Recruiting is just one facet of building a successful program. ESPN’s Ted Miller points out that in 2008, the top two recruiting classes, according to espn.com, were signed by Miami and Clemson. The Hurricanes finished 6-6 this season, Clemson 10-3. Alabama, who just won the 2011-12 National Championship, was third in the recruiting rankings. Stars they signed that year like Richardson and Hightower and Jones figured prominently in their two national titles.
Photo left: Jeff Maehl, soaring for a clutch catch in the 2011 National Championship Game, was a 3-star recruit at another position coming out of high school. The recruiting services said he ran a 4.72 40. They forgot to measure his courage, heart, and competitiveness.
The Ducks have won an awful lot of football games with players the experts think are just better than average. LaMichael James was a three-star recruit, a smallish running back teams like Texas and LSU passed on without much of a look. Mark Asper and Carson York were little-known linemen from Idaho. Still, the overachievers on the Ducks roster got a huge boost last season when Chip Kelly stole a 5-star, best-in-the-West all-purpose sensation from USC’s backyard, De’Anthony Thomas.
Legends are made out of unheralded players who become great, but keep in mind there are a lot more unheralded players, and most of them stay that way. Talent usually makes a difference, except when the talented player lacks the work ethic or attitude to become part of his team. 5-star talents like Dillon Baxter and Bryce are on their second school and still looking to make their mark in college football. Tate Forcier was a four-star quarterback in 2009, the 5th-best dual threat prospect in the nation according to rivals.com, and Michigan fans were jubilant when he signed with the Wolverines. They were just as jubilant when he left town. Now Forcier has flunked out at San Jose State. The Ducks signed Bryan Bennett a season later, the 15th-rated qb, and they’re pretty happy with him.
Ranking and ratings are never perfect because there are too many variables, character, competition, ability to adjust and thrive away from home. Talent matters, but good coaches get the most from the players they sign and mold them into a cohesive unit that thrives under pressure. Mack Brown annually signs one of the top-rated classes, blessed with a rich selection of good players in the football hotbed of Texas, but he hasn’t won a title or had a noteworthy season since he lost Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Coaching, desire, scheme and leadership matter too. Recruiting is only the beginning. It’s interesting to follow because it’s a first glimpse at future players, and it’s a day devoted to dreams. There’s something magnificent about watching young men begin their journey toward their potential and their hopes. It’s a day where every program has them, potential and hope.
On Signing Day, every coach will stand before the assembled press and boosters and announce his class with pride. No one is pessimistic on Signing Day. “We’re ecstatic with this class, this is a great group of young men.” And it is. What they become as football players and a team depends on everything after NSD.
It’s important to keep perspective as the faxes come in and Twitter goes over capacity. The players who come to Oregon and those who choose other opportunities all deserve good wishes and respect. Welcome the new Ducks, but welcome them with class and a mature viewpoint. The Webfoots went to the National Championship game a year ago. They did with five recruiting classes that averaged 24th in the country. Spencer Paysinger and Jeff Maehl were two of the stars of that team. Paysinger was a 2-star wide receiver when recruited, Maehl a 3-star cornerback.