If it's Super Bowl weekend, it's also the waning days before high school football seniors finalize their college choices. Many have already decided, thanks to the new early signing day in December. Others will sign their letters Wednesday.
Maurice Davison, an Anaheim Servite grad who has been a three-year starting cornerback for Northern Arizona, is the player I always think of during this time of the year when some people are fixated with how many stars the recruiting gurus have assigned to a particular player rather than how many tackles, catches or bench presses someone has achieved.
In the case of Davison, he was a two-time all-Trinity League defensive back. In high school, he went up against the likes of Dante Pettis (Washington), Shay Fields (Colorado), Thomas Duarte (UCLA) and Kyle Penniston (Wisconsin). He played against quarterbacks Josh Rosen (UCLA) and K.J. Costello (Stanford).
Do you think he could be intimidated in college after the quality of high school competition he faced?
It was laughable to see so many recruiters pass on him because he was 5 feet 9.
"Trust the process and stick to your plan," he said earlier this week. "I was a smaller guy and always had to work harder than the opponent, getting up earlier, lifting more."
He eventually had 10 offers, though none from big-time schools. He ended up at Northern Arizona. This past season, he had 50 tackles and three interceptions.
"No regrets at all," said the criminology major. "I love it here.
"I love competing," he added. "Whomever lines up in front of me, I want to dominate. This is the best fit for me."
The lesson is you only need one college coach to believe in you. It might be disappointing that USC or UCLA don't make an offer, but there's plenty of schools out there to give you a chance and even pay for a free education. Then you can prove everyone wrong. There's even a California Showcase set for Feb. 24 at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine in which non-Division I schools try to find underrated players for their program.
To me, character should count in a recruiter's final decision. Is the player first at the door to lift weights? Is he last leaving the field after practice? Is he showing up to meetings on time? Does he treat teammates with respect?
Gary Bernardi, a longtime college assistant now working for Colorado, said, "No. 1 is the background check/character check and recommendation by the high school coach. Then you have to make an evaluation how that player can fit into your offense, defense and scheme. I always go back to character, toughness, attitude, work ethic."
There are plenty of Maurice Davisons around this season waiting for a college opportunity. Greg Dulcich of La Canada St. Francis is a 6-4, 220-pound tight end. He used to be a quarterback. He has Ivy League grades and has played three sports. He came into this week with Columbia, Cornell and San Diego expressing interest. Then UCLA told him he could be a preferred walk-on.
His coach, Jim Bonds, said, "I think he's a scholarship guy for sure, but I'm not the one doling out scholarships. I think he projects as a darn good tight end. Somebody is going to be very happy when they get him. I say it until I'm blue in the face how good this kid is."
Dulcich said, "It's a little bit slower than I expected, but things are coming to fruition."
Christian Swint of Compton came into this week not knowing where he'd end up. He had early offers from Arizona and Utah State. Not anymore. He's a high-character, two-sport athlete. He scored 19 touchdowns. He had 81 tackles. He stayed for four years at the same high school. "He's a Division I ballplayer," coach Calvin Bryant said. "He's all-league for four years."
Then there's strong safety Jack Shippy of San Clemente, headed to UC Davis after being a three-year starter. He's also one of the fastest athletes in Orange County. He's happy with his choice. One day recruiters will wonder how they missed out on him.
So good luck to everyone on Wednesday. Let the rankings speak for themselves, but after signing day, it comes down to what you can do with the pads on and hype won't matter.