The other season for rabid college football fans — recruiting — is hitting the final stretch.
Tim Jennings (cq) tackles South Carolina's Troy Williamson (cq) in the third quarter on the thirty yard line with the score at 16-6 Carolina at Williams Brice Stadium Saturday, Sep. 11, 2004.
The unofficial holiday known as national signing day is Wednesday.
Fans will wait with fingers crossed to see if remaining uncommitted five-star prospects pick their school.
Georgia has several highly sought-after targets who will be announcing their decisions in the next few days on TV: linebacker Reuben Foster from Auburn (Ala.) High School on Monday night, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, of Lake City, Fla., and defensive tackle Montravius Adams, of Dooly County, on Wednesday morning.
No fans of an Southeastern Conference school or any major college program were waiting to find out where Tim Jennings was going back in 2002. Until the night before signing day, the Orangeburg, S.C., native was heading to South Carolina State, a I-AA school (now FCS).
Georgia came with a late offer to the two-star prospect after a scholarship opened up, and a cornerback listed at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds made the most of it.
Jennings became an All-SEC player for a 2005 conference champion Georgia team, was the first Bulldogs players taken in the 2006 NFL draft when Indianapolis selected him in the second round and made the Pro Bowl this year for the Chicago Bears.
“The way I looked at it, man, once you get in that situation, of course you’ve got those five-star, top-100 guys, but you’ve got athletes all over the world,” Jennings said this week from New Orleans, where he was in town for the Super Bowl festivities. “All you need is the opportunity. All you need is the door to open up for you. You get a chance to go out there and compete and then you never know what’s going to happen.”
The headliners in Jennings’ class were offensive lineman Max Jean-Gilles (who played five seasons in the NFL), defensive lineman Marcus Jackson (college career ended early due to medical reasons), defensive tackle Kedric Golston (seven seasons on the Washington Redskins) and defensive lineman Marquis Elmore (career backup in college).
Jennings led the NFL with nine interceptions this season and set a Bears record with three multi-interception games. He has one year remaining on a two-year contract.
“The thing with it is for every two-star, there’s a five-star,” Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “Chris Culliver is a five star who is playing cornerback for San Francisco and then you’ll get a two-star guy that breaks through. It’s a balance. I will tell you what we’re doing is we’re ranking them as high school players based on their potential leaving high school. What happens after that, we have no idea. You can’t predict what’s going to happen at the next level — if a kid is going to have a chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t ranked higher, didn’t get the attention from the other schools or if he’s going to work harder than everyone else.”
The quarterbacks in the Super Bowl weren’t four or five-star rated.
San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick was a three-star recruit when he signed with Nevada. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco got the same rating when he signed with Pittsburgh before later transferring to Delaware.
“You have those recruits that are highly-touted, but everything’s been given to them,” said the 29-year old Jennings, who finished his third season with the Bears after four with the Colts. “They didn’t have to work too hard to get where they’re at. You’ve got those under the radar guys like myself who got that opportunity and see the competition they’re going against and realize you’ve got a chance to compete with them for a job.”
Two years ago, Georgia landed five-star tailback Isaiah Crowell from Columbus to much fanfare, but he turned out to be as trouble as he was talented. He was booted off the team the summer after his freshman season after facing felony weapons charges.
“Some of these five stars, they’ve had everything handed to them,” Farrell said. “I’m not saying handed to them on the field, but they’ve been recruited like they’re rock stars.”
As an example, he mentioned comparisons of Florida 2010 defensive line recruits Dominique Easley, Sharif Floyd and Ronald Powell to the “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh of the NBA’s Miami Heat. Floyd is a likely first-round NFL draft pick this year. Easley had 26 tackles and four sacks last season. Powell missed last season after ACL surgery.
“Sometimes if their head gets too big they’re just not going to be successful,” Farrell said. “Sometimes they get injured. (Georgia’s) Kregg Lumpkin was one of the best running backs I’ve seen in the state of Georgia. It didn’t work out for him to that five-star career we expected because of an injury.”
Georgia’s class could have its three-star success stories in them.
It’s conceivable, Farrell said, that Brookwood’s Shaun McGee can turn out to have a better career than four-star linebackers Tim Kimbrough from Indianapolis or Johnny O’Neal from Dublin.
“More often than not the stars mean something,” he said.
There are the exceptions.
“I wasn’t as big as the rest of the guys so I had to work extra hard,” said Jennings, who lives in Atlanta in the offseason. “It’s just the fact that I was put in a great situation. I was able to go out there and showcase my talents and it kind of took off from there. … I already knew it was just going to take a little bit of extra. I think I’m faster and quicker than any other guys. I kind of had to build up my size. I had to lift a little bit more and put some more weight on to compete and to have that extra lift over the other guys that had the size and the strength. I knew there was nobody faster or quicker than me so I already had the ability.”