The Ottumwa Courier

Opinion

February 6, 2013

Signing day arrives: Hey where are your stars?

Overlooked players driven to prove their doubters wrong

OTTUMWA — It’s signing day for college football recruiting and no — Iowa didn’t sign any four- or five-star rated players (three is solid or average for Division I, four is more highly coveted and five is off the charts).

A lot is made each year by the lack of stars by some Hawkeye fans who obsessively follow the social media soap opera of recruiting ... the gossip, the whining, the bragging the pouting. Could we be any more dramatic?

Iowa signed a group predominately made up of  three-star recruits — all with impressive on-the-field production — and sprinkled in a few two stars too.

Rivals.com has websites for every Division I college team out there — websites for anonymous fans with message boards, a recipe for cooler heads and rational thought to be sure. The website for the Hawkeyes, IowaRivals.com, feeds the usual carefully thought-out posts, as you can imagine.

One recent post asked if any Hawkeye recruits played in the prestigious Under Armour high school All-Star game. A series of sarcastic responses followed with “long-snapper” and “waterboy.”

The humor eludes me when it puts down highly motivated future Hawkeyes, considering our fortune with past hidden gems.

I reflected on the question. Want to know some other former Hawkeyes who didn’t play in the Under Armour All-Star  game?

Never offered a scholarship, walk-on Dallas Clark didn’t play in that all-star game. He was however, the 2002 recipient of the John Mackey Award for top tight end in college football, an NFL first-round pick and legend Peyton Manning’s favorite target for years. He had a salary averaging $4.5 million per year ($41 million total), making him the highest paid tight end in NFL history. We probably shouldn’t have taken him going by the current grumbling of fans’ obsession with star ratings.

Other Hawkeye walk-ons Bruce Nelson (second-round NFL pick) and Derek Pagel (fifth-round pick), Sean Considine (fourth-round pick), Kevin Kasper (sixth-round pick) never played in the Under Armour game. Kasper walked on for the Hawkeyes but left as the all-time receptions leader at the University of Iowa for a game, a season and a career.

All-Big Ten walk-on Brett Greenwood didn’t play in the Under Armour game either.  Walk-on linebacker Grant Steen didn’t play in it — he did, however play a key role salvaging a win at Indiana with three interceptions in Iowa’s magical 11-2 Orange Bowl season in 2002.

Walk-on Mark Weisman, the running back on a tear last year before injury, didn’t play in it. It reinforces the notion that the University of Iowa is one of the most walk-on friendly schools in college football. They’ll give you a fair shot.

Iowa picked up lightly recruited A.J. Edds as a backup plan. He was drafted in the fourth round and now plays for the Colts. He never played in the Under Armour game. Neither did two-star Micah Hyde, who was named the team’s most valuable player and earned the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Award in the Big Ten.

Neither did the too small, lightly recruited Bob Sanders. He was recruited by just one other division I school. He was, however, a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, an NFL All-Pro and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. His heat-seeking missile hits awed the crowd and emotionally lifted his teams to another level. Called the “Eraser” by his NFL coach, he erased other players’ mistakes on defense and was credited as being the difference-maker in lifting the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl champions.

Chad Greenway was  lightly recruited and should have been ignored, according to today’s obsessions with star ratings by obscure recruiting services. Sure, he was first-team All-Big Ten, an All-American, a first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings, an All-Pro, leading the team every year in tackles. But, we should have passed on him, right?

All-pro offensive lineman Marshal Yanda, a key ingredient to the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens — one of the most complimented players in the NFL today — never played in the Under Armour game. All-conference was his highest honor in high school before going to a junior college and then to Iowa. He  signed a five-year, $32 million contract this year.

Going way back, Heisman runner-up Chuck Long never played in any all-star games. Only Iowa and Northern Illinois recruited the overlooked Long.

Four-star recruit Greg Garmon played in eight all-star games over his career, was rated the fifth-best running back in the country by one recruiting service and was the first player picked for Tom Lemming’s all-star game. He’s transferring because he would likely have been fifth string for Iowa next year behind Weisman, Damon Bullock, Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said one of the joys of coaching is seeing special stories like Weisman develop.

Iowa and Ferentz aren’t shy about making their own evaluations and deviating away from the star ratings of recruiting services. If a prospect is an inch or two shorter or doesn’t quite fit the prototypical size, it could be a mistake to overlook him.

“We blew that one on Danny Woodhead, 177 pounds, when he went to Chadron State, and we did not want to blow it again,” Ferentz said.

Woodhead rushed for nearly 8,000 yards in college and is a star for the New England Patriots.  

Ferentz’s quote was in reference to his offer to undersized running back Jordan Canzeri of Troy, N.Y. At 5-9, 172 pounds, Canzeri was only offered by Villanova and Connecticut. Hawkeye fans should watch out for Canzeri, now up to 195 pounds. His high school highlight films on YouTube are on the level of a superhero. Check them out. He’ll be a star, able to score from anywhere on the field.

Oversigning — signing more players than scholarships are available —   has become more commonplace in the ultra-competitive world of college football, especially in the Southeastern Conference, signing up to 30 or more players a season despite an  85-scholarship limit for the team.

Players who don’t work out are unceremoniously run off.

“The math is fairly obvious,” said Ferentz. “To me it indicates a little different set of priorities. I better stop at that.”

Parents should realize what oversigning means to their kids when college choices are made.

Looking back on five-star recruits, it’s a mixed bag to be sure.

Manti Te’o was a five-star recruit, and he turned out to be the real deal. His girlfriend was reported to be a 10 — she didn’t turn out to be the real deal.

Of the last 20 five-star quarterbacks over recent years, only eight were selected in the NFL draft. Meanwhile, several Iowa walk-ons and lightly recruited players have been drafted and gone on to have lengthy NFL careers.

Sunday’s Super Bowl was full of players from smaller schools who have been doubted their entire careers, including San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers’ quarterback made a name for himself in college at little-known Nevada. Every time he spikes the football it’s speculated he is symbolically spiking the doubters he’s overcome throughout his career.

Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver of all time, played at Mississippi Valley State. They said he only ran a 4.5 to 4.6 40 out of college. I never saw him get caught from behind. Did you? Walter Payton, one of the prolific running backs of all time, played at Jackson State.

Of course Kurt Warner didn’t wow anyone out of high school either and didn’t start until his senior year at Northern Iowa. The undrafted two-time NFL MVP who used to work at Hy-Vee stocking shelves is one of the greatest stories in NFL history and will be in the Hall of Fame.

Five-star recruits don’t mean a sure thing. Iowa’s had two five-stars in the last 12 years. Blake Larsen was widely considered the top offensive lineman in the country out of high school. He rarely saw the field.

Iowa also landed five-star linebacker “Bonecrusher” Kyle Williams. He lasted less than a week at Iowa before transferring to Purdue.  He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attacking a woman in Lisle, Ill., in 2006, in addition to the 37-year prison term he received the year before for attacking two women on Purdue’s West Lafayette, Ind., campus on Nov. 29, 2005.

So, be careful what you wish for.

Iowa had a bunch of recruits play in prestigious  all-star games when they had that top-10 2005 class fall apart.

It’s an inexact science. I remember reading a Sports Illustrated article years ago that said half of high school All-Americans never start Division I. Another article talked about the shocking attrition of the top-rated recruits.

Because of the competitive nature of recruiting, they’ve effectively judged  recruits when they’re sophomores and juniors and the senior year is almost an afterthought — the most important piece of evidence to evaluate. Yet most won’t contribute much until they’re redshirt sophomores in college. That’s a light-year gap. A lot of change happens in that much time.

A lot of under-the-radar guys mature and pass the top-rated recruits and their potential. Sure we want to get all the stars we can get, enough stars to salute and sing the National Anthem to. But, I feel pretty good about the three- and two-star recruits we’ve signed  — some of them are going to play in the NFL. I wonder which ones.

The Hawkeyes have had the third-most players in college football drafted by the NFL in the last three years and the fifth most in the last five years, ahead of Alabama. Iowa has the second-most active players in the NFL of all Big Ten schools, trailing only Ohio State.

Being a recruiting guru, like a weatherman or meteorologist, is the perfect gig. Your forecast can be wrong time and time again and people will still come back to ask for your opinion.  Add to that, inaccurately forecasting people’s potential, year after year.

Can you imagine if you were wrong as often as they are at your job? You’d have a lot of angry customers and probably be looking for another career.

So, before anonymous message board posters and critics bash and write off overlooked members of a motivated recruiting class, just remember — your doubts only fuel their fire.

Matt Brindley is a nighttime editor at the Ottumwa Courier and can be reached at m.brindley@ottumwacourier.com

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