WSU illustrates fallibility of star system

GOING BACK almost to the beginning, the columnists at have taken issue with the star system that surrounds football recruiting. We've softened a bit over the years as a steady stream of 4- and 5-star high schoolers wound their way to the NFL Pro Bowl. But our basic premise that this is all more art than science is borne out by looking at Washington State's history with the star system.

According to's guidelines, a 5-star prospect is expected to mature into an All-American or high-round NFL draft pick, while a 4-star kid is forecast to be an all-conference performer and/or someone who is drafted. The 3-star guys are envisioned as multi-year starters, and 2-star recruits are pegged as contributors but not necessarily mainstays.

Going back to the launch of 12 years ago, you'll find 12 WSU signees who carried a 4-star rating coming out of high school, and zero who were at 5 stars.

going crimson since 2002

  • 2012
    WR GABE MARKS (Venice/Los Angeles) pictured at right
    Huge freshman season, catching 49 passes for 560 yards & 2 TDs.

  • 2011
    A sporadic starter the last two seasons, posting a collective 53 tackles.

  • 2010
    TE AARON DUNN (Mead/Spokane)
    Sidetracked by injury and then transferred to Western to play hoops due to the Air Raid not using a tight end. Now back at WSU, purely as a student, following more injuries at Western.

  • 2009
    WR GINO SIMONE (Samammish/Skyline)
    Played in 42 games, with 15 starts, for Cougs over four seasons. Caught 72 passes for 757 yards.

  • 2006
    S ANDY MATTINGLY (Mead/Spokane)
    All-Pac-10 honorable mention as a sophomore playing both LB and DE. Posted 214 tackles in WSU career.

  • 2005
    DL FEVAEAI AHMU (Serra/San Diego)
    A second-team Freshman All-American pick by Slowed by injury but started 33 games in WSU career and posted 81 tackles.

    QB ARKELON HALL (Edison/Fresno)
    Redshirted and then spent one season as a deep backup before transferring to a JC. Later started at U of Memphis.

  • 2004
    WR MICHAEL BUMPUS (Culver City, Ca.)
    Finished career as the most prolific pass catcher in WSU history. Played one season with Seahawks.

    S RANDY ESTES (Los Alamitos, Ca.)
    Academic casualty. Never set foot on campus

  • 2002
    TE CODY BOYD (Ferndale, Wa.)
    Caught 67 passes in WSU career. All-Pac-10 honorable mention as a senior. Signed as a free agent with Steelers.

    TE JESSE TAYLOR (Chaminade/
    West Hills, Ca.)
    Dogged by injuries, played mostly on special teams.

    QB CARL BONNELL (Kentwood/Kent)
    A grayshirt who transferred to UW before putting on a Cougar uniform. Turned in so-so work at UW.

  • Using Scout's definition as our guide, those 12 -- the most highly rated prep players signed by WSU in the period -- didn't, as a group, come anywhere close to fulfilling expectations.

    Of course, the jury is still out on the two most recent of them, receiver Gabe Marks and linebacker Chester Sua, and Marks' stellar 2012 freshman campaign suggests big things are indeed coming.

    But of the other 10 on the list, only receiver Michael Bumpus wound up being a bona fide star.

    While undrafted, he was signed by the Seahawks and spent most of one season with them after setting a WSU record for career receptions and earning some form of All-Pac-10 recognition four straight seasons.

    The point of it all, though, is this: Between injuries, academics, coaching changes, and plain old rates of maturity, much can happen over the course of four or five years to make the star-forecasting business a shaky one.

    Moreover, as former CF.C columnist Pat Mitchell lamented for years, the sheer number of athletes around the country makes it impossible for analysts to see every prospect, especially those not living in a major metropolitan area. But above all, the reality is that the people who assign the stars aren't coaches. They work hard and study hard but at the end of the day they aren't evaluators like coaches are.

    So as Signing Day approaches on Wednesday and discussions turn to the stars, look no farther than WSU itself for confirmation that the ratings process is simply a guide, an educated guess that ought be digested with at least one grain of salt.

    To wit, if you had to take one group of 12 players vs. another group of 12, would you rather have the 4-star Cougs listed in the box to the right, or would you prefer the group of Cougs listed in the next paragraph?

    Marcus Trufant, Jason Hill, Erik Coleman, Rien Long, Eric Frampton, Husain Abdullah, Ropati Pitoitua, Nick Mihlhauser, Alex Brink, Chris Ivory, Scott Davis and Will Derting.

    Let's call them the Unsung 12, because each came out of high school rated either 0 (yes, zero), 1 or 2 stars.

    Ten of them played or currently plays in the NFL. And the two who didn't, Davis and Derting, were among the most prolific tacklers in Washington State history.

    We are by no means dissing any of the Cougs who were rated 4 stars coming out of high school since 2002. Many of them, in fact, contributed nicely to the program. But juxtaposing them with the Unsung 12 points out why it's foolish to get too wrapped up in the star system.

    The ratings, as Pat Mitchell always said, are a rough benchmark. Nothing more, nothing less. The true value of a prospect can't be judged until three or four years out.

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