The appeal of recruiting goes beyond reason

by Gary Shelton on February 2, 2017 · 0 comments

in College Sports in Florida, Florida State University, general, University of Florida

Thursday, 4 a.m.

I'm going to be honest here. I don't know Cam Akers from Green Acres.

I don't know James Robinson from Mrs. Robinson. Coo-Coo-Ca-Choo.

I'm not sure if Kevaughn Dingle is still single and ready to mingle, or if he's a receiver who will make Bulls' fans tingle.

You know what? If you're honest, neither do you.

Of all of the many things in life that I find amusing (the enduring life of the Gieco Caveman, the song stylings of Justin Bieber, the defense of the Tampa Bay Lightning and tattoos), there is this: High school recruiting and the noise that surrounds it.

I mean, really?

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The NFL draft, I get. Like most of you, I've seen a lot of the players, and I'm willing to get into a discussion of whether Dalvin Cook is a better back than Leonard Fournette. I'll talk about whether Brad Kaaya can be an NFL starter.

But high school players from across the country? Who has seen any of these guys? Cam Akers of FSU is supposed to live in the end zone, and James Robinson, the guy who got a second chance at Florida, is supposed to have short-cuts down the field,and LeVaughn Dingle of USF is a lot of fun to say. But we don't know them. We haven't seen them.

Yet, every year, we go on message boards and we debate this safety vs. that one and this offensive guard against that one. Oh, there are those of us who actually go on YouTube and watch the highlight tapes of the players, as if you can determine greatness from a greatest-hits package.

Look, if you want to tell me that FSU has recruited three players who were rating in the top 10, I get that. If you want to tell me that Florida might have found its quarterback of the future, I'll listen. But if you want to get in a debate over a three-star tight end from Washington and another one from Delaware, I'm going to yawn in your face. I don't want to know your Oscar picks, I don't want to know how your fantasy team is doing and I don't know want to know how you thought recruiting went.

You know what people like about recruiting?

They like the concept of it. They like the imagined competition. They like the dreams that are attached to players who have never fumbled and players who have never been arrested.

Your alma mater signs a highly ranked linebacker, you're all on board. Maybe he'll be another Derrick Brooks. Maybe another Derrick Thomas. After all, he picked your school, which beats seeing him go to the other state school (where they pay all the players and let them miss class and cover up their arrests. Right?)

I was talking to a Rays' player once, when a local media person was talking about a high school kid. "He could start for the Bucs right now!" the guy panted. Bullfeathers, I said, rolling my eyes. Last season, Byron Coward started four whole games for his college team, Auburn. That's a long way from starting in the NFL as an 18-year-old. But people get carried away with hyperbole.

Look, we all want the best for the school we went to. But you know, the best often isn't the guy with the most stars by his name. The best might be a wiry defensive end who will grow into his body and become a star. Otherwise, Alabama would win the national title every darn year, because they win recruiting every darn year.

By and large, signing day is the day where fans care the most and know the least about the players. Coaches beg players for the chance to treat them like dirt. And players promise to stay for at least one class before transferring.

When I was working in Columbus, Ga., early in my career (I've told this before), there was an Alabama running back named Alan Evans who led the state in headlines. He was fast, and he was big, and he knew his way to the end zone. So he signed with Auburn, and everyone talked about tomorrow. The same year, the Tigers signed a back that no one had heard of. His name was Vincent Jackson. You might remember him as Bo.

Guess who got the headlines later on?Looking back, I'm dying to know how many stars Evans got before he failed to become one.

It happens that way. Can't miss guys often do. Remember Dan Kendra at FSU? He ended up as a blocking fullback.

Then there is the enduring tale of Willie Williams. No recruiting stories are complete without him. Williams was a Miami kid, a 6-3 240-pound linebacker, the kind the talking heads all agree could start tomorrow in the NFL. But he couldn't. Williams led the league only in lobster, nothing more.

Seriously, while writing a diary for the Miami Herald, Williams bragged that at FSU, he ate four fifty-dollar lobsters, two steaks and a shrimp scampi while on a recruiting trip. Even more outlandish was that he was charged with two misdemeanors and a felony in a five-hour trip to Gainesville. Guess what? Williams wasn't worth the trouble. At last mention, he was in prison.

Then there is the story of Kevin Hart, who did the whole cap thing before announcing he was going to Cal over Oregon. One problem. Cal hadn't offered. Neither had Oregon. In fact, no one had. Hart made the whole thing up. He was the Milli and the Vanilli of college football.

Rice once wanted a quarterback named J.T. Granato so badly they sent a recruiting letter to his cat. One year in, and it looks like Rice should have signed the cat.

And so it happens. These are 18 year old kids. Some can't take the pressure of college football. Some get hurt. Some fall out of love with the game. Some are passed by three-star prospects.

Some days you eat the lobster.

And some days, the game eats you.

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