By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
We have reached that moment in the offseason when recruiting kicks into high gear with prospect dancing from one school’s camp to another, the budding college freshman being treated like he already possessed a Heisman Trophy on his mantle and the college coaches learning whatever they can beyond what the tape they have studied has shown them.
It is Ryan Dorchester’s time of year, as if there ever really is a down time for a major college recruiting coordinator.
Recruiting, of course, is the most intriguing aspect of the game that captures the imagination of America’s public each fall, for you are dealing with not only what happened yesterday, what is happening today but with what you want to be happening three, four and five years in the future.
The public has been sold a bill of goods over the years by the Mel Kipers of the world and all those who have turned the rankings and recruiting websites into a booming business that is not much different from the late-night TV ads that sell you blenders, vacuums and knives.
The other day, when chatting with Dave Hickman of The Charleston Gazette, Dorchester revealed what those on the inside pay attention to ... and rest assured it is not how many stars a recruit is awarded by these scouting services.
“People get so infatuated with rankings. It’s absurd,” Dorchester said. “We don’t care
if a player is a top-200 player or a top-800 player or whatever someone thinks. It’s all about development anyway.”
Think about that for a moment, about how much time you have spent reading your favorite recruiting sites, listening to your favorite recruiting experts dueling on television and expressing opinions — which the last time I looked were not to be confused with facts — on which high school senior, or junior, or sophomore, for that matter, was going to turn West Virginia into a Big 12 champion.
It isn’t necessarily that these recruiting “experts” don’t put the effort into learning as much as they can about these kids. It is more that what they can learn doesn’t really matter.
Take a look at Dorchester’s last part of that statement:
“It’s all about development anyway.”
Dorchester explains it this way:
“Let’s face it — everyone’s going to have talented players. It’s what you do with them and how they develop in so many ways that determines how they turn out.
“Third parties (those who rate players) have no vested interest. If a kid is a bust, that guy’s not going to get fired. I like when they rank recruiting classes and say somebody won. What did they win? Even Alabama, which seems to always win, they still have to develop their players.”
Try to remember back — if you are of such an age — to when you were entering college, the shy, skinny high school kid who wasn’t ready for Spanish I, let alone to carry the football against Oklahoma.
How risky is this recruiting business?
It’s risky enough that a school as good as LSU didn’t think Pat White was a quarterback or that Owen Schmitt’s ability was no better than good enough to send him off to Wisconsin-Whitewater. Maryland gave Steve Slaton a scholarship, then withdrew it, thinking it needed something else more than an All-American running back.
See, it isn’t always what you bring to the table as a recruit, but what you will offer at your best.
Some players come in too light and must put on weight, some too heavy and must take it off. Some need to learn how to play; some need to learn how to learn.
Some need discipline, some need to be pushed, some to be coddled.
This, you see, isn’t included in that four-star rating. You find it out by talking to the prep coach, by talking to the kid, by having him in camp and seeing how he responds to you as a coach and to the surroundings. If he’s there to see if he likes the school, the coach has him there to make sure the school likes him.
You choose kids by what they offer and by what you need. A two-star recruit who fills a need a school has may become a three-star recruit to that school while another school deep in players in that position or with those same skills becomes a one-star recruit.
Recruiting is the game within the game, and while there may be coaches who are good recruiters who lose, there are no coaches who are bad recruiters who win.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.