In the pre-pandemic, pre-transfer portal days, high school recruiting would be the main topic for most fans at this time of year. Which guys are taking unofficials, who is leaning where, when and where will guys begin to start taking official visits, etc.
It is a different era now though.
Now, it is time for programs to start forcing kids out to get at or under the scholarship limits. It’s a time when coaches are looking to the portal to find any late entries or difference makers to sure up their roster. Missouri fans know all about these processes. There is some focus on high school recruiting, but because schools are signing fewer high school prospects than ever, it just isn’t the same as it used to be.
That leads me to question: How much does high school recruiting REALLY matter?
This class is to be taken with some grain of salt as most of the evaluations were made in the midst of a head coaching change. Drinkwitz attempted to keep the class together as best as he could, but it’s always difficult to walk into a new situation and evaluate kids you don’t really have a relationship with, yet you need to make a rather quick decision on whether they will be part of the program or not.
Still, this class signed 17 high school prospects of varying levels of skill who have achieved various levels of success at Missouri. Of those 17, only six have become starters during their time at Missouri: KAD, Brady Cook, Ennis Rakestraw, JC Carlies, Harrison Mevis, and Johnny Walker.
6/17 is a decent hit rate considering the circumstances of this class. Several of the players in this class will likely be drafted, including Kris Abrams-Draine, JC Carlies, Ennis Rakestraw, Jr., and even Harrison Mevis. That is what you would consider a solid haul.
In 2021, we have a slightly larger group of high school kids at signing day, coming in right at 20. There are a couple of problems, however. First, this is the first full class of athletes who dealt with pandemic-related issues. Second, this class of high school players is almost non-existent on the current day roster.
Of the 20 high school players signed, only six players remain. Of those six players, only three are projected to start and or receive significant playing time in 2023: Daylan Carnell, Connor Tollison, and Ryan Hoerstkamp.
That is a very tough pill to swallow in itself. However, it’s even worse when you account for the fact that two of the high school kids signed would become All-SEC level players and then proceed to transfer to a couple of blueblood schools in your own conference.
This class is still very fresh, but there were 17 high school players who signed with Missouri last year. So far, there have been encouraging results, but it’s still too early to have a real verdict on how this will go.
Of the 17 signees, there has been only one transfer thus far. There are also three players who we know for certain will play a lot of snaps: Luther Burden III, Mekhi Miller, and Armand Membou. Of course, there are other candidates to join that group. Sam Horn is in a QB battle, Tristan Wilson is a candidate to see some playing time on the interior offensive line, and Max Whisner plays at a position which could use some upgrading.
This was the highest-ranked class in Missouri history and it was buoyed mainly by a group of highly rated four-star prospects. Through year one, we’re still waiting for some highly-ranked guys like DJ Wesolak, Marquis Gracial, and Sam Horn to make their mark. Development doesn’t happen overnight though and we could still see them make a leap into extended snaps in 2023.
The objective of this post isn’t to convince you that high school recruiting doesn’t matter. It definitely does. You can find quality players and sell your fans on hope further down the road.
However, with the advent of the transfer portal, the “one free waiver” rule, as well as the extra COVID seasons, there is a legitimate question about the usefulness of signing high school players. Are you better off signing a kid with a high upside who has a free transfer in his pocket? Or are you better off finding a player with a high floor but a low ceiling who is locked into your program for multiple years? That’s the fine line that Missouri, as well as a lot of programs across the nation, are walking.
It’s important to note that Missouri’s had somewhat of a mixed bag of high school recruiting results yes, but this is still just a sample size of the last three recruiting classes. This is the first real set of data that we can evaluate with all of college football’s changes being implemented. So while it may look bad at first glance, it’s important to add the correct context to how these classes came about.
Still, when you break it down in this manner, it leaves some very puzzling questions for what recruiting composition looks like down the road.