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Football

Green: National Signing Day about more than football

| Thursday, February 5, 2015

With one signature and one fax, it’s all over.

Months, if not years, of campus visits, both official and unofficial, talks over the phone, thinking about the “next level,” researching programs and discernment as a whole are complete.

It must be a huge relief to the players to finally be able to close one chapter of a book and begin another with so much excitement and promise.

It’s also a relief to the coaching staff, knowing they have another year of the future covered.

But that’s the problem with National Signing Day. We tend to act like all of a team’s problems are solved by signing a single class.

The truth is, the game is too unpredictable and fickle for that to hold true.

We’ll start with the rankings of the players themselves. On most sites, five stars means as much of a sure thing as you can be. Work hard and live up to your potential, and a future in the NFL is all but set.

But how many former five-star recruits started in this year’s Super Bowl? None.

Eight of the 48 starters were four stars, and the greatest number (21) had three stars. Ultimately, it comes down to improvement and performance, not how highly touted a prospect a player is.

The unpredictability begins on the college field.

College coaches target certain positions to fill holes exposed in a previous season and made bigger by graduation.

Coaches tout how a big-name quarterback prospect will jumpstart a lackluster offense the next season or how a few defensive linemen will strengthen a shaky run defense.

They say an incoming receiver will be a surefire Heisman candidate in a season or two and that a speedy cornerback will shut down any deep threat when he is on the field.

But there is no way one can know this definitely, and there is no way one can predict with certainty the struggles a team will undergo in future seasons.

Take Notre Dame’s 2014 season. The defense suffered tremendously at all positions from injuries. By the end of the year, you couldn’t make up the storylines of which players were injured and who had to sub in for them. Many jokes were made on the Notre Dame campus about recruiting from the interhall ranks, and sometimes, I half wondered if the Irish coaching staff had checked out those options out of desperation.

Then there’s the now-famous absurdity of the Ohio State quarterback situation, in which potential Heisman contender Braxton Miller went down in the offseason, then backup J.T. Barrett led the Buckeyes to a one-loss regular season and finally, third-stringer Cardale Jones started the team’s final three games en route to a national championship.

As evidenced by both Notre Dame’s defense and Ohio State’s quarterbacks, the game of football is fickle, and no crystal ball can foresee what will happen.

Yet out of all this instability, no matter who gets hurt, these players will still be students. They will still go to class; they will still have homework to do and exams to take, and ultimately, they will still receive their degrees. That is the one constant that remains and the one thing they will be able to count on.

National Signing Day is the day when players officially become part of a football program. But it’s also a day when these students get to celebrate their decision to attend a university and a pretty good one in Notre Dame.

In the midst of hovering around fax machines and tweeting out the arrivals of national letters of intent, let’s not forget the other side of the situation: All of these young men know where they will live, learn and grow, not just as a football player, but as an entire person for the next four years, and that’s something to celebrate just as much.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Mary Green

Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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