Recent Heisman Recruiting History

My latest CSTV column is up and, with signing day approaching, it touches upon some of the recent Heisman winners and their recruitment:

Signing Day is just a week away and soon we’ll know where some of the top prospects in the country will be playing their college ball.

Those who follow recruiting know it is an inexact science. Thousands of athletes are ranked based on the opinions of various recruiting services. But we forget that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes the rankings are spot on and sometimes they make you wonder: What were they thinking?

Right now, all the recruits out there are “the real deal.” They all have “breakaway speed.” They are all “big hitters.” They all “will start right away.”

The fact is that we don’t know how a lot of these guys will end up. Many will be very successful, but most we’ll never hear from again.

There are a few, however, who will be end up being great, and as many as two or three in this year’s class could go on to claim the Heisman Trophy.

But who are they?

I’ll take a look at the best Heisman prospects from this year’s class next week, but first I thought it worthwhile to recollect some recruiting history to see what kind of accolades recent Heisman winners were garnering as seniors and how they made their choices:

Troy Smith, 2006 — Amazingly, Smith was the last player to be recruited in Ohio State’s premier 2002 class. Smith hadn’t even received a letter of intent from Ohio State when he committed on Signing Day that year (they sent it to him the next day). Before choosing OSU, he was seriously considering heading to West Virginia. He was rated the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback in the country by Rivals.com, behind such stalwarts as Gavin Dickey, Curt Dukes and Aryhel Freeman, but his name did not appear among the top 100 players in the country. His profile didn’t even include any highlight videos. Buckeye fans were excited over names like Maurice Clarett, Mike D’Andrea and Justin Zwick. Who knew that Smith – who had just 1,400 all-purpose yards as a Glenville (Ohio) high school senior – would end up being the greatest quarterback in Ohio State history?

Reggie Bush, 2005 — As late as November of 2002, Bush wasn’t even considering going to USC. He didn’t even know that it was a private institution. But things changed when he attended the USC-Notre Dame game that year. He was instantly won over by the impressive Trojan victory and the electric atmosphere of the Coliseum that night. Being a track athlete, he was surprised to find out about USC’s grand track and field tradition. Schools like Notre Dame and Stanford were quickly dropped from consideration. Bush made his commitment to USC public at the Army All-Star Game next January, but his mind was made up before he had even officially visited the school. Incidentally, Rivals rated Bush as the No. 2 player in the country, behind only linebacker Ernie Sims of Florida State. There was some question as to whether he could carry the load as an every-down tailback and some wondered whether his dramatic cut-back style would work in college. I think those questions have since been answered.

Matt Leinart, 2004 – Leinart has often been compared to Tom Brady and if it weren’t for a timely hire by USC, he might have been the next great quarterback to don the Maize and Blue. Leinart was a top 10 signal-caller nationally coming out of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei in 2001. He committed to USC and Paul Hackett during his senior season, but Hackett was dumped in favor of Pete Carroll in mid-December. Suddenly, Leinart’s commitment was up in the air and he started seriously considering heading to Ann Arbor. But USC then hired Norm Chow as its offensive coordinator and Leinart stood by his original decision. The rest is history.

Jason White, 2003 — Oklahoma’s 1999 recruiting class – Bob Stoops’ first – was not highly-rated, but it did included White, an outstanding all-around athlete and quarterback from Tuttle (Okla.) High. White wasn’t exactly what one would call a `national recruit’. He was lightly-recruited two-time all-state selection and he didn’t appear on any of the elite All-American teams. Some schools wanted him to play safety. He originally favored Miami but, as was the case with Leinart, a coaching change at the local school ended up swaying him as Stoops took over for John Blake in Norman. He was one of three quarterbacks to sign with Oklahoma that year. One (Josh Heupel) was the Heisman runner up in 2000 and, of course, White went on to win it in 2003.

Carson Palmer, 2002 — Palmer was highly-regarded when he signed with USC out of Santa Margarita High in Orange County, Calif., in 1998. But while he ranked in the top 10 nationally as a quarterback, he was arguably not even the most highly-touted recruit to sign with the Trojans that year, as Jason Thomas – later of UNLV – was also in Paul Hackett’s first recruiting class. Palmer was a late-blooming star, but that year was known as the year of the running back in California preps and the No. 1 player in the country was Justin Fargas, who signed with Michigan. Meanwhile, Palmer was torn between USC and Colorado and the Buffaloes looked like they had a shot as the Trojan recruiting efforts were reeling from the sudden firing of John Robinson. But Hackett had a reputation as a quarterback guru and he was able to keep Palmer home. However, it would take another coaching change before Palmer fully realized his potential.

Eric Crouch, 2001 — Crouch was the USA Today Nebraska Player of the Year and a Parade All-American for Millard North in Omaha, Neb., in 1996. So the accolades and expectations were there for him to be a great player. Once the recruiting process got underway, there was little doubt where Crouch was heading to school. He was the perfect fit for the Nebraska offense and he even studied it during his senior year in preparation for the day when he would be running it. The only question was whether that day would ever come as he had to compete with another highly-touted quarterback in Bobby Newcombe, who also signed with the Huskers in February of 1997. It all worked out as he took home the Heisman as a fifth-year senior.

Chris Weinke, 2000 — The first Heisman winner of the new millennium actually signed with Florida State in 1990, choosing the Seminoles over Alabama, Arizona State, Illinois, Minnesota and Miami. He was considered the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country coming out of Cretin-Durham High in St. Paul, Minn. But after spending just four days on the FSU campus as a freshman in 1990, he signed a professional baseball contract and was a second-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays. He decided to return to college football in 1997 and he again picked FSU, this time over Arizona, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Washington. He won the Heisman at the age of 28.

* * *

Recruiting rankings get a little murky once you start going back to the 1990s and beyond, but the following Heisman winners were about as highly-touted as you could get coming out of high school:

Ricky Williams, Texas, 1998
Rashaan Salaam, Colorado, 1994
Bo Jackson, Auburn, 1985
Herschel Walker, Georgia, 1982
Marcus Allen, USC, 1981
Charles White, USC, 1979
Billy Sims, Oklahoma, 1978
Earl Campbell, Texas, 1977

Meanwhile, the following Heisman winners weren’t exactly regarded as can’t-miss prospects:

Danny Wuerffel, Florida, 1996
Ty Detmer, BYU, 1990
Andre Ware, Houston, 1989
Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State, 1988
Doug Flutie, Boston College, 1984

So when you log on to the internet next week to find out where all those five-star players signed, remember that you just might come across the name of a future Heisman winner.

But don’t ignore those two or three-star kids, either.

As history shows, they could surprise you, too.

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About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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