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Bill King

Let’s be real: College football recruiting is a crapshoot

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Highly-rated quarterback prospect Jacob Eason has committed to Georgia. (Michael Carvell / AJC)

Highly-rated quarterback prospect Jacob Eason has committed to Georgia. (Michael Carvell / AJC)

The world where Mark Richt and other top-level college football coaches must operate is a crazy one.

That was illustrated starkly over the past few days in Athens. On the one hand, UGA got verbal commitments from two of the nation’s mostly highly sought high school prospects for the 2016 class, including Jacob Eason, one of the top-rated quarterbacks.

Shortly after that, Bulldogs defensive lineman Jon Taylor was arrested for allegedly choking and beating his girlfriend.

A perfect example of what a crapshoot college football recruiting is: Today’s heralded recruit, adorned with as many as five stars by recruiting services, promoted by his high school coaches as a young god and told he’s an NFL star in the making, could wind up being merely a pedestrian player who never develops to his potential. Or, worse, he could be tomorrow’s felony suspect sitting in a jail cell awaiting bond.

And it’s not because discipline isn’t enforced. No one can say that Richt isn’t a strict disciplinarian, as other teams are liberally populated with talented players who were shown the door by the UGA coach. And yet somehow, in the minds of his critics, when good players go bad, it’s supposed to be the fault of the guy who gave them an opportunity to play college ball.

OK, if Richt were signing kids out of reform school or players who already have a police record or some other obvious character defect, I’d agree with Jeff Schultz that the responsibility for Georgia football players like Taylor getting arrested falls on the head coach because he’s recruiting the wrong sort of kids.

However, as Schultz notes, it’s not just UGA: “Dumb kids are not a Georgia football problem. Dumb kids are everybody’s problem. Without much effort, I found over a dozen arrests at major college football programs in just the past two weeks, including a Bowling Green running back for attempted rape, a Baylor lineman for aggravated assault, a Texas A&M running back for shop lifting, a West Virginia running back for intimidating a witness in a murder trial, two Miami linebackers for sexual battery and a Florida State running back for grand theft of a vehicle (OK, a scooter).”

So, are too many college athletes being arrested? Sure. And, yes, way too many UGA athletes are running afoul of the law to suit me and many other supporters of the program. No argument there.

But I never hear any suggestions on what Richt or other head coaches who recruit these players should have done instead — no concrete ideas on how these “bad” recruits that every major program in the country is going after could be detected ahead of time and avoided.

Is Mark Richt supposed to know a player might go bad in the future? (Associated Press)

Is Mark Richt supposed to know a player might go bad in the future? (Associated Press)

When Richt’s players break the rules, he punishes them (more severely than many other coaches), but is he somehow also supposed to anticipate which kids might go bad?

These are the same kids every other major program is recruiting. Short of an NFL-style battery of psychological tests, how are you going to have any idea who might be prone to double-cash a check or get physical with a girlfriend? Certainly, stereotypes don’t hold true: Kids from broken homes or even with a parent in prison frequently wind up being exemplary citizens and students. Kids from intact middle-class nuclear families sometimes go off the rails.

No, the reality is that for the vast majority of these college players that get in trouble there were no red flags to warn off Richt or any of the other coaches who recruited them. In fact, in the past when there have been obvious concerns about a high school prospect’s character, UGA has backed off. Remember Deion Bonner, out of Columbus’ Carver High? He was implicated in a theft while visiting UGA’s campus and the Dogs stopped recruiting him. Bonner signed with Tennessee and later was dismissed by the Vols.

And I’m pretty sure that, as of this weekend, when five-star recruit Darnell Saloman (also spelled Salomon by some sources), became a suspect in a dorm theft while he was visiting UGA’s campus, he went right off Richt’s recruiting board.

By the way, Saloman is listed as having scholarship offers from a wide array of top schools, including Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and South Carolina. If it turns out he was involved in the theft, does that mean that all those head coaches, not just Richt, are guilty of going after the wrong sort of recruits?

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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