Feleipe Franks was a lucky one.
Coming out of high school, he had everything college coaches look for: Elite size, an arm that could double as a rocket launcher, a winning team and a great attitude. All those skills — and, let’s be honest, lucky breaks — contributed to him being ranked the nation’s fifth-best pocket passer in the class of 2015.
I never watch snowboarding, and you probably don’t either.
Franks hasn’t played up to his ranking’s expectations at Florida, and because of all the hype he carried when he arrived in Gainesville, he has been crucified for it.
“I REGRET THIS TWEET,” wrote Twitter user @thenamesroddy, quoting a previous tweet thanking God for Franks’ commitment to the Gators. “GOD IS STILL GOOD AND SITS ON THE THRONE, BUT FELEIPE IS NOT. I REPEAT. FELEIPE FRANKS IS BAD AT FOOTBALL.”
Meanwhile, little has been said about the equally unsuccessful Kyle Trask, who came to Florida in the same class as Franks but, as a three-star recruit, carried significantly less hype.
Franks’ stars and rankings heaped massive expectations and massive amounts of pressure on him before he arrived on campus, and his case is just one microcosm of the very strange, often absurd world of college recruiting.
This ecosystem starts when recruits are young — in some extreme cases, they’re still in middle school — and conditions them to base a tremendous amount of self worth on the number of stars they carry or the number of offers they boast.
Just like you or me if we were looking for work, it’s natural to want the most options and to have the highest ratings. I get that. But we’re talking about a rankings circus, or offer charades.
In this world, offers mean little, as do pledges. Schools can change their minds and pull those offers, and recruits can commit and de-commit as much as they want. The fact that their commitments are still even called commitments is an insult to the word’s meaning.
But some people have realized there’s a market for that kind of drama. Following recruiting betters a fan’s relationship with his/her team, so fans are willing to pay for insider coverage.
Websites like Rivals, 247Sports and Scout know this well. They specialize in recruiting, compiling lists of the top prospects and hosting actual skills camps, which they use to determine their rankings and acquire recruits’ contact information for their reporters.
As a result, recruits will often tweet updates on their recruitment with a *NO INTERVIEWS* disclaimer.
This can be annoying as a reporter. But as a human being, were I one of those players, how could I not say no interviews when my every tweet unleashes an army of phone calls and messages?
I bring this up now because National Signing Day was less than two weeks ago, but as any coach will tell you, recruiting never stops. Which is why UF is hosting a junior day for top high school talent this weekend.
The ink is still wet on the 2018 class, but 2019 and beyond are already very much in the works for Dan Mullen and his staff. It’s a necessary evil, because the unfortunate truth is the system works.
Sure, there are hits and misses.
Former Florida defensive end Ronald Powell was billed as the top player in the nation, but he didn’t play like it at UF. Jadeveon Clowney held the same designation when he enrolled at South Carolina, meanwhile, and his No. 1 ranking translated to his selection at No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft.
But despite the inexact science of rankings, there’s an undeniable link between successful recruiting and successful on-field product, which leads coaches to do some truly remarkable, often embarrassing things.
It’s all an unfortunate byproduct of an environment our insatiable fandom has created. An environment where a 9-year-old’s mother has to worry about agents and top youth teams taking advantage of her son.
An environment where offers and commitments mean nothing, but also everything.