Will signees ever amount to anything for anyone?

by Gary Shelton on February 7, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

Thursday, 3 a.m.

The way I have it figured, FSU will eventually land safety Nick Cross. He'll be a star.

Cross, a safety, will be a big hitter with range. He'll have great instincts. He'll lead a solid defense ...

... At Memphis.

Then there is Florida quarterback Jalon Jones. He has plenty of arm strength. His legs are good. He has a knack for making big plays. They'll love that ...

... At UCF.

That's the thing about college recruiting day anymore. Players either become stars, or they become road warriors. Most of them give the school they signed with one year, maybe two, and then they're

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off to be re-recruited like a divorcee addicted to wedding cake. These days, players change jerseys faster than they change college courses. Almost everyone at a mid-sized school seems to be a former player for someone else.

It has become a game of transfers, of juniors who are going to the NFL and sophomores who are going to another college. No one has patience to learn for a year or two.

A scene: The afternoon was late, and former Tampa Bay Ray Matt Joyce was exchanging pleasantries with a few media members. One of them, a TV guy, was telling Joyce about a local Armwood prospect named Byron Cowart.

"Great player," the TV guy said. "Great player. He could start right now for the Bucs."

At which time I sweetly added this to the conversation: "Bull----."

Let's get this straight, okay. There is not a high school linebacker who signed with any college during Wednesday's national signing day who could start for any team in the NFL. Not one game. Anyone who would argue that there is knows nothing about the NFL, or for that matter, about college football.

The TV guy was aghast I would dare to disagree with him, but it's one of those cliches that I despise. There isn't a high school team that could beat a college team, and there isn't a college team that could beat a professional team. This isn't a rip. It's an observation on physical and mental maturity.

But there is something about signing day that brings out the knucklehead in us all. If a Florida fan and an FSU fan are looking at the same running back, for instance, it's considered a victory for the program when he picks one of them. It doesn't matter if the fan has never seen him play, and may not even know he existed. Little victories are still victories.

And so fans will make what they will of Wednesday's grades: Florida finished 9th, and FSU 16th, and Miami 28th, and UCF 56th, and USF 77th.

But grades, like prospects, never hold up.

Remember Willie Williams, the Miami kid who was going to be "the next Lawrence Taylor?" At his first recruiting trip (to FSU), Williams ordered four lobster tails ($49.95 each) plus two steaks plus a shrimp scampi. At Auburn, they offered a spinach dip. "I ain't no animal, and I ain't gonna eat no plant," he said. At Florida, he was charged with two misdemeanors and a felony. At Miami, he never started a game.

I think I've written about this one before. When I was covering Auburn, they were recruiting a running back named Alan Evans. He once imagined going to Georgia to "complement Herschel Walker." "Yeah," the line was. "He means compliment. Like 'Nice run, Herschel.' 'Cool touchdown, Herschel." Evans eventually signed with Auburn, where everyone forgot about him. That same day, Auburn signed a kid named Vincent "Bo" Jackson.

Remember Kevin Hart? Back in 2008, the Nevada High School player who talked about picking Cal over Oregon for his college. Trouble was, neither school was recruiting the kid. He made it all up.

In the early 80s, no one recruited harder than Marcus Dupree, who ended up at Oklahoma. Dupree recently said that one school offered him an oil well.

Sometimes, even when you win, you lose. In 2011, Texas A&M landed Thomas Johnson, the nation's No. 3 wide receiver. But the magic didn't last. Ten games into his freshman year, Johnson walked away. He would only talk to coaches and teammates with Biblical names. And then he used a machete to murder a stranger.

In 1996, Texas signed an athlete named Ron Weaver, who played in every game. As it turned out, Weaver was actually a 30-year-old named Ron McElvey who had already completed his college football eligibility. Oops.

Another story: Auburn had picked up a commitment from a linebacker named Reuben Foster, who was so fired up to play for the Tigers that he had a large, rest-of-your-life tattoo plastered onto his forearm. Nothing says commitment like a tattoo, right? But when Auburn fired Gene Chizik, Foster de-committed. He signed with Alabama, where he has the prettiest Auburn tattoo on campus.

Then there is Rice. Two years ago, Rice sent a recruiting letter...to quarterback J.T. Granato's cat. Purrfect. He couldn't play, either.

Coaches lie. Recruits lie. Fans lie.

In other words, Wednesday was all about illusion. Half of the signees will end up elsewhere. Another quarter will be backups.

Somewhere, one of them will star ...

... For Southern Miss.

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