If you are like me, you are probably a little confused by high school football recruiting talk. What exactly is the difference between a three-star player and a four star player? In addition, if a five-star player is the best of the best, why do so many not produce at the college level? These are questions I have asked often, and maybe you have asked them too.
You should understand that I am not necessarily criticizing the recruiting process or the sites that evaluate the recruits. I am merely pointing out that the value of the language they use is not always self-evident. At times, it appears that the stars attached to a player’s name do more to sell the writer than they do to sell the player.
One of the biggest problems with the star system is the fact that, according to the major sites, there is roughly the same number of elite players every year. That is simply not a likely outcome. Professional sports are a perfect example of this. If you follow the NBA or the NFL, you know that drafts are not all created equally. Some years, like the quarterback class of 1983, are loaded and some are barren, like the most recent basketball draft. It makes sense that high school football recruits would probably hold to a similar pattern, and yet the market for recruiting analysis simply will not allow for too few five star players in a given year because fans of big programs like to buy magazines where they can read about their program signing five star players.
That said my skepticism on this issue does not lead to full-blown cynicism. Actually, I totally reject the party line from many college coaches who wish this whole conversation would go away (I am looking at you Paul Johnson). They try to pretend that the stars are meaningless, and that’s not true either. The best players in college football are usually, to no one’s surprise, the same ones that were the best players in high school football. In addition, the schools recruiting the most four and five star players are the schools who are doing the most winning around the country. However, while the stars are not meaningless, they are misleading.
The fact is that what the star system gets most wrong is that, within a group of elite players like the class of four or five star players from any given year, there is still going to be huge separation between guys in that group. In other words, not all four and five star players are created equal. You might assume this means that some of the people we call four or five star players are actually less than that caliber. Actually, I believe that the opposite is true. When you lump the best people together and slap the same label on them, you are forgetting one of the oldest clichés in the book: it is lonely at the top.
If the top handful of high school football players in the country are called five stars, then in most years there will be a person who is not just better than the rest, but way better than the other guys vying to be the best. Therefore, my suggestion would be to create a special designation for the best of the best. In a world of five star players, there exists the occasional 10 star player. This player won’t emerge every year, but every so often, there will be a name more valuable than any two other players combined.
There is a chance that I saw one of those players this past Friday night. His name is Rashaan Evans and he plays defensive end for Auburn High School in Auburn, Ala. He simply could not be blocked. He relentlessly chased down the quarterback of a very good Carver team from Montgomery all night long. He was a one-man wrecking crew. To top it off, he also scored three touchdowns as a short yardage “wildcat” quarterback. If you saw the game on CSS, you know how impressive he was.
As I watched him from our television booth, I could not help but think that there is no way he should just be lumped into a group of other good players and have the same label of “four or five star guy” slapped on him like he is some indistinguishable commodity. We are blessed to be able to broadcast the best athletes in the southeast into your living room every Friday night during the high school football season, and the fact is they are not all equally impressive. Some just don’t live up to the hype. In addition, some far exceed our expectations. Rashaan Evans was someone who gave us more than we could have hoped for, and I imagine he will do the same thing for whichever school he chooses in February. He showed a rare value on the field, and it’s time we created a rating system that reflects that.