Alvarado: The Achilles heel of making early offers

EVERY RECRUITING SEASON it happens. Division IA-type talent appears on radar screens late in the process --- sleepers seemingly out of nowhere. Despite the proliferation of combines and camps and the 24-hour flow of information, recruiting remains more art than science. This is the story of one player you won't find on any top 100 lists. His prep coach believes that's a big-time mistake.

He's the player typically introduced to you in December or January, well after the recruiting hype machine started working overtime.

He's a case in point why this era of making early offers is shortsighted in so many ways.

To understand why, travel back to last August.

It's the first day of fall practice in Haltom City, a suburb outside Dallas. Haltom High coach Kenny Perry is excited. He knows there are holes to fill but he also sees lots of talent.

Leading the pack is a trio of juniors.

Linebacker Anthony Lewis, (6-2 1/2, 220 pounds) is playing defense for the first time, but by February, 16 months before he graduates, he'll have college scholarship offers from Washington State and a boatload of other schools.

Jeremy Brent, a 6-5, 200-pound receiver, is playing football for the first time since the sixth grade. By season's end, recruiters will be lining up. Washington State, Oklahoma State and others have offered him a full ride already.

And then there's Brandon Alvarado. Prior to that first practice last August, Perry knew he would be the Buffaloes' primary weapon on offense.

AT 5-11 AND 185 pounds, Alvarado is not a big wide receiver, but just get the ball in his hands on offense, special teams, any way you can -- his abilities are uncommon. And then put him at cornerback and watch the lock down begin.

Shortly after that first practice began, the drills came to a disquieting halt.

Alvarado had blown out his knee, tearing both the MCL and the ACL. While many players come back strong from such an injury, the future is promised to no one.

Alvarado, though, is making huge strides. He's way ahead of schedule. Two months after the reconstructive surgery, he was already running.

"It's the most amazing thing," said Perry. "He's already back to almost full strength."

Except for Perry's enthusiasm for the kid, college recruiters have little reason to build him into their 2006 prospect databases. There's no tape of him to watch, because he missed his entire junior year. And the injury itself is enough to give pause.

So 2005 will be the first chance for him to show what he can do. By the time he gets on the field, though, most major colleges will have made anywhere from 20 to 50 scholarship offers already.

Therein lies the Achilles heel of the early offer era: Senior seasons aren't factored as highly as they should be.

"No one knows about this kid," said Perry. "If he can come back like it looks like he will, someone is going to snatch him up -- because this kid will put up some numbers. He's an unbelievable kid. He can really go -- jumps, runs, everything. He's the real deal."

EVERY DAY SINCE he got the green light, Alvarado has attacked the weight room. No breaks, no days off. Session after session, getting his knee stronger but also working on overall strength and flexibility.

"The doctor said it should be ready to go, 110 percent, by summer. It feels great," he says.

He plans to camp at New Mexico and Missouri this summer, but says he's wide open when it comes to going to college. Distance is not a factor.

"I like a coach that will work me -- a coach that will get on me," said Alvarado. "I'd like a coach who will help get me as good as I can be at the next level."

Brandon Alvarado -- remember the name. You heard it here first.

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