This past week was a very special time for that entire collection of college football players who have officially either played their last down at the collegiate level due to the mere passage of time and exhaustion of NCAA eligibility, or those who elected to enter the draft prematurely in the hopes of reaching that ultimate goal of every kid who ever strapped on a pair of shoulder pads, laced up the cleats, and buckled up a chin strap; The opportunity to play professional football at the highest level in the National Football League (NFL).
Give the NFL Commissioner and his entire staff kudos for turning what used to be a ho hum event traditionally reported in the back page of the sports section next to the pro bowling tour results and other ancillary sports related transactions, into a three (3) day Academy Awards media circus complete with Hall of Fame players from most of the league’s 32 teams walking to the microphone to announce their team’s next selection in the 2012 NFL draft.
Watching the college players celebrate with their families that were invited to New York City to personally participate in this yearly rite of passage is the closest form of reality television that I will ever care to watch. The various teams’ fans in attendance proudly wearing their favorite gear are equally entertaining as the cameras zoom in on their reactions to the next selection made by the organization. While there are always a few surprises in the first round of the draft each year, for the most part it is pretty well scripted outside of a few last minute trades by individual general managers of the participating teams who quickly make a trade either up to select a player they didn’t think would be available, or opt to trade down, fall back, regroup, and gather a few extra draft picks when a specific player they really wanted was taken by another organization ahead of them in line.
It is all quite exciting and at the same time very intriguing as this once a year stockpiling of talent culminates several years worth of work by not only the players, but multi-million dollar NFL scouting staffs whose very job security rests on the quality of their detailed information gleaned constantly throughout the year by these relentless folks who leave no stone unturned in the hopes of finding that special player that nobody else has discovered or even heard of. Given that their livelihood is on the line depending on the success or failures of these evaluations, I give them substantially more credence in their analysis and recommendations of players than those “other” recruiting services.
Football at both the college and professional level has become a year round activity for all teams and their fans. However, the sudden birth of the high school subscription recruiting services has no actual function in the grand scheme of purposeful scouting like those involved in the NFL. Yet they do help to generate the year long interest of the majority of college football teams fan bases. Beyond that contribution they do offer much amusement in the process. That is why I have chosen to start the annual; “Mr. Relevant please stand up award” given surreptitiously to that NFL draft selection who not only defied the odds of those five (5) stars recruiting based services coming out of high school with nominal expectations, but was actually drafted well ahead of his much more heralded peers.
The stars rated subscription based recruiting sites singularly identifies high school football players destined for not only college success, but future glory in becoming sure fire first round selections in the NFL draft before they even hit the gridiron at the NCAA level. They have also created an atmosphere among the collegiate football fan bases whereby unless a high school player is instantly tagged with the über elite; “Five (5) stars” rating seal of approval, they are immediately considered questionable talents to even justify being recruited by a major BCS or any other college football school for that matter.
Kudos to those institutions such as Boise State who scoff at and ignore these stars based recruiting sites by in fact going out and finding high school players to actually play football at the next level by looking at game films, interviewing coaches, before determining whether or not they will succeed in the college environment. By the way, Boise had six (6) players drafted by the NFL who according to the stars based recruiting services would not even be playing major BCS football in college, or making any substantive contribution anywhere given their lack of “stars.”
However, the real missing “star” in this past 2012 NFL draft and winner of the very first; “Mr. Relevant please stand up award” goes to a player drafted in the sixth (6th) round by the San Francisco Forty Niners from Western Oregon University; Jason Slowey. Congratulations to you sir! Regardless of what happens as far as his future in the NFL, every high school football player in America should be looking to emulate Mr. Slowey as this hard working dedicated kid is the poster boy example of that age old adage; “Hard work pays off!” He is projected to play center at the next level after concluding his collegiate career for the Western Oregon Wolves as an offensive tackle. Apparently he is a versatile offensive lineman.
Mr. Slowey is 6′ 4″ weighing in at 305 Lbs. and evidently Western Oregon was his only offer coming out of high school to play football at the next level. But here is the caveat with that little tidbit; it’s my understanding that the entire football team at Western Oregon receives a total of twelve (12) scholarships to divide amongst the entire squad. Given the team’s name; the wolves, it might not be a pretty site to watch how those few scholarships are divided up amongst the players. That is quite a distinction from any player attending a BCS school on a full ride scholarship. So in essence Jason Slowey succeeded to the next level through nothing more than sheer hard work. No future NFL projections for him at all coming out of high school as he wasn’t a sure fire football player found anywhere in the stars system rating circle.
But let’s go back and see who was going to be an instant NFL first round draft choice according to the stars based experts. In recruiting year 2008 the #1 sure fire five (5) stars center prospect that everybody in the entire country was recruiting was Michael Brewer. He is currently 6′ 5″ 317 Lbs. and played collegiately at The Ohio State University in front of 106,000+ rabid fans at the sold out Horseshoe on a regular basis. He started at center all four (4) years in Columbus, yet he went undrafted. By the way, Jason Slowey played in a stadium that seated around 4,000 fans if it was ever sold out at all during his four (4) years at Western Oregon. I’m sure they consistently have more than 4,000 folks in attendance at OSU practices.
Another major player in that same 2008 recruiting class was Lucas Nix from Pitt who goes 6′ 4″ 312 Lbs. and was also rated as a sure fire five (5) stars player by all of the recruiting services and he too had a ton of division one BCS offers. Surprisingly he also went undrafted. No doubt both of these players will sign, or already have, free agent contracts to play in the NFL but the real question is; where was the decoupling of the five (5) stars rating system and the NFL scouting staffs when it came time for the 2012 draft? Nobody really knows other than it is irrelevant! The proof is in the assessments done by NFL teams that historically will go to the ends of the earth in order to find authentic football players.
My all time favorite example of the lengths shown by true NFL scouting outfits is the story of Otis Sustrunk of the Oakland Raiders who was discovered by scouts from both the Raiders and the then Los Angeles Rams playing semi-pro football for the Norfolk Neptunes of the Continental Football League in 1971. Mr. Sistrunk never played any college football as he enrolled in the United States Marine Corps. after high school to serve his country. He was an outstanding defensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders from 1972-1978 and was 6’ 5” 265 Lbs. which for that time era was a Man!
While not in existence at the time, apparently Otis Sistrunk was the first non five (5) stars unheralded recruit to never hit the radar of anyone other than those old fashioned NFL scouts who actually went the proverbial extra mile and watched Otis playing football for the Neptunes. An interesting factoid for those trivia buffs out there; Otis Sistrunk is in the semi-pro football Hall of Fame. Probably the only NFL player ever so inducted. But then again, Mr. Sistrunk was inducted long ago as a five (5) stars recruit into the United States Marine Corps. Semper Fidelis!
So once again congratulations to Jason Slowey as the winner of the very first “Mr. Relevant please stand up award.” Your dedication, determination, and desire to succeed as a football player is second to none and your radiance shines brighter than any of your five (5) stars rated peers! Wishing you the best of success in the NFL and beyond.