Recruiting – The Path to Future Glory?

The Christmas season is an interesting time for Division 1(BCS) college football fans. Half of them have put their foam fingers and unmentionable headwear away while the other half are busy planning a trip to somewhere warm for the bowl game awarded to their heroes for a successful season. The fans who can’t make the trip are happily planning where and with whom they will watch the game.

For both the haves and the have-nots these few weeks are also when recruiting season heats up for a final sprint to the finish line. On signing day, most recruits will sign college letter-of-intents committing them to specific universities in return for full-ride scholarships – free educations. (We’ll talk at another time about whether the education is really free.) With signing day approaching in the first week of February, college football coaches are focusing on which prized recruits they can lure in to improve their program. Fans are daydreaming what it would be like if their beloved team could bag a roster full of future all-Americans.

How will those fans know if they should be happy – or call for the coach’s head? There are “ratings services” that go out and rate the players. Any player being viewed as a possible recruit will be rated by the services through watching live games and visiting the athlete and / or videotape.

These ratings are what will inflate or puncture fans’ dreams. How seriously should they be taken? Not very – but tell that to a rabid Notre Dame fan who is desperate to see his team turn around.  ND’s recruiting classes continue to be top-notch, but their results lately have been little better than dismal.

Ratings are evaluations of the abilities and skills of an individual high school athlete. If a kid can run 40 yards in 4.2 seconds and can catch the ball at all, he’ll be a 5-star wide receiver. This tells you nothing about whether he will apply himself, or if he has the intelligence or determination to make something of those abilities. The best example I can think of that will show the difference between evaluating physical abilities and evaluating the mental drive and determination, is when the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted a catcher (whose name escapes me right now) in something like round 52, mainly because he was Tommy Lasorda’s god-son. Think the other 30 teams don’t wish they had drafted him in round 51?

Well, the other side of all this is the coaching a recruit will receive once he begins college. Any coach can get the best of some players, and the better coach, the bigger percentage of players he will get the best out of. Evem Dpm Shula had to cut players cebause they didn’t work out for him. (Was it Bum Phillips who said Don Shula “could take his’n and beat your’n or take your’n and beat his’n” better than any other coach in the NFL.?) It is up to the coach who recruits a player to look that player in the eye and decide whether he will make a credible contribution to the team. A 5-star recruit will always get a scholarship, but if he’s a dope or a flake (or on dope or on flake), it will probably be at UNLV instead of USC.

If a team signs a group of 4-star and 5-star players, their fans have good reason to be excited for the future of their team. (Remember it takes usually two to three years for a player to grow and mature into an impact player. However, you never know which of those “future all-Americans” will pan out – if any. So I guess the point is that an individual rating is not particularly meaningful, but a average of 3 stars or better will tell you that the coach is starting with a pretty good batch of basic talent.  Can he coach them to glory?

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