Thrill of Victory

Five universal truths about National Signing Day

As most of you who read my blog know, one of my other writing responsibilities is my publishers’ duty at VandySports.com, which is part of the Rivals.com network. Today is National Signing Day for football players, and this is one of my busiest days of the year.Fortunately, I have help with that, and was able to sit at home in my office, watch ESPNU’s recruiting coverage, tend to some site business, and reflect the business of recruiting, which I have now covered for a decade.

With that, here are some of my relatively-unfiltered thoughts on signing day.

1. The hat ceremony needs to go.
Are high school football players on the whole really so un-creative that all they can think of to do to announce their choice is lay several hats on the table and pick up the one of the school they’re choosing? It’s gotten so cliché’d that I roll my eyes every time I see it.

Instead, I had a running joke with a few followers on Twitter (follow me at @chrislee70 to see for yourself) on some alternative ideas. A few of the more creative ones:

• Bust a piñata, and out falls the helmet of the team of your choice

• Call the coach of your chosen school and tell him, “You had me at hello.”

• Deliver the news to the school of your choice with a singing telegram

• Stand outside the football offices of the school of your choice with a boom box on your shoulder that’s playing “In Your Eyes.”

Feel free to add your own, but please, no more hat ceremonies.

2. If you can’t get your school’s name right, you shouldn’t be allowed to go there.
Not to pick on any particular school, but one recruit this morning committed to “the University of Ole Miss,” which reminded someone I follow on Twitter on how a player who committed to Tennessee chose “the university of U.T.”

It’s college; if you don’t even know the proper name of the school you’re attending, how are you going to hack it?

3. Everybody loves their class.
The coaches signing-day press conference is the most predictable event of the sports season. Hundreds of coaches stood in front of the podium, every single one talking about how much they like their class, how they met their needs, etc. I had to write a summary of signing day for another publication today; I took quotes that Vandy coach James Franklin made today and used them, but I assure you, I could have just as easily made up the quotes to fit the story and nobody would have batted an eye.

If only I could live long enough to see a coach take the podium and say, “Our class sucked. We missed most of our main targets, and if the guys on my staff are as big of boobs as I suspect they are right now, we’ll all be in the unemployment line this time next year.”

4. Film does lie.
I watch those highlight films like the rest of you do, thinking I’m going to find some insight into what’s ahead. Sometimes, the reel is an exact match with what is to come; to give you a “for-instance,” former Vandy star Earl Bennett (now with the Chicago Bears) played exactly like his highlight film showed.However, I’ve been burned more times than I can count when it comes to judging players by those highlights. Let me give you three examples; I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty.

“Freddy” signed with Vanderbilt as a wide receiver a few years back. Freddy was slightly-built, but boy, he could fly; he played in a fairly-competitive district in a talent-rich state, and was running away from EVERYBODY on film. I told a VU coach at the time that it looked like the film had been sped-up, and the coach said, “Yeah, we wondered about that, too, but even if that’s the case, everyone else on tape is sped-up too and he’s still running away from them.” Yes, Freddy was going to be a difference-maker.

I can’t say exactly what Freddy’s issue was; maybe it was size, maybe it was the fact that everyone was as fast as he was, but Freddy never panned out. The guy stayed for five years and didn’t even catch five passes, and only the most die-hard Vandy fans probably even remember that he existed.

About the same time that Freddy signed, along came Ronnie, a difference-making running back from another talent-rich state. Ronnie could run, too, but his appeal was that he was a bigger back who could take a Southeastern Conference pounding week-in and week-out, and come back for more.

Long story short, Ronnie didn’t work out either. Evidently Ronnie found the social life at Vandy much to his liking and perhaps didn’t push himself too hard in football, and barely even touched the ball in his career.

Before both of them was Billy, who was one of the first recruits I ever covered. Billy was quite polite in my interviews with him, and was a holy pass-rushing terror on the field. Vandy beat out a lot of better teams for his services.

But when Billy got to campus, he was… well, quite strange. The first interview I did with him, he was quite rude. As I watched him practice, his only goal in life seemed to be ticking off his position coach on a daily basis; I can’t count how many times he got kicked out of drills. I don’t think Billy even lasted two years.

Here’s the point: don’t fall in love with these guys. You never know how they’re respond to players who can run just as fast as they can (many have never been challenged like that), or the pressures of school, or how many were putting on a front to impress coaches and have deeper issues. It’s a universal law of recruiting: for every big-time recruit that hits, there’s one that fails somewhere else.

5. Don’t underestimate the idiot factor evening out the playing field.
Recruiting rankings are great because recruiting is more of a numbers game than anything. It’s not about hitting with this guy or that guy as much as it is finding a bunch of guys who can play, and hoping that more pan out that not. The bigger the dart board is, the more likely you are to hit it with your dart.

And as soon as Signing Day is over, the Darwin Awards begin.

Some of these guys won’t graduate from high school, or won’t meet entrance requirements. Some will get arrested, or do the incredibly stupid things that 18-year-olds sometimes do to get kicked off a team. Schools know this, and so they’ll sign more recruits than the NCAA’s roster limits allow.

What you see with each team’s class is generally not what you get, However, there are some schools like the service academies, Duke, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, etc., that see considerably less roster-melt than some of the heavyweights due to the kind of player they recruit. Those schools (especially Stanford) sometimes do considerably better than their recruiting rankings would suggest; there’s no sure thing in recruiting, but it’s not a bad percentage play to count on those schools finishing higher than you’d think just because self-destruction isn’t as much of a factor.