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July 7, 2012

Recruiting more than just camp statitstics

A couple of decades ago, one of the anticipatory joys of July was waiting for the arrival of college football recruits for their first practices, a ritual that contained its fair share of mystery as most recruits arrived with little more on their resume than a high school football career.

That mystery is long gone. Today, football recruits have been analyzed, measured, timed and discussed long before their college careers begin, or before they have even signed, or played their senior year.

This week's event in Oregon - the Opening - measures recruits heading into their senior season on every conceivable scale from vertical jump to powerball toss, and mixes in a little 7-on-7 competition as well.

The reason is obvious. Twenty years ago, recruiting was interesting but it wasn't Big Business. That's exactly what it is today, which is why corporate heavyweights like Nike and ESPN put on such an event.

They know there is a broad market out there for people who will watch workouts for hours and debate endlessly over the merits of Altee Tenpenny's 45-foot powerball toss and whether it means he will be tougher on a 3-yard run than Derrick Henry, who threw the same orb 44 feet. Rest assured, hard-core recruiting followers worry about such things.

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with such an event. It does make one ponder, though, how some Alabama players of the past would have performed - and if "measurables" are the only measurement.

The Crimson Tide would have had its share of off-the-charts athletes, of course, some who went on to stardom and some who didn't. Keith McCants was an amazing athlete who went on to be an All-America linebacker and top NFL Draft choice before all the chapters in his story turned sad.

Derrick Thomas would have had great speed numbers. Others had great raw ability without quite achieving the same notoriety at UA. Back in the day when a prospect's first 40-yard dash clocking came after his arrival on campus, defensive tackle Anthony Smith - hardly a known commodity after playing in North Carolina - turned in a 4.68 40 at 265 pounds.

By the way, am I the only one who wonders how the kids at the Opening are running better 40 times than their counterparts at the same position in the NFL combine?

Smith didn't work out at Alabama, transferred to Arizona and spent a few years in the NFL, mainly with the Raiders.

But there were many prospects who managed to emerge in their senior seasons, not based on a tape measure but in performance. It's hard to guess what kind of numbers David Palmer would have turned in at such a camp - at 5-foot-8, without blinding straight-ahead speed, he wouldn't have turned many heads.

To be fair, though, he might have proven to be the greatest 7-on-7 player of all time.

His skills - quickness, great hand/eye coordination, instincts and timing - might not have translated well on a computer program. It's hard to imagine that anyone who ever saw Palmer in high school wouldn't have recruited him, but at a camp, who knows?

That's just one example, and there are plenty of specimens who fit either side of the argument one cares to take. The Opening, and the dozens of other similar events, serve several purposes. Hopefully, there will always be room for a high school senior to play his way into a scholarship - but those slots at growing fewer by the season.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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