PART 5 | It's all in the stars (with podcast)

Rivals.com, other ratings sites play big role in recruit’s fate

adell@bradenton.comAugust 5, 2010 

It’s all in the stars. Players want them and coaches fear the consequences in what can best be described as a love-hate relationship.

Stars are a big part of college football recruiting these days. They often define players and in many cases determine whether they get a scholarship to the school of their choice.

For coaches it can be a nightmare. Everything looks great, but you could be setting yourself up for a big disappointment.

When a college coach has a highly touted recruiting class with four and five star players, expectations rise through the roof. The news races through the Internet and alumni around the country start beating their chest while making plans for a BCS bowl.

But you don’t always get what you see. Recruiting websites that dole out stars often don’t take into consideration a player’s character and ability to handle the temptations that accompany a five-star recruit when he lands at a college to start what is essentially a new life.

Coaches often don’t know about a player’s work ethic and how he can handle issues off the field, especially when they get away from home for the first time.

But for high school football recruits, it’s all good. They want stars and more stars. The most you can get at a typical recruiting site is five, which goes to the “can’t-miss” recruits.

Unfortunately for the coaches, even the five-star recruits miss more often than not.

“If I get a fifth star, it will rock my world,” says Mike Blakely, Manatee High’s coveted running back.

A four-star recruit, Blakely can just about pick any college in the country and doesn’t need more accolades. For him, getting a fifth star is like giving Donald Trump an extra million dollars. It’s nice for display purposes, but it means little in the grand scheme of things.

“I am going to be recruited anyway, but it’s a personal goal,” Blakely says. “I try to be as humble as I can and not brag about anything, but getting that fifth star would mean a lot to me. I slacked off the first five games last season, didn’t put up good numbers, and this would make up for that.”

Blakely could very well get his wish. There are currently only two players in Florida rated a five-star prospect by Rivals — Tampa Plant running back James Wilder Jr. and St. Augustine Menendez High linebacker Tony Steward. Blakely is rated the fourth-best player in the state and sixth-best running back in the country.

Manatee head football coach Joe Kinnan believes rating players is far from an exact science, which means some get ignored and others are overhyped.

“I don’t think it’s accurate,” Kinnan said. “It’s not cut and dry. You consider all those guys in the NFL who weren’t even drafted. NFL teams are spending millions of dollars evaluating players and then you look at the successful quarterbacks who weren’t drafted like Tony Romo, Kurt Warner and Warren Moon.

“I wouldn’t put a lot of stock into it if a player is not considered good because he is not a four or five star. A kid may not have a good day and might not run well at a combine and his stock might fall. I know when (Venice QB) Trey Burton played against us last year he was not a five star, but he played like a five star.”

Kinnan may be right, but stars can bring many fringe benefits. It can give a player celebrity status on the Internet and increase the talk about him around the country. It might even help a player land a contract with an apparel company when his college days are over.

But stars don’t guarantee success. All you have to do is look at the University of Florida, the state’s top program.

In 2006, the Gators had six five-star recruits. Three of them turned out to have excellent careers (Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes), but the other three flamed out.

Jamar Hornsby was booted off the team because of credit card fraud.

Jarred Fayson, rated the third-best receiver in the country out of high school, transferred to Illinois after playing sparingly for two years.

The third, Carl Johnson, is being touted as a first-team All-SEC offensive lineman as a fifth-year senior entering his final season. But you would expect more than 22 starts from a five-star recruit.

A player’s personal ethics can’t be evaluated at a workout, say critics. There is a good example close to home.

Southeast High grad Mike Jenkins was a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com in 2003 and not even rated among the top 70 players in the state by either.

In 2004, Sarasota High running back Mike Ford was a four-star recruit by Rivals and Scout, rushed for 200 or more yards in 11 straight games and was considered among the elite running backs in the country.

Both went to USF, but that is the only similarity they share.

Jenkins was an All-American and selected in the first round of the NFL draft, while Ford was kicked off the team after three mediocre seasons.

There are other quality players from Manatee County who don’t have stars but have scholarship offers from Division I schools. It is sure to make their parents happy, but leave those players feeling slighted.

The list includes receivers Quenton Bundrage (Manatee) and Bo Brand (Southeast), Manatee defensive tackle Quinton Pompey and Southeast quarterback Dyron Speight.

“When I go to these camps, a lot of times, I am just as good as the guy who has a lot of stars,” Bundrage said. “I would like to have more stars, but it doesn’t bother me.”

Southeast High head football coach Paul Maecthle has lamented that recruiting websites and others involved in the evaluation of players often use the “eyeball test,” which is nothing more than writing off a kid because he doesn’t meet a certain size for his position.

Whatever your opinion, the stars are here to stay, and every high school kid in America that puts on football gear will want as many as he can get.

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