On February 1st, the day before Groundhog Day, a different annual right of passage, one with about as much accuracy and validity as February 2nd occurred in National Signing Day.
When asked to comment on the hoopla and hype concerning this ostentatious narcissism-fest, ESPN College Football analyst Kirk Herbstreit expressed his discontent over the craziness surrounding this day, the “all about me” attitudes and the “overblown theatrics” that these High School students exhibit over their self-imposed drama over which university’s ball cap they will chose.
Herbstreit demonstrated the flaws of the team rankings as compiled by Scout.com, Rivals.com and his network’s own ESPNU, citing how teams like Wisconsin, Boise State and Arkansas traditionally rank near the bottom of their own conference’s recruiting rankings yet either win their respective conference titles or are perennially selected for primetime BCS bowls.
So did Herbstreit come off as a newly-aging codger, a shill to the conventional traditional powers that alleged pundits pay homage to, even when not warranted, or is he ‘bang on’ and has exposed the fraud that is this seemingly worthless display? I offer you some examples to support Herbstreit’s claim.
Aaron Rodgers – Despite record-setting statistics at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, California, Rodgers garnered little attention from any Division I football program. In fact, he desperately wanted to attend Florida State University but was rejected. His best “offer” was the opportunity to walk on at the University of Illinois. However, Rodgers declined and chose to attend Butte Community College in Oroville, CA, a local junior college about 15 miles south of Chico. After that record-setting JUCO season and due to his high SAT scores, Rodgers was able to immediately transfer to the University of California–Berkley. Then he got drafted by the Green Bay Packers – and the rest was history. So, Rodgers did not experience the “rapture” of National Signing Day.
Jerry Rice – Although Rice was an all-state split end and defensive back he was not considered talented enough to warrant scholarship offers from Division I programs and opted instead to attend Mississippi Valley State University, a Division I-AA program. While at MVSU, Rice blossomed into a star, setting NCAA marks for receptions (102) and receiving yards (1,450) and was named a Division I-AA All-American – as a junior. Rice exceeded these records during his senior year with 112 receptions and 1,845 receiving yards. And although Rice’s NFL combine time in the 40-yard dash allowed him to plummet to the 16th overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft, he landed with the San Francisco 49ers, Hall of Fame Quarterback Joe Montana and legendary Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh – again, the rest was history. Were Rice to be rated utilizing the ‘star system’ – a scale of 1 to 5 stars with 5 stars being the best – some would argue if he could have garnered a single star.
Nick Mangold – Mangold attended Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio and, although he garnered All-Ohio honors as a senior, during Ohio State’s vaunted 2002 recruiting class, Mangold did not even receive a 1-star ranking. Mangold was a 3-year starter at Ohio State, taking over for injured Alex Stepanovich during his sophomore year and earned All-Big Ten honors for his Junior and Senior years. Although his Ohio State career was successful, it took what was described as a “tremendous performance” during the 2006 Senior Bowl game to propel Mangold as the top center prospect in the subsequent 2006 NFL Draft, when the New York Jets selected Mangold with its 29th overall selection.
Since then, Mangold has been selected for the NFL Pro Bowl on 4 occasions and was named All-Pro on 3 occasions. It’s hard to believe that any NCAA Division I program would take such a risk on someone who couldn’t earn a single star rating.
Please note the sarcasm in assessing these three stellar NFL stars. It’s designed to prove a point as to why the National Signing Day is an over-hyped display, one with little credibility.
So let’s look at the often hyper-analyzed team rankings.
For a prime example of how flawed this team-ranking system is, I offer the results of the 2nd and 3rd-ranked teams in Scout.com’s 2008 team recruiting rankings:
Notre Dame (2nd) – Notre Dame garnered a recruiting class of 23 High School senior phenomenons, headlined by three 5-star recruits: WR Michael Floyd, DE Ethan Johnson and QB Dayne Crist. Of the three, only Floyd appears to be headed for serious NFL interest, although Johnson’s stock has dropped due to an injury-plagued senior year. Crist experienced a checkered career at Notre Dame and ultimately chose to transfer to rejoin former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weiss at the University of Kansas.
Miami (FL) (3rd) – “The U” gathered a robust 33 recruits consisting of four 5-star recruits in CB Brandon Harris, LB Arthur Brown, DT Marcus Forston and WR Aldarius Johnson. Of the four, Harris had the most solid University of Miami career being a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award during his junior year and being selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Brown left the Hurricane program in 2009 and transferred to Kansas State where he is playing for the Wildcats with much success. Forston suffered an ankle injury in 2009 after an outstanding freshman year and has returned to the Hurricanes starting lineup. Finally, Johnson was suspended for his senior season at Miami for a salacious tweet regarding the best strip clubs in Miami, this after being linked to convicted Ponzi-schemer and former Miami super-booster Nevin Shapiro.
Miami finished with a record of 6-6 under first-year head coach Al Golden but was ineligible for a post-season bowl game due to the results of a NCAA probe of claims made by Shapiro.
So, if the recruiting rankings were considered foolproof, their respective seasons should have catapulted them to the BCS Championship game much less a BCS Bowl game.
So how could such anomalies occur, given such seemingly foolproof analysis? Because the jump from High School to a major Division I university is so great. Examples such as Rodgers, Rice and Mangold occurred because they didn’t possess the necessary variables considered for success at the Division I college level – height, weight, 40-yard dash times, other. In short, all three of these NFL greats were classic “late bloomers”, players who physically developed during their college years.
And it’s this seismic jump that often plagues previously perceived high school phenoms – for example, there’s a great difference between eluding a lumbering 205-lb. defensive end in high school in front of 8,000-10,000 fans versus running for dear life against a 280 lb. defensive end with speed greater than yourself in front of possibly 100,000 manic fans.
So, Kirk Herbstreit was as ‘tuned in’ to the hypocrisy that is National Signing Day as Lady Gaga is tuned in to what resonates with today’s popular culture.