Are HS recruiting rankings fair? Star system creates motivation, pressure and fan interest

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B.J. Scott looked like a can’t-miss prospect.

A speedy, game-breaking athlete at Vigor High just outside Mobile, he raced up the recruiting rankings 10 years ago, topping out as the No. 1 athlete on ESPN’s national ratings and ranking just behind future NFL star Julio Jones in the state’s list of top prospects.

Scott’s college career, though, never matched his recruiting ranking.

He transferred from Alabama to South Alabama after making six tackles and one interception, battled a knee injury as a junior and then finished third on the Jaguars’ defense with 84 tackles as a senior.

Were his high school recruiting rankings fair? Did it place undue pressure?

“If you’re ranked No. 1, you want to live up to that. That’s positive,” Scott said in a recent phone interview. “I don’t see anything negative about that. You play to be the best. You want to show everybody that you’re worth the ranking.”

Recruiting rankings have become as much a part of college football as the forward pass, and they’ll take center stage again Wednesday when millionaire coaches finalize their latest recruiting classes.

Alabama has attracted the No. 1 recruiting class for seven straight seasons, a major point of pride for fans and prospects.

Revamped A-List

But are those rankings fair to the teens who never asked for the ranking?

“It’s not really for the kids, but it’s all about the kids,” said veteran 247sports recruiting analyst John Garcia. “Can it create unrealistic expectations? Of course.

“It also creates motivation. I’ve gotten messages from kids that basically say, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong.'”

The rankings seek a simple target audience: Fans. “The rankings help identify and gauge how good a prospect might be,” Garcia said.

Alabama run

The process

Much of the evaluation process for recruits happens at summer camps and spring combines, events that aren’t real football and players aren’t wearing pads.

Pinson Valley coach Patrick Nix celebrates winning the 2017 Class 6A state title. (Vasha Hunt | 

That puts the emphasis on measurables such as height, weight and 40-yard dash times, as opposed to a player’s production in 11-on-11 football games.

“A quarterback can go to a camp and have a perfect drop, a perfect release, perfect footwork, do everything right,” Thompson coach Mark Freeman said. “But until them lights come one, you don’t know how he performs under pressure.”

Added Pinson Valley coach Patrick Nix, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We play a game called football. It’s not a beauty pageant. Any ranking has a subjective element. It’s somebody’s opinion. … It’s still not an exact science. You’re not dealing with computers. You’re dealing with humans, and a lot of factors go in.”

Scott, meanwhile, noted a player’s star rating often depends on attending voluntary camps and combines, even though sitting out could ultimately hurt a player’s college prospects.

“You can’t really complain if you put yourself in position to be judged,” he said. “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

Auburn’s class

On to college

Former Auburn center Reese Dismukes left Spanish Fort ranked as the nation’s top center prospect and played alongside plenty of highly-ranked prospects during his college career.

Spanish Fort’s Reese Dismukes emerged as a huge recruit for the Toros and signed with Auburn. (Mike Kittrell | file) 

Every player, he said, views recruiting rankings differently. Some carry it as a badge of honor and it serves as motivator, like Scott said. Others see it as a burden that becomes crushing pressure.

“It definitely weighs on some guys,” he said. “You’re the greatest thing since sliced bread coming out of high school and riding that wave and then you don’t pan out. That 5-star guy comes and doesn’t play right away and what’s the first article written — this guy isn’t panning out. The media definitely feeds it.”

But do the rankings matter? Not after National Signing Day, Dismukes said.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a 2-star, 5-star, whatever. Once you get between those white lines, all that goes away. It’s all about who’s the best player,” Dismukes said. “At the end of the day, the best guy is going to play, no matter what.

“Coaches are paid these days to be better recruiters than coaches,” he added. “You tell a kid he’s going to be this and he’s going to be that, and then when he gets there, you cut his legs out from under him. Everybody’s not prepared for that. … The real world is hard.”


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