Dear Recruit – Part V

Texas team. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Texas team. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Dear Recruit – Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV  Open letter series to football prospects

By: Chris Hall

Dear Recruit,

When I signed with Texas in 2005 the Longhorns were in a unique situation.

Most of the time schools take around 25 guys in every recruiting class, even though the NCAA only allows each program 85 total scholarships. Since 25 x 4 = 100 (not 85) the math doesn’t add up. The reason schools can do that is because players quit, flunk out, drug out, or transfer (for various reasons) every year. So there’s always more scholarships available than there should be.

My year, however, Texas only signed 15 — a very small class.

It wasn’t by design or because Texas only thought fifteen guys were worth taking. We just didn’t have any more room. Texas didn’t have the usual number of guys leaving the program every year; 15 scholarships was all that was left.

When there’s fewer spots available it means every offer carries more weight. The coaching staff has to evaluate every position need (and recruit) correctly because there’s a smaller margin for error. If you sign 25 guys and eight leave over the course of four years, it’s not a bad deal. That leaves you with 17 seniors to lead your team when all is said and done. Losing eight from a class of 15, however, would be disastrous for the entire program.

On National Signing Day, though, we lost one before we ever began.

Ryan Perrilloux was a 5-star QB out of Reserve, LA, and was the obvious heir apparent to Vince Young. VY had just made himself famous with an outstanding game against Michigan in the Rose Bowl (who knew he’d outdo himself just one year later?). Longhorn Nation was beginning to think about who would eventually replace him, and Perrilloux was the perfect fit.

In fact, he was a legend before he ever even played a college game. I remember these stories floating around the internet that seemed physically impossible, but most entertaining. My personal favorite was that Ryan could get down on one knee and effortlessly throw the ball 70 yards. My reaction: “70 yards?!”

First of all, what high school quarterback can throw the ball 70 yards? Much less, who can get down on one knee and do it effortlessly? I wondered if that was even possible. Could Aaron Rodgers (Mr. Hail Mary himself) even do that? I doubt it.

The question became: would such a future legend be willing to sit for one whole year behind VY? Thankfully, he said he’d be willing to play second fiddle for an entire season (as long as Vince would leave early for the NFL). It’s crazy now that we thought there might have been a problem in the QB room if Young decided to stick around for his senior season.

Vince was one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of college football, and Ryan hadn’t even graduated high school yet. But the hype-train was rolling.

Then the worst happened: he signed with LSU.

I’m pretty sure Ryan came out in Texas gear at his Signing Day news conference, only to tear off his sweatshirt and reveal an LSU emblem underneath. Wikipedia says he predicted he’d win the Heisman as a true freshman, and that he quipped “Jamarcus Who?” when asked about LSU’s starting starting QB and future #1 draft pick Jamarcus Russell — but I don’t remember either of those.

A lot of people were understandably mad at him, but I wasn’t. I didn’t even know the guy and he had to do what was right for him. People just wish he had done it sooner and not stayed committed to Texas the entire time (also, probably not said the Heisman and Jamarcus thing).

Give the guy a break though; he was 18 years old. I certainly put my foot in my mouth many times during the recruiting process and still do today.

The good news: Texas still got a quarterback in the 2005 class. He was a consolation prize, really. Not the big fish Longhorn Nation was hoping for. He was just a 3-star (yawn) scrawny recruit out of a 2A high school in West Texas. I’m guessing he also couldn’t throw the ball 70 yards while on one knee — which was now the standard for having a promising future at QB, naturally.

That scrawny kid was Colt McCoy.

He’d become the winningest quarterback in college football history.

Perrilloux didn’t become the best thing since sliced bread like we all thought. Although, he certainly was a great talent. As a backup he was even the MVP of the SEC Championship Game in 2007 (which helped the Tigers win the BCS National Championship that year). All in all, he started just two games before being dismissed from LSU in 2008. Sad story.

This is not a bash-Ryan-Perrilloux article. I want to make it clear that’s not my intention. My intention is to warn you about believing your own hype, or anyone else’s.

Right now, the amount of stars and recruiting position ranking you have is important. I get that — it was to me, too. The stars and rankings of your future competition for playing time (your own teammates) is important to you as well. Those things, understandably, carry a lot of weight in your world right now.

I learned something very important soon after I arrived at Texas: once National Signing Day is over, none of those things matter anymore.

It won’t matter how many stars you had in high school, or what schools wanted you to come play for them. It won’t matter what your national ranking was, or what All-Star games you were invited to play in. Your high school stats, awards, and pedigree mean absolutely nothing once your Letter of Intent is signed.

None of those things will earn you playing time come Saturdays in the fall. They don’t score your team points or boost the win column at the end of the day, though that’d be nice.

High school achievements are just that: achievements you earned in high school. Your trophies on the wall (though impressive and full of great memories) don’t translate to the next level. Everybody becomes a nobody, again, and has to earn everything that’s given to them.

Coaches don’t give starting jobs based on height/weight, 40 times, and bench press maxes. “Measurables” are necessary for evaluating football players, but they don’t actually mean you’re better than other people at football. What you actually do on the field (in college, not your high school highlight tape) determines everything.

Starting jobs are given to guys that earn them in offseason, spring ball, and fall camp. They earn them by outperforming everyone else on the team at that position. If what you consistently put on film isn’t deserving of playing time, you won’t play — simple as that — regardless of how good you’re “supposed” to be.

I want you to enjoy everything about the recruiting process leading up National Signing Day. The awards, the recognition, the all-everything teams: it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Soak it in for all it’s worth. But on February, 4th (the day after) I want you to do two things:

1. Stop Reading Your Own Press

After National Signing Day you have reached a new stage. All the work you’ve put in prior has gotten you a scholarship and a chance to play — but this is only the beginning, not the end.

This is where the real work begins. Playing college football will probably be the hardest thing you’ve ever attempted to do.

Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone. If you grind, you will eventually shine. That’s how this whole thing works. If you walk into the locker room expecting to be great simply because everyone’s always told you you are, you’ll be disappointed.

Remember: no one owes you anything. Just because someone (or everyone) projected you’d be a great player at the next level, doesn’t mean you already are. You only hurt yourself by reading and believing your own hype.

Don’t do it. Go lift weights or watch film, instead.

2. Don’t Be Intimidated — By Anyone

Everyone you’ll be competing against has red blood running through their veins. They’re men, not gods; they’re the created, not the Creator.

They’ll probably be older than you, stronger than you, and faster than you; but aggression and great technique can overcome anyone, any day. Football is mainly a mental game. If you have mental toughness and some talent you truly have everything you need.

No matter how much I worked on it (and work on it I did), I was never strong in my upper body. My senior year in college I bench pressed a whopping 315 pounds. Yes, 315 pounds. Imagine my embarrassment when people found out I played for Texas and the first question they always wanted to ask was how much I bench.

I had a shoulder injury, chronic stingers, and a shortage in my athletic DNA. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t find a way to play, start at every position on the offensive line, and be a finalist for the Remington Trophy (the best center in the country).

After practicing against Roy Miller and Brian Orakpo everyday, I learned to adapt: win with quick feet, ball get-off, and my head rather than brute strength. You’re bound to be physically outmatched by a lot of players you line-up against.

Don’t believe other people’s hype.

Everyone can be beat, no matter how many accolades come with them. Your own tenacity and work ethic will determine your success — not the guys you’re competing against.