MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Saturday and Sunday are two of the most important days of the year for West Virginia's football recruiting efforts.A week from Sunday, too. And then again on July 27.Those aren't random dates. They are the days WVU hosts its four one-day football camps.And they are really the only days that West Virginia's coaches have an opportunity to see what a kid can do.It's the same all across the country, of course, whether it's Alabama or Azusa Pacific, Michigan State or Montclair State, West Virginia or West Chester.Sure, there's tons of information out there. Some of it is even fairly reliable. Game tapes don't lie, even if high school coaches sometimes do. College coaches can go watch kids play, they can talk to them, text them, send them love letters, whatever.And that's not even to mention scouting services and websites. Really now, if the Internet wasn't invented specifically for wannabe football recruiting geniuses, well, it's done a pretty good job of providing them with a forum. With a click of a button you can discover almost any potential college player's height, weight, 40-yard-dash time and who seems interested in his services.What more could a college coach want?Well, how about hands-on experience with the kid, even if it's just for a few hours?
"There's no substitute for that,'' said Ryan Dorchester, charged with serving as WVU's recruiting coordinator, in part, and sifting through the volumes of information available. "The camps are big for everyone.''Once upon a time, football camps were just a summer diversion for both coaches and players. Players might hone a few skills and coaches made a little extra money. Both are still true, but almost as an afterthought.Somewhere along the line some smart coach realized the potential that had always been there but was no doubt being underutilized. Players saw the same thing. It was the perfect opportunity to see (for coaches) and be seen (for players).So now, prospects will devote an entire summer almost to touring camps, and coaches make sure the prospects they'd like to see know exactly when they can be seen. For example, if a player in whom WVU is interested doesn't know exactly when the school's camps are scheduled, well, someone has fallen asleep at the switch.
Getting a prospect to visit one of your camps is as important as getting one of his five official visits, sometimes more so. Once there, coaches can put him through drills designed to answer their questions about him.You can't find those answers on a recruiting website.
"People get so infatuated with rankings. It's absurd,'' Dorchester said of the star system that purports to weigh a prospect's worth as a player, but is more often culled merely from the list of schools that think he's worth something. "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.''Indeed, go back and research where this year's NFL first-round draft choices were rated coming out of high school. Or, I'll save you the trouble with the overview:Yes, four- and five-star players coming out of high school did well. Of the 32 first-round picks, 17 fell into those two categories.But consider that the No. 1 pick, Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher, was a two-star player coming out of high school. Two of the top five picks, Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson and BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, weren't afforded ANY stars. Nor were two other first-round picks who went to junior colleges before they were deemed worthy of a star.And while a preponderance of the first-round picks (26) were at least three-star players coming out of high school, there were more two-star and zero-star players drafted in the first round (six) than five-star recruits.The fact is, falling head over heels about five-star recruits is as silly as assuming your first-grader is going to be an accountant because she got a perfect score when she was asked to add one-digit numbers.
"It's all about development,'' Dorchester said. "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 different 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.''Would it be nice to have all four-and-five star recruits? Sure, but it just means that a coach is probably starting with more raw talent. The list of those guys who have been busts might not be as long as those who have become stars, but it's close. There are so many intangibles involved, beginning with character and work ethic and all the things you can't find out about a kid until you start working with him.Even if it's only for a few hours at a one-day camp.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.