Mark Story: Projecting football recruits a guessing game at best

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 1, 2011 

Mark Story

One of the most memorable moments of my Herald-Leader career came in February 2004, when Rich Brooks announced the results of his first full recruiting season as UK head coach — and the spontaneous public celebration that followed closed Main Street.

Remember that raucous march by joyous Kentucky football fans through downtown Lexington?

No?

That could be because it didn't happen.

It should have.

According to Internet recruiting service Rivals, the 2004 UK signing class featured 15 two-star players, 10 three stars and one four star. In the star system-obsessed world of modern college football recruiting, that didn't produce much jubilation.

Yet in that '04 Kentucky recruiting class were 13 players who became full-time starters and launched UK football on its current streak of five consecutive bowls.

Included were four future NFL players — Wesley Woodyard (a three star); Trevard Lindley (two star); Myron Pryor (two star); and Garry Williams (two star).

Other '04 notables were Rafael Little and Marcus McClinton (both three stars), plus Dicky Lyons Jr., Jason Leger, Tony Dixon and Johnny Williams (all two stars).

The one four-star recruit in the class? Heavily recruited Mayfield offensive lineman Micah Jones was not one of the '04 difference makers. His Kentucky career was sabotaged by injuries.

Moral of the story: Actual college football stars are not determined by the very subjective assignment of recruiting "stars" by talent evaluators.

Whoever came up with the five-star system — which ranks high school players based on their potential with those judged the best getting five stars and those projected as less promising getting fewer — is darned near a genius.

In the stars were found an easy-to-understand method that has filled a great public vacuum: The felt need by football fans to be able to 1.) evaluate which high school players will be the best college performers; 2.) which colleges "win" on national signing day.

For most fans, the star system has made following college football recruiting easier and more fun. Heck, I look at it and use it occasionally to evaluate how local football programs are faring in recruiting.

Nevertheless, too many college football consumers treat the star rankings as if they are the holy writ instead of somebody's guessing game.

On the week when colleges will again sign future players, let's take a deeper look at the University of Kentucky's history with the Rivals version of the star system.

Since 2002, Kentucky has never signed a Rivals five-star recruit. It has signed 12 four-star players.

Of the 12, two (D.J. Stafford and Demetrius Goode) never made it to Lexington. A third, quarterback Ryan Mossakowski, announced Monday that he is transferring. Mossakowski leaves having never thrown a pass in a UK game.

It's too early to render final judgement on some of the others, but so far only five of the 12 four-stars signed by the Cats have even become regular starters at UK. Only two — Andre Woodson and Corey Peters — became unquestioned college stars (Micah Johnson was close).

Conversely, at the end of the current NFL regular season, there were 10 ex-Kentucky players on active pro rosters.

One (Peters) was a four-star recruit; two (Woodyard and Jacob Tamme) were three stars; the other seven were all two stars or lower.

It should be self-evident that there are way too many football players, from Maine to Hawaii, signing college scholarships to accurately rank them.

Even if you could see all the players, there are many variables in the maturation rates of teenage males. The most physically imposing and gifted 17-year-olds may not be the most formidable by age 22.

To use a horrid cliché, there really is no way to measure an athlete's heart, nor his drive, determination and will to succeed.

According to the star system, Randall Cobb (three star) was the third-best wide receiver prospect UK signed in 2008, ranked below Aaron Boyd (four stars) and E.J. Fields (a higher-rated three star player).

Three years later, neither Boyd nor Fields has made much of an impact. Cobb is one of Kentucky's all-time greats and an early entrant in the NFL Draft.

Which is why, when it comes to college football recruiting, if all you see are stars then you will often miss the real picture.

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