How Height Rules the New Recruiting Landscape
What’s the most important factor in obtaining a college football scholarship? Is it tremendous footwork? Is it a high football IQ? Is it outstanding hitting ability? How about great speed? All of those things are nice and most definitely a part of any great player’s resume but if you want to be sure to play college football the most important factor is, be tall. There’s just something about a coach having to look up to see a prospect that makes an offer fall right out of their mouth.
Go to any high school football practice for any school, anywhere. Chances are if there is a 6’5″ participant, he has a college scholarship offer. This offseason, as you make your way to all the camps and combines, check the crowd of reporters. You can be certain they will congregate around a plus six footer. There’s just something about having to hold your tape recorder above your head that screams hot prospect. I’m not just talking fantasy here, there is evidence to support this. I am also not saying that tall prospects aren’t good players but there’s no denying that when it comes to height and college football prospects, the numbers are trending up.
Take a look at the Rivals Top 100. Here are the heights of the last five #1 rated prospects in the country:
|Height of Rivals #1 Prospect 2011-2015|
Looking beyond just that top spot, from 2011-2015 ranked recruiting classes by Rivals, only six prospects listed under 6′ have ever found themselves in the top 10. That’s six prospects out of 50 that have been listed under 6′ tall. For your math nuts out there, that’s a mere 12%.
You should also note, since it began producing a Top 100 list in 2002, Rivals.com has never had their #1 recruit in the country stand under six feet tall. Bet you didn’t know that.
Well you say, that’s probably because they’re always picking some quarterback or defensive end. This is true, the last three #1 players in the country have been defensive ends. So let’s take a look at height as it relates to some individual positions. First we will start with defensive ends. If you’re standing at or under six feet, playing defensive end is a tough way to go according to the recruiting numbers.
|-||Height of Top 10 Rivals WDE 2011-2015|
|-||Height of #1 Player||Height of Shortest Prospect|
No surprises here. Height is where it’s at. When it comes to rushing the quarterbacks weak side, college coaches believe a tall, long rangy player has all the advantages over someone who is not that.
How Tall is the Passing Game?
There are no surprises at the pro-style quarterback position either. Absolutely zero sub six foot quarterbacks have been ranked in the top 10 over the last five years at Rivals.com. The average height of the guys that have been ranked number one in this category is 6’4″.
Ok, we get it, you “need” a tall guy to see over the line (that is till you realize the centers and guards are also 6’4″ but I’ll drink my tea now). Perhaps the shifty dual threat quarterbacks are given some leeway on height. Fat chance! Over the last five recruiting cycles, the average height of the #1 ranked dual threat quarterback in the country at Rivals has been 6’1.5″ and only one prospect out of a possible 50 listed in the top 10 over that time period has been listed under six feet. That prospect is none other than Booker T. Washington High School’s and current Florida Gators starting quarterback Treon Harris. That should surprise you.
Receiver’s Being Stolen from the Basketball Court
Surely, receivers are not so much a part of this scenario. Yes, we have noticed that they have been getting taller but not across the board, right? Hit the buzzer, wrong! No receiver from 2011-2015 recruiting classes listed under six feet has found themselves as the #1 receiver in the country. Of the 50 receivers listed in the Top 10 over that time span, a mere nine have been under six feet. That’s 18%.
What About the No Fly Zone?
I didn’t take a look at the entire No Fly Zone. I took an interest in cornerbacks. When I was growing up, it was rare to see six foot plus guys playing the position. The thought was that they did not have the agility to mirror a wide receiver going through his cavalcade of direction changes. That thinking has seen it’s way out with rotary dialed phones, VCR’s and other beloved amenities of my youth. Take a look at the recent trends:
|Height of Top 10 Rivals Cornerbacks 2011-2015|
|-||Height of #1 Prospect||# out of Top 10 listed under 6′|
|2011||6’1″||7 out of 10|
|2012||5’11”||6 out of 10|
|2013||511″||6 out of 10|
|2014||6’1″||5 out of 10|
|2015||6’1″||4 out of 10|
Noticing a trend here? Each recruiting cycle, the number of sub 6′ cornerbacks in the Top 10 is shrinking. Only the University of Miami’s Tracy Howard (2012) and the University of Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves (2013) has managed to find themselves in the top spot standing under six feet. I guess we can all thank the Seattle Seahawks for this trend as they’ve dominated the air waves in the NFL the past few seasons with power forwards playing cornerback.
What’s the Reason?
Well there are a few theories I have. First, the field of exercise science has exploded in recent years. The ability to turn seemingly any individual into a competent athlete has increased. This now applies to taller athletes who were once considered to be awkward. Physical development and training is turning tall athletes into agile beings that can survive out in space and change direction. There was a time that the thought was once you passed 6’5″ it was time for you to go stand in the paint on a basketball court. Now exercise science has turned those guys into tight ends and even wide receivers.
College coaching staffs can add weight to a prospects frame when they get on campus. They can also make them faster and improve their IQ. However, we have not reached the point where medical science can make an athlete taller. With that in mind, the thought of a coaching staff is I can’t teach height so acquiring a 6’5″ player that can do what a 6’2″ player can do gives me a tactical advantage.
College coaches are also involved in a profession that does not offer a ton of stability. Jobs are given and taken with light speed now in college football. More and more, jobs are lost over lack of production in the area of recruiting. This means, coaches are less likely to take chances on the recruiting trail. Bringing in a highly productive high school player who was not the ideal height and having him struggle on the college practice field makes for some uneasy moments in the meeting room. Coaches now are much more resigned to taking a tall athlete that “looks the part” and having him fail than the alternative.
You may ask why should we care about the Top guys or the top 10 guys? We are just looking to get a scholarship to any of the schools, not necessarily Alabama. Here’s the rub. College football is very much a copy cat game and that means in recruiting too. All of the schools are looking to imitate what’s in the top 10. It seems they will take a poor man’s version of the Top 10 prospects before going after a highly productive version that does not resemble top 10 characteristics. I have division II schools telling me they are looking for 6 foot corners. Really man?
Few programs are willing to be trend setters it seems as the herd mentality rules. Playing it safe is the name of the game and the bottom will imitate what’s happening at the top as best they can.
What Should the Little Guys Do?
Have no fear. It’s not time to start watching the horse races and conjuring up a career as a jockey. In the long run, football is a results oriented business that holds many rewards for those who can persevere. What is football if not a test of will? If you are not the required height, it just means you are going to have to dig deep, work harder and grind more than the next man. It’s what you should be doing anyway but even more now since your are looking up to your competition. The lessons and character you build in this pursuit will only yield dividends in every aspect of your life.