — especially in the track and field community.”
In less than a week, Aneel made the switch from Long Beach to ISU. Here’s what that hectic week looked like:
- He called the coach at ISU to express interest in committing and joining the team as soon as possible.
- Admissions and residence needed to be taken care of. Aneel was assured he could get into the classes he needed to pursue a degree in computer science and secured housing for the semester.
- Next, Aneel gained admission into the university and officially signed with the Redbirds.
- Aneel made a phone call — not a text or an email — to Long Beach to inform them about what was going on, ensuring they had a mutual understanding about why Aneel needed to make the decisions he did.
- Finally, Aneel booked his flight and arrived in Normal, Illinois, where he entered quarantine housing for a mandated 14 days.
Ultimately, Aneel chose ISU for its coaching staff, team mentality, and its support for student-athletes off the track. Reflecting on ISU’s last-minute accommodation and his entire recruiting journey over the past couple of years, Aneel says, “The coaches who are willing to be flexible for you are the ones who really care.”
“Focus on where you’ll be successful. Don’t choose the school because it’s sexy or because it looks good to your friends.”
Obviously, Aneel’s pathway to collegiate track and field is unlike most. But, it does highlight that with the right commitment, despite the implications of COVID-19, athletes can still find their home. And for coaches at the college level, it emphasizes the fact that being flexible with prospective student-athletes can go a long way — even if it requires some juggling to get an athlete into your program at the last possible minute.
On the topic of COVID-19, Aneel expresses some advice for athletes: “Be flexible and be ready — physically and mentally. Whoever comes out of COVID-19 the most prepared will find the most success on the track and in terms of collegiate opportunities.”
Want more information on how COVID-19 affects track and field recruitment click below 👇
Aneel is an incredible athlete on the track, he’s a determined student pursuing a degree in computer science, and it was a pleasure to have him with us on staff at Streamline Athletes as a summer intern the past few months. We wish him all the best in the classroom and in sport during his time at ISU and beyond!
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