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Recruiting 101

Posted January 4th, 2011 in Blog by jwestenhaver

Recruiting 101

1. If a player is not a “Blue Chip/Super Star” High School football player and he lives in a rural area, off the beaten path of college recruiters, how will he ever get recognized let alone recruited?

That is an interesting question and one that should be of grave concern to anyone in that position. Why? Consider the reality of the recruiting process. Division -1 colleges are severely restricted as to their ability to get out and see games and evaluate talent. They are limited as to the number of visits they can have with any given player. They prioritize their agendas so as to maximize their efforts. They spend most of their time recruiting in areas where there are the greatest number of prospects, the metropolitan areas.

Division-1AA institutions are under the same general restrictions as their D-1 brothers but with smaller recruiting budgets and are more likely to concentrate their efforts to a more limited search area.

D-2 colleges are also subject to most of the same restrictions but with even smaller recruiting budgets than the D-1AA schools. This puts real limitations on them as to where they can effectively do most of their recruiting. In addition, they have , generally, much less scholarship money and are rather selective as to who they award scholarships to. They are most likely to go after players from their local area, whom they know the most about.

D-3 schools have no scholarships and do most of their recruiting via the telephone, e-mails etc.

So now, we are back to the question. The player from a rural School who has a desire and passion to play college football, regardless of the level, has a lot of obstacles to overcome. He must find somehow, someway to get noticed, to get on their “radar screen” and to do so with the required information and to do so in a timely fashion. He needs a plan and can’t simply wait for the recruiters to come to him. Those are the facts and the reality that he and his family must understand.

2. What real value are the recruiting services that rate players and how important are they to college coaches?

The scouting of football prospects is a complicated process. It is not an exact science and is in fact a “crap shoot at best”. There are so many elements that must be factored into the evaluation and so many of them are hard to pin down.

These services, you know who they are, normally watch a highlight “clip” that lasts about 4-5 minutes and base their opinion on that source alone. Sometimes they may actually see a player perform in a game but that is rare. They may see him in a camp if he happens to be there. I personally know of an individual who works for one of these services who was charged with evaluating some 400 offensive linemen and then ranking them. That task is quite simply a pipe dream.

Another thing that bothers be about these services is the fact that they only see a players highlights. Have you ever seen a “highlight” tape where the player actually looked bad. Have you personally ever given a potential employer a reference list that contained someone who would say anything but wonderful things about you, of course not. The evaluation process is a multi faceted function. Seeing a player on tape is only part of the puzzle. Seeing him in person, multiple times, is another. I, just recently, returned from my yearly trip to the NFL Combine where I study the QB prospects. There was one particular player who I really liked from the tape that I watched. When I saw him perform live it was a completely different story.

One more thing I just thought of, there are several programs which are constantly listed as having recruiting classes ranked in the top 5 in the nation, yet fail to be ranked in the top 20 at the end of the season. What’s with that? These players are ranked as 5 Star, 4 star etc. The colleges seem to be chasing the “stars” and not truly evaluating a player’s skills and abilities let alone their potential. If you don’t believe me check out last year’s 1st round of the NFL draft and see how many selections received NO stars coming out of High School.

Player evaluation is complicated. Just look at the process that NFL teams go through: individual and game observations; countless hours of game tape study [of a single player]; interviews with coaches, trainers, teammates, doctors etc.; psychological testing; Wondrlic learning testing; weighing, measuring, timing; the Combine; and then Pro Days where they do it all over again. The Pros rely on as much “accurate” information as they can accumulate. Then there are the High School Rating Services. I have already explained how they arrive at their predictions and yet they have the audacity to rank a player. “He is the 38th best LB in the nation”. It is Fun for fans and alumni. It is as excuse for the media but realisticly useless and fraudulent.

3. Height, weight, 40 yd time, agility scores, standing broad jump distance, vertical jump, the bench press, what do they really mean? How important are they?

They are important but only relatively. Let me explain. The results of these “numbers” are only and simply indicators of potential ability to play at the next level. They are a part of the complete picture and not the picture itself. There are many at all levels of player evaluation who are what I term “numbers people”. They permit “the numbers” to dictate a prospect’s success at their level and ignore, for the most part, all the other factors, namely, is he a football player.

I was once in a rather heated conversation about this very thing with a pro personnel executive. I told him this, “if you want only great athletes then send me to the Olympics. The problem with that, of course, is that half of them are women”. My point being that a great athlete is not neccecarly a great football player. Athletic ability is certainly a factor an indicator but not the bottom line.

I have been to the NFL Combine many times and have witnessed many “workout warriors” who impressed scouts with their “numbers” and who turned out to be great disappointments as players. These numbers are, when you think about it, are related to football only to a degree and are, in many ways, unnatural. Here are a few examples. Running the 40 yd sprint, players will strip down to very light clothing and change into the lightest shoe available. Not the kind of attire one would see on a football player. They also perform all the drills in gear that is not a football uniform. I have seen players put up the bench press a phenomenal amount of times but who shied away from contact or failed to translate their strength in a functional way. Also, there are many great players who fail to meet the prototypical standards for their position. Look, for instance, at the WRs in the Hall of Fame. How many of them were known for their speed ? Let’s look at a few examples of these kinds of players: Lynn Swann, 4.60/40, Jack Lambert.205/MLB, Sam Mills 5’8””/MLB. Rejects by “the numbers”. I could go on and on, but I think that you get my point. I have seen many really fast WRs who couldn’t catch a cold let alone a ball. I have seen many fast “track speed “ types who were much slower wearing a uniform, who lacked functional game speed. I have seen many who played well in their shorts when no one was hitting them, but they had “good numbers”.

Let’s have a history lesson about the 40 yd sprint time, which has become, for many, the end all and beat all. In the early 1950’s, the legendary coach of the Cleveland Browns Paul Brown was looking for a way to determine which players to put on the punt coverage team. What would be a fair and objective way to determine this? He calculated that the average punt traveled 40 yards and so began to time his players in the 40 yard sprint. Thus was born the” Holy Grail” of football evaluations. It has become perverted to the point that many ask this question off the bat when talking to a prospect, “What is your 40 time”. It is interesting to note that the 40 time was not the basic factor in determining who would be on Coach Brown’s team. I am sure, having known Paul Brown personally, that his primary concern was how good of a player was the candidate. In twelve years as a pro scout, I can tell you that I can count on both hands the number of sub 4.40/40s that I have timed.

All of “the numbers” are pertinent only if the prospect is first and foremost a “football player”.

4.Are recruiting services that provide a player profile and highlight tapes of any real value?

This is another real sore spot with me. There are several reasons for my strong negative feeling about this subject. One: the material is subjective in its entirety . First of all a player profile is too similar to a resume and is never a true picture of the prospect. It is compiled by the parent(s) who can never be completely objective about their son. Secondly: The vital information [size, speed, etc] are all estimates. It is verified information that is important to college recruiters. Thirdly: a highlight video is what it is, a highlight . As a college coach, I would like to see the lowlights as well. My Mom used to tell me, “Don’t by a pig in a poke”. In other words know what you’re getting before buy it. That is Pretty good advice for me and for the coach as well. Fourthly: college coaches are inundated with so many of these reports that they are just not paid much attention to. I was talking with two college coaches the other day and ask them that very question. One said, “I get so many e-mails downloads of prospects , sometimes 100 a week, that I don’t pay any attention to them. I don’t have time to critically study each and every one of them’.

It really breaks down to several points: lack of objectivity, credibility of the source, and the volume of enquiries.

5. What about a player who has dreams of playing pro football, does he have a chance if he is not recruited by a major college?

Look at any NFL roster and note how many players are from other than major D-1 programs, why? That question give rise to other pertinent questions. Let’s take a look at them. Why were these players not recruited by the “big boys”? How could so many of them be overlooked? How can so many of them be deemed not good enough to play for the major programs and yet be able to excel at footballs highest level?

A. Not recognized- Many High School players go unnoticed by the major college programs. They are unknown.

B. They may have not matured physically by the time that they are High School Seniors.

C. They may not fit the “prototypical” description that the D-1 programs look for.

D. They may not qualify academically at the time of recruitment.

E. They may simply wish to be a “Big Fish” is a little pond instead of a “little Fish” in a big pond. There are a countless numbers of High School players who choose to attend a major program and who never get to play.

F. There are many recruiting mistakes made at the major level.

G. Scholarship limitations eliminate some pretty good players.

H. Maybe they were left off of the “rating services” lists.

It seems to me that this list could go on and on and further that each individual case has its own reasons. This I know from personal experience. If a player is good enough the pro scouts will find him and they find them in the most obscure places. Places like Kutztown State, West Liberty State, Columbia, Tarleton State, St Ambrose and many such colleges. I have in my files a list of over 800 former NFL players who came out of NAIA programs. As I said earlier, just look at any NFL roster and see how many players there are from non-major programs.

What seems to me to be the most important things are a passion to play college football and the desire to have the college football experience.

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