SANFORD, Fla. — Before Haley Berg was done with middle school, she had the numbers for 16
college soccer coaches programmed into the iPhone she protected with a Justin Bieber case.
She was all of 14, but Hales, as her friends call her, was already weighing offers to attend the
University of Colorado, Texas A&M and the University of Texas, free of charge.
Haley is not a once-in-a-generation talent like LeBron James. She just happens to be a very good
soccer player, and that is now valuable enough to set off a frenzy among college coaches, even when —
or especially when — the athlete in question has not attended a day of high school. For Haley, the
process ended last summer, a few weeks before ninth grade began, when she called the coach at Texas
to accept her offer of a scholarship four years later.
“When I started in seventh grade, I didn’t think they would talk to me that early,” Haley, now 15,
said after a tournament late last month in Central Florida, where Texas coaches showed up to watch
her juke past defenders, blond ponytail bouncing behind.
“Even the coaches told me, ‘Wow, we’re recruiting an eighth grader,’ ” she said.
In today’s sports world, students are offered full scholarships before they have taken their first
College Boards, or even the Preliminary SAT exams. Coaches at colleges large and small flock to watch
13- and 14-year-old girls who they hope will fill out their future rosters. This is happening despite
N.C.A.A. rules that appear to explicitly prohibit it.