Fourteen* (became 15 a few hours after posting, then 16 on Friday) soon-to-be high school seniors have made non-binding, verbal commitments to play their college football at the University of Notre Dame (list). While their choices are just words hanging in unregulated, volatile airspace until February 2013, that doesn’t stop many in the fan-base from projecting their touchdowns and championships of gridirons future. Those of us who have followed recruiting for many years (almost 20 for me) are noticing the trend of early commitments, but reading little mention of the pitfalls of a process that attempts to identify élite players at such an early age and possibly starts teaching youngsters that the word “commitment” is just that – a word, not real human action and responsibility.
According to Blue & Gold Illustrated, Notre Dame has already offered two players in the Class of 2015. (Pause. Do the math.) A high school player in the class of 2015 just finished his FRESHMAN season. (That one of them is 6’5”, 300 lbs. shouldn’t make you feel better.) Are we to believe that Notre Dame coaches have identified 13 & 14 year olds and projected their abilities as 18-22 year olds?? They can do this and the 100 billion dollar entity that is the National Football League can’t go 20/32 in the NFL Draft’s 1st Round featuring nearly full grown men? Answering both questions - the system has become ludicrous. Both these 2015 players could suffer from any litany of problems; these range from injury to an inflated ego that tempers the drive to improve as they age. If you are 15 years old and hold offers from ND, Bama, USC & FSU are you doing those extra sprints or heading to Buddy’s house for a Medal of Honor marathon? Plenty of blue-chip players face that connundrum whether rabid fans are ready to admit it or not.
My biggest concern is not that the coaches aren’t identifying numerous élite players early in their careers because they are. Between the thousands of finely tuned camps and 7-on-7 passing tournaments, the modern recruiter is seeing plenty of players early on and getting ample opportunity for observing their habits and traits. It’s still tailored toward early developers. My concern grows with the possibility of even more exceptional talent slipping past the programs now demanding earlier commitments. Programs like Notre Dame. The term “late bloomer” might as well equate to “mid-major” in the world of competitive scholarship offers. At least in the NFL teams don’t draft players a year before they play in the pros. Why are so many kids deemed “can’t miss” when they’ve only played 2/3 or 1/2 of their Varsity high school football career? It fails to make intelligent sense.
If you don’t believe it’s a problem, start explaining what is happening in the talent-rich state of Florida where Gators, Seminoles & Hurricanes rule the Everglades. In 2008 all three, per usual, were ranked in Rivals Top 10 Team Recruiting Rankings (Florida #3, Miami #5, & FSU #9 … Notre Dame was #2). The 2009 class, which was also draft eligible saw the Sunshine State place all three in the Top 15 again (FSU #7, Florida #11, & Miami #15 … with Notre Dame at #21). Did we see this reflected on the field in Wins & Losses? NO. Did we see it at the 2012 NFL Draft – Hell NO.
All three Florida schools combined to have 1 player taken in the top 85 of the 2012 NFL Draft, none in the 1st or 2nd round. None. Little Fiesta Bowling, Hook & Laddering Boise State? They netted TWO 1st rounders and a 3rd rounder in that same span. Boise State’s Rivals Class Rankings those same years? Try 89th in 2008 & 72nd in 2009, with both classes averaging 2 star players. You may think of the Broncos for trick plays and spread offense deception, but they’re taking 2-star high schoolers and turning them into future pros (like him, him, and them). The 2008 class also went 50-3, losing those three games by a combined 5 points. Maybe they’re not really taking 2-star players. Maybe they’re taking guys who are still developing like normal humans at 15-16 years old, but Notre Dame recruiters and other BCS elitist feel aren’t worth the early offer. A scary proposition for fans of the Irish and any other school in the country.
Over the course of each season and offseason, hundreds of high school football players will get injured, experience massive growth spurts, pack on pounds to fill out their frames, and find their athleticism catching up with their own bodies. Many will significantly outperform recruits in their own class with offers from every major program in America as seniors, yet only field phone calls from coaches a few rungs down the ladder. Their hunger will grow along with their desire and we’ll continue to see players you never heard of fly past the 5 stars on award lists and Mock Drafts a few years down the road. Reality – as recruiting digs deeper into each age group, more quality players will get overlooked by major powers, not fewer.
Notre Dame fans would like to believe they’re getting the best of both worlds on Signing Day each February. They imagine each player is of the highest athletic ability in the country for their position and possess a work ethic unmatched amongst their peers. If life has taught us anything, it’s that overcoming some form of adversity breeds desire. As we continue to guarantee 13 & 14 year olds the easiest path possible to next level, what exactly will that start breeding? More importantly, what are they working for?
Editor’s Note: This article drew some ire from fans below and other sites. My College Football Contributor Ben Stecker wrote a rebuttal to this opinion based piece – Does The NFL Draft Help Us Evaluate Recruiting Classes? If you are also one who loved it or hated please share below!
|Steve Herring is the Editor-in-Chief of HerringBoneSports.com and hosts TNNDN’s Down the Line & Ask Oscar. As the TNNDN Network President he acts as Executive Producer of four Notre Dame related shows.
Steve worked in broadcasting at Madison Square Garden Media and the Arena Football League. You can find all his articles and radio show links on this site.
Contact Steve on Twitter @HB_Sports or e-mail HerringBoneSports@gmail.com
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