Call it Star Wars, or Reaching for the Stars, but this Star Trek among college football’s potential recruits continues to baffle all those involved, from college recruiters to players, to high school coaches and, yes, even moms and dads.
It’s star log, 2023. Some love it, others hate it and many wonder why recruiting stars have become such a big deal. Ask someone such as Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, however, and he’ll laugh. He certainly doesn’t care and obviously knows it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
Allen had 0 stars coming out of Firebaugh (Calif.) High. He wound up going to the local junior college in Reedley, where he gained enough attention to garner 3 stars prior to making a name for himself at the University of Wyoming.
He was the media darling at the 2018 Senior Bowl and everyone, including coaches — well, some of the coaches — fell in love with him. He became the No. 7 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Allen went from zero stars to one of the NFL’s biggest stars.
So much for stars.
With the early National Signing Day underway, it looks, based on potential and certainly stars, that this is he best class to ever be produced by Central Florida high schools.
There are plenty of reasons for this:
- Kids are working harder at younger ages.
- Players from the past and their successes have had a genuine impact on young players.
- Success at the college and professional level by Central Florida players have made college recruiters far more aware of the talent base in the Orlando area.
- And then there is the simplest answer: These things come in waves and its just Central Florida’s turn.
No matter the reasons, plenty of stars have been doled out to Orlando players in the Class of 2023. Only one, however, has that elusive 5-star crown.
Texas running back commit Cedric Baxter Jr. is the only 5-star player in the Central Florida 2023 recruiting cycle. Behind him are 11 4-star players and six 3-star players, according to the 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings.
Unfortunately for them, many of these players will never pan out at the next level. Some will become NFL stars regardless of how many stars they have now, and others will land right where they were predicted to be in college.
It’s all really just a crapshoot, and there are many variables that impact players once they get to college. Most college recruiters will say they pay little attention to the star values.
One college assistant coach, who has recruited Florida extensibly during his career and only spoke to the Orlando Sentinel as long as his identity remained anonymous, said that stars do not matter to him.
“I’m looking for common traits in players that make them good at whatever position I am recruiting them for. … Those recruiting rankings and stars and all that, you know who that’s important to? Mommas and daddies. … I do not pay attention to stars,” he said. “There was a study done on the 13 offensive linemen who were drafted in the NFL last year. This will blow your mind.
“One player drafted was a 4-star, one was a 3-star, five players drafted were 2-stars and six players had zero stars [coming out of high school].”
What does this tell us? Mostly that this voyage to the stars should be left to those pursuing careers with NASA or as astronomers. As for football players, the stars are certainly not the limit.
The Blake Boda example
Take Cocoa senior quarterback Blake Boda, for instance. Boda is arguably the best quarterback in the 2023 class in Central Florida. He had an amazing senior season after transferring to Cocoa from Daytona Beach Seabreeze.
Boda had 0 stars until last spring when he picked up a 2-star ranking. As a senior he threw for more than 4,000 yards, 49 passing touchdowns and completed 65% of his passes. He also had 5 rushing touchdowns. On top of all that, he guided Cocoa to the state championship.
“Ever since the state championship I’ve been living off a pretty high feeling. It just feels good,” Boda told the Sentinel. “I’m just grateful how everything fell into line and I wouldn’t change anything.”
Anything that is, with the exception of the star-rating system for high school prospects.
The Cocoa Kid had 0 Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers until the state playoffs. Now he has USF and UNLV. He won’t sign until the February signing period, so there is still a chance he will pick up more offers. The star system, to Boda, is a farce to say the least.
“I’m still only a 2-star right now. I think it’s all just a publicity game. It’s just based on whoever had the best connections to get your name out there and get you publicized,” Boda said. “No matter what, you still have to go out there and play football on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Sure stars are great, but if you are reaching for stars, you might as well find a different obligation because that’s not going to get you where you’re going. I tried to put myself in position this year on a playing field where I’m playing with, quote, unquote, 4- and 5-stars. So me being on that stage worked out.”
Boda’s lack of additional stars after winning a state title seems a bit odd. Recruiting analysts and college recruiters barely noticed.
“It’s all they seem to care about is whose got the stars,” Boda added. “It’s all a business game … but when you line up on Friday night … that should be the overall [basis for recruiting appeal].”
There are plenty of examples of players who have become great NFL players even when they weren’t ranked coming out of high school.
Cole Strange out of Tennessee-Chattanooga was the 29th draft pick of the New England Patriots. As a rookie this season he has started every game at left guard. There are plenty of those guys throughout the league.
Former Orlando Jones defensive back Kerby Joseph is one. It was revealed Tuesday that Joseph, a 2-star recruit out of Illinois and third-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions, was the NFC’s leading vote-getter among free safeties for the NFL Pro Bowl.
So 104,581 Kerby Joseph fans can’t be wrong.
Ten games into his NFL career this season, he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after he intercepted 2 passes by Aaron Rogers of the Green Bay Packers.
Joseph surely loves his NFL star status more than any high school stars he might have had.
Working the system
The stars do work to a player’s benefit sometimes. Winter Garden West Orange cornerback Jordan Castell didn’t even have a recruiting profile on the 247Sports website heading into his junior season. He worked the camp circuit that summer looking to get his name out there to get stars, asking anyone he could find with influence at recruiting services.
Finally, prior to his junior season, he got his profile and 2-stars. Now, as a Florida commit and a 3-star prospect, he said he still believes he deserves more stars but doesn’t care as much now.
“What drove me to get more stars back then was the work I was putting in and the guys I was competing against [who had more stars],” Castell told the Sentinel. “It just felt like I was at that level or above and so I felt like I deserved my stars.”
When it comes right down to the star rankings, however, Castell isn’t all about the supposed importance of the statuses.
“It’s not that important, but with the way it is with NIL now and your name I feel like the more stars you have that’s the higher your name is. NIL is mostly about how high you are ranked and how many stars.”
What Castell does know is that a 4- and 5-star ranking can help a players recruitability.
“If coaches see your name ranked that high, then they’ll want to look at your film and see what you can do,” he said. “For sure, the film is always the most important and I didn’t really need the stars, but in a way it kind of helped out.”
It helped Detroit’s Joseph in a round-about way. The highest-ranked player on the Jones team in Joesph’s senior year in 2018 was defensive end Stacy Kirby, who eventually signed with USF. Kirby drew coaches to Jones practices to watch him, and while they were there they also could see other players.
USF coaches also noticed Joseph, who committed to the Bulls, but when the USF staff pulled the plug on his offer on signing day he was left with few options. Out of the blue an Illinois coach called head coach Elijah Williams and asked if Joseph still was available. He was, and within an hour Joseph was a new member of the Fighting Illini and Illinois had landed a future All-Big Ten safety.
“It’s no surprise to us,” Williams said of the player Joesph has become. “We knew he was all of that to begin with. He was strong and a great athlete and just had those qualities about him. It’s hard to figure out why some of the recruiters don’t see these things, even when we tell them.”
Star ratings getting more accurate
Florida coach Billy Napier uses the star system to an extent when evaluating talent. The first-year Gator boss told the Sentinel recently:
“Nowadays with the amount of information that’s available and the business that recruiting has become, it is literally a moneymaker. Each college has got a handful of three, four, five, six businesses, websites, beat writers,” he said. “They’re trying to make money and recruiting fuels the fire probably 75% of the offseason. … These companies, they’re hiring competent people, there’s more exposure to the players than there used to be.”
Given the time put in by companies and their supposed experts like 247Sports, Rivals and newcomer On3 Sports, coaches like Napier have begun to put more stock into their evaluations,
“You’re living in an information era. They identify them younger. They have these combine events, they give measurables, they contrast, compare,” Napier said. “Certainly, the offers are made earlier and I think that the information is much more accurate. … there’s more information available than there was maybe 10, 12 years ago.
“Because the business that recruiting has become and the moneymaker that it is I think it’s more accurate than maybe ever before in history of recruiting. So there’s some correlation there and probably there’s some numbers and data and the sample size to prove that.”
The proof, however, remains on the field. Like one other anonymous college recruiter said:
“While there is definitely a correlation to ranks and stars, there are still plenty of dudes out there with high ranks and stars who aren’t actually that good, and a lot of guys without that stuff that are a lot better than people realize,” he said.
Sometimes a star is born, but other times these kids are just wishing upon a star. Rest assured, however, it will always be the saga of a star world.
This article originally appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Chris Hays covers high school football, college football recruiting and the NFL for the Sentinel. He can be reached at CHays@orlandosentinel.com.