Friday, January 23, 2009

It'll take all kinds of recruits, Husker fans

You hear so much how recruiting is an inexact science. In that same argument, you’ll hear about what matters more “Xs and Os or Jimmys and Joes?”

My argument has always been that it’s not an either/or notion. They both matter. You’ll also hear about what’s the best way to build a program: five-star recruits, two-star recruits that no one wants, JC transfers or walkons.

Since signing day for high school athletes is forthcoming, it’s a timely discussion. I have always believed there are pros and cons with all of them. Therefore, you cannot have a steady diet of one kind. It takes all kinds of athletes to become a National Championship contender and it’s not about just recruiting a bunch of guys and plugging them in wherever. It’s about developing the talent once you acquire it.

Plus, every time I see recruiting rankings, I must wonder how the touts arrive at those rankings. And are they just pulling them out of thin air?

For five-star recruits, the plus side is that they are potential difference makers that can lift a team over the hump. The downside is that because they receive so much adulation, they might not be ready for the realities that face them in college when they are no longer going against athletes they are better than by head and shoulders. In essence, they are likely to feel a sense of entitlement when they get to college.

For the two-star recruits that few schools wanted, they are the complimentary pieces that a team needs to get over the hump. They often might have played in the shadows of other teammates in high school so they are likely to bring better intangibles such as leadership and a strong work ethic.

For JC transfers, I think it’s a good thing that Nebraska is relying less on them under Bo Pelini than it did under Bill Callahan. However, I think us Husker fans tend to have too much of an elitist attitude toward JC transfers. Sure they have more of a carpentbagger mentality but there are more reasons than just academics why a youngster goes the JC route. Some kids get good grades but are not quite mature enough yet. If you are a youngster that values immediate playing time over redshirting, then the JC route is the way to go. JC transfers often fall into the same category as the two-star recruits. They often might have played in the shadows of other teammates in high school so they are likely to bring better intangibles such as leadership and a strong work ethic.

For walkons, it’s good to see the program get re-emphasized. I think to some degree Callahan gets a bad wrap for his dealing with the walkon program. It’s not like he eliminated it. He just made a decision that was going to have to get made at some point – reducing it. Callahan’s biggest mistake was his reluctance to embrace Nebraska’s rich history. I firmly believe that the walkon program always gave Nebraska an advantage because football means so much to the state. The only culture that is comparable is Alabama. The walkons have such a deep passion for Nebraska football that they push the five-star recruits in practice to be better players.

I remember years ago in the Orange Bowl when Miami was beating us handily. Bill Walsh said something to the effect of, “The problem Nebraska faces is that there are just not enough good athletes in the state.” Some fellow fans I talk to get bent out of shape at that statement but their anger misses the point.

He never said there were not good athletes in the state. Let’s face it, Ahman Green came from Omaha but you go to California, Texas, or Florida and they have 10-15 Ahman Greens. After all, there are only 1.5 million people in Nebraska and 15 million plus in the states I just mentioned. It’s no different than a public high school of 2,500 kids is going to have more viable options to start at quarterback than a public high school of 200 kids.

Nebraska’s recruiting disadvantages have been well-documented, weather, lack of beaches and mountains and lack of a bustling night-life. Though I find the last of those two arguments compelling because we’ve had a few players get in trouble over the years at various downtown Lincoln establishments.

Of the three enormously popluated states, I think Texas would be the one for Nebraska to emphasize because there are four Texas schools in the Big 12 Conference. Plus, Nebraska has competed three times in the Alamo Bowl and once in the Cotton Bowl over the last ten years.
Regardless of who or where, we recruit it comes down to the notion that “the heart and soul of Nebraska football comes from the state of Nebraska. The arms and legs come from the other 49 states.”

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