The theme for every Mid-American Conference sport's recruiting sings similarly: find somebody a bit shorter, or a second slower, or a little too thin, and they may or may not be the best player you've ever had, let it in, let it out, hey Jude.
Read this Columbus Dispatch story from 2009 about Roosevelt Nix, then a high school senior in the Columbus area. The unwritten conclusion: what a hell of a talent — if only he was over six feet tall, he might be a Buckeye. One year after agreeing to play for Kent State, Nix was the MAC Rookie of the Year, a gold star that was earmarked to his other accolade: MAC Defensive Player of the Year. As a true freshman.
Now look at Kent State's entire list of 2010 recruits. You'll find Nix on there, and if you sort by "Rivals Rating," you'll find him southward, with a 5.2, the lowest rating assigned to a human on that list. Three-star recruit Jerome Davis was the top-rated man in their class, and he didn't see game time this season.
I didn't know this about him until I started writing this post, but Nix is only 5'11". Height is important when evaluating talent, but when they actually play, the frame is but one of the many metrics that fly across the TV graphics. What the fans care about once they're actually in the jersey: wins and stats. Height plays a bigger role in basketball, because a 6'11" guy's gonna rebound a lot easier than a 6'6" hustleforward, but in the trenches it's basically strength on strength. Who's better? It's not necessarily the taller, heavier mammal. This year, Nix was the best lineman (offensive OR defensive), and yet when it began to rain he was the last one to feel it.
In 2009 Toledo landed a four-star recruit named Jermaine Robinson. As a sophomore he was their full-time strong safety, and was rated much better than a two-star defensive back, who turned out to be Eric Page, the reigning MAC Special Teams Player of the Year and could break some wide receiver records if he keeps this up.
That's not to say top recruits never pan out as expected. Dan LeFevour, Nate Davis and Freddie Barnes all headlined signing classes for CMU, Ball State, and Bowling Green. But to call MAC recruiting a crapshoot demeans the consistency and predictability of firing ammunition through fecal matter.
February 2 is National Signing Day, and the best part about it, at least for us keenly watching the MAC, is not so much "did we get anybody good?" but rather "who are these people and where are they from?" Seeing hometowns and even familiar high schools is always fun to notice. And honestly, until one of these teams suddenly becomes a dynasty and starts raking in the five-star athletes, that's about all we can muster from signing day lists. We'd love to make a big deal about it and say "all right, they got a three-star linebacker, things are looking up!" But quantifiable talent really fluctuates with high school seniors.
Much like when your best friend changed when he went to high school, so do the athletes. They could become a late bloomer, like the girl next door who spent all of junior year with braces. Or maybe they think they're such hot shit, once they hit campus their hubris and lack of focus becomes their undoing.
I look at these websites like Scout and Rivals and think ... wow, what an amazing job they do. And then I stop to think that they're valuating TEENAGERS on a daily basis. Has anybody ever properly judged what a teenager is feeling, let alone their net worth in sports, and been at all correct?
Let's step aside from sports for a moment. Imagine how they would have rated you (read: me) coming out of high school:
Matt Sussman, 5'11", 165 lbs (St. John's Jesuit/Toledo) ★★
Above-average math skills, excellent speller ... interest in sports, but poor mobility ... known for joke mailing lists ... underachieved with his GPA ... responsible, stays at home well ... already has some pretty good facial hair ... plans to major in computer science
Not too promising! Should've taken more AP classes and applied yourself better. That's why you're going to Bowling Green, amirite?
This scouting report becomes more useful when comparing it to someone's notes of me once I'm about to finish my senior year and declare for the real world:
Matt Sussman, 5'11, 180 lbs (Bowling Green State University)
Poor grades in computer science, his major ... excellent grades in journalism, has much-improved writing skills ... above-average curler ... not quick out of bed in the morning, tends to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. ... tendency to let women walk all over him ... spends and inordinate amount of time playing Super Smash Brothers Melee for the GameCube ... amazing neckbeard ... still has one of those Motorola StarTAC phones, can you believe it ... has a specialized focus of knowledge but will flourish in the right system, should find a job within the first few months after graduation.
You know more and you discover more about athletes once they're in college, not before. Rely on a freshman to win a conference championship as much as you would rely on a freshman to have a leadership position in a fraternity or school production of 42nd Street.
So basically, high school recruiting profiles reach their maximum interest when perused years later once the athletes truly become special in college, like LeFevour was and like Nix and Page can be. Beforehand, they're essentially sports almanackers trying not to make fools of their own instincts and formulas. Which, in the world of predictions, is all anybody is trying to do. Heck, maybe in high school those who are now professionally rating high school seniors were voted "Least Likely To Succeed At Knowing Who's Most Likely To Succeed." What, you didn't have that category in your yearbook?