One of the tricky aspects of college football recruiting, one which I've mentioned more than once on this blog, is that it can't be done based on empirical evidence. In other words, college coaches don't recruit players based on past performance. They recruit based on a vague idea of how players will perform in the future against players whom they've not faced in the past. It's tricky. Some guys turn into Duke Robinson. Some turn into Seth Watts. You can look at bench press numbers, and 40 yard dash times, and heights, and weights, and a hundred other variables. But you'll never really know whether the 16 year old kid you just agreed to offer one of those precious scholarships to is going to be a boon or a bust.
Take the case of 2011 prospect LaMichael Fanning. Fanning, a student at Callaway High School in Hogansville has been the subject of some discussion on this site already. At 6'6, 270 pounds, he is sort of hard to miss. Especially when you consider that he's only finishing his sophomore year in high school. College recruiters have not missed out on him, as Fanning already has football scholarship offers from Georgia, Clemson and Alabama. An offer list like that usually indicates that a player has the potential to be special.
He stands out on the basketball court as well, where the Georgia Blazers AAU player may be nearly as good a prospect as on the gridiron. Which makes sense, given that basketball was Fanning's first sport, and he didn't even play football until this season.
Take a look at this short highlight tape from Fanning's sophomore season. You can't miss him. He's the human torpedo wearing #44. Looks unbelievable, doesn't he? Fanning is bigger and faster than most everyone on the field. He's raw, but clearly an elite athlete. Now take a look at the highlight video of his junior teammate Randy Bailey. In this one, Fanning is the big kid taking poor angles to the ball and loafing occasionally. Which one is the real LaMichael Fanning? I tend to think that after some serious coaching, this kid will be one of the top prospects in the country 12 months from now (assuming he hasn't already committed by then). But I have to admit, that requires a little bit of a leap of faith at this point.
Herein lies a major challenge for college coaches. As the recruiting schedule moves earlier and earlier, with prospects being identified before they've really developed physically or mentally, coaches have to look at 10th graders like Fanning and figure out what position they'll play and how well as far as 6-7 years in the future. This of course also means that there are lots of guys playing at East Carolina and Western Kentucky simply because they didn't really develop as football players until after the scholarshiips at their position were gone.
The accelerated pace of college football recruiting is not going away. Even an early signing period is unlikely to help. That will only put more pressure on coaches to complete evaluations early, and give them the chance to pressure kids for earlier commitments. Barring some sort of NCAA regulation outlawing even verbal scholarship offers to players before, say, August of their junior seasons, we will continue to see more sophomores like Fanning (and even some freshmen) who will hit the recruiting spotlight before they get their learner's permit