|SEC schools wanted record-setting quarterback Pat White as a defensive back when he was coming out of high school in Daphne, Ala.
|Bill Amatucci photo
The gurus who rank recruiting classes are ready to wave their magical wands. They’ll tell us who recruited well and who didn’t.
They’re the same guys who annually rank each player, placing stars next to their names. Each star defining just how special that player is, or should we say how special they’re supposed to be.
Those who follow recruiting closely cherish four and five star players the way a poker player cuddles a royal flush. They turn their noses down on two-star players the way Cinderella’s sisters looked at her before she showed up at the ball.
I used to be a stargazer. I admit it; I was enamored with the star system. If a four-star player was headed our way I was guaranteed to be giddy. I would mentally pencil in just how that player would fit into the program. I’d daydream just how productive he would be and what that would mean to our win total and postseason chances. All of that before that player would even step foot on campus.
And, then it happened. I watched a can’t-miss national recruit arrive on campus and just bomb. All of my expectations popped, all of my daydreams turned nightmare. Wait, this can’t be happening, he’s a program changer, and the gurus said so.
I was forever jilted and will forever disregard the star system.
Recruiting gurus measure potential by 40-yard dash times, shuttle speed and bench press repetitions.
I now use a different system, which requires a heart test but not the kind provided by an EKG. I’ve come to learn that regardless of a player’s skill set his heart ultimately determines his true level of productivity.
The reality is that players, regardless of their ability, all arrive on campus with different agendas. Some only had the goal of earning a Division 1 scholarship and once that letter of intent was signed they’ve reached their ultimate victory. Others have been so coddled and convinced of their greatness that they go into an athletic shock when they meet up with their new teammates who are just as athletic and skilled.
Some realize upon arrival that they lack athletically and go into survivor mode so not to be exposed. Often times those are the true gems of the recruiting class. Their fear to fail elevates them above the others who become too comfortable.
And, then there is the true superstar. The rare incredibly gifted athlete who has an obsessive desire to improve and succeed. Often times this athlete has been incorrectly told that he really doesn’t belong at the highest level of collegiate competition. Pat White is the definition of such a player. Scorned as a quarterback by the intelligencia of the SEC, White came to Morgantown with lightning as legs and a chip on his shoulder the size of a mountain.
He had something to prove and he did. Five years later he left the state’s land grant institution as the all-time leading rusher in college football history as a quarterback, and the only QB to start and win four straight bowl games.
Pat White isn’t the only player that fits that description; the WVU program’s foundation has been built on such players. Rich Braham came as a walk-on and left as an All-American. Steve Slaton was told he wasn’t good enough for a scholarship to play for Maryland. Owen Schmitt was told he couldn’t play Division 1 football.
Was anyone doing cartwheels the day Mike Fox signed his letter of intent? No. He won a Super Bowl starting for the New York Giants. How about John Thornton? He played a decade in the NFL. How about Undra Johnson? He finished third in school history in rushing yards.
All of the above may not have had a bunch of stars next to their name, but they had hearts that could light up a galaxy.
So my days of being star-struck have long passed. I now wait to pass judgment. I wait until the newbies arrive on campus and then I watch and see how they’re wired; how badly they want to improve and be great?
Enjoy signing day but don’t take those stars too seriously. Only time will tell just how plentiful the harvest will actually be.