There Are Hidden Gems To Be Found

FAYETTEVILLE -- Jamaal Anderson could be the first defensive lineman taken in April's NFL Draft. But apparently he wasn't good enough three years ago to earn a football scholarship from a big-time school.

Anderson was rated as a two-star recruit coming out of Little Rock's Parkview High School, and the only legitimate offers he received were from smaller programs like Central Arkansas, Ouachita Baptist and the University of Arkansas Pine-Bluff.

As far as major Division I-A schools were concerned, though, Anderson didn't have many suitors.

"I had the opportunity of going to Colorado," Anderson said. "But that offer lasted only two weeks."

As a result, Anderson took Arkansas coach Houston Nutt up on his offer to join the Razorbacks as a walk-on. It took Anderson a semester to earn a scholarship, and he needed just three seasons to prove that he had the potential to be a possible top 10 NFL pick.

Something could be said for that.

Being that today is National Signing Day -- the first day that high school prospects can sign a letter of intent with a college -- fans will scour the Internet, looking to see where the nation's top recruits are headed.

But every year, there are hidden gems like Anderson who don't receive as much attention as the four- and five-star recruits. But they develop into dominating college football players, nonetheless.

"We tend to sit here and rate high school kids by stars and what they do. That doesn't interest me," Arkansas defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said.

"What interests me is, 1) Does he like playing, and 2) Does he like practicing today? Because that's what it boils down to."

When Anderson arrived at Arkansas, Rocker told him not too worry about how many stars were associated with his name. After all, it no longer mattered.

"Coach Rocker told me that those stars don't mean anything," said Anderson, the Southeastern Conference's sack leader this past season. "It's not about what you do in high school; it's what you do when you get to college."

For as excited as some college football coaches will be today when they announce their latest signing classes, no one can predict which recruits will pan out.

During his time as the defensive line coach at Troy University, Rocker signed a 6-foot-4 recruit who ran well, liked to play football and was regarded as a "nice kid."

But Rocker didn't need to get into a fierce recruiting war with other schools over which one would sign the linebacker from Auburn, Ala. No one else was interested in the recruit.

That little-known player was DeMarcus Ware, who after starring at Troy, was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 11th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Ware will make his first Pro Bowl appearance Saturday, and his development hasn't come as a total surprise.

"Oh, I knew we got a steal," Rocker said. "We all knew because, he was very coachable. I mean, very coachable."

Stephen Parker, meanwhile, went from being a walk-on and scout-team offensive lineman at Arkansas to earning All-SEC honors as a senior. And linebacker Sam Olajubutu -- who was considered too small to play for other SEC schools -- finished his career ranked third in Arkansas history in tackles.

"That's why you always hear people say, 'Well, recruiting or drafting, it's an inexact science,'" national recruiting expert Jamie Newburg said. "You just never know what a young man is going to do after they sign that letter of intent.

"Are they going to go to school and turn themselves into great college players? Or are they going to go to school and get complacent and they're just there to be there?"

Anderson admits he still isn't sure why he was overlooked coming out of high school, but at this point, he doesn't care. He's too busy working out in preparation for the NFL Combine later this month to worry about it.

"A lot of (recruits) with these high stars on them tend to struggle," Anderson said, "because they don't know how it is to be at the bottom of the barrel, to work your way up, to put in so much work to get there."

Finding Buried Treasure

Some lesser-known recruits turn out to be great college football players. Here are a few things that college football coaches look for to help them determine whether a prospect has the potential to be a hidden gem:

1. Does the recruit have a passion for the game? An undersized recruit can make up for his shortcomings by working hard in practice and in the weight room. Example: Former Arkansas linebacker Sam Olajubutu.

2. Does the recruit have the body to put on weight? Not every teenager at first has the size needed to play college football. But every major school has a weight program that can help recruits bulk up and become dominant forces. Example: Former Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson.

3. Is the recruit receptive to coaching? This rule goes for all recruits, but some of the lesser-known prospects need extra coaching. Being a fast-learner could help speed up their development. Example: Former Troy University defensive end DeMarcus Ware.

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