In just a few weeks, members of the Class of 2011 will make their way to college campuses all across the country. Meanwhile, the Class of 2012 prospects are just entering the full stages of their recruitments and about to gear up for a hectic summer slate filled with camps and combines.
Technically, the classes are just a year apart. But in reality they are worlds apart. For those former prep prospects a year deep in college programs, they fully understand what I am about to discuss in the following paragraphs. And for the most part, this is the harsh reality that Class of 2012 prospects will eventually face but little will be written on this reality by folks in our business.
During this time of the year, prospects entering their senior year always throw out similiar phrases such as "early playing time" or "making an immediate impact". And those statements will hold true for about one percent of the entire Class of 2012 in the Division I ranks. The rest will likely be begging to redshirt in late August or September. At first, that 'redshirt' term is considered a nasty word but then it becomes a "great learning experience" for guys able to redshirt.
But most of these 2012 prospect will be told by friends and some family members just how great they are, and in the future, that may hold to be true. Then they will post mind-boggling stats on Friday nights and become local heros on Saturday mornings in the barber shops. It has always been that way and likely always will be. But then when they arrive at their college destination, all of that quickly fades away in offseason workouts.
There is no doubt Mississippi State has signed its share of very talented prospects since Dan Mullen's arrival. And I have to give the Bulldog boss and his staff much credit for that. But I tip my hat even moreso due to the fact of the number of guys they have been able to redshirt of late, and that benefit will be noticeable down the road. For those programs playing double-digit true freshmen in this league, well that normally means your loss total will also near double digits.
Just last year the Bulldogs were able to redshirt many talented performers that will contribute this fall. Guys like Matthew Wells, Nick Griffin, Jameon Lewis, Malcolm Johnson, etc., were able to gain that valuable extra year of getting bigger, stronger and more knowledgable of the game. But as Mullen noted not long ago, their friends and family members want to know why they didn't play right away since they were so great in high school.
What happened to their talent? Well, nothing in fact they got better last year. Like 99-percent of true freshmen, they just weren't ready for the SEC. Sometimes hearing why they didn't play can rattle a kid's confidence. But then again, they know of their own progress and the daily challenges they face on the practice field or in workouts with strength coach Matt Balis.
As Mullen noted, he has always experienced the same type of progression throughout his entire coaching career. Most guys redshirt and then as a redshirt freshman, you hope they are finding a way to get on special teams. By their sophomore year, you expect to see them contributing at their respective position and then battle for a starting job as a junior. So if you start for two years at the SEC level, that would normally be considered a great college career and I agree.
I will note on thing, however, brought to my attention by one of our writers here, Logan Lowery, and I have to agree with his thought process. Logan said more folks would know of what guys go through as redshirts if the media could talk to them as true freshmen. Like some schools, MSU does not allow true freshmen to talk to the media until they have played in a game and sometimes it is even longer than that. I understand their thinking but I also think it will help younger prospects understand the challenges they face in the SEC and how the word 'easy' only exists at the prep level.
Now, I can really only speak informitively on the MSU recruiting tactics since I just focus on the guys the Bulldogs are recruiting. But I do respect how honest the MSU coaching staff is with their prospects. They don't sell guys on early playing time, only the chance to earn that playing time. They tell them how hard it will be to get on the field early and that their job is to prepare them to get to that level.
This staff also doesn't mis-represent prospects into thinking they have a place in the class. Once you commit and accept the scholarship offer, Mullen has yet to greyshirt any guy in his recruiting classes at MSU. He said on National Signing Day that he doesn't believe in telling a guy he has a spot in a class if he really doesn't until the following year.
Sure, I am sure other schools do the same and are honest as well. But there is little doubt that MSU's honesty on the recruiting trails aids the guys who eventually sign with the Bulldogs in February. They haven't been promised a starting job nor instant stardom, thus they are able to handle the transition better than most. That is likely the reason why you've see over 90 percent of Mullen's recruits staying on campus and not transferring out of the program.
Cause when you promise the world on the recruiting trail and then reality sets in down the road, that is when some prospects decide they made the wrong choice and look for the easy way out. Kids find out quickly 'this ain't high school' and those promised big dreams are the toughest ones to keep content and on campus.