The fine art and high science of recruiting

It was just a horrible week last week. I got back from watching a football game in the desert to the catastrophic news that Prescott Burgess committed to Michigan. Devastating. A pure cataclysm for Mr. Bucknuts.


I started thinking – hey, we just won the national championship and I can't even remember right now who Prescott Burgess is. Oh, yeah, now I remember. The files are whirring. They had gotten stuck on Smokey Burgess.


You old guys have to remember Smokey Burgess, right? Maybe the greatest pinch-hitter of all time. While Prescott runs like a gazelle and hits like a tank, ‘ol Smokey ran like he had a freezer on his back. But he hit over .300 in the clutch. Smokey always delivered. Prescott hasn't delivered anything yet but a choreographed and annoying halftime announcement.


Am I down on Prescott Burgess? You bet! I'm Mr. Bucknuts and I say that the best Ohio kids should go to Ohio State. Burgess heading to the Wolverweenies was an extra slap in our collective face. Man, we're talking Warren-by-God Ohio, here. We're talking Tressel Country. And we're talking about a high school coach, Thom McDaniels, who is fiercely proud of and loyal to the OSU program.


It's a weird story. Did Burgess really know weeks ago (as his friends are now saying) that he was going to Michigan? And why did he mislead so many people? And who leaked the story that he was coming to OSU to the Columbus press? This past week, Prescott quit the Harding basketball team, the coach of which was the Michigan advocate that allegedly swayed him to TSUN. To quote the sages, well – Alice Cooper: "I'm a boy and I'm a man. I'm eighteen and I don't know what I want".


Depressing Example II of the same erratic thinking has to be Louis Irizarry. Here is a kid who loves Tressel and the Bucks. Comes from Youngstown and has been pictured at games with Buckeye paraphernalia. He is/was the "Maurice Clarett of tight ends", a marvelously gifted kid with a father who "also" loves OSU. He commits to Ohio State early but waffles in mid-year, saying he might take other visits just for the fun of it. He starts to consider Notre Dame (yeah, now there's an offense you'd want to be part of…) but Notre Dame is classy enough that they won't go after kids who have committed elsewhere. Miami has no such scruples so Louis hops a jet for a visit to South Beach. Upon his return, he reiterates his fidelity and love for the Buckeyes, putting to rest any de-commitment rumors.


So what happens? Louis watches the Fiesta Bowl game with some buddies at the All-American All Star game and thinks it's cool that Kellen Winslow got 11 receptions while it sucks that OSU's Ben Hartsock got nary a pass. Was he thrilled that OSU won? Could he see that he would add a new dimension to Ohio State? Could he visualize that the "team aspect" that Tressel stresses is what got them the brass ring?


No, Louis was afraid he wouldn't hit his own personal peaks. He de-committed and called a very surprised Coach Coker, saying he wants to be like Kellen. "I'm eighteen. I get confused every day"


And so it goes in the wild and woolly world of recruiting. Science? Hah! It's something of an art, but an abstract art at best. It is the inexact foreplay to the football games themselves. And as in any inexact undertaking, there isn't the direct correlation you would hope to find in Cause and Effect. Let's take a look:


Guys who got away last year:


We went apoplectic about the recruits we "lost" at the end of last year's class. Since we won the national championship this year, it would be hard to argue that those lost souls had any immediate negative impact to the Bucks. Remember Richard Washington? He screwed over OSU by reneging on his commitment, and along with some tomfoolery assistance from NC State, he signed there. What happened with RW this year? He was academically ineligible, anyway. And how about Buster Davis? I still argue that FSU's Bowden was in cahoots with his old assistant, Chuck Amato at NC State to screw up both Washington and Buster for the Bucks. Buster red shirted for the Seminoles and has openly campaigned to come back to Ohio State.


And Derek Morris. Everyone knows the story. He was to be the future of the Buckeye offensive line. His father was offensive however and Derek – a year later – ended up at (surprise, surprise!)NC State. And speaking of last year's OL recruiting, the two "studs" of the class were Derek Morris and Doug Datish. The two guys who got all the playing time? Rob Sims and Nick Mangold. Once again, go figure.


Let's talk linebackers. One of the great hauls anywhere, any time. The headliners were Mike D'Andrea and Rob Carpenter. Plus, high school All-American Stan White. White red shirted, Carpenter and D'Animal played special teams while the forgotten AJ Hawk became a fan hero, smack in the mix of a number of important games and plays. Still talking linebackers? John Kerr from St. Iggy was upset that OSU thought him unworthy of a scholarship. He had an outstanding season for the lowly Indiana Hoosiers, quit the team and plans to announce where he'll transfer on February 13. Could be to the Bucks! Just like Buster wanted…


Guys we got but they never worked out


Those with good memories can recite a litany of names in this category. Mike Burden was ranked nationally ahead of Andy Katzenmoyer. Jefferson Kelly was one of the top three O-lineman in the country. Che Bryant was considered the best DB in the nation. Some experts listed Rodell Dupree as the best player in the country. Marco Cooper was a Top 100 bust (insert your jokes here…). Scott Kuhnhein made the back cover of SuperPrep. And how about some real blasts from the past like Joe Pickens, Johnny Mattress and Chuck Jones? We never tire of this drill but we always insist that we can predict accurately the next crop of talent…


A look at those guys who played on our national championship team


Maybe the truest test of recruiting prowess is to look at the players that brought us a national championship. After all, we can all remember at least two weeks ago, right? The superstar recruits (those with glittering reps out of high school) who started on offense or defense were:


Michael Doss

Dustin Fox

Kenny Peterson

Darrion Scott

Bryce Bishop

Shane Olivea

Branden Joe

Maurice Clarett


That's right – eight out of 24 (when you count the kickers, too). And of the above eight, four are playing positions other than the one for which they were recruited; Dustin Fox came in as a safety, Kenny Peterson was a defensive end, Darrion Scott was a linebacker, and Branden Joe was a tailback. What does that say about overall recruiting soothsaying? It's hard to debate that ultimate arbiter of success: a national title.


The other starters weren't exactly chopped liver but they weren't household names on the recruiting scene either. Donnie Nickey was a two-star guy who started for four years. Chris Gamble was basically overlooked by the Big Three in Florida. Cie Grant came in as a DB with some potential. Matt Wilhelm was ranked below Fred Pagac and Pat O'Neill. Tim Anderson was a great heavyweight wrestler out of Clyde. Will Smith was one of two New Yorkers that came to Columbus that year – the bigger name was Sam Maldonado, the record-breaking tailback. Alex Stepanovich was another good wrestler. Ivan Douglas was a late qualifier. Ben Hartsock was a small-school surprise. Michael Jenkins was a Florida "possession" receiver that the Big Three passed on. Andy Groom was a walk-on. Mike Nugent was a late low-key grab away from Pitt. And so on and so on…


To further bludgeon home this transparent point, I will quote a paragraph printed this past week from our good friends at the Buckeye Sports Bulletin:


"Iowa's top players were barely blips on the [recruiting] radar, yet they helped the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten title and a berth in the Orange Bowl. Tight end Dallas Clarke was a walk-on linebacker; center Bruce Nelson came as a walk-on tight end; quarterback Brad Banks made his name as a community college wide receiver; and kicker Nate Kaeding had a scholarship offer from only Iowa State before deciding to attend Iowa."


OK. We've now established that recruiting isn't a science, and in most recruiter's hands, it's not even an art. Notre Dame has consistently brought in "Top Five" classes only to sink into a morass of mediocrity. The best classes in the nation in the past few seasons have been uncontrovertibly Texas's, but Mack Brown has done less with more than anyone imagined.


Yet, here at Bucknuts (and at other gourmet guru sites through the kingdom), we will continue to predict, critique and analyze. So I have one more point before I put this thesis into dormancy:


If the fans (and even the coaches…) are so mediocre at analyzing playing possibilities, why should we expect the recruits themselves to be any better?


After all, we see hundreds of recruits year after year. The actual recruit only goes through this process once per lifetime. So if Prescott Burgess decides he has to go to Michigan to get away from Maurice Clarett, why do we expect him to have analyzed it any better than that short-term thinking? And if Louis Irizarry decides –


Well, let's take a look at Louis's decision. With probably more objectivity than Louis can muster. Tressel's offense wasn't going to change a lot with Louis as his tight end but Coach T would probably have incorporated a talent like that more into the scheme. Irizarry had to know that. So he based a lifetime decision on one visit to the Miami campus and one game in which the nation's top tight end caught 11 passes in 6 periods of play.


Might we suggest that he should have been a bit more thorough in his research? Exhibit "A" is the recent history of tight end production at Miami. Over the past five seasons, Miami TE's averaged a little more than three receptions a game. From 1997-1999, Bubba Franks caught 19, 13, and 45 balls for a not-quite-prodigious output. Even All-World tight end, Jeremy Shockey had but 21 catches for just 296 yards in 2000 and 40 catches for 519 yards in 2001. Winslow had 57 receptions (including the 11 in the Fiesta Bowl) for thirteen games in 2002.


Exhibit "B" is the talent that is still in front of him at Miami. At Ohio State, you have a couple of "blocking" tight ends that he should have displaced relatively early. At Miami, you have the nation's best tight end (Winslow), who might stay two more seasons. Behind Winslow, you have Eric Winston (6'7" and 270 pounds) who was a more highly regarded recruit nationally a year ago than Irizarry is this year. And you have a JUCO transfer coming in plus red shirt freshman Curtus Justus. Even Winslow didn't see the field with the talented Shockey ahead of him. In the end (as it were…), Louis might have averaged only 20 catches a year in his first few seasons at Ohio State but that's a lot more than a guy can accomplish with his butt on the pine.


So let us not pine for the Louis Irizarrys and the Prescott Burgesses. We are like the guy whose beautiful mistress ran off with a friend and we are forced to go home to our loving wife and wonderful family. The pride might goeth but the Fall is still in front of us.


Need I remind you again: it's a great time to be a Buckeye. And twenty guys will have figured that out by February 5!



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