Just a couple of quick thoughts and then I’m going to edit the Icon’s post for Thor’s Day and call it a night. The thoughts relate to National Signing Day, the magical first Wednesday in February when many, many high school football players get their picture taken signing their name. Worst. Photo-ops. Ever.
First: just like draft day in the NFL, no team is going to come out and say that they are disappointed with their recruiting class. Even smaller schools like Georgia Southern, who often must wait for another team’s leftovers to hit the proverbial floor, holds a press conference (and sometimes a pep rally of sorts) and tells the media, the fans and the university community how excited they are about the new recruits.
(To his credit, Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken admitted that he still needed defensive ends and had to fight for the one recruit he got at the quarterback position. That is more down-to-earth pragmatism than I ever got from two of his predecessors when I was covering GSU football for a living.)
You know what makes college coaches really excited? When high school players actually qualify to come to school and they don’t show up 25 pounds overweight.
(Don’t get this wrong: coaches almost always want their players to put on some weight. But a high school senior with a free ride to college and five months before they actually have to, you know, show up… Let’s just say it’s like a really hot chick that has been eating nothing but tofu and doing yoga five hours a day who marries an investment banker and discovers the joys of Carvel ice cream. These are not lean pounds.)
Second: it is hard to know exactly what to expect even from players who were really good in high school. Why? Because in college, everyone on the team was an Alpha Dog on their high school team. Because when you get to campus there are players who have already put on 20 pounds (of muscle) and they are looking forward to knocking your cocky little dick into the dirt before your head gets too big.
This is good. Starting over at the bottom reveals the character of your favorite school’s new players. Will they work hard to get better? Are they pussies? Or are they leaders, the type of players who find a way to fit in right away, earn the respect of their teammates and coaches and make the team better, even in practice?
The worst part? It takes from 1-3 years to find out the answer to these questions.
So I will follow up this post in about 790 days.
EDIT (2/3, 8:15 a.m.)
A few readers from the Georgia Southern community voiced the opinion that I was taking a “cheap shot” at the Eagles. I think they missed the point, which was that recruiting is essentially betting on high school kids to grow into solid college athletes and that bet is always risky and mostly hard to evaluate for a while. Still, one comment I made about “waiting for the proverbial scraps to hit the floor” seemed to strike a chord. Here is what I wrote on the GSU message boards (if you are not a fan, just skip to the next post, this is pretty GSU-centric stuff):
First, the short piece was written for a general audience and not for hardcore fans. It was not about Georgia Southern in particular but National Signing Day in general and the pitfalls of recruiting. Hell, I am just as excited as the next member of Eagle Nation for the latest recruiting class, but some of these guys will just not pan out. Even the incredible recruits of 1997 (Adrian Peterson, J.R. Revere, Andre Weathers, many others) had some busts. Coaches roll the dice with recruiting and they know it. I think this staff will do a great job of selecting smart, dedicated players, but there are inevitably always disappointments.
Second, like it or not, Georgia Southern *sometimes* must “wait for another team’s leftovers to hit the proverbial floor.” This falling happens in one of several ways: (1) the player in question was not offered a scholarship by a larger school or was offered “preferred walk-on” status. Georgia Southern and the opportunity to contribute sooner and play a more key role was more attractive. (2) A larger school signed a more high-profile athlete at the same position or, worse, several high-profile athletes. Again, the chance to play more snaps and in a key role attracted the player to GSU. (3) A solid athlete with a great pedigree was overlooked because they did not fit a stereotypical definition of a position. (4) None of the above, but some unique circumstance.
Our coaches do a fantastic job of identifying and pursuing talented players, but I assure you that they will tell you what a maddening process recruiting is. Although there are many players who dream of coming to Georgia Southern and playing for the Eagles, the highest caliber athletes are being pursued by schools with bigger stadiums, bigger budgets and more “name” recognition. It is a tribute to coaches past and present that we have drawn incredible players to Statesboro through the years. But Monken offered 10 quarterbacks a scholarship and NINE of them chose to play at a I-A school as an athlete. We might not have ever had Adrian Peterson if he had not been overlooked by his brother’s alma mater, Florida, because of late test scores.
Great players have similarly found their ways to Georgia Southern because the Eagles were poised to make a strong offer of opportunity and tradition to great athletes on the cusp at bigger institutions. This is the reality of recruiting at the I-AA level (I still hate calling it FCS, sorry). When we do it well, good times follow.
To continue the metaphor, the big dog gets the best scraps.