Recruiting story

Following recruiting has always given me the willies.

Thereís just something Iím not totally comfortable with when it comes to obsessing about the daily activities of high school kids.

Primarily, itís remembering how stupid high schoolers are, how stupid I was at that age, and how their decisions are made on random whims and a base of accumulated knowledge that has taken them no farther than the county line.

Grown men heaping messiah-like praise upon players who dominated opponents yet to hit puberty and the slippery slope of placing too much attention on people not yet mentally able to handle it figure in as well, but recruiting is becoming a bigger and more legitimate business every day and no one can argue it isnít critically important to what happens in the fall.

After graduating from Auburn, I had the opportunity to do play-by-play for three seasons of Auburn High School football. More than anything else, that shaped how I view the recruiting service game.

I call it a game because thatís what it is.

Thinking you can confidently and accurately rate the success of an 18-year-old kid going from scholastic football to major college football is laughable. Where a player went to high school, who his coach was, how aggressively heís been pitched and what school heís interested in play as much a role in how highly heís ranked as does his talent.

Hereís my proof. Ever heard of a guy named Osi Umenyiora? How about Demarcus Ware? Triandos Luke? LeMarcus Rowell?

Osi Umenyiora you may be familiar with. There was a football game played on Feburary 3rd about 100 million people watched called the Super Bowl and Umenyiora, a defensive lineman for the Giants, figured prominently in it. Umenyiora was exceptional leading New York to the championship.

What you donít know is that Umenyiora went to Auburn High School and I was at the majority of his game there.

He was average as a player and thatís being kind.

Umenyiora was a fire hydrant. Too short and too heavy to do much. Great kid, everyone liked him, super attitude, but a complete non-account high school football player.

Umenyiora was nobodyís darling when it came to recruiting and ended up playing at then Troy State which was just transitioning from Division 1-AA to Division 1.

Another player who went to Troy from Auburn that no one at Scout or Rivals cared about was Demarcus Ware. Dallas Cowboys Pro-Bowl linebacker Demarcus Ware.

Ware was a reed-thin wide receiver and linebacker. He was a great athlete, played on the basketball team, and like Umenyiora was a wonderful kid, but Jaime Newberg and Tom Lemming and Mike Farrell couldnít have cared less about Demarcus Ware.

Osi Umenyiora and Demarcus Ware were teammates in high school. Two future first round NFL Draft choices. Two future Pro-Bowlers. Two future NFL superstars.

I never saw them play on a winning team. Those Auburn teams were rotten. They got pushed around by everybody they played and were embarrassed as often as not.

Umenyiora and Ware were also-ran high school football players on bad teams.

Meanwhile, Triandos Luke was a hotshot wide receiver at Central Phenix City High School, one of the top athletic high schools in Alabama at that time and perennially one of the Top-10 football teams. Luke was on the radar screen of the recruiting people from the time he was a sophomore.

Funny thing is, Iíd watch Auburn play Central and Luke didnít seem to do much. He didnít stand out to me, but he played at a big high school with a legendary head coach and he got in the recruiting mix early and he ended up signing with Alabama. For all of those reasons, he was a five-star recruit.

Chances are you donít remember the name Triandos Luke and thatís fine because he was a bit player for Alabama in his time there making no real difference for a succession of sub-par teams and god only knows what heíd doing today. Probably watching Osi Umenyiora and Demarcus Ware on TV like you and I are.

Finally, LeMarcus Rowell. Dominating linebacker for Opelika High School. Ranked as the first or second best linebacker prospect in the entire nation. EVERYONE wanted Rowell and he could have gone anywhere. He was a monster on film, played for a big-name head coach at a big-time football high school that had a ton of on field success.

Rowell chose Auburn in a major coup for the Tigers and I donít know if he was still on campus two years after graduating high school. A series of off field misadventures doomed Rowellís future.

The point is this, for three years I observed high school football up close. I went to games every night in the largest classification in the state of Alabama. If thereís anything sports related I pride myself on itís having an eye for talent and when it came to watching high school football and projecting ahead to whoíd be good in college, I couldnít tell and anyone who tells you with certainty they can is a liar.

There are too many players and not enough information for any ranking of high school athletes to be accurate. And the very nature of what youíre trying to do is far too speculative to ever think it can be exact.

Even four years later after these players have gone through college football for which we have detailed analysis and tape on each game they played in, followed by the exhaustive Draft process which includes personal interviews, personal workouts, background checks and countless hours of scrutiny, itís not possible to know for sure how a guy will project to the next level.

The jump from high school to college is a greater one than it is from major college to the pros and youíre also dealing with much more immature people. When you think about it, the idea that these recruiting services can in any way shape or form predict how good these players will be is laughable. That theyíre even in the ballpark generally goes to show how hard they work at it and the good job they do.

But as you look at where your team finished in the rankings, before you get too elated or dejected, remember the names Osi Umenyiora, Demarcus Ware, Triandos Luke and LeMarcus Rowell.