Versatility is a term often used in college football recruiting, but many of the nation’s top prospects of 2005 have been a bit too versatile in their free time.
Quarterback Ryan Perrilloux was suspended three times at LSU before being dismissed earlier this month and is now at Jacksonville State. Receiver Fred Rouse has been booted from Florida State and UTEP, and former Florida State signee Callahan Bright, all 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds of him, is now at a Division II school after a stint on the back of a Philadelphia garbage truck.
NFL dreams are fading quickly for these players, but at least they can cling.
Defensive end Melvin Alaeze can’t. He was sentenced last November to eight years in prison for his involvement in a robbery and shooting in his Maryland hometown.
Staff File Photo by Dan Henry -- Former LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux was the MVP of the Tigers’ SEC championship game win over Tennessee. Perrilloux, who has been dismissed from the LSU program after being suspended three times, is now at Jacksonville State.
“The thing that makes me want to pull my hair out every year are kids like Fred Rouse and Ryan Perrilloux that waste away what they have in front of them,” longtime analyst Jamie Newberg said. “They’re all first-round talents, but for whatever reason, they don’t get it and they’re out. If Ryan had just been a clean egg, he would have the chance to defend a national championship as the starting quarterback.”
Of Rivals.com’s top 20 prospects in the ’05 class, five bypassed their senior seasons and were selected last month in the NFL draft. Two of the five, Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart and Miami safety Kenny Phillips, were first-round selections.
Yet 11 of the 20 have been arrested.
“Is that right?” Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said when told the stat. “Well, the ability today’s media has to communicate with these kids gives them a lot of hype, and they get a very unrealistic picture of what the real world is all about. We see that, and most of the time kids overcome that because the upperclassmen tend to educate them pretty quickly, but sometimes they never overcome it.”
Tennessee did not have any of Rivals.com’s top 20 prospects in ’05 but had seven of the top 100: safety Demetrice Morley, linebacker Rico McCoy, offensive linemen Chris Scott and Josh McNeill, quarterback Jonathan Crompton and tailbacks LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty.
In judging physical talent, Fulmer and his staff didn’t miss on any. Five of those seven are projected starters for 2008, and Hardesty plays a lot as Arian Foster’s primary backup. But there were character-related setbacks, notably Coker’s dismissal last November for another failed drug test and Morley’s year-long academic suspension.
Coker led the Vols in rushing in 2006 and made plays right up to his dismissal. He caught a 56-yard touchdown in the drubbing of Georgia last year and returned a kickoff 37 yards to set up a tying field goal in an eventual overtime win over South Carolina.
“If we’re 6-out-of-7, that’s a pretty good year,” Fulmer said. “I know Morley had his academic issues, but he seems to be back on track now.”
Georgia had four of the top 100 prospects: receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, defensive tackle Kade Weston, safety CJ Byrd and cornerback Bryan Evans. All four have been productive on the field and have stayed clean away from it.
WHAT MAY HAVE BEEN
Florida State has struggled through consecutive 7-6 seasons and is expected to endure more mediocrity in 2008. Recent recruiting misfires have been a major reason for the slide of the Seminoles, with Rouse and Bright topping the list of disappointments.
“Thinking back to that group, in my honest opinion, I thought Callahan Bright and Fred Rouse were the two best players in the country,” said Newberg, who was with Scout.com but is now at Rivals.com. “I honestly did. To this day, talent-wise between the lines, I thought Callahan Bright was probably the best defensive prospect of this decade. I thought that kid could be that good, and I thought Fred was one of the best receivers I had seen in all the years I’ve been doing this.”
Rouse tallied six catches for 114 yards as an FSU freshman and started the 2006 Orange Bowl against Penn State. He was kicked off the team several days later for “conduct unbecoming to the team” and was arrested that May for helping steal $1,700 worth of electronic equipment from former teammate Lorenzo Booker.
After transferring to UTEP and sitting out the ’06 season, Rouse had 25 catches for 379 yards and two touchdowns with the Miners last year, but he was dismissed in March by coach Mike Price.
“We tried to make it work,” Price said. “When you have a player who has the reputation and potential and he doesn’t fulfill it, as a coach it is disappointing. We had the chance to do something special.”
Bright never achieved academic eligibility at FSU, nor did he last long at Hargrave Military or at a junior college in Kansas. He returned to his hometown on the outskirts of Philadelphia and worked as a garbage collector, and he was arrested last summer on marijuana possession.
Following the arrest and eager for another shot at football, Bright enrolled at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., and practiced last fall on the scout team. He has yet to play a down in college and still has four years of eligibility.
“Callahan is kind of at wits’ end as far as opportunities,” Shaw defensive coordinator Perez Boulware said. “This is different territory for him, because he actually has to go to class. He’s trying to get accustomed to college athletics and college academics, and that transition is not easy for a lot of people.
“The birth of his son last year ended up refocusing his life and was his wake-up call. It got him off the back of that trash truck.”
Boulware has selfish reasons for wanting Bright to stay at Shaw all four seasons. He admits Bright has equal or better talent than a lot of his North Carolina teammates in the 1990s, a crop that included defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday and defensive ends Greg Ellis and Ebenezer Ekuban.
An NFL scout put Boulware in touch with Bright, and Bright quickly informed his new coordinator that academics weren’t his strength.
“I think he’s always known that might be a hurdle as far as going to college,” Boulware said. “He even pondered about going to Arena Football, getting some film and then pressing his luck, but I told him he would be cheating himself just to go out and play any league of football. It has been an adjustment for him here, but he’s kind of fallen in love with the academic scene.
“He gets his jollies walking around campus right now.”
As Florida went through the coaching transition from Ron Zook to Urban Meyer in the winter of 2005, Daytona Beach cornerback Avery Atkins was the only top 100 prospect to sign with the Gators. Atkins started against Florida State as a freshman and had an interception, but he was arrested twice for domestic battery and once for possessing marijuana, cocaine and a stolen firearm.
He played three games for Bethune-Cookman in 2006 and died last summer from a drug overdose.
Meyer dismissed safety Jamar Hornsby, a touted member of his ’06 signing class, earlier this month for repeatedly using the credit card of a deceased Florida student. Hornsby reportedly used the credit card 70 times, beginning the day after her death last October.
Speaking to Florida boosters recently in Miami, Meyer said the NCAA is pulling coaches away from the recruiting process and making it more difficult to judge character.
“I’m not allowed to go out anymore,” Meyer said. “I’m not allowed to text-message. I’m trying to find out as best I can. You just keep re-evaluating.
“If you just look around and see some of the things that are going on, it’s amazing. It’s concerning. It’s alarming.”
Fulmer agreed, admitting he doesn’t know as much about today’s prospects.
“I think it’s the whole environment that’s been created,” he said. “You don’t know as much about them, and it’s hard sometimes to find out information about them because people aren’t completely honest with you about them. That’s a concern.
“There are issues with some young people trying to go so fast in their athletic career because they’re not looking as much for an education as they are the NFL, so they’re going to school for the wrong reasons, and that in itself is very, very dangerous.”
Character deficiency has become the chief reason why touted prep prospects fail to match their potential in college.
While the 2005 class is the best recent example, Newberg has studied the 2003 crop that was headed by Florida State linebacker Ernie Sims, Florida quarterback Chris Leak and Southern Cal running back Reggie Bush. He said 70 to 75 of that top 100 had success on the field and that most who didn’t were character issues.
The most notable disappointments were former South Carolina running back Demetris Summers (drugs) and former Southern Cal receiver Whitney Lewis (academics).
Fulmer uses the same sermons he did a decade ago, talking to players about the importance of getting an education and how only 2 percent of college players go on to the NFL. He sees more prospects from single-parent homes than ever before, but he still sees plenty of players worth boasting about.
“Hardesty is about to get his business degree, and we’ve got a number of those guys who are doing really well,” Fulmer said. “That’s what you hope, because you know what? Those end up being your best football teams. It takes those kinds of guys and not some selfish guy who’s looking for the NFL answer.
“We’ve sent our share of guys on to the NFL, but we’ve also had plenty who have been capable of surviving outside of football, too.”