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Recruiting, Player Development, and the "Strong" Difference

If you're a fan of college sports, and anyone who visits team sites like the Card Chronicle is, then you are well aware that the life's blood of any program is the flow of recruits coming into said program. Unlike professional sports, that have a draft to fill their rosters with the talent needed to compete, college sports rely on recruiting to accomplish this goal. Recruiting itself has turned into a big business that is followed on sites like Rivals and Scout, in magazines like Street and Smith, and through corporate endorsed events like the McDonald's All American game. The climate in recruiting around the University of Louisville Football program has changed dramatically in the last 2 years, but it isn't simply the number of stars found next a players name that fans should be looking at.

In terms of what to think about a player coming out of high school, I have long believed that the star system isn't nearly as valuable as the list of schools who are offering a player scholarships. Sites like ESPN rate players with stars based on how good they are in high school. They rate players based on how they perform in AAU games, 7 on 7 tournaments, and their ratings can change about as often as the weather in Kentucky. While these ratings may be useful in knowing how recruits played against high school competition, they're not always the best method for determining how good a player will actually be in college.

Some of the most productive recruits in the recent history of Louisville football were guys named Johnathan Russell, Malik Jackson, Brandon Sharpe, William Gay, Amobie Okoye, Harry Douglass, and Johnny Patrick; their combined "Star Rating" was a scant two. Six of those seven players were drafted into the NFL, and three were starters for their respective teams last year. Coming out of high school none of these players were considered to be among the nations best recruits yet all of them maximized their potential, under the guidance of capable coaching staffs, to become integral parts of successful teams. Why is that? Because coaching has a lot more to do with that development than the stars placed along side of names. This has been proven many times over by guys who went on to become College and NFL stars, despite not having enough stars by their names to hold a presser in front of their entire school.

The other, and in my opinion, more important predictor that fans can use to determine how good a recruit may or may not be, while wearing their favorite team's uniform, is which other coaches were pining for their services. Johanathan Russell (2*) had scholarship offers from Arkansas and South Carolina; Brandon Sharpe (NR): Vandy and South Florida; Amobie Akoye (2*): Clemson, Miss St, Ole Miss; Harry Douglass (2*): Georgia, Pitt, and South Carolina; Johnny Patrick (3*): Florida, Georgia Tech, South Carolina. What is the common factor for all of these players, other than their low rankings from Scout.com? They all had BCS Level Programs, or big time programs chasing after them for Letters of Intent.

They also had hard working, and capable coaching staffs to develop them into the players they eventually became. When you look at what the current coaching staff is doing on the recruiting trail, in weight room, and how the results are translating from the practice field to the field of play, you can feel pretty confident about the future of Louisville Football. This coaching staff has proven that it can develop and motivate players into maximizing their potential. That,.. coupled with the influx of talented kids who could be playing for "high profile" programs like Alabama, Florida, or Miami, tells us that Louisville Football is once again barreling full steam ahead on it's collision course with Howard's prediction.

By comparison to Charlie and Bobby, recruits that Steven brought to us were not much better or worse in terms of "Star Power" but, they were holding scholarship offers from teams like Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan, not South Carolina and Clemson. Still, the proof is in the proverbial pudding. The players that Kragthorpe brought into this program were not completely devoid of talent or potential; he and his staff just failed to help them realize that potential. The seniors on last years team were players that the previous regime recruited but failed to succeed with. That was a trend that Charlie Strong and company changed immediately. While they were not highly sought after by other "big time" programs, they did have the ability to play together as a team and help the University of Louisville win games. Unfortunately for them, the seniors from last years squad were only able to play for the current staff for one season. The players who will fuel the engine of Louisville football this year will once again be (in large part), players like Mario Benavides who were recruited by Steve Kragthorpe. 

Something to keep in mind, as we follow recruiting so closely to see how highly a potential recruit is ranked by an internet service, is that those rankings aren't the end all to be all with respect to how good that player might be one day. Just because a kid isn't ranked or has a lowly 2 stars by his name, doesn't mean they can't have success at the next level. Great coaches see the potential in players, and base their recruiting efforts on that potential. A kid might only have 2-3 stars next to his name, but if coaches like Nick Saben and Will Muschamp think they can contribute (under their tutelage) then that's more than alright with me when it comes to determining how good they might be at Louisville one day. Why? Because in my opinion Charlie Strong plays second fiddle to no one in terms of his eye for talent, and his ability to get the most out of his players. If I look at a recruiting report and see that schools who are expected to compete for National Championships on a regular basis want a specific player, I know automatically that he would probably be a welcome addition to the University of Louisville family.

Services like Rivals call them coups when we sign players who hold offers from the Alabamas of the world; if things continue on their present course, in a few years, they'll be calling it a coup when a player doesn't pledge his alliance to Charlie's Army

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