There is, however, one final and pretty much definitive journey from high school to professional football - the NFL Draft. The reality is that - although the simple minded media may regurgitate a false narrative over and again - the more talented you are in high school the more likely you are to be selected in the NFL Draft.
That, after all, makes sense. But a narrative has emerged of late that ten years of data simply refute. That narrative is the “hard work” narrative.
That narrative is as follows: It doesn’t matter your size or if you are as talented as someone else - as long as you work hard you will get to where you want to go.
It is a noble concept. After all - even the most talented of players must work to be successful However, the most talented are, in some cases, ten times more likely than other players to get drafted. In other words talent matters. That talent could be size talent; it could be speed talent; it could be throwing or running talent.
I was at a camp not that long ago and heard an often-used speech from a pre-camp speaker.
“Work hard and you can do anything you want to do. If you want to go to the NFL you can do that - just work hard,” he said.
There were 300 players in attendance. It was a pretty good cross section of high school football. The numbers in Georgia show that about 10% of ranked players (those with a star ranking of some sort) are drafted. Trust me when I tell you that 300 players in Georgia are not assigned a star ranking. I can also assure you that if a player is assigned a star ranking at all they are very, very good high school football players.
But the reality is that no matter the tireless work of, for instance, former 3-star GAC FB Brannan Southerland was very unlikely to be drafted in the NFL Draft. Does that mean he didn’t work? No. Does that mean he didn’t work hard enough? You tell him that to his face.
No, in the case of Southerland specifically, injuries caught up with him as his progressed. He also emerged from college football at a time when true fullbacks in the NFL were being moved off of rosters.
Southerland had what I would call a very productive career at Georgia. He did the work. He was a model teammate in many ways. But the “work hard” line turned out not to be true for Southerland as it is for the other 90% of players from this state who finish their careers in college.
Is it wrong to tell young kids that they must work hard to achieve their dreams? No, I don’t think so. It is wrong to tell them that they can do anything if they do work hard? I’m starting to think that it is wrong.
Hard work is just the minimum. Summer workouts; winter conditioning; film study; going go 8 AM class; staying out of custody; running through the end of the drill - that’s just stuff you have to do to position yourself for the future. That certainly doesn’t guarantee you anything at all.
Being drafted by the NFL shows me three things more than anything else - the ability to avoid injury, physical gifts and work ethic. If you are more gifted physically you often don’t have to work as hard, but eventually - as you move up in level of competition - talent can even out.
But I think we should start to scale back the way we talk about what hard work can get a high school prospect. I know it feels like we are trying to motivate them when we give words of encouragement. At the same time we must be careful not to lie to them.
As they say: the numbers don’t lie; increasingly we do.