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January 5, 2012

All-Americans do not like promise of playing time

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SAN ANTONIO - Pay attention recruiters: Players do not want to be promised playing time.

Just ask Jonathan Bullard, a five-star defensive end from Shelby (N.C.) Crest.

"I don't want to hear a school tell me I am going to start out of the gate," he said. "What if I come in and stink. Then what? I want to earn what I get."

He was not alone.

Stanford-bound offensive lineman Graham Shuler said the promise of playing time actually made him want to eliminate that school from his list.

"Those are not schools I want to be a part of," he said. "If they could honestly guarantee me playing time, then that is probably not a strong program."

Shuler, a 6-foot-5, 275-pounder from Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy, said he came to that conclusion after being honest with himself.

"I think I will have to put on some weight and get into the system, and learn my position," he said." I don't think a coach can make a guarantee that all of those things will happen."

Shuler committed to Stanford long before the season started and is excited to get to campus and work with the staff. He said the Cardinal never promised him playing time - but he now thinks he may get an opportunity to play early.

"From talking to them, they think I will be able to compete for a starting spot," he said. "There is at least one opening on the offensive line and that is what I want - a chance to compete."

A generation ago, such conversations would never have taken place. It was understood that almost every scholarship player would red-shirt, spending time in the weight room to prepare their bodies for college football. Especially on the offensive line.

In recent years, that has all changed.

Scholarship reductions have meant there are fewer players on the roster. Those there transfer out faster than ever before if they feel they are not going to play. And advances in weight training have enabled many players to arrive on campus far bigger and stronger than ever before.

This, combined with a run of injuries, can force schools to turn to true freshman more than ever - even the traditional powers.

Florida State started four true freshmen along its offensive line in its bowl game against Notre Dame after injuries decimated their roster.

Such a high number is still an anomaly.

Prattville (Ala.) High defensive tackle Justin Shanks said he knows he'll be facing a traditional numbers game when he gets to Florida State.

"Florida State has like eight kids committed on the defensive line," he said. "How can they promise anyone playing time?"

Alongside Shanks is five-star end Mario Edwards and three four-stars, including Chris Casher, Dalvon Stuckey and Dante Fowler, Jr.

"There is no red carpet," he said. "If you got a school rolling that out for you then you are going to be disappointed quickly."

No position may have been more vocal about promised playing time than the most high-profile: Quarterback.

Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights' Zeke Pike and Denver (Colo.) Mullen dual-threat quarterback Cyler Miles both said they were promised the world - and they didn't like it.

"It was a red flag for me," Miles said. "A lot of times those promises were made at the same time the coach was badmouthing a kid already on his roster. Telling me that I could start for him right now. If they are saying that to me, then why do I think they aren't telling it to someone about me next year?"

Pike, who committed to Auburn in November, said he wasn't easily fooled.

"They tell you what they think you want to hear," he said. "Not many of us want to hear that we are going to be the face of the program as freshmen because we know it is a lie. We may eventually be the guy but it is not likely to be from day one."

For Pike, day one will be sooner for him than for most. The four-star quarterback is set to enroll Monday following the U.S. Army All-American Week.

He knows that all of the promises end immediately.

"The second I step on campus I stop controlling the process and become part of the program," he said. "They stop promising me anything and really stop recruiting me."

And start making promises to the next kid.



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