Jim Tressel is being demonized by the NCAA and much of the national media for his cover-ups and for turning a blind eye to extra benefits received by his players under his watch. But that's not the characterization he's receiving from high school recruits. This week, the top player in Ohio, four-star Ifeadi Odenigbo, told me, "the allegations didn't play a big role (in my recruitment) because it's not like he was stealing money or anything. He was just protecting his players. That tells you he has a lot of integrity."
That defense of Tressel among high school recruits is not uncommon, and it is telling in a lot of ways.
Will Ohio State face major NCAA penalties? That is of course a factor as these prospects make their college choices. Was Tressel's moral compass off in his handling of potential compliance issues? That depends on your perspective. Among the recruits I speak to, Tressel remains a man of integrity for whom they would have wanted to play.
Following a recent Yahoo! Sports article containing some damning claims regarding Chip Kelly and his Oregon program's recruitment of running back Lache Seastrunk, Kelly is suddenly under similar scrutiny. But while the media dissects Kelly and the way he runs his program, recruit reactions to the situation are largely the same: "It doesn't matter."
All week long at Nike's elite national camp, The Opening, recruits have said that if Coach Kelly is in Eugene, nothing has changed in their eyes.
Recruits don't care about the business and politics of being a college football coach, and they're not out to judge the actions that those coaches take. Coaches and programs can beat adversity on the recruiting front until that big NCAA hammer drops.
I think Geismar (La.) Dutchtown safety Landon Collins is one of the top players in the class of 2012. I expect Little Rock (Ark.) North Little Rock running back Altee Tenpenny to be among the top recruits in the country in the class of 2013.
I watched both compete at The Opening on Wednesday night and place first and second, respectively, in the combine portion of the Nike-sponsored camp. Their performances were phenomenal. Collins posted a vertical leap of better than 43 inches. Tenpenny ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash and had a pro agility shuttle of under four seconds. Taken as an addendum to their already impressive film, those numbers give coaches plenty of good reason to get excited.
Alternately, four-star Nelson Agholor was nowhere to be found as the top 10 prospects competed in front of television cameras for the title of SPARQ national champion. Top 100 wide receiver prospect Derrick Woods wasn't even in the conversation of top 40-yard dash times at the event. But when you watched Agholor at Thursday's workout when the football was involved, magically he looked like the most athletic player on the field. When you watch the film of Woods' high school games in Los Angeles, he is running past everyone.
I still remember watching a 5-foot-9 Tyrann Mathieu dominate a Tennessee camp a couple of years ago while holding no scholarship offers. He was amazing. But whether it was his size or his mediocre 40 time, he didn't earn an offer from Lane Kiffin's staff after his dominating afternoon. On the field though, the speed was unmistakable and now he's a candidate to be an All-SEC performer as a true sophomore.
It seemed almost ironic that the master of ceremonies for Wednesday's SPARQ testing national finals was Jerry Rice. Arguably the greatest player to ever play the game, Rice was never more than a 4.5 guy in the 40. In his prime, Rice wouldn't have cracked the top 25 at the event he was hosting. In this day and age, with those kinds of numbers, I bet he would have a hard time finding a major college scholarship. He probably would end up stuck somewhere like Mississippi Valley State.
It may be a little bit hypocritical to talk about testing numbers being overrated in one breath and then push for the national combine champ to be a five-star in the next, but it's more than the testing with Collins. He's got good size for a safety, he's not a stiff athlete, he's a high-character kid who is all business on the field and he shows up on film.
What is he missing? I can't find anything.
Unless you're a BYU fan or a native of Eagle, Idaho, you probably haven't heard of Tanner Mangum. The quarterback prospect is an early commit to BYU and one of the most anonymous four-stars you'll ever find. His anonymity will end when he hits the campus in Provo, Utah, though. In fact, it may end long before that.
This week at The Opening, Mangum has made an early impression as one of the best quarterbacks in attendance. With good size and athleticism and a good presence about him, I'm predicting Mangum puts up some huge numbers in his career at BYU. In the end, there won't be many football fans who don't know his name.
The best players in the state of Washington are all-purpose back Keivarae Russell and lineman Zach Banner and Joshua Garnett. But unlike most years, the best in Washington doesn't take a back seat to anybody. These are three players who would be in the discussion as one of the elite in any state. University of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian knows that, and it has to make him smile.
Russell, one of the more underappreciated backs in the country, is a strong lean to his home-state program. Banner isn't tipping his hand, but at this point but I believe Washington is in a great position to land his commitment as well. Banner has a very good relationship with Garnett, who also has Washington high on his list. There is a strong possibility all three of these guys end up in purple. A haul like that can take a program to another level.