An Insider’s Perspective: Part 1 – ESPN’s Bruce Feldman Talks Hurricane Football
Bruce Feldman covered Hurricanes football while he was a student at the University of Miami and as the college football beat writer for ESPN: The Magazine. A senior writer for ESPN: The Magazine and ESPN.com, he has earned mention in three consecutive editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He has also written for Maxim, Playboy, The Palm Beach Post, The Miami Herald, and St. Petersburg Times. He is most well known to ‘Canes fans for his book, Cane Mutiny.
What are you up to these days and are there any new projects on the horizon?
Just been writing for ESPN.com. I blog there everyday. I’ve been on the road a lot, to see a bunch of different teams this spring, so that’s been good. I’ve been keeping busy with college football.
I’ve always been fascinated with the recruiting process. I was able to spend a year inside a recruiting war room, to observe a college staff, in this case Ole Miss. I observed how they would go from one signing day to the next. I witnessed how the staff evaluated the players, putting together a recruiting board, how they went through the process of contacting players to come to camps so they could eyeball them and see how they responded to coaching. I also saw the academic side. This kid says he has a 2.6 GPA, and when the transcript shows up, the reality is, he may not qualify. And then we get to the recruiting, the chase. This guy is telling the staff he definitely wants to attend, they were the first to offer. Well, when the bigger schools begin to offer, like a Florida or LSU, all of sudden you’re in a battle and the kid isn’t returning your phone calls. It was an amazing experience just to see how it all came together. The first kid the staff evaluated was Golden Tate (who ended up at Notre Dame). Another kid whom the staff recruited and came to camps at Ole Miss was Robert Marve. Every Miami fan knows his story. They didn’t pull the trigger on Marve because they wanted Stephen Garcia (South Carolina).
Another prospect they evaluated was Dexter McCluster. He was a tiny, all-purpose running back from Largo, FL. Coach Ed Orgeron showed me his evaluation tape. I had never heard of this guy. He was so explosive; making guys miss, running away from people. When I got back to my hotel that night, I looked him up on Rivals.com, and he’s only a three star guy. I thought, “Why aren’t more coaches looking at this guy?” He was such a dynamic player. But you know, sometimes these four or five star guys look good on paper, but they just don’t have the work ethic or the toughness, or the savvy to do the hard work and get a system down. I also got a real sense of what makes a one kid a safer bet than the other.
How much credibility do you put into the star rating system?
A little. I think some of the kids who are four or five stars, you’re going to see them in the NFL. Size and speed is a big component of that. Combines and college camps go a long way into a guy’s rating. If he has a great showing and runs a fast time, his chances of being rated highly are big. The downside: there are going to be prospects that fall through the cracks. Whether its guys that attend TCU or Boise St., they win a lot of games with two star guys. Maybe a few three star guys, but by and large, two star guys. If you were to go back and look four or five years ago, Notre Dame had much more success recruiting than Boise St. did. Yet the Boise St. players won twice as many games in their careers. These guys are developed differently, perhaps a little hungrier.
Miami fans have an interesting perspective on this. Perhaps the biggest recruit Miami has signed in the last seven years is Willie Williams. He was a five star, everyone knew about him. And he had no impact at Miami, whatsoever. Arthur Brown, another all everything recruit, had no impact. DJ Williams was another, but he lived up to his hype and developed. Brown did not, and Williams definitely did not. Jonathan Vilma wasn’t a big name guy; he was a two star. Miami beat out Tulane for Ed Reed. It’s weird, Miami has had some celebrated classes, and sometimes it didn’t work out. You can go down the line: Ryan Moore, Kyle Wright, Lance Leggett. Those guys simply didn’t workout for Miami. Some of the better players UM has had, were two and three star guys. So, I think you can pay attention to it, it does bode well to some extent, but in the state of Florida… Let’s look at Lorenzo Booker. He was highly touted, had an okay career. He didn’t perform like the top player in the country. Brock Berlin, Wright, you keep going on down the line. It’s interesting to follow. Coaches don’t get to spend that much time around these guys. It’s more like a combine setting. They don’t know how sharp a kid is, how tough he is. The evaluation is tied to who is coaching the guy as well. You want to work with him in a camp setting. And that, really, is what’s tricky about the whole process.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of the Eye’s interview with Bruce Feldman! GO ‘CANES!