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I have been unconsciously waiting for the first Wednesday of February. It is a day that means nothing to most, but for me, it’s like Thanksgiving and Mardi Gras combined.
That day is National Signing Day, an annual sacrament for the most devout college football fans, when grown men regularly go crazy over the decisions of teenagers.
Nationwide, the best high school football players sign letters of intent for their choice colleges, with a watchful nation keeping its eyes on football’s future.
Karl Marx was right when he said religion is the opiate of the masses; he was wrong when he forgot to include football. This becomes evident today, when people tune in to witness high school seniors sign a piece of paper.
It’s hard not to notice a somewhat ridiculous aspect of national signing day: the fact that we rate players with five stars and label schools with recruiting rankings, when we know full well most will not pan out.
Failure is ingrained in the sport and National Signing Day is meant to celebrate the successes of these players’ careers up to this point. For most recruits, this is their only chance to get educations at their dream schools, so let’s give them their day.
At his press conference, CU Head Coach Jon Embree enters into a room unannounced, where a little more than 20 reporters wait for him. He takes his seat in front of a microphone stand.
Following his hiring in December, NCAA rules allowed Embree only 13 days of contact with recruits. The fact that he signed 19 is astounding, let alone getting so many of them to switch their commitments from other schools.
“There are some kids out there with a little more entitlement,” Embree said. “But to me, that shows you a kid you may not want in your program. I want kids who want to come and add, build on the tradition – not (asking) what are we going to do for them.”
Some consistently successful programs, namely Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Utah, or Iowa never have recruiting classes that shine with five stars. Not one of those teams is ranked in the top 25 of Rivals.com team recruiting rankings. Instead, they rely on long-tenured coaching staffs to find pieces that will work well in their systems.
Embree knows the Buffs can emulate those football powers, finding their own niche in the lost art of recruiting for scheme, not for flare.
“There are certain programs that somehow, every three or four years find themselves in the hunt,” Embree said. “But every year they don’t have these highly rated classes, and they do a great job of developing their athletes. I believe I’ve got great teachers. I believe I’ve got guys who can get the most out of players.”
One month ago, Assistant Coach Brian Cabral dragged his new boss on a plane for a seven-hour flight to his native Hawaii. The mission: persuade linebacker K.T. Tu’umalo away from his Boise State commitment.
Embree, who reluctantly crammed into an economy class seat, thought a visit to the island would be a waste of time. Meanwhile Cabral sat barefooted in the spacious first-class, after assuring the new head coach his efforts would not be in vain.
A few days later, Tu’umalo decided to switch. He is one of three players from Hawai’i who signed to CU.
“We have some coaches that are relentless,” Embree said. “That’s important in recruiting: you can’t take ‘No.’”
Thanks to Cabral’s efforts, this class features more Hawaiians (3) than Coloradans (2). Along with Tu’umalo, CU corralled linemen Paulay Asiata and Juda Parker.
Of the 17 recruits who signed with Colorado on National Signing Day, (two are already enrolled), not one is rated higher than a three-star recruit on any major recruiting service. They have no nationally televised announcements scheduled, no plans of donning a baseball cap of one team and then taking it off in favor of another hat.
Eight of these signees were at one time committed to another program. The gem of the class is Marc Mustoe, a 6-foot-7 inch offensive tackle, who pledged to CU after wavering from UCLA, where Coach Embree spent a stint as tight ends coach.
“Flipped him from the Bruins, that felt good,” Embree said.
Mustoe, like most of CU’s signees, did not partake in even a lunch banquet with his classmates on signing day.
Defensive end Stephan Nembot, who chose CU over his previous favorite, Washington, wanted his decision to be broadcast on a local station in his hometown near Burbank, Calif. He only chose to do this so his parents, who live in Cameroon, would be able to watch on an Internet stream. Maybe modesty still has hope.
According to Embree, the days of players earning their starting spots based on last name or reputation are over. The head ball coach delivered a message to his recruits and current players.
“I’m bringing in someone next year to beat you out; that’s the object in this game of recruiting,” Embree said. “If they can’t beat them out, then great; that means all the kids in this class are raising their level.”
National Signing Day is a rare holiday for the coach too; a break from the year-long frenzy of recruiting, a calm before the intense workouts and practices start all over.
Now I start my wait again. Not for next signing day, but for next season. That’s when we begin seeing results from Wednesday’s commotion.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Michael Krumholtz at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org.