Phillip Marshall: A Look at Recruiting

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the competition to sign bluechippers on Feb. 1st.

Somewhere today a college coach will say something like this to a recruit:

"Well, Billy Bob, I'm surprised. You are really considering State U now? All I can tell you is that I never worried after you looked me in the eye, shook my hand and told me you were going to be part of our program. We turned down some good players at your spot because we had you. The question you have to ask yourself is if you are going to be a man of your word or not."

Later, that same college coach will say something like this to another recruit:

"Now, look Joey. I know you committed to State U. I know they are putting the pressure on you to stay with them, but I think you and your parents know that the only thing that counts is where you sign. I wouldn't want a player who didn't want to be here and I don't think State U would either. We've been holding a spot for you. Every player has a right to change his mind."

Such is life in this endeavor called college football (or basketball or baseball) recruiting. It's no wonder prospects stay confused a lot.

Truly, the bright spotlight that shines on recruiting these days does those prospects no favors. High school seniors are treated like kings by coaches who are skilled salesman. They hear not a discouraging word. ESPN did a one-hour special on quarterback Tim Tebow and should be ashamed for having done it. It will have another dog-and-pony show with players committing on national television. Players make grand productions out of their commitment announcements, often putting on one team's cap, removing it and putting on another.

For an 18-year-old, it has to be at once exhilarating, confusing and frightening. Where to attend college is a big decision for any high school senior, but for an athlete, it's even bigger. If your kid or mine makes a bad choice and wants to change schools, he just does it. For an athlete, it's not so easy.

Mercifully, the worst will be over in less than two weeks. After that, all that will be left are meaningless recruiting rankings that will excite some fans and anger others. For a little while at least, teen-agers who have never set foot on a college football field will lose their celebrity status. Fans will go back to talking about spring practice, the upcoming season and maybe even basketball.

I would not claim to be anywhere close to an expert on evaluating the potential of high school players to play in college or even claim any desire to be an expert. Whether Jermarcus Ricks is better than someone signing with Alabama or Florida, whether a linebacker from Mississippi is better than a linebacker from Georgia, I have no way of knowing or even guessing.

But it is always interesting to see who wins the in-state battles. The winner in this year's race, it would seem, is still to be decided.

To date, Alabama has nine commitments from in-state players and Auburn eight. Who has the most is, of course, meaningless. It's who has the best that counts, and we really won't know that for a few years.

Players like quarterback Neil Caudle (Auburn), defensive lineman Bart Eddins (Auburn), safety Jake Jones (Alabama) and offensive lineman Taylor Pharr (Alabama) were never really contested. It was obvious from the start where there hearts were, and that's where they went. The same goes for Huffman offensive lineman Andre Smith. Though uncommitted, it would be a serious shock if he went anywhere but Alabama. And if he does, it won't be to Auburn.

In serious in-state battles, Auburn has landed Ricks, Enterprise defensive end Raven Gray and Wadley wide receiver Terrell Zachery. Alabama has landed Homewood offensive lineman David Ross and Central-Phenix City athlete Earl Alexander.

Raven Gray is shown at a summer football camp.

Others remain to be decided. West End defensive end Peanut Whitehead, Homewood wide receiver Tim Hawthorne and Benjamin Russell tight end Michael Goggans are the in-state players who still could choose between the Tigers and the Tide.

What they decide will probably determine who can claim victory in recruiting the home front in 2006.

That claim, of course, means next to nothing. No one knows if any of those players will develop into outstanding or even good college players. No one knows if those players are better than others who will come from out of state.

What is certain is that all of them are going to be faced with culture shock when they report to campus and actually become college football players.

They are going to discover that none of their new teammates care how many stars they had by their names, who recruited them or how many touchdowns they are scored in high school.

They are going to discover that the coaches who were so charming in their living rooms are something else entirely on the practice field.

They are going to discover that playing college football is a grueling, 12-month commitment.

Some of them, even some who are little-known, will make it big. Some will become solid, unspectacular players. Many will fall by the wayside.

And next year it'll all happen again. It's the cycle of college football life.

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