Congrats to recruits, never mind the stars

My annual disclaimer on National Signing Day….

Long-time readers know of my general distaste for recruiting rankings and the monstrous hype of the process leading up to national signing day.

Commitments are celebrated like winning lottery tickets, and commitments, after all, are only promises, and promises are broken all the time. That is especially true of 17- and 18-year-olds. Commitments seem to me to often be like going steady. Teenagers go steady and then break up — again, all the time.

Much of my contempt for the various ratings services has been based on the fact that many of Mississippi’s most successful football players have been lightly recruited if recruited at all. Among those: Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre and Archie Manning. Right there we have the NFL’s all-time leading passer, receiver, touchdown scorer and second leading rusher.

All that said, much has changed in the last decade or so. The inexact science of recruiting has become more exact. This is true because of summer camps and combines where college coaches can measure, time and watch the prospects up close and personal.

Brett Favre’s strong right arm, hidden in his father’s wing-T offense, would no longer be hidden. Neither would Walter Payton’s speed and strength. Rice on the other hand, grew three or four inches and got faster — after high school. It happens.

Still, there are fewer and fewer of what have been known as “diamonds in the rough.”

That is not to say they do not still exist. The two leading candidates for last year”s C Spire Conerly Trophy — Gabe Jackson (the best guard in the country) and Bo Wallace — were not blue-chip recruits. Jackson, who will make millions, was rated the 28th best player in Mississippi his senior year of high school. He had one SEC scholarship offer. He won last year’s Conerly. Wallace, a two-star recruit who originally signed with Arkansas State before taking the junior college route, won it in 2012.

You cannot measure how an 18-year-old will mature or how hard he will work. Former USM coach, Hall of Famer Jeff Bower, was talking the other day about Chris Clark, who started at left tackle in Sunday’s Super Bowl. “He was an undersized player in inner city New Orleans who had two offers, us and Louisiana-Lafayette,” Bower said. “Seems like nearly all our best players over the years were those unheralded players who had to work so hard for everything they got.”

Austin Davis, winner of the 2011 Conerly Trophy and now a back-up quarterback in the NFL, was a walk-on football player who signed a baseball scholarship. Johnthan Banks, the 2012 Thorpe Award winner, ended his high school career as the 23rd ranked player in the state (Rivals) and ended his college career as the best defensive back in the country.

We shall see, which is what we should always say about recruiting and recruiting classes. We shall see.

Congratulations to all those who sign scholarships today, no matter how many “stars” you had. Remember, in the end, the stars don’t mean anything other than something for fans to talk about. What happens over the next four or five years will determine your real star quality.

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2 thoughts on “Congrats to recruits, never mind the stars”

  1. One of the things that gets obscured by recruiting and hype is the pure joy of high school football played well. Watching teams that are well-coached and well-prepared take the field and do their thing as a unit is a wonder, and seeing future top-level talent rise among them is special indeed.
    I don’t know how you’d logically compare Dicenzo Miller, from Weir, Miss., to Buster Kuhn from Coldwater, Okla., for the purposes of recruiting and I’m glad I didn’t have to, but I do know what it was like to stand on the sideline of a dimly-lit field in Durant one rainy night years ago for a 2A North Half game. I know that each time Miller took a handoff it felt like an electrical charge went through the atmosphere and the other 21 players on the field seemed to go into slow motion.
    I remember watching Vincent Brownlee and later Rufus French play for Amory, speed, power and sure hands in motion. I remember an Amory defensive line from the early 90s that, I’m confident, could have stymied many a college offense. Watching Deshea Townsend and Dwayne Rudd on the same defense for South Panola almost defies description. I remember the precision in the talent Romaro Miller displayed passing the ball for Shannon behind an offensive line that included Shane Grice, throwing to a four-wide corps of receivers who just caught and caught and caught their way to the school’s first football title. From Tim Bowens at Okolona to Dwyane Chandler at Aberdeen to the countless known names to come, there’s a quality of unsullied innocence their raw talents enjoy at this most amateur of levels that the whole recruiting process seems to permanently erase. Maybe it’s just part of growing up. Most college students don’t meet the real world until they leave but football players are in it from the minute they arrive. Seeing them while they’re still in high school shares a part of life they’ll never have again.
    One Friday night a long time ago, my dad, who didn’t go to high school games, took me to Shannon to see a receiver named Louis Clark play. I was a little guy then and I’m sure I didn’t know most of the rules, but it didn’t take much of an eye to notice how Clark moved when the ball was in the air, how he cut, accelerated and jumped with a floating grace, how he steered into the clear with a gliding ease and sailed away like a fast clipper ship bound for glory. I’ve been hooked ever since.
    Like youth itself, football’s magic lasts briefly for its players. Even for its anointed the time passes quickly. Whether for a game or a season or an era it’s all over soon, reminder enough to make plans for a few Friday nights this fall. Even on a field of players who’ll never see another snap after high school, especially there in fact, there’s part of Norman Rockwell’s Americana to be found, and it is worth finding. It’s worth finding.

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