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De-Recruiting and South Carolina Football

Streeter Lecka

If you've not seen it yet, you might find this article from Gator Sports quite interesting. The basic premise of the article is that college coaches spend an increasing amount of time "de-recruiting" star football players. The players are far and away the best of the best at the high school level, everyone around them tells them they're awesome, they aren't held accountable by their coaches for their relatively minor flaws as players, and the college coaches who are recruiting them woo them with promises of what it will be like to be Big Man on Campus at Famous Football School. Then, when they get to college, they learn that they're no better than the average bluechip recruit with whom they're competing for playing time. The coaches have to bring them down off the recruiting high and get them on board with working hard to better themselves as players. It's a tough part of the coaching job in a context in which more and more attention is heaped on high-school players every year.

I'm an academic, and while that may seem a long shot from being a football player, what these players experience is in some respects what it's like to move through the ranks in my line of work. Many academics can tell you of the experience of going through K-12 and even undergrad without having to put forth too much effort into their studies, but then experiencing a shocking upping of the ante once they begin graduate school. Whereas the typical such person was constantly praised for his/her academic performance up getting the bachelor's degree, now, all of the sudden, s/he is in a graduate program competing with peers from all across the country who were in the same merry boat at their respective undergraduate institutions. People who have never been criticized before in an academic setting are now scrambling for access to famous advisors. As that person progresses through graduate school, they begin competing for scarce publications and awards in which the odds aren't in their favor. At this point, even the best are experiencing a fair amount of rejection. If one survives graduate school, it's on to applying for elusive postdocs and tenure-track positions, competing for more publications, and applying for more grants and fellowships. The rejection and harsh criticism that one experiences while going on this journey is debilitating to many an overly self-indulgent former Honor Society member, some of whom fail to improve their work ethic after being able to succeed with ease for so long, some of whom just can't take being told they can, in fact, do wrong. The ones who survive aren't always the smartest ones, but rather the ones who are best able to adapt to the new playing field. That's basically what this article is saying about the transition between high school and college football.

In any event, it's worth noting that one thing that you constantly see recruits saying about South Carolina coaches is that they "tell it like it is," i.e., they don't sugarcoat what playing for the Gamecocks is like, they don't make promises they can't keep, and they don't negative recruit. This approach is undoubtedly appreciated by the more levelheaded players, and it also makes "derecruiting" much easier. If a player hasn't been given false impressions, he'll be much better able to adapt to the demands of the college game. Of course, this recruiting strategy doesn't help us with the players who have a deep need to be wooed, but those are likely the exact sorts of players who have trouble adjusting, and thus their ranks includes a lot of guys who don't live up to their potential. In other words, by playing a mitigated version of the wooing game and finding the good players out there who want to be a part of what we offer, we're bypassing the derecruiting game, to some degree. Given the Gamecocks' success in player development in recent years, I'd say this is a winning strategy for our staff.