Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Every offseason, following the lure and
excitement of the FCS national title game, there comes a time in early
February where fans, coaches and hopeful schools get to clean the slate and
look forward to the next season.
I'm talking of course about FCS football and National Signing Day.
In today's day and age of social media, where it seems almost impossible to
keep any news out of the public's eye, and where information gathering, being
the first to break a story, adding personal opinions and being "liked" or
"followed" trumps all else, it's hard to forget just how big of an event
signing a National Letter of Intent has become.
In many ways, signing day has turned into an overblown celebration centered
around fax machines, -- yes, the majority of schools across the country still
use fax machines in the year 2013 -- high school highlight videos, and coaches
talking about how their recruiting class is "very solid" or that they "filled
a lot of priorities" and how "excited" the staff is about that year's class.
Keep in mind, all the hype relates to young men signing a piece of paper.
"Signing Day is definitely more of an event now than in past years," Montana
State coach Rob Ash said, "with ESPN's all day coverage and massive exposure
in the print media as well. I'm sure the social media attention to the
recruits' decisions during the weeks leading up to Signing Day also draw
attention to the day."
Signing day, at least in my mind, has quickly turned into a double-edged
sword. Yes, it brings excitement, especially after a dead period without
college football, but it's also something that's perhaps one of the most
overrated events in sports.
It's even more eye-opening at the FCS level, where, let's face it, each year
there are a select few true freshman who can come into a program and make an
immediate impact. The same cannot be said about recruits at the FBS level,
especially in the top conferences, where players compete for starting roles
from the start of their career, or even leave school early to declare for the
There are certainly exceptions in the FCS, Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke
(2011), Georgia Southern's Dominique Swope (2011), Towson's Terrance West
(2011) and others who have stepped into the limelight and helped their team
improve right away without taking a redshirt. But it's not every day that an
FCS freshman from the most recent recruiting class contributes right away from
the moment he steps on campus.
"We try to redshirt most of our freshmen, but I would be curious about the
comparison between FCS and FBS for the number of players who redshirt," Ash
said. "I'm not sure it would be that much more prevalent in FCS than FBS."
For many coaches and programs, signing day is great for the future, not the
present. It's the short end of a culmination of hard work for a coaching staff
that managed (or failed), to persuade the next generation of football players
to make a decision and attend, while hopefully impacting that certain school
Ash understands that firsthand, as he's helped Guide the Bobcats to three
straight FCS playoff appearances, while expanding the program's recruiting
base. Soon to be senior quarterback DeNarius McGhee, a three-year starter and
all-conference signal-caller, redshirted in 2009 after joining MSU from
Euless, Texas. Likewise, recent All-America linebacker Jody Owens, also a
native of Texas, redshirted in 2008 and developed into one of the school's top
defenders of all-time.
"And yes, the hype of the recruiting class should be about the future," Ash
added. "I make that comment frequently during the celebrations, because very
few of the players will contribute in their first year. We should probably
start a tradition of reviewing the Signing Day classes 'one year later' to see
how they performed (if they played at all) and how the coaches project them
now, after working with them for almost a year."
That's part of what makes FCS football unique isn't it? The thought that a
young man can come and get acclimated with college life, academics, teammates
and football, but also take that redshirt year to develop on and off the
field. It's the concept that players themselves become part of the program,
even if they aren't ready to be on the playing field from day one.
The exciting part as a fan is seeing which of those players, who have bought
into the program and helped develop the foundation, can improve from spring
ball to the fall and make big time plays. Who is the next all-conference stud?
Who is the player I can look forward to seeing over the next four years? Most
importantly, who is the next player that will help my team win a championship?
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