Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Army Football Preview: The 2017 Recruiting Class

Having previewed Army’s 2017 season as a whole, I’d like to take a few minutes this week to talk a bit about the incoming recruiting class.  Bottom line, based solely on recruiting the Army team is headed in a decidedly positive direction.

By any standard, Army’s incoming recruiting class is big.  Moreover, a substantial number of recruits chose West Point over competing offers at other D-1 schools.  This is both great news and something of a return to form following the recruiting woes of the Ellerson era.
As a reminder, it is the long-standing policy of this blog not to refer to athletic recruits by name until they’ve finished Beast Barracks.  The reasons for this policy ought be obvious, but in case they’re not, we do it this way because eighteen- and nineteen-year-old men and women occasionally hit snags in Real Life and/or make unaccountably bad decisions.  We’re not here to shame anyone in their toughest hours.  Whether they leave the Academy because Beast just wasn’t what they thought it would be, or because they somehow managed to rupture their tender little spleens, this blog is not going to pile on at a time when struggling college kids ought to have an expectation of privacy.

Class Comparison
According to Army beat writer Sal Interdonato, the Black Knights have 91 total football recruits, of whom he’s showing 30 direct admits and 12 prepsters.  The rest were unaccounted for as of this writing, but 30 is a substantial number of direct admits, so I think Interdonato probably has most of those down.  I’m guessing we’ll see at most 35 direct admits.  We’ll probably see a similar number coming up from the Prep School.  If memory serves, Army had something like 59 cadet candidates show up on R-Day last year, of whom most had spent a year at the Prep School.  I am therefore guessing that we’ll see something like 65 or 70 total football recruits enter the Class of 2021.  By way of comparison, the Class of 2019 had 79 show up for R-Day two years ago, making it the largest recruiting class in recent history.
On sheer numbers, the Class of 2021 looks really good.

2017’s Recruiting Class
Of the 91 recruits in this year’s recruiting class, 12 are listed with competing offers from other schools.  This sounds great, but I’m not exactly sure what it means, nor is it necessarily true that a kid’s having “offers” is automatically a good indicator of how he’s going to play in college.  LB Andrew King famously had NO other offers coming out of high school, but he was a three-year starter who’d be playing for the San Francisco 49ers even now were it not for the recent change to DoD policy.  For that matter, we only have Interdonato’s personal tracking of the number of offers, which he does mostly via Twitter.  Interdonato is showing 12, but there are almost certainly more.  Still, I have to admit that our fearless beat writer is doing an outstanding job with the information he has at hand.  
But still… what exactly constitutes an offer?
My experience with this is more than twenty-five out-of-date and came via a different sport (swimming), but I’ve often wondered how it would be counted in terms of “offers”.  I was first recruited by LSU, took the ACT, and was actually accepted to the university.  Was that an offer?  As a matter of reality, we never got to talking money because Harvard’s swim coach called me in the same week that LSU’s acceptance letter arrived, after which I decided that I was definitely not going to attend college in the Southeastern Conference.  And again, I was accepted at Harvard and offered—very generous—financial aid, but Ivy League schools don’t technically do athletic scholarships.  So was that not an offer?
Reality is that I had the chance to swim lots of places, but I only really explored two of the options because once I got looking, there were only two places that I thought I might actually want to go.  And at least with swimming, you don’t get to talking money until you’re well along in the process.  Granted, swimming is a non-revenue sport, so coaches don’t tend to throw money around, but I suspect that something similar is still true for the majority of Army’s football recruits.  A kid’s best option is whatever sets him or her up most effectively for the future that he or she might actually want to have.  This sometimes puts athletic and academic opportunities—and even athletic and academic scholarships—into competition.  So sheer “offers” may not be the best way to measure someone’s total potential coming out of high school.
With that in mind, it looks like Army’s top recruit is either a three-star linebacker out of Illinois who chose Army over Ball State, an offensive lineman out of Texas who chose Army over Tulane and Toledo, or a defensive tackle, also out of Illinois, who chose Army over Illinois, Buffalo, and New Mexico.  From my quick inspection, it looks like the offensive line improved the most as a position group.  Of the nine O-Linemen listed (plus one listed prepster), four have competing offers, and three will be direct admits.  That’s unlikely to make an immediate impact in 2017, but it bodes really well for Army’s power running game in the years to come.
Beyond that, it’s hard to do more than make a few generalizations about the incoming class as a whole.  My biggest take-away is that this class is big.  In particular, Coach Jeff Monken and his team appear to have put a premium on height.  Good idea.  Monken and company shouldn’t have any problem putting muscle on kids, especially kids who’re headed to the Prep School this fall, but they’ll never be able to stretch guys to make them grow taller.  By way of example, all of the incoming linebackers but one stand at least 6’1”, and all of the wide receivers are in the Edgar Poe mold, standing 6’3” or better.  I really like this as a recruiting strategy, first because Army wide receivers block so damned much, but also because Army needs guys who can catch contested balls in traffic.  Historically, Black Knights have not struggled to find burners who can stretch the field.  However, they’ve not always had guys who can catch overthrown balls in the back of the end zone.
My final note is about geography.  Army continues to recruit at a national-level.  Sure, this class has a lot of kids from Texas, Georgia, and Florida.  They also have a good number of recruits from California, New York, and Virginia, and even in relatively underrepresented states, Army is finding good players.  My own home state of Connecticut has two recruits headed to the Academy this fall.  I’m under no illusions about the relative strengths of Connecticut high school football, but it’s really good to see my state sending some kids to West Point.  The Northeast in general is underrepresented in the military, and that is and always has been a Hell of a shame.  Speaking personally, I would very much like to see that turn around.
All of this, of course, is subject to change.  Because Army recruits are actually joining the Army, the Academy can’t announce binding commitments until athletic recruits physically report for R-Day.  A few recruits have even dropped out in the past couple of weeks, for reasons that are difficult to fathom.  But the Academy is hard, and I never take it the wrong way when kids have a last minute change of heart.  It happens.  
Ultimately, West Point needs players who want to be cadets and eventually Army officers, and it’s no use trying to get around this one basic reality.  What’s good is that the Academy is using sports recruiting to bring kids into the circle who might otherwise never consider service to the nation.  Failing this, the Army risks becoming even more homogenized than it already is, which is a bad because the Army itself already feels very much like some kind of generational family business.

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