As Recruiting World Turns

Only in the wacky world that is college football recruiting could a team lose a five-star prospect that remains firmly committed, but that's exactly what happened to Tennessee today in regards to prized Bloomfield, Mich., O-lineman Darris Sawtelle.

Let's be clear: Tennessee didn't lose a star lineman, but the lineman did lose a star, going from a five- to a four-star rating n Scout's recently released prospect listings, which come on the heels of the May evaluation period. The big lineman, who follows in the footsteps of his grandfather Darris McCord in choosing to play for the Vols, fell out of the Top 100 prospects nationally and out of the projected top 10 among the nation's O-line prospects. He checks in at No. 17

Since Sawtelle is already committed, he doesn't have to worry about attracting the attention of college scouts. However, one of his goals heading into his senior season is to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl next January. Since Scout.com selects the players that participate in that national high school all-star game, the ratings take on more significance to him.

Oddly enough, the same thing happened in 2005 when Chattanooga lineman Jacques McClendon fell from five stars to four stars over the summer. However he remained a top 100 prospect (the only one UT signed), and he was picked to play in the San Antonio all-star event which is broadcast nationally by NBC.

The factors that contributed to Sawtelle's drop aren't clear at this point, but it had nothing to do with injuries, bad combines or the change of positions. Sawtelle said he hasn't attended any combines, he is the picture of health and he remains a fixture at left tackle for Brother Ed Rice High School. If anything Sawtelle is better now than he was listed as a five-star prospect.

"I've got my time down in the 40 to a five flat," the six-foot-6 Sawtelle told IT today. "My bench press is up to 386. My squat is up to 545 and I'm weighing 286. I don't know why I would come down to a four star. Maybe it's because I didn't go to any combines."

It's also possible that some sources weren't as sold on his potential after seeing Sawtelle play this spring, or that better O-line prospects emerged during the last month. However any negative opinion from a school no longer in the running for Sawtelle's services would have to be considered suspect. After all, the if-you-can't-sign-'em-slam-'em strategy is as old as $100 handshakes, especially when colleges lose a high profile in-state prospect.

Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer didn't have good things to say about recruiting services in general last signing day, when he addressed questions about the quality of UT's signing class. That group was ranked No. 24 nationally by Scout.com and didn't include any top 100 or five-star prospects.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that Scout.com ranked Tennessee's Class of 2006 as the nation's best so bias isn't a contributing agent to the devaluation of Sawtelle.

Certainly, Sawtelle will have a chance to change some minds this fall as Brother Ed Rice sets out to defend it's state football title. Besides any rankings or player evaluations made before a single game of a senior season are, at least, suspect. Instead they are a snapshot of a class based on the known. Fans love to read them and argue over their merits. College coaches don't depend on them. Most don't even refer to them, but rankings can serve as a data source for schools and coaches sometimes contribute to ratings, even if it's indirectly or discreetly.

In the title wave of the information age, the evaluation of players is a process of evolution. The network concept where scouts are stationed strategically across the country has enhanced it. Ditto for the proliferation of combines which draw participates and scouts from all points to get a firsthand look at prospects. Highlight tapes and DVDs are common place, as any Scout.com subscriber can attest.

However all of these improvements haven't perfected the process. That's simply the nature of the beast. Heck, the NFL misses on draft picks as often as they hit, and they are evaluating players in their early 20s, not players still in high school.

In final analysis: there is no reason to be concerned about Sawtelle. He's an excellent prospect with a bright future. He has all the physical requirements to be a productive player, plus he truly loves to the play the game of football. Passion can't be overstated as an ingredient to success for any high school prospect moving up to the college level.For that matter, neither can genetics.


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