Wednesday is “National Signing Day” in college football, the day when thousands of high school recruits make their choice of colleges official by signing binding letters of intent.
And it’s become a huge production.
To record this momentous occasion, athletic departments churn out reams of press releases hyping the size, speed, ratings and statistics of their top recruits. CBS and ESPN present marathon coverage, similar to the NFL Draft. Elite players don the hats of their chosen schools before TV cameras, teammates and proud parents. Coaches spout glittering words of praise about the impact these new commits will have on their programs. And recruiting services anoint the colleges that made the biggest hauls.
Most schools now have a well-orchestrated Signing Day event—for the media, donors, select fans and local alums—featuring video clips of each signee accompanied by pulsating sound tracks.
These events can get pretty elaborate. Last year Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh invited a few high-profile ex-players, including New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, to attend his “Signing of the Stars” extravaganza.
The primary objective is to excite alums and motivate fans to buy tickets, not to mention impressing future recruits and their families.
The problem with all this, of course, is that it’s just speculation. Many of the “can’t miss” five-star prospects do, in fact, miss. And many unheralded two-star prospects and walk-ons achieve greatness, not just in college, but in the pros. As you might suspect, coaching has something to do with this.
In the Pac-12, according to the San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner, UCLA has had the top-rated recruiting class in the league for three of the last four years (plus No. 2 the fourth year). Yet the Bruins have failed to win a conference title or post a league record better than 6-3 during that time. On the flip side, Colorado, which had the league’s worst recruiting class three of the past four years, just won the South Division title this season.
Consider the case of Alex Mack, a two-star high school recruit from Santa Barbara, who became a standout at Cal, won the equivalent of the academic Heisman Trophy from the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame, and has been a perennial Pro Bowl selection. He signed a free agent contract with Atlanta before the 2016 season, and this Sunday will be snapping the ball for the Falcons in the Super Bowl.
In 2013, the San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl with a couple of two-star high school recruits who became All-Pro offensive linemen—Joe Staley and Mike Iupati.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, according to Jon Solomon of CBS, the starting players in this Sunday’s game were rated as follows coming out of high school: New England offense, average 2.9 stars (out of 5); New England defense, avg. 2.8; Atlanta offense 2.8; Atlanta defense 2.5. Over 60% of these gentlemen were not even in the top 500 recruits of their respective high school classes. Late bloomers, I guess.
The good news is that things are about to change. This April, the NCAA is expected to approve an early signing period that will allow high school recruits to make their commitments to colleges during a three-day window in December.
Many players, perhaps a majority, will jump at this opportunity. These days, most recruits make up their minds long before the first Wednesday of February. (In fact, according to 247Sports, 12 of this year’s top 18 players enrolled at the school of their choice in January).
If we’re lucky, the early signing period will take much of the glamour out of Signing Day, and that will be a healthy thing for college football.
Coach David Shaw reeled in a stellar class of 19 players, highlighted by five recruits who own the nation’s No. 1 ranking at their positions according to at least one recruiting service. They are: offensive tackle Walker Little (Houston, Texas), who is also rated the No. 1 recruit in the nation by 247 Sports and No. 4 by Scout.com; QB Davis Mills of Greater Atlanta Christian School, also rated the sixth best player in the country according to Scout; offensive tackle Foster Sarell (Graham, Washington), also rated the second best recruit in the nation by Scout and No. 3 by Prepstar; tight end Colby Parkinson (Westlake Village); and fullback Sione Lund from Salt Lake City.
All five of the No. 1’s have excellent size: Little is 6-8, 305; Mills 6-4, 205; Sarell 6-7, 315; Parkinson 6-7, 235; and Lund 6-1, 235. Mills passed for over 2700 yards and 34 touchdowns this year, with only one interception, despite missing two games with an injury. He also ran for over 300 yards and 8 touchdowns.
The Cardinal landed five other prospects who earned four stars from either Scout or ESPN—wide receiver Osiris St. Brown of Mater Dei in Santa Ana, wide receiver Paulson Adebo from Mansfield, TX, running back/defensive back Connor Wedington from Sumner, Washington, defensive tackle Dalyn Wade-Perry from Sparta, NJ, and defensive end Ryan Johnson from Axis, Alabama. Brown, the brother of Notre Dame receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, had 62 receptions for 1,127 yards and 19TDs this year.
Other names of note include center Drew Dalman from Pacific Grove, son of former Stanford and 49er center Chris Dalman, and tight end Tucker Fisk from Davis, son of former Stanford and NFL defensive lineman Jason Fisk.
The various services rate Stanford’s class anywhere from 10th in the country (ESPN) to 24th (Scout).
Despite a late start, new Cal coach Justin Wilcox landed a couple of Scout.com four-star players in tight end Taariq Johnson from Buena Park and cornerback Elijah Hicks from La Mirada, both of whom have already enrolled at Berkeley. The Bears also signed 6-2, 192 pound quarterback, Chase Garbers from Corona Del Mar, who’s rated the No. 10 QB in the country by ESPN and No. 35 by scout.
The Bears signed 14 recruits in all, but the late coaching change cost them four local players who flipped to USC. More junior college signings are anticipated in the coming weeks and months.
The bottom line, though, is to take all of this with a grain of salt. The true merits of these recruiting classes won’t be known for two or three years. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.