A few readers were critical of my autobiography, "Football's Second Season," because they felt I didn't fully detail in a step-by-step fashion how I evaluate players, the fine points, what I see while viewing a player that makes the difference between a Big 10 player and a MAC players, or a Division I player and a Division II player.
Well, there is no blueprint for identifying a major college prospect. Every recruiting analyst or every college recruiter has his own system, his own instinct for judging whether a player is a big-timer, if he can play in the Big 10 or the MAC or no better than Division II.
It is all arbitrary. In 30 years of evaluating high school players, I have seen only one who I felt from the first time I saw him as a sophomore that he was a can't-miss prospect who was destined for stardom in college and the NFL, Randy Moss.
Ben Roethlisberger was deemed not good enough for the Big 10. So he settled for Miami of Ohio. Northwestern rejected Barry Sanders. Drew Brees was too short. Mike Alstott was too slow. Mike Kenn was too skinny.
Nobody has a blueprint that guarantees you won't make mistakes, that you won't overlook somebody for some reason. There always are exceptions to the so-called rules, the stereotypes that most coaches and analysts establish for players at each position. Everybody looks for ideal size and speed but there is such a slim difference between a Big 10 player and a MAC player.
Experience is the best teacher. After you've seen film of thousands of players over a period of three decades, I believe you have a better sense of what it takes to play at the highest levels. It isn't foolproof, of course. History tells you that. But you make fewer mistakes because you know what you are looking for.
For me, a big-time player has to have the size and speed that the elite programs are looking for. But I also stress production and heart, an important and often hard-to-measure intangible.
That's why I personally visit about 2,000 kids every year at their schools or at their homes, why I talk to them and the people who know them. Sometimes you can see something in their eyes or hear something in their voice that doesn't show up on film.
Remember, in my view, football is more heart than baseball or basketball or soccer. Some kids may have the same size or speed but heart makes a difference.
There isn't a magic formula to all of this, no connect-the-dots method, no how-to-do-it game plan that separates Dick Butkus from Dick Bumpkis. Very seldom does a Randy Moss or a Peyton Manning come along that everybody loves, that everybody can attach a five-star rating to and reserve a space in the Hall of Fame. Everybody has negative things to say about players. Beauty is in the eyes of the recruiter.