by Jim Buzzerd
I don’t talk about the recruitment of high school athletes to colleges very often, but today I have a few thoughts to share. Football recruiting is a big deal these days and has become an industry unto itself with websites and other publications charging subscription fees for their coverage. Rivals and 247 Sports are two of the major players, but ESPN, CBS Sports and others are all in the game. The folks at these publications will rate players on a star system, most use a five-star ranking system with a five-star recruit being the highest and most desirable.
A quick glance at Rivals rankings reveals that only 25 high school seniors have been given five stars, so those players are few and far between. Five of those top 25 are currently committed to Clemson as the Tigers and Dabo Swinney have rebounded nicely from the 70-33 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia University in 2012. This isn’t about player rankings though, at least not directly.
As recruiting pertains to West Virginia, which is the only school I care about in the recruiting process, WVU has to make hay with three and two star talent. The Mountaineers have been picking up a few four star players yearly, but not many. It’s at this point I would like to say that whatever criteria these folks use to rate 16, 17 and 18 year olds is anything but scientific. Plenty of kids coming out of high school with three, and even two stars develop into great college players and even have nice professional careers.
Where the stars may matter most is perception. The more four and five star kids you recruit, the higher rated your recruiting class is. The higher rated your recruiting class is, the more desirable you become to other high rated players. Alabama and Clemson have dominated the top of the recruiting rankings in recent years, and guess which two teams have been playing for the recent national titles. So, you may not need five star kids to be good in college football, but getting a few five star kids and a healthy batch of four-star kids really sets the table to be great.
I bring this up because West Virginia thought they had a really good prospect when 6-5, 235 defensive end Aaron Lewis committed to the Mountaineers in April. Lewis is currently a three star recruit, but many expect him to get a fourth star in the fall, for what that’s worth. Upon his commitment Lewis said, “I’m a loyal guy. When I made my decision, I made my decision. These coaches, if they try to call me, text me – all of that – I’m loyal to the Mountaineers and I’m loyal to West Virginia.”
Then the New Jersey player began to recruit other Jersey kids to WVU for the better part of two months. Right up until last weekend when he snuck off to Michigan and committed to the Wolverines. So much for loyalty!
According to Lewis, “I talked to my mom a lot and we really did try to keep it on the down low,” Lewis said. “We talked to West Virginia and told them that we were taking a visit to Michigan. They didn’t really like it, but I really wanted to go and take that visit. I knew I had to go.”
“After that, I told Coach [Anthony] Campanile and Coach [Jim] Harbaugh that I wanted to visit. They said that they’d help us out and let us know how to do it and keep it quiet and that’s what we did. We just ended up making the visit.”
So, that’s how it goes with high school kids. A possible bright side to this is Chris Mayo, a 6-5, 300 four-star guard from New Jersey committed to WVU on Saturday and Lewis is known to have been working on Mayo to attend West Virginia. Who knows if Lewis’ decision will affect the Mayo decision? This is just one reason I try to not get too close to recruiting news until these guys sign the dotted line in six months.