It’s an exercise beholden to attrition.
Cast a vast net over prospects, reel in as many as possible and then hope a good amount survive.
This is the reality of recruiting, the driving force of college football at all levels throughout the country. If success is to be attained the odds of that happening are greatly advanced by mass quantity as much as they are by high quality.
Put it this way, individual greatness is fabulous, but depth is divine in this game. One is a rarity, the other a necessity.
With post-National Signing Day 2016 less than 24 hours old, the chest-bumping and kooky dancing associated with confirmed letters of intent already a thing of the past, coaching staffs now get down to brass tacks:
Preparing for the upcoming campaign … and the one after … and the one after that. With the “know all too well” insight that nothing is a given when it comes to this 5-star, that 2-star or any walk-on.
It just isn’t. Injuries. Life. School. Personal development. Changes of heart. Things imaginable and not. Any can alter or even derail a kid’s playing career, or if it even truly unfolds at the initial university he enters.
In my own realm, don’t have to go back far to find examples of that.
Both alma maters have had their hits and misses of late, but they continue to bring in full – 20 to 25 recruits – classes every year. A surefire safety net, just as long as there isn’t an inordinate amount of holes in those classes.
At Illinois, Aaron Bailey arrived as the crown jewel of the Fighting Illini’s 2013 recruiting class, a multi-threat quarterback who earned four-star status for his high-school exploits. Today, after two seasons of next to no use at Illinois, he now runs the show at FCS-level Northern Iowa, fresh off his first year as a starter in college in which he threw for 1,656 yards, ran for 1,334 and accounted for 32 total touchdowns.
Even ripped off an 83-yarder against eventual national champ North Dakota State.
Yeah, he’s found his niche … but it isn’t where he initially signed and it isn’t at the FBS level.
Switch to Temple. Zaire Williams was a pretty highly-sought running back out of South Jersey, ironically in 2013 as well. He joined the Owls, actually led them in rushing that fall, his 533 yards the third-best mark ever by freshman at the school. But assorted back and hamstring injuries got him out of favor, and soon out of position, to the point that he transferred to FCS-level Maine just recently.
Ironically enough, a virtual throw-in to that same recruiting class out of North Jersey, Jahad Thomas, ultimately replaced Williams as the Owls’ featured ballcarrier, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in helping Temple reach double-digit wins this past fall.
The Illini don’t seem to be sweating Bailey’s departure, either, as they prep for Wes Lunt’s senior year at QB with the idea of riding his NFL-quality arm to a winning season. In typical, convoluted storyline fashion for college football, Lunt didn’t start at Illinois, either, even though he’s a native of the state. He’s a transfer from Oklahoma State.
Buddy Brown, another South Jersey talent, came to Temple with Williams in 2013 and was supposed to set the world on fire as a cat-quick, tough-as-nails linebacker. He never played for the Owls, felled by knee woes that caused him to retire and actually join Matt Rhule’s coaching staff as a student assistant.
Rob Dvoracek was penciled in to be the Owls’ starting middle LB that same year. Injuries got him, too. He was a student assistant by 2015 with playing eligibility still remaining.
Temple flourished on defense the last few years regardless, due to the recruiting efforts of Rhule and Co. yielding enough manpower to offset such losses – even with the bluest of blue chips during the regime’s tenure, 4-star DB Kareem Ali Jr., taking a redshirt in 2015.
They get it. All college football coaches do. Numbers matter. More than anything else. Which is why, sure, enjoy the “big gets” your school may have pulled on Wednesday ... just don’t bank all your emotions on them being the ones to get it over the top.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
Having followed high school football pretty hardcore for close to four decades, plenty of talent has caught the attention of yours truly. But a few passed the eye test more than all others. None, however, had the kind of careers one would have projected.
Without further ado, my top three:
RON POWLUS, QB
Hands down, the best scholastic performer witnessed by me. Just played at a completely different level than all others he faced. Made things look beyond easy, almost like everything was in slow motion while his decision-making and actions moved at warp speed. He was named the nation’s player of the year by Parade Magazine and USA Today, then signed with Notre Dame in 1993, which prompted ESPN analyst Beano Cook to claim that the youngster would win two Heisman trophies during his collegiate career. Never happened. Powlus ended up being a good QB for the Irish, setting a slew of school records, most of which were subsequently smashed by Brady Quinn, but he never earned All-America status despite starting four seasons and went undrafted. As a pro, he had cups of coffee with Tennessee, Detroit and the Eagles, not to mention Amsterdam of NFL Europe.
DAN KENDRA, QB
Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholic
A muscled-up, fitness freak ahead of his time, Kendra was USA Today’s national player of the year after overwhelming fellow scholastic athletes with his chiseled, 6-3, 245-pound physique and rocket arm. The guy's feats of strength were legendary, and then documented once he got in the weight room at Florida State, and it almost seemed impossible that a kid could do the things people said Kendra could do … until you saw him do them. But he had even less success than Powlus at the next level, being unable to beat out Thad Busby at QB, and then tearing up his knee the year he was named starter. Undeterred as a competitor, the even more muscled-up Kendra returned as a fullback and started on the Seminoles’ 1999 national title team. He signed as a free agent with Indianapolis, but eventually shut it down as a football player despite Colts coach Jim Mora letting him know he likely would make the team.
KEVIN JONES, RB
Cardinal O'Hara (Springfield, Pa.)
Like the other two, Jones was the nation’s No. 1 recruit by the time he completed his high school football career, an endeavor that saw his size-speed combo prove lethal as both a ballcarrier and return man. Like Kendra, he spurned Penn State for another school – Jones chosing Virginia Tech. To get an idea of the kid’s chutzpah, the one thing that cemented the deal with the Hokies was coach Frank Beamer agreeing to allow Jones to wear Tech all-timer Michael Vick’s No. 7. Jones, at times, was awesome in Blacksburg, Va., showing why he had been so coveted in the first place, but the Hokies never achieved the same kind of success with Jones as the main guy as they did with Vick in that role. Still, Jones did get taken in the first round on the 2004 NFL draft and had a decent pro career that consisted of four years with Detroit and two with Chicago.