Thursday, May 28, 2009

What To Expect Of The Class Of 2013...

We are not just a people of the present. We're all about the future too.

If you are a big fan of an NFL team, fanhood extends far beyond 16 Sundays and, hopefully, a postseason run. You know who are your free agents, who are other teams' free agents, and for about a month beforehand, you get to know Mel Kiper Jr. on an almost personal level. ESPN doesn't promote the NFL draft, nor did it move it to prime time, to be nice to a new set of agents. People live for this. The future of their team is at stake.

This now extends to college sports. Recruiting web sites have become all the rage; classes are ranked and dissected far before the kids actually attend their own senior prom. Some of the best kids are now known to college coaches before they are to their high school classmates.

At Princeton, programs are beginning to announce their own specific recruiting classes. The 31 members of the incoming football class were revealed Wednesday, and their bios will be scoured by alums, fans and future recruits. Who were all-state players? What position did they play? Who won state titles? Who were captains?

But all those questions really try to answer the only two questions that matter to them: Will they help my team, and will they help my team next year?

This is an exciting time for fans, as they begin to meet the future members of their favorite team. But it can be a dangerous time as well, because those players acquire expectations far, far, far too early. If you ask a football coach whether so-and-so should help the team, the typical answer is an optimistic one; if you ask that same coach what so-and-so will do as a freshman, there is typically a smile and a shrug of the shoulders.

They have no idea.

It's more than just the accelerated physicality and speed of the college game. It's more than the wider range of plays and schemes that must be learned and remembered. It's about an 18-year-old kid moving away (and often times far away) from the safety of home. It's about a kid often being academically challenged for the first time in their lives. It's about a kid going from being a big fish in a small pond to a big fish in an ocean of big fish.

These aren't professionals. They're kids.

So what happens when some of the highly touted recruits do nothing their first year or two but sit on the sidelines and learn. Too often, they get labeled as the dreaded "bust." Maybe the coach will get blamed for poor recruiting, or maybe the kids will just have their reputations tarnished; either way, people tend to forget that they are trying to acclimate themselves to Division I college football while also trying to stay afloat at one of the world's most prestigious universities AND adjust to all of the social changes they are facing for the first time.

And since Princeton can't red-shirt anybody, there is no second chance for a freshman season. Some will handle it better than others, and a few will actually contribute immediately.

But most don't.

These bios that get scoured and dissected don't lie. They're all good players that the coaches have faith in, but they also have patience with. Here's hoping fans do the same, not just with football but with all college sports, because each incoming freshman is going through the same life adjustments.

No comments: