Results of signing day will be fully realized in four years

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2007

February 8, 2007

Shortly after 11 Wednesday morning, a young man named Joe McKnight from John Curtis High School in suburban New Orleans announced his decision to attend Southern Cal. The announcement came live on an ESPN sister station designed solely for college athletics.

McKnight’s choices came down to LSU, Ole Miss and Southern Cal and he said he picked USC because of their public relations program.

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Here’s what we know about McKnight on the football field. In 14 games this past season, he rushed 45 times for 709 yards and 14 touchdowns, an average of 15.7 yards per carry; and caught 24 passes for 735 yards and 13 scores, an average of 30.6 yards per reception.

On special teams, he returned 12 punts for 268 yards and three touchdowns, an average of 22.3 yards per return. He returned five kickoffs for a 34.6-yard average.

He even played stalwart defense although it is unlikely he will play that at Southern Cal.

McKnight, the top-ranked running back recruit in America, may turn out to be the next Hall of Famer, but for every highly rated player that lives up to his potential there are even more who fail to live up to their lofty billing.

Warren Central running back Brian Darden was one of the hottest recruits in America back in February of 1995. He chose Tennessee, had a rocky career in Knoxville then in Jackson, before leaving the football field altogether to succeed in private business.

Then last year one of the biggest crops of running back talent ever came through Mississippi, yet it was a little-known two-star running back from Biloxi named Damion Fletcher who overshadowed them all. He earned freshman All-America honors and rewrote the Southern Miss freshman record books.

The fact is that trying to pin which players will perform up to their billing, or beyond it, is nearly impossible. The best recruiting services in the country can’t do that.

Coaches go on the hunt every year searching for the piece of the puzzle that will transform a team into the next great winner. In this state, parties lasted into the night Wednesday as supporters of Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Mississippi State toasted this year’s version of football saviors.

It will allow the most ardent football fans to grasp football again only days after the Super Bowl ended. It will spark constant debate on which school hit the jackpot and which left the table with empty pockets.

Recruiting is a most inexact science. When dealing with teenagers, what isn’t an exact science?

Joe McKnight may shatter every record ever written. He may take a bad hit and shatter his leg.

He is this year’s anointed one, the next Reggie Bush.

There is only one clear way to see who comes out on top of the 2007 recruiting season: wait four years and find out for yourself.