When he was coaching at the University of Miami, Howard Schnellenberger arguably had the best trio of quarterbacks ever on one college football team: Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinnie Testeverde--now all in the pro ranks.
Besides ability, the three shared another common bond: None made a high school All-American team. None!
Even more mystifying, not one of their names appeared in the Top 100 prep players lists circulated by myriad scouting advisory services from California to Florida.
So, you don't have to be genius to realize that Schnellenberger, now coach at Louisville, didn't spend much time this year hanging around newsstands waiting for publications with All-American prep teams. Nor did he breathlessly rummage through his mail for scouting service reports.
Although Schnellenberger and many of his coaching colleagues aren't fans of these lists, just about everyone else seems to love them.
High school players live for making the various All-American teams or Top 100 plus lists disseminated by people like Max Emfinger in Texas, Joe Terranova in Michigan and Tom Lemming in Illinois. Players perceive such recognition as the ticket to the college of their choice.
Fans delight in discussions over what super prospect might be interested in attending their favorite school. And, after the recruiting war is over in April and the players have signed grants-in-aid, the popular parlor game fostered by recruiting services is which college won the recruiting war.
It's fun to discuss and argue over, but does it really mean anything? Are these high school All-American players really the best in the land? Do people who select these teams and players really know what they are talking about?
College coaches are inclined to give these prognosticators high marks for the time and effort they put forth. They also have a sense that the All-American teams and Top 100 or 200 lists are becoming more accurate. But, they say, there will always be as many misses in the selection process as hits because too many factors--some impossible to weigh--are involved.
"This is no knock on these guys," said Schnellenberger. "There are a lot of great players who make All-American teams and the lists, but there are more great ones who don't."
Added Schnellenberger: "When we won the national championship in 1983, we didn't have a single starter who made an All-American team." The Hurricanes did have two Parade All-American members on the 95-player roster: running back Melvin Bratton, a redshirt that year, and fullback Alonzo Highsmith, who played only sparingly as a freshman.
UCLA Coach Terry Donahue agrees with Schnellenberger.
"There are lots of good football players on All-American and Top 100 lists, but there are so many good players not on any lists," Donahue said.
Donahue is no fan of the lists and All-America teams even though he and virtually all other coaches subscribe to one of more of the scouting services.
"We use the lists more for a reference than for an evaluation of a player," Donahue said.
"We often find the lists very inaccurate. But they do spark an initial interest in a player and tend to result in certain players being over-recruited."
Donahue said when someone asks his opinion of All-American teams or recruiting service lists he remembers a conversation several years ago with Brigham Young football Coach Lavell Edwards. "He told me that he had never been able to recruit a Top 100 player. And you know how good BYU has been." The Cougars won the national championship in 1984.
Boston College Coach Jack Bicknell said he has never been able to recruit the so-called prep superstars and therefore hasn't really followed their progress, "so I don't know if they make it big or not."
But the successful Boston College coach notes that teams that don't get the prep All-Americans don't seem to be suffering.
"If a team doesn't get any Parade All-Americans, they can still be more successful than ones that do. Notre Dame probably has had as many All-American (as any other school) in recent years, but that doesn't guarantee success," Bicknell said.
"I look at our situation. We've got kids playing in pro ball, and not many teams were even recruiting them out of high school. These people who pick the All-American teams do a pretty good job of selecting the super blue-chipper. I'd certainly like to get some of them. But there are more great prospects who don't make these prep All-American teams than do."
Bicknell has his theory on why so many great players are missed by the All-American team selectors and scouting services, even though they are in constant contact with sportswriters, high school coaches and college recruiting coordinators.
"No one can judge how a kid of 17 will develop," Bicknell said. "There are very few kids that you can call great at 17. You can't predict greatness for a kid when he's in high school. Some kids mature earlier than others. Saying that one player is better than the next player is an inexact science at best."