The recent Seattle Times article about former Skyline HS standout Jake Heaps got me thinking about how high school football recruits are ranked by the recruiting "Gurus", and the expectations placed on them by fans, coaches, parents, and the players themselves before they even arrive on campus.
Jake Heaps was the highest ranked high school QB recruit in the nation in 2010 when he chose to attend Brigham Young University over the University of Washington. According to The Seattle Times article, Heaps, a Mormon, went to BYU in order to placate his parents even though he considered UW his "dream school".
After starting as a true freshmen for the Cougars, Heaps got benched. He then transferred from BYU to Kansas, then transferred from Kansas to Miami, and is now an undrafted NFL rookie trying to earn a roster spot with the New York Jets.
I'm not writing this to rip Heaps, or his parents, for choosing Provo over Montlake. What I'm reflecting on here is that Heaps' story is a great example to fans, coaches, the players themselves, and their parents, to not expect that all 4-Star high school recruits are guaranteed to become All-Conference players in college, and then top NFL draft picks with multi-million dollar contracts, big endorsement deals, and Super Model girlfriends.
Sometimes 4-Star recruits get burned out, stumble, get in trouble, get injured, and/or come down to earth to realize that they are just normal and mortal human beings who are vulnerable to failure and hubris just like anyone else.
If you remember, in 2009-2010 the two top ranked QB recruits on the West Coast were Heaps and Nick Montana. Both of these kids were mini-celebrities getting extensive internet and main stream media coverage. Heaps got the top ranking because he was determined and worked to earn it. Montana got his ranking, in part, because he was Joe Montana's son, and he played for a high profile LA area high school program.
When Montana announced his verbal commitment to Steve Sarkisian and Washington, it was big news both here and in California. Montana's coming to Montlake seemed to take the sting out of losing Heaps, the local "can't miss" star, to BYU in exchange for another "can't miss" kid. When Montana and his Oaks Christian High School team flew up to Seattle to play against Heaps and Skyline that September, ESPN televised the game nationally. The circus like atmosphere and large media hype for a high school football game was ridiculous.
Interestingly, neither Heaps or Montana lived up to our, or their, expectations of greatness, and both transferred from BYU and UW respectively. Last season, Montana played for Tulane, his third college, and lost his starting job as the season wore on.
The moral here to all us hardcore Husky fans is that these recruiting rankings of high school kids does not guarantee greatness or success in big time college football.
A 4-Star ranking doesn't measure or predict a kid's heart, his maturity, his humility, his burn-out factor, his intelligence, his avoiding an injury, his family situation, his ability to be coached, his coach's ability to coach, and the kid's ability to adapt not only to college life itself, but to life as a high profile student athlete in a big time college football program.
A 4-Star recruiting ranking doesn't guarantee collegiate success; Jake Heaps and Nick Montana aren't the only "can't miss" guys to prove that. The recent Cyler Miles saga at UW is another example of how it can go.
It's also worth noting here that both Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks were not highly ranked recruits coming out of high school. However, Wilson was successful first at NC State, and then he transferred to Wisconsin after the new coach at NC State foolishly suggested that Wilson, who had already graduated, move on. Wilson then led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. Sherman was a starter at Stanford and earned his degree. Both then became Super Bowl Champs, and seem to be successful in life despite both being ranked 2-Star recruits out of high school.
As a Washington fan and alum, I'm buoyed by Husky Head Coach Chris Petersen's recruiting philosophy. CP is signing kids who not only are good, and most are ranked as 3 and 4-star recruits, but they, and their parents, are told straight out that life as a Husky Football player is going to be a hard year-round grind, both on the field and in the classroom, for four or five years. Petersen is telling recruits that their experience as a UW Husky is not just about game day glory and the cheering crowds, but it is also part of a larger life experience preparation that, hopefully, will last long after they've left the game.
I think that Coach Pete is bringing the right message. Petersen is stressing and teaching to his Husky team the reality of hard work in class and earning your place on the football field, rather than buying into shallow media hype and a message that they're already stars who've earned their accolades.
I think that all of us Husky fans need to understand that the hype coming out of recruiting websites about a high school kid does not guarantee anything. It obviously helps UW's chances to win the Pac-12 Championship if there are good athletes wearing Purple and Gold, but it also helps if they've got their heads screwed on right, and are getting coached the right way too.