Teague one of a few chances worth taking for Jones, Bearcats

BY foxsports • February 1, 2011

By Zac Jackson
FOX Sports Ohio
February 2, 2011


It's National Signing Day. Really. We capitalize it like it's a real holiday.

We analyze and celebrate it as such, too. We are Football Nation, awaiting our newest stars. We are junkies, analysts, prognosticators and experts -- not just today, but especially today.

The guys we celebrate are 18-year-old kids. They've yet to even leave home for more than a week at a time, let alone survive a set of two-a-days getting beat on by 22 and 23-year-olds before they ever play a down of college football.

But they've been rated, ranked and scouted for years, in most cases, and today they make it official with the coaching staff that sold its, well, everything to earn that signature. I don't think recruiting is as wild as it used to be, but it's exhausting work. It's about relationships, and projections, and promises that may or may not be kept. In a few cases, it's still about academics and integrity and the future. In many, it's about picking the right path to the National Football League.

It's almost always about blind luck.

Signing Day means big things for web sites like this one. And radio shows, and TV shows, and both today's and Thursday's newspapers. For programs, it's the culmination of a mad scramble to bring home the highest-rated recruits and the highest-rated class in your state and in your conference. For coaches, it's a chance to promise big things to boosters, administrators and the next batch of recruits. For the analysts filling the aforementioned pages and air time, it's a chance to boost, boast and pencil guys in.

It's a good thing we have pencils (and erasers) because we really don't know a whole lot. Just because a guy can run a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash doesn't mean he can play football. Just because he can squat a house doesn't mean he can take coaching -- or pass a college class. Just because he's the Big Man on Campus now doesn't mean he'll keep growing, stay healthy or even like football in a few years. That coach who sat in his living room and praised mom's cooking three weeks ago is going to be screaming at him and telling the truth soon.

That's all a long-winded way -- my specialty, you may have noticed -- of saying that today, for as much good discussion and copy it might produce, is just another day in the Great Football Landscape. And the players that coaches, analysts and fans alike are praising (or cussing) today are the ones they might end up cussing (or praising) over the next four or five years. College football is, sadly, all still about rankings. But not recruiting rankings.

***

In digging into this year's Signing Day extravaganza, I noticed that it's expected to be an especially big one for second-year coach Butch Jones at the University of Cincinnati. UC, as you may know, is coming off a 4-8 season, but Jones is bringing in a very highly-touted class.

As of last week, Scout.com had the Bearcats' class ranked at No. 37 nationally and second among Big East teams. UC has never had a class rank in Scout's top 50 or rate higher than fifth vs. the Big East.

That UC is just 13 months removed from an undefeated season and the second of two BCS bowl game appearances tells you how much the Febuary rankings really mean. But such accolades after a tough first season at the helm for Jones bode well on many levels. The guys he's bringing in are still projections, but many of them come from top-shelf high school football programs. Many of them were coveted by programs with more recruiting street cred than UC. He appears to have done a whale of job in Ohio and also in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Florida. Time will tell, but when I dialed up the fancy Internet radio contraption Tuesday night, I caught Jones calling it "maybe the finest class UC has ever had."

Jones can't talk about specific recruits until they officially sign Wednesday. When he does, I guarantee he'll gush about Shaq Washington of Maple Heights, who's actually already enrolled.

Pardon if my numbers are a bit off, but the details are true. One of these recruiting services had Washington as the nation's 66th best wide receiver prospect late last summer. By Christmas, he was up to 53rd. A funny thing happened along the way. Shaq Washington didn't play a single down of wide receiver.

Washington was a high school quarterback, and a darn good one. Good enough to put his team on his back, navigate a trip through a loaded Div. II playoff bracket and good enough to bring it back from a 20-point deficit in the state championship game.

Washington delivered a performance for the ages in that game against a Trotwood-Madison team that resembled a college team more than it did a high school Div. II team. He threw 3 touchdown passes in the first half and ran for 4 scores in the second half. He finished with 216 yards passing, 174 rushing, froze three or four T-M defenders with juke moves and bruised the egos of all of them. He carried the ball on Maple Heights' last 19 plays. He's smart, a leader, a playmaker and the kind of guy other players rally around.

That's not a projection. That's a football player. A 50-star, gimme-that-guy-on-my-team football player.

Good for you, Butch Jones.

***

If it wasn't for an ankle injury that cost him most of the regular season, Washington just might have won Ohio's Mr. Football award. The good news for UC fans is that Jones is also going to sign the guy who did.

Akise Teague was The Man for Youngstown Ursuline, which was the boss in Div. V. Ursuline, of course is anything but a Div. V program and plays anything but a Div. V schedule, but big-time college programs were late to the party with Teague.

He didn't have a great junior year, playing behind a talented senior back. He's only 5'8 and his primary position is running back. He came into his senior season with mostly MAC offers, and somewhere along the way UC and Wisconsin, among others, jumped in. Jim Tressel watched Teague dominate the state championship game like few guys could or ever have, but the Ohio State offer Teague was waiting on never came. Maybe the Buckeyes didn't need a small back. Maybe they didn't want a "two-star" recruit. Who really knows?

It could be UC's gain. Though he's small -- and so, too, is Washington, who's listed at 5'9, 170 -- Teague is powerful. And quick. He hurt bigger guys who hit him, not the other way around. He can play in the slot, in the return game or maybe even at cornerback. He was a stud there, too. I watched him in person twice before and once after his team was featured on our Fox Sports Ohio Game of the Week, and he never failed to impress.

He's a football player. He might turn out to be Tyrell Sutton, the former Mr. Football at Akron Hoban who wasn't big enough for Ohio State or Michigan but produced big numbers at Northwestern and now plays in the NFL. He might turn out to be Antoine Winfield, who once got Ohio State's last scholarship. Teague could be a bust, too, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Washington went to exposure camps all over the region last summer and played slot receiver. He even got picked to represent the Midwest in a national 7-on-7 tournament in Orlando last summer. Boston College, UCLA, North Carolina State and Marshall also saw his explosion, his natural ability to fight for extra yards and his big-play potential. But he loved UC. He made his choice early, then made his plans to enroll -- and contribute -- early.

If you follow UC, you'll hear a lot on Signing Day about four-star running back Jameel Poteat from Bishop McDevitt (Pa.), a school that once produced a pretty good back named LeSean McCoy. I think you'll probably eventually come to love linebacker Nick Temple from Warren Central (In.), another one of those guys who was an inch too short for a lot of programs.

Coach Jones loves them all. He has to. And even in sub-zero temperatures, he's going to sweat like crazy 'til every guy's letter is officially received. Then he's going to praise them, and eventually he's going to put them to work. Some will work out. Some won't.

Only time will tell. Maybe one of them will eventually make Jones look a genius or a visionary. Either way, he'll soon start chasing a different group of players all the way to next February, when we'll all be experts again.


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