Small schools a blessing for new athletes

With the NFL Draft coming up in a few weeks, it’s time to start thinking about all of the different draft scenarios that could arise. It’s an exciting time when NFL teams are looking to improve their rosters with the top young talent from the college game. Looking at several mock drafts from publications like ESPN, we see several powerhouse schools filling the boards, with schools like Alabama, LSU and USC projected to have multiple first-round picks.

We see teams like these topping the final college football rankings year after year, but this year more than ever we are seeing smaller schools producing elite athletes. If you had asked a diehard college football fan five or ten years ago if they thought Stanford and Baylor would be projected to have at least two first-round projections per team, people would have said you were insane. Then, if you had told them that those two schools would have their quarterbacks selected with the top two picks of the draft, you probably would have been laughed at.

Seeing this happen should send the same message to both fans and athletes alike: If you’re a great player, you will shine and be noticed no matter where you play.

Sure, if you’re the hottest athlete coming out of high school, it’s easy to see why you would decide to go to a bigger football school. More national attention, more lucrative television contracts and more high profile competition come with being a consistent title contender. But at the end of the day, most of these big-time athletes are looking to use their time in college as a means to reach the NFL.

It seems to me that a lot of these young athletes being recruited to the college ranks don’t realize the amount of time that talent scouts spend evaluating talent all over the country. Just in this year’s class, a defensive tackle from University of Memphis, Dontari Poe, is considered one of the top-15 athletes being drafted. For those who don’t know, Memphis is not in a college football power conference and has only gone 5-31 over the last three seasons.

The most important part about improving your NFL stock, at least in my opinion, is earning as much playing time as possible. Baylor’s Robert Griffin, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Memphis’ Poe are prime examples of this, all earning the playing time of a starter as freshmen at their respective institutions.

While Poe and Griffin were not the most highly-recruited athletes coming out of high school, Luck was, making him an interesting case. Luck was tied as the valedictorian of his high school and came out of Stratford High School as one of the top five quarterback prospects in the nation. He elected to pursue the path of earning a solid degree from Stanford while being the focal point of his 2008 recruiting class. This is what athletes seem to lack at times coming out of high school: the sense to see that while you may be playing for a smaller football school, it’s better to go to a place where you feel comfortable and will be able to shine.

Every year, we see several athletes transfer to smaller schools because they have been buried on a depth chart behind a superior player.

When an athlete is being recruited out of high school, coaches generally are telling these players that they could be the focal point of their offense. This sometimes leads to multiple athletes being recruited to the same position.

For instance, during the 2011 recruiting class, Notre Dame recruited five defensive end prospects. Four of them were considered among the top 150 athletes coming out of high school (according to, which puts them in an elite status. Now, there are only two starting defensive ends on any given football team, so at least three of those five guys will be reduced to smaller roles, and that’s not even including possible defensive ends who are either already enrolled or who will be recruited in the future.

From the perspective of a recruit, it’s not the smartest decision to go to a school that has several other players on the same talent level. If the player winds up as a second- or third- string player, he will likely have no shot at making it to the next level.

I don’t mean to sound preachy, but I think that student athletes need to make sure they go to a school where they feel like they will be an asset to the team. Everyone knows that most student athletes won’t be professional players, but if you’re skilled enough to make a D-I roster, shouldn’t you at least put yourself in contention to be?