The rules of recruiting

There are a lot of recruiting experts out there, eh? No, I'm not talking about the dozens of analysts, who cover recruiting. I am talking about all of those who follow it with a passion. They are all experts, or at least, that's what they think. You want to be one? Well, let me give you a heads up on something these self labeled experts might not realize, so you can get ahead of the game.

Do you want to be a recruiting expert?

Yeah, I know, you already are. You read five updates on this network, maybe five updates on another, and suddenly you are more in tune with the prep world than any before you or since.

And if that isn't enough to make you automatically the all-knowing God of high school talent around the country, you know that until Letter of Intent Signing Day, no recruiting class is truly (at least on paper) finalized.

From your perspective, you are truly at one with recruiting. You could only get more Zen-like if you had incense burning right now.
Well, pay attention grasshopper, because I'm going to fill you in on a few secrets, which will show you that you have not only not quite yet grasped recruiting omnipotence, but this might even make your life a little easier in the end.

For those who have had the misfortune of reading some of my rants before, some of this will be rehashed. But that's only because some people simply don't get it, so I feel the need to expound on this yet again.

The first rule about following recruiting is don't always believe what you read. Sounds obvious to some, but it becomes painfully aware to me year after year, that some people still aren't grasping this concept.

And don't think I mean that to say you can't believe what a recruit tells you. Point of fact, you should be able to, but because of a rule farther down the list, which you will be able to attach to this very easily, sometimes a grain of salt is needed.

What I mean is that when you see their measurements in a profile, along with their reported 40-time, remember that, that probably isn't an official time accomplished at some formal event. That time is what the recruit tells us it is and I can't tell you how many 4.4s ended up being more like 4.6s, and that's with the wind.

No running back is going to say they run a 4.7 if they are trying to get recruited. No lineman is going to say he can't get under six seconds in the 40 either. Defensive backs will tell you they are six foot, when they are really 5 foot 9 and if a receiver tells you he jumps 37 inches consistently, if you assume right around 30, you'd probably be pretty safe.

Nope, the only time when those measurements are legit is when they were accomplished at a formal event like any of the All-American Combines put on by Scout. And usually, those are indicated below the numbers that were stated. If you bother to take a look at a few players, who have their actual combine results, along with their measurements and compare them to what they say their numbers are, you are often going to find a difference, sometimes dramatic.

The second rule about following recruiting is one I have harped on for years, but nevertheless, this rule keeps getting ignored, and I think even more frequently nowadays versus five or so years ago:

Stars mean zilch

And of course, when I am referring to stars, I am referring to those star-shaped almost iconic images, meant to indicate whether a prep player is bound for the Heisman or the heap.

You are taking umbrage with my own preoccupation with stars meaning nothing, because what are these recruiting analysts getting paid for if those stars mean nothing in the end.

Here's the all-encompassing answer for you, that you are free to use as either the mantra for this new leaf you are about to turn over or as the meaning of life, when you are hitting on girls at the local tavern five minutes after last call.

Ability doesn't equal success

No, it's not quite E=mc², but for your recruiting fanatics, it could have just as profound an affect

Mike D'Andrea was a super
all-everything coming out of
high school, but hasn't exactly
turned the world upside down
in college.
When you talk to current student-athletes about the varying challenges about being a student-athlete, you are not likely to find any person who says they just aren't good enough to compete.

You are more likely to hear that they didn't realize how organized they had to be with their time, how little time they actually had and while they are confident in what they do, they were caught off guard a little that their reputation, once as the best athlete in the whole school, has since been replaced with "Just another member of the team."

You then have yourself a host of challenges before that, asking you to deal with schedules made by advisors, professors, nutritionists and even employers. You have to deal with the fact that no longer are you the toast of the town, your ego getting a sound beating, due to the fact that many players are ahead of you on the depth chart. You have to confront and overcome the varying social obstacles that come with trying to fit in with a new set of folks, new surroundings and, of course, new coaches.

All those things can and often do have much more of an impact on what you achieve on the field than what your physical potential says.

There aren't any star rankings for that. There isn't any numerical formula, which tells you how a future collegiate athlete will handle it and how it will translate to the field.

Those stars are decided on what they did in high school.

This isn't high school anymore

Stars mean zilch

The third rule is a bit of a sensitive one, because it involves what sports fans say they respect more than anything, but in the end, they say it, because that's what they are supposed to say. It's not like they actually believe it, because we know that the bottom line is, if the kid can play, you want them on your team.

I'm talking about integrity. And more specifically, I am talking about the fateful time in a recruited player's life, where he says the two most powerful words in all of the recruiting world:

"I commit."

It's music to a sports fan's ears and it prompts discussion, jovial behavior and, of course, the labeling of this young player, either as proof of this staff's ability if he/she is a highly rated player, or proof that recruiting analysts know nothing, if they aren't ranked that highly at all.

No, there's no lack of objectivity here.

Depending on how early that player committed, it will have given these fans time to get to know them, where they are from, the tradition of their high school, the offense, the defense, the team mascot and maybe even the name of that player's dog. It's like the kid they never had, and what a good kid at that, because he seems so sincere, determined and bright.

Wait a second. Would you believe it? Can you believe it? Did you hear just what your "kid" just said?
Adrian Mayes became the
poster child for kids who
committed, decommitted and
committed again.....over and

"I've changed my mind."

That son-of-a-no-good-ignorant-lying-cheating-rotten-satan-worshipping-malcontent………how dare they change their mind?

Just as quickly as a kid changes his mind, deciding that a different school is for them, you have labeled them everything just short of being the anti-Christ, but you KNEW all along this was going to happen, because something just didn't feel right.

It's amazing how one kid can go from being the next great………whoever after he commits to a player you felt wasn't going to do a damn thing after they decommit.

Let's put aside the embittered hypocrisy for a second and figure out why a kid would make such a "heinous" choice, deciding to essentially go back on his word. But to give you a perspective on it that I know the sports fan will understand, I'll give you the two reactions I see the most often, depending on what that young person said:

First, the kid commits because they didn't think they were going to be all that popular. You see it every single year, more and more times it seems, a young recruit, who got that offer from maybe an in-state school, and they pulled the trigger.

The next thing you know, someone else offers and then, someone else, and before you know it, this kid, who thought he was going to languish in obscurity, is now making someone's Top 100. He now goes from having that offer, maybe from a mid-tier school, to having some from teams, who ended up ranked in the top 25 – maybe the top 10.

If that young person changes their mind and it's your school, which is the one that benefited from that switch in mindset, this is your probable reaction:

"It's obvious he's put a lot of thought into this and come on, choosing us over them, that's a no-brainer. More exposure, better team, it makes all the sense in the world. I don't think we should hold it against him, because he's just doing what's best for him in the end."

Ok, now the reaction from the team he just told to take a hike:

"I remember when someone's word used to mean something. It's obvious this kid wasn't raised very well and that this kid isn't very decisive. The school he went to probably paid him as it is, and he'll be driving around in an SUV after the first week of school."

Second, a kid decommits, because even after he committed, schools still went after him, showing him everything they said was great about their school and before you know it, he agreed, his parents agreed and that was that. The grass just seemed greener on the other side of the fence.

If that young person changes their mind and it's your school, which is the one that benefited from that switch in mindset, this is your probable reaction:

"It's obvious he's put a lot of thought into this and come on, choosing us over them, that's a no-brainer. More exposure, better team, it makes all the sense in the world. I don't think we should hold it against him, because he's just doing what's best for him in the end."

Ok, now the reaction from the team he just told to take a hike:

"I remember when someone's word used to mean something. It's obvious this kid wasn't raised very well and that this kid isn't very decisive. The school he went to probably paid him as it is, and he'll be driving around in an SUV after the first week of school."

Hmm, that seems familiar for some reason. Oh, that's because it is. And the reason why that is, there is almost no reason a young man would give for changing his mind, which would prompt the fans of the old team to say "Hey, that's great, you did what you needed to do and good luck" or the fans of the new teams to say "Gosh, I hope this is the right decision for him. It's not real comfortable with them going back on their word. I think this is a bad move. Once you say you are a commit, you should stay that way, no matter what."

For those looking for more answers than they are analysis of their own opinion when it comes to recruiting, here are a few more reasons why kids change their mind:

Some commit too early - One reason is that which we stated above; a kid getting what he thought would be his only offer and that was that. But some kids get that one "big" offer early, and because of everything they saw on TV, that must be the team for them. As the recruiting process continues, though, and they make that inevitable visit, things didn't quite pan out how they thought. So, they look around, seeing if that is how everyone was and if they weren't, they might change their mind.

Some commit out of pressure – Don't ask a Nebraska kid what it's like to be a Nebraska kid, who happens to be holding a written offer from the Huskers. Every single day it isn't about whether or not you are going to be a Husker. It's about what you will do once you get there. Allan Evridge, who went to Kansas State and had only lived in Nebraska for a year, had his tires slashed because he chose to go outside of the land of the big red.

When a parent sees this kind of fan absurdity, and you start to think of what your life will be like over the next four to five years, especially if your young athlete goes to a school in the same conference, sometimes it's just best to commit and bit the bullet.

Of course, over time, if they see the depth chart at their future choice isn't very forgiving or maybe it's the offense, which doesn't fit their kid – they suddenly realize that it's not about the negative in why you commit, but the positive. And if another school has far more of those than the one you initially went to, the decision becomes pretty easy.

Some commit out of fear – No, this isn't a rehashing of the previous reason, but one which does actually prompt questions about the recruit themselves. It's when a kid commits to a school, which he likes, but isn't necessarily where he wants to be.
Notre Dame's Dan Stevenson
admitted during his recruiting
that he committed elsewhere
early to keep a spot on a roster
until his "ideal" offer came

The basic idea here is that you commit to a school, so you know you have a future, but you don't plan on limiting where that future might be. You simply committed to make sure that you had a spot on their team, just in case you didn't see another school which you liked more.

If you don't find that school, no problem, no worries, you still have a spot somewhere. If you do, well, that's all good in the end. Well, except for the original school.

Some commit, because they thought they were getting what they weren't getting – This is a sensitive one, but sorry sports fans, it's the plain truth: There are a lot of schools out there, that you can't tell whether they are recruiting a kid or trying to sell him a vacuum cleaner. The "slick willy" types, who will say anything and everything they can to get a kid to look their way.

Before you know it, they will have that kid duped into believing that they actually will start as a true freshman, they are truly the number one player that school is looking at and that, due to an eerie hiccup in the geographical constant of the planet earth, the sun actually shines at their school 24 hours a day.

Some commit because of dear old dad – Yeah, if you think the last one was sensitive, this one is a doozy, because this involves a father, who is vicariously living his youth once again through his kid. They may not have coached, but they think they are at least as good as any, who has ever coached their kid. They may not have played, but they instantly know every technique along with dos and don'ts of a particular position or the game.

Heck, sometimes it's as simple as the fact that they always wanted to be a QB, but at 300 pounds, that wasn't going to work, so come hell or high water, their kid is going to play under center. Maybe they went to school somewhere, so that's where their kid will go.Maybe all the mistakes they made, they will make sure their kid doesn't make, so they involve themselves in the process to such an extent, the kid never really had a choice, despite dad saying he did the entire time.

So, he committed

But for every single one of those reasons above in the various other categories, dad decides that a certain place isn't for his kid. The depth chart isn't friendly enough or the head coach hasn't placated the family to the extent in which he thinks they deserve. Lots of reasons – far more than can ever be listed here, but it's potentially one of the biggest factors in why kids change their mind.

I have seen it far more than I would like and far more than you would believe, parents deciding that their one last major act as a parent, before the kid heads off to college, is deciding on which college that will be.

And we come back to how a fan reacts, and gosh, it really is a shocker as to what they say regarding this:

If it's your school which benefits in the end: "These kids are intelligent, but it's the parent that can truly see a school for what it is. They can make the distinctions a teenager can't make and they know the kinds of questions to ask. If they chose us over this other school, it's obvious to me that the parent stepped in when they had to and was basically just being a parent. After all, that's your kid and you have every right to make sure that he or she ends up at a place, which will benefit them, whether they are playing or not."

If it's your school which wasn't on the good side: "Parents need to let these kids be themselves and make up their own mind. They don't have to live at that campus for four to five years. They don't have to take the classes. They don't have to do the work and live in that community. If they have enough faith in their kid going off to college, they should have enough faith in them to believe that the young man or woman would choose a place that is truly good for them."

The ironic part about this last one is that unless you know the situation and can read the minds of everyone involved, neither side is necessarily wrong or right. When it comes to parents, we have all seen and heard the horror stories about them being a little too involved in their kid's lives in regard to sports.

And that's what ultimately makes the DE-commit probably one of the most mysterious things in the world, because no matter what you read or hear, nobody can ever truly know what happened and why. The only thing you as a sports fan can do is either insult them or applaud them, depending on which college they ultimately decided to attend.

While there are a lot more rules to be aware of, I'll hit on just one more rule, which could be the most important rule of all. It's the single most relevant rule in all of this, which is to say that if you pay attention to any rule above all others, I'd say this one is it:

They're kids

Not what you wanted to hear? Not climactic enough? Sorry, but above and beyond everything you think you know about recruiting, this is the one thing which I believe gets ignored more than any other.

I understand that most sports fans, when they were 17, were either saving the world or accepting their Pulitzer Prize, but most of these kids we are talking about aren't and won't be.

Personally, I drove my car fast, went to a lot more parties than I should have and I was about as athletic as a door. So, I didn't have the demands of the average athlete in high school, where not only staying in shape was a must, but also keeping up my grades, doing work around the house and making sure my high school sweetheart was happy.

Just for the sake of making it interesting, though, throw in maybe five or six trips over the summer, some to camps or combines and some simply to check out schools. Add ten or so text messages a day from coaches, who say that their school is the place to be. In addition, let's add maybe 20 calls a week once your season starts, from those same schools and then add the calls and interviews you do, because recruiting is now definitely a mainstream topic.

You still have school, You still have practice. You still have your high school sweetheart and whatever kind of social life is possible. And then you have a season to play, official visits to take, which might be during that season and all the attention that comes with being a recruited high school athlete.

And everyone is telling you that this or that place is perfect

How would you react? How would you govern yourself? How would you mentally handle going from just another name at just another school, to someone, who actually ranks national attention?

If you come from a town of about a thousand, like I did, that's potentially a life-changing scenario to envision. Heck, I saw how the best athletes were treated and they weren't by any stretch in the same category with most of the athletes we are talking about.

It's a whole different world. It's a whole different life and for some of these kids, they are heading into that from all but complete obscurity. Even for the parents, that's a big change in how you look at things and what things you have to look at.

The bottom line to all of this is pretty easy to figure out and I have a feeling that you sense the common denominator in it all. If you don't, perhaps you should read this again, if you can take another hour or so in your day.

It's you

That's right. It's you the sports fan and how your perception ultimately drives the bus of positive or negative emotions regarding what some high school kid ultimately does or doesn't do. It's not bad, because that is the life of every single sports fan in existence. But the problem is, people think that your attitude and mentality, which is mostly applied to the professional ranks, applies the same to that of the amateur level.

If it does, it shouldn't.

Some people look at the amateur level as the one last bastion of sports and how sports itself should be portrayed. The money to players isn't there and when these kids take the field, it is with passion and pride versus the idea of making good on their annual salary.

When a player or coach starts drawing a paycheck, that's when it's open season on them, scrutinizing anything and everything they do. The problem is, that mindset has invaded athletes all the way to the high school level.

It isn't fair by any stretch that anyone would put even close to the same expectations on a prep athlete that they would of someone in the pros. But they do. It's not even intelligent to think that you can any stars can truly project what a kid can do in the future, when maybe that kid could grow physically and let's not even get into the subject of the fact that the second he hits college will be the first instant he's been even remotely on his own.

The second anyone starts thinking that varying stereotypes of the sports fan, which are all basically accurate, applies to the prep athlete, that's when the thought process has to change. You can't treat it like anything else, because it isn't like anything else out there.

Recruiting, more than any other aspect of an athlete's life, is one of the most fluid aspects there is. To think you can predict it, understand it or even apply all of your professional ideologies to it is – that's just a huge mistake.

But if you understand the rules, it's one that you can potentially avoid. In the end, maybe you won't be an expert on recruiting, but if you follow some of these rules, my guess is that you'd be able to follow it and actually enjoy it a whole lot more.

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