Guerry Clegg

Guerry Clegg: Don't lose perspective over recruiting

Ricky and Lucy. Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman.

Some matches are just made for each other.

So it is with college football recruiting and the world wide web.

Pick a reason. Fiction becomes fact. Fact becomes obscured. Perception becomes reality.

One week from today, hundreds of high school and junior college players across the country will sign a national letter-of-intent, ending weeks or months or, in some cases, two or three years of relentless recruiting and pointless speculation. Recruiting analysts all over the country will weigh in on why this school cleaned up and why this other school bombed.

Ultimately, all of that means nothing.

Mind you, recruiting is important to a college football team's success. Actually, it's more than important. It's essential.

There's much work for Kirby Smart and Gus Malzahn to do if they are to build Georgia and Auburn back into national championship contenders. Work such as developing players through strength and conditioning programs, improving fundamentals, teaching a more complex playbook than they were accustomed to in high school, keeping players on track academically and developing them personally.

And that's just the player development aspect. They also have to build team chemistry and mesh all of the personalities and talents.

But it all starts at the top of the funnel with recruiting. Not even Nick Saban can win without great players.

So recruiting matters.

Recruiting ratings, however, do not. At least, not very much.

Granted, many of the ratings prove to be accurate. Robert Nkemdiche was coveted by everyone, and he proved to be one of the most dominant players in the country in his three years at Ole Miss. It didn't take a football expert to figure out that Nkemdiche was a special talent. So it's no coincidence that Alabama has consistently amassed some of the highest-rated signing classes and has been consistently great on the field.

If a school signs three highly rated classes in a row, the odds are pretty favorable that enough of those players will pan out to have a pretty solid team.

The first recruiting magazine I ever saw was 30 years ago. Frank Thomas Sr. walked into our sports department one evening with a magazine in his hand and a big smile on his face. Big Frank always had a big smile. Central's James Joseph was getting all the ink. Bi-City Player of the Year. All-State in Alabama. Parade All-America.

Young Frank was a tight end in a run-based offense, so he wasn't getting much attention. Big Frank politely and proudly opened the magazine to show that his son was named one of the top prospects in the South. So we wrote a little brief on it and later wrote about him signing with Auburn.

For the record, Thomas was a pretty good football player at Auburn. But he

played another sport.

Each year after that we started putting more energy into trying to get the scoop on verbal commitments. Most of our information was leaked from the schools themselves. Not the coaches but recruiting staff members who wanted to get the commitments publicized hoping that the kids would feel pressured to keep their word.

Then along came the Internet and recruiting "news" exploded. Players have become their own publicity agents with Twitter and Instagram and whatever social media platform kids use these days. Snapchat messages disappear shortly after they are posted. That seems appropriate for recruiting.

Signing day has become a Steven Spielberg production.

That's fine if that's what a high school kid wants to do. If they want to feel like they're the center of the universe for 15 minutes, there's no real harm in that. Just do the math, though. There are 128 FBS programs, and they can sign 25 players a year. That's 3,200 centers of the universe.

Just because they are happy to be fulfilling a dream -- not to mention getting to cut class for a day -- doesn't mean adults should lose perspective.

These are good football players, yes. Some might make an impact this fall. They all have a lot of work and growing up to do.

Many of those who carry the weight of unrealistic expectations who fall short of greatness will be labeled busts, which is beyond unfair. It's insane and simply wrong.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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