Miller: Take cautious optimism into signing dayCollege football recruiting comes to a head today in what challenges preseason media day as the most optimistic time of the year for any program.
By: Tom Miller, Forum News Service
College football recruiting comes to a head today in what challenges preseason media day as the most optimistic time of the year for any program.
National Signing Day has become an odd holiday for programs and their fans. On the first Wednesday of every February, coaches and staff crowd around a fax machine and wait for recruits to send in their letters of intent.
After the faxes roll in, the University of North Dakota — like nearly every NCAA Division I program in the country — will dole out the highlight videos on its web site, report prep statistics and give glowing reports from the coaching staff.
It’s easy for fans to get excited. Just remember, recruiting classes should only be evaluated years later.
Let’s look back at the past four UND signing classes to see the mixed bag.
The storyline was North Dakota’s expanded recruiting footprint. It was thought to be a must as a NCAA Division I transitional program sought out better talent. The bigger base brought in linebackers Dominique Bennett of Texas and Garrison Goodman of California. The other big prospect was Rivals two-star running back Marcus Binns of Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.).
Bennett and Goodman have lived up to some of the billing and become starting linebackers, with Goodman potentially being North Dakota’s best defender next season. Binns, on the other hand, never played a down at UND.
Lost in the mix was a speedy wide receiver named Greg Hardin, who made his way into the 2009 class under the radar. The Nebraska native is now the best wide receiver in the Football Championship Subdivision, according to at least one publication.
After the successful recruitment outside the Midwest with Goodman and Bennett, UND continued to recruit California in 2010 and 2011. This time, the results came back with a thud.
2010 and 2011
UND brought in California natives in defensive lineman Ekenna Anya-Gafu, running back Breon Butler and quarterback Chris Comes. A year later, UND went out west to bring in Rivals three-star linebacker Aarin Smith, safety Javen Butler and defensive back B.J. Fifita. The 2011 class also featured California junior college transfer Joey Bradley, who left the program after struggling as a part-time starting quarterback.
None of those seven Californians have been difference-makers at UND and almost all of them are no longer with the program.
Not that those two recruiting classes were failures. Some heralded members of the 2010 class still met expectations. The Herald’s 2010 signing day coverage highlighted the additional athleticism brought to the program by wide receiver R.J. McGill, running back Jake Miller and cornerback Daryl Brown. All three players are expected to have a major impact in 2013.
Apart from some of the Californian missteps, the 2011 class was also able to produce a handful of strong players who didn’t see much attention on signing day in wide receiver Jameer Jackson, tight end Zach Adler, offensive lineman Brandon Anderson and running back Jer Garman.
Led by a new inroad into Illinois, the class was highlighted by heavily sought regional quarterback recruit Joe Mollberg of Detroit Lakes, Minn., and wide receiver Kenny Golladay of Chicago.
It’s too early to judge these two or the rest of the class, but Mollberg spent time as UND’s No. 2 quarterback last season, while Golladay had his redshirt pulled and showed flashes of big-play abilities.
After the 2012 success in Illinois, UND appears ready to announce another strong group from Illinois today, as well as a pair of transfers who could be difference-makers in one-time Illinois commit J.J. Robertson (wide receiver) and Northern Illinois transfer Dustin Adams (offensive line), who is from Minot.
But be wary of assessing any grades to these recruits. As we’ve seen the past four years, the hype doesn’t always reflect the results.
Miller is a sports reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is a part of Forum News Service.