We all know that recruiting is an inexact science, but year after year fans are consumed by the need to know how many stars the players their university signed have by their name. It’s as if this is a guarantee of future success, but as I wrote in the article titled Culture and Belief – The Winner over Talent, on October 28th, four of the top five ranked teams at the time did not have a recruiting class ranked in the top 20 any of the previous five years. Meanwhile the three teams (Florida, Texas and USC) with ESPN’s top ranked classes over those previous five years had a combined record of 13-8 at the time I wrote the article.

Ted Miller of ESPN recently wrote an excellent article that looked at the recruiting rankings of the players that comprised the ALL-Pac-10 team this past season and guess what? Not one single player on it was ranked a five star player coming out of high school. In fact, only four were ranked a four star recruit when they matriculated to their school. Thirteen of the 22-players were not even ranked a three star recruit their senior year in high school. Fourteen of the 22- players on the All Pac-10 team were ranked 85th or lower at their position prior to entering college.

How could the rankings be so wrong? It’s because the rankings almost exclusively focus on the physical aspect of their ability. I have been told by numerous college and professional football coaches that it’s not the most physically gifted players that play. Three things set the players that play apart: the ones with the best work ethic, the best mental approach and the most desire are the ones who excel. Several clients I have worked with have told me there are plenty of more physically gifted players on their team at their position, but they don’t play because their mental game is lacking and they don’t work hard enough or want it badly enough.

It’s no different than life in general. Think about all the people who have gotten perfect scores on their SAT’s. How many of them can you name and how many of them are at the top of their chosen field? I can’t name any that fit the criteria I outlined – and don’t say Mark Zuckerberg either, he didn’t, despite the assertion in the movie The Social Network.

The point is that in athletics like business, it’s generally not the most gifted who rule the world. Once anyone reaches a certain level of athleticism or intelligence they have the opportunity to be extremely productive. What determines who is and who isn’t is largely dependent on several factors such as opportunity and being ready when opportunity comes to you, as well as the factors I listed above, your work ethic, desire and mental attitude.

One other factor in high school rankings that is overlooked is that many of the guys who have the most stars by their name are already fully physically mature and may not have any physical upside in the future.  So when you go over the list of your favorite school’s signees, look for gangly looking kids who have yet to mature physically, as many of them will be the stars in the future.

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