Cardale Jones, Striking While the Iron is Hot and Recruiting

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From time to time there will be stories in this section that relate to recruiting based on something that’s happened in the football world regardless of the level.

These such stories will be titled: Cracking the Recruiting Code.

No one knows the exact secret to success when it comes to recruiting. Anyone who says they do is lying to you. Anyone who says they can get a student-athlete into a school if you give them xx amount of money is lying and a likely criminal. There are more than enough cost-effective or free ways to get a student-athlete on the right trail in recruiting that just require a little work and dedication – and not much more work than work you would get by paying someone.

But for this piece I want to title “Striking While the Iron Is Hot” because timing is everything in recruiting. One second you’re hot and the next you’re wondering why all those “offers” have vanished and the recruiting coordinator at (insert school) won’t answer your texts.

This week Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones was benched by head coach Urban Meyer. The move was probably overdue by a week or two but Meyer wanted to give Jones every chance to keep his job as the starting quarterback because he probably felt like he owed him for returning to school after winning the Buckeyes a national title in 2014.

The Cardale Jones situation hit the football world like a tornado last year. Jones started the summer of 2014 as a third-string guy holding the clipboard. After Braxton Miller tore his ACL in training camp Jones became the backup to J.T. Barrett for the Buckeyes. Barrett had a great season in 2014 – he was third team AP All-American and first team All-Big Ten.

However, Barrett suffered a serious leg injury in the season finale against Michigan forcing Jones into action. Jones would be needed for Ohio State to win the Big Ten title outright and hopefully qualify for one of the four slots in the College Football Playoff. Jones led the Buckeyes to the conference title with a 59-0 win over Wisconsin. He followed that with playoff wins over Alabama and Oregon – the latter winning the 2014 national title for the Buckeyes.

Just like that Jones, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound raw gunslinger went from clipboard holder to the next big thing. He was a redshirt sophomore meaning he was eligible to enter the NFL Draft if he chose that route. Even though Jones had just three starts they were in the three biggest games of the season and he won all three handily. Many pundits suggested Jones enter the NFL Draft. His stock wasn’t going to get much higher they said. He had accomplished everything in college football in six weeks they said. He was likely to be the third or fourth QB taken behind Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota and fighting with Bryce Petty for that third slot.

Everyone knew Jones was raw and not ready for the NFL game but he was HOT and that meant he was going to collect a nice check to spend a year or two on the bench in the NFL learning the game.

Besides there was no guarantee he’d start at Ohio State next year.

Jones decided to return to college and Meyer started the season with him as the starter and Barrett backing him up. Jones won all seven of his games but struggled at times and was benched on more than one occasion. Finally his struggles last week against Penn State coupled with Barrett’s success in the offense forced Meyer to make a change. Now Jones’ future is uncertain. He’s a backup quarterback again and now there are enough games on him for the ever finicky NFL scouts to poke and prod him for his issues with the mechanics of the position and his struggles reading defenses.

He could leave and enter the draft after this season but he’s likely a 5th or 6th round pick or he may go undrafted. He could try to graduate quickly and transfer someone next year as a graduate transfer and play out his redshirt senior year. Who knows what will happen but in 10 months Jones went from a big star and a possible 1st round NFL draft choice to a struggling backup.

Strike While the Iron is Hot.

Now what does Jones’ story have to do with football recruiting? It’s all about striking while the iron is hot.

I tell every prospect there’s two types of recruits. There are the elite prospects which is most of the players in the ESPN 300. And then there’s everyone else.

The elite prospects can control their recruitment. They can decide where they want to commit and when they want to do it. The top programs will wait for them.

Everyone else is on a time limit. Each school can sign a class of a maximum of 25 players. Now divide that by the positions on the field and say you are a running back. That means the school is likely to take two running backs in most cases, maybe three. But usually no more than two in a singing class.

So the offer to play running back for (insert school) may only be committable for a short period of time. Because (insert school) hasn’t just offered you, they’ve offered six more kids that they also think can be a good running back for them and they are going to take the first two that give a verbal commit.

Just as quickly as the offer came, it went.

If you are an elite prospect you can wait, if you are the other 99% it’s a gamble. You may have offers in the summer from Utah, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati and Vanderbilt but you haven’t made a commitment by October and Georgia Tech, Utah and Cincinnati have all filled their spots at running back. Now you are hoping Vanderbilt takes you and their coaching soon knows you don’t have another committable offer. Don’t ask me how coaches know this stuff but they do. And now they are going to make you wait because they have a running back higher on the board and they want to give him first crack to be a Commodore.

Why did you wait?

* You wanted to play out the first half of your senior year to see if you could get better offers. The gamble failed because your offensive line was young and you couldn’t get going early in the season behind inexperienced blockers.

* You wanted to take all five official visits. That’s fine but some schools aren’t going to approve you for a visit with a verbal commitment. Those things cost them a lot of money, especially for out-of-state prospects.

* You assumed that you’d get more offers if these four came over the summer? Nope. Didn’t happen. Those were the schools that were most interested and you dissed them.

All these are cases of failing to strike while the iron is hot. Sometimes this gambles work. 75 percent of the time they don’t. Rule of thumb is the offers you get over the summer are the programs most interested in taking your commitment.

So how can you tell when your iron is hot?

* Count the number of offers you have at the start of the spring (March/April) and the ones you have by the end of the summer (July/August). Is it more? Has it changed at all? If it hasn’t changed your iron is hot.

* Check out the current schools that are interested in you. Check out their current recruiting classes. Have they received verbal commitments from players at your position? That will let you know how close your spot in the class is to being obsolete.

Again remember there are a maximum of 25 players per class. Some schools won’t hit the 25 scholarship mark because they only have 21-22 available scholarships. So do the numbers.

And it needs to be said once again – timing is everything in recruiting. You don’t have as much time as you think you might so don’t let it run out.

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