As if you didn’t know this already, college football recruiting is very much a hit-and-miss process, and all college coaches tend to miss more than they hit.
That’s just the nature of trying to project success in 17- and 18-year-old kids when there are so many mitigating factors, like their work ethic, mental capacity to learn the playbook, ability to gain and sustain bulk, or simply the bad luck of injuries.
The story in Monday’s print edition addressed the challenges of recruiting offensive linemen, some of the toughest recruits to project. Tuesday’s story, by colleague Travis Sawchik, provided some answers to the question of why so many top recruits end up failing.
So when you look through this list of the rankings breakdown for South Carolina’s Class of 2013, please do take it with a large grain of salt. Ditto for any comments you hear Wednesday, on National Signing Day, from coaches all across the country, who will not utter a critical word about any of their recruits. Signing Day is public relations spinning of the highest order.
Look, you pretty much know some elite recruits are going to be great. That was the consensus about defensive end Jadeveon Clowney when he arrived at USC. But many, many others do not arrive at college with that near-certainty of success.
Maybe that’s what makes recruiting so intriguing for fans to follow – the factor of the unknown, at once confounding and fascinating.
Mike Farrell understands all of this better than anyone. He is Rivals’ national recruiting analyst and has tracked the nation’s best high school football players since 1999.
He was talking last week about the challenges of projecting success in offensive linemen during recruiting, and he posed a theory that he emphasized was not scientific, but is obviously well-informed, given the number of players Farrell sees every year.
“For some reason, and I can’t put my finger on it, the states of South Carolina and North Carolina have been devoid of elite offensive linemen for years,” he said. “I don’t have an explanation. I just know a lot of those guys that (college) coaches have been high on, and we have been high on, just don’t end up panning out to the level we expected.”
But as he saw more Southern schools looking North to get their offensive linemen, he did think of a possible explanation.
“The only theory I have on that is obviously there’s a bit of Midwestern, Northeastern mentality of toughness that exists,” he said. “And it’s legitimate. They consider themselves snot knockers. I live up here (in Connecticut). They play in the snow. They play in the rain. The mentality is you need to have the mentality of a defensive lineman. Down South, it’s more about athleticism at the offensive line position. It’s more about technique. I just think the toughness has been lacking in those two states (South Carolina and North Carolina) when it comes to offensive linemen. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule. It’s something I kind of noticed.”
As an example, Farrell pointed to tackle Brennan Williams, who came to North Carolina from West Roxbury, Mass. (Boston area), and just finished his productive career last season. Williams was rated the No. 13 tackle in the Class of 2009 by Rivals and the No. 158 overall recruit.
USC went somewhat North in the Class of 2013 to lock up Na’Ty Rodgers, Rivals’ No. 15 tackle and one of the best recruits in USC’s class. He is ranked No. 181 overall in his class.
One reason Farrell formulated his theory about why Southern schools have looked North for their linemen is because he saw Rick Trickett do it. Trickett, who has worked at Florida State since 2007, is one of the country’s most respected offensive line coaches.
“When I saw coach Trickett go to Florida State (from West Virginia), he started going North for his offensive linemen,” Farrell said. “When I started seeing him going to Florida State and he didn’t recruit specifically in the Southeast and came up North for offensive linemen, that started making me think, ‘You know what, I think it is a mentality.’
“I think there’s more of a mentality up here and in the Midwest that doesn’t exist in the South. That mentality (of toughness) exists in Texas. I don’t think it exists out West. I think those guys are more athletic and technique than they are snot knockers.
“Because there’s not as much speed up here (in the North), you have to hold your blocks longer. You can’t just get in front of the kid, and your running back is past him. You have to be more physical and engage up here because there isn’t as much speed at the skill positions.
“I remember when Boston College went down and played Clemson and Florida State the first year they were in the ACC, both Bowdens (Tommy at Clemson, Bobby at Florida State) commented, ‘Oh my God, we’ve never seen anything that physical from the offensive line.’”
Of course, linemen can always be taught that mentality. Farrell points to Cyrus Kouandjio, who went to high school in Maryland and wasn’t known as “an overly aggressive kid” when he signed with Alabama as the No. 1 offensive tackle and No. 4 overall recruit in 2011 – the same class as Clowney.
“We had him ranked so high because he looked like a big tight end, he was so athletic and he had tremendous feet and wingspan,” Farrell said.
Though Kouandjio could be considered a Northern recruit, he didn’t have the toughness that Farrell looks for in offensive linemen, the trait he saw in so many other kids from the Northeast and Midwest.
But at Alabama, “they run smash mouth football and they taught him to be tough,” Farrell said. “Sometimes they get there, they pick it up, they’re smart, and they raise their game physically when someone is trying to punch them in the face.”
Kouandjio started at left tackle last season for Alabama’s national championship team, and it’s a pretty safe bet that he and Clowney will meet someday in the NFL.
But as Farrell mentioned with the case of Kouandjio, not all offensive line recruits come out of the North with tremendous toughness. And while Farrell believes toughness is lacking overall in offensive linemen out West, he noted that the state of California produced Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith in the Class of 2008. Rivals ranked them third and sixth among tackles. Mike Adams of Ohio was first. Kalil and Smith went to Southern California, Smith to Ohio State.
Kalil was drafted fourth overall last year by Minnesota and made the Pro Bowl. Smith went ninth overall in 2011 and has started at both tackle spots for Dallas. Adams went in the second round to Pittsburgh after failing a drug test at the combine, but ended up starting at right tackle before he got hurt.
When you look at Rivals’ top 15 tackles for 2013, they are from (in order): Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, Colorado, Kentucky, Florida, California and Maryland (Rodgers).
So of those 15, just four are from the Southeast – two from Florida, one from Alabama and one from Tennessee. Obviously, the Southeast produces the best skill position players in the country, but that’s not the case with offensive linemen. Notice, too, that there is just one California offensive tackle in the top 15, despite that state being the nation’s most populated and consistently producing great players at other positions, especially quarterback.
Oh, and that Kentucky tackle is from Owensboro, so while some of Kentucky could be considered the South, Owensboro is essentially in Indiana.
USC coach Steve Spurrier gets most of his recruits from Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, and while those states have plenty of talent, Farrell does not see a lot of elite offensive linemen coming out of there, though Georgia definitely has the best crop of those three.
Granted, there are exceptions, like Goose Creek’s Brandon Shell in the Class of 2011, as Farrell points out. But of the nation’s top 70 tackles in 2013, the state of South Carolina has one (No. 19 D.J. Park, a USC commitment); North Carolina has one (No. 41); and Georgia has eight, including two landed by USC – No. 53 Alan Knott and No. 54 J.P. Vonashek. The top-rated offensive tackle from the state of Georgia this year is ranked No. 28.
“They don’t have a great talent area to pull from (in offensive line recruiting),” Farrell said of USC.
So Farrell wouldn’t be surprised if Spurrier continues to try to mine areas like Maryland, or even farther North, for his offensive linemen in the future.
“I know about one one-thousandth of football of what Steve Spurrier does,” Farrell said. “But if I had one suggestion for Steve Spurrier it would be – what’s the term? – go North, young man. When you’re looking for your linemen, head North, because they’re nasty up there.”
Before we get to a full list of how all of Spurrier’s offensive line recruits have turned out, Farrell took some time while talking about linemen to reflect on Clowney’s recruitment, now that Clowney has turned out to be an elite college player, and almost certainly the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Farrell said Clowney is the best recruit he’s ever seen since he started tracking recruiting in 1999.
“He’s No. 1, and to put it into perspective, No. 2 is Adrian Peterson,” Farrell said. “When it comes to rarity and the simple word of being a ‘freak’ at his position, Clowney is the guy. I’ve seen all the No. 1s and all the five stars, and Clowney is the guy that I just could not believe what I was seeing on film. And then when I saw him in person, I was like, ‘OK, somebody is telling this guy the snap count. I don’t know how he gets off the ball that fast.’ I saw him play end. I saw him play defensive tackle. I saw him draw five holding calls in the Shrine Bowl. You just couldn’t stop him. Unless you’ve really seen him, nobody understands how amazing that guy is.”
Farrell said one play on Clowney’s high school film “where he runs somebody down 40 yards” is “just the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
While Clowney’s speed impressed Farrell, he said, “People don’t understand how strong he is. He was just absolutely destroying people who were the same size as him or even bigger.”
By the time Clowney’s high school career was over, Farrell recalled thinking, “There’s no level of competition this guy is going to struggle at.”
Here now, the full accounting of Spurrier’s offensive line recruiting. The list, which uses Rivals’ rankings and position listings, only includes recruits who signed as offensive linemen. So Terrence Campbell, who signed in 2006 as a defensive end and turned out to be a productive offensive guard, is not included on this list …
Na’Ty Rodgers – No. 15 tackle, No. 6 in Maryland, No. 181 nationally
D.J. Park – No. 19 tackle, No. 4 in South Carolina, No. 220 nationally
Bryce King – No. 3 center, No. 5 in South Carolina
Alan Knott – No. 53 tackle, No. 65 in Georgia
J.P. Vonashek – No. 54 tackle, No. 61 in Georgia
Joe Harris – No. 13 guard … didn’t academically qualify
Cody Waldrop – No. 16 guard, No. 45 in Florida … redshirted, will compete for starting center spot in spring
Clayton Stadnik – No. 18 center … redshirted
Brock Stadnik – No. 36 tackle, No. 10 in North Carolina … redshirted
Mason Zandi – unrated tackle … redshirted
Brandon Shell – No. 4 tackle, No. 2 in South Carolina, No. 66 nationally … current starting right tackle
Mike Matulis – No. 33 tackle, No. 65 in Florida … has started, dealt with shoulder injuries
Kyle Harris – No. 37 guard, No. 52 in Georgia … transferred after last season
Quincy McKinney – No. 61 tackle, No. 62 in Georgia … didn’t academically qualify
Will Sport – unrated tackle … backup
Kaleb Broome – unrated tackle … backup
A.J. Cann – No. 2 center, No. 9 in South Carolina, No. 182 nationally … current starting left guard
Tramell Williams – No. 9 center, No. 58 in Florida … never played, transferred
Du’Von Millsap – No. 40 guard, No. 72 in Georgia … didn’t academically qualify
Corey Robinson – No. 52 tackle … current starting left tackle, after Matulis’ injury
Cody Gibson – No. 64 tackle … has started
Ronald Patrick – unrated guard … current starting right guard
Nick Allison – No. 46 guard, No. 18 in North Carolina … quit team after 2009 season
Rokevious Watkins – unrated guard … started at guard and tackle in 2010 and 2011 after transferring from junior college
Steven Singleton – unrated guard … career backup
T.J. Johnson – No. 13 center, No. 17 in South Carolina … three-year starter at center
Elliot Williams – No. 70 tackle … didn’t academically qualify
Quintin Richardson – No. 8 tackle, No. 5 in South Carolina, No. 99 nationally … started five games as a third-year sophomore in 2009 before transferring to Hampton
Clifton Geathers – No. 25 tackle, No. 4 in Georgia … played defensive end, started as a junior in 2009, then turned pro and was a sixth-round pick
Kyle Nunn – No. 62 tackle, No. 18 in South Carolina … started at tackle for most of 2009 and 2010 before injuries limited him as a senior in 2011
Garrett Anderson – No. 8 guard, No. 3 in South Carolina … started for most of his career, finishing up at center
Kevin Young – No. 20 tackle, No. 45 in Florida … career backup, plagued by injuries
Hutch Eckerson – No. 21 tackle, No. 9 in North Carolina … started at right tackle for most of his final two seasons
Seaver Brown – No. 39 guard, No. 71 in Florida … started six games as a redshirt freshman, then became a backup and wasn’t on team as a fifth-year senior
Heath Batchelor – No. 41 tackle … started sparingly but left team in middle of 2009 season
Pierre Andrews – unrated guard … career backup
Clarence Bailey – unrated tackle … didn’t academically qualify
Ryan Broadhead – unrated guard … career backup
No recruits signed who were listed by Rivals as offensive linemen