Colorado football coaches were heavily criticized by fans in the last recruiting cycle when most of the top players in the state chose to go elsewhere to play college football.
Coach Jon Embree and his staff seem to be bouncing back this year having received commitments from two of the top-10 players in the state already in Chaparral High School tight end Mitch Parsons, who committed on Friday, and Denver South running back Phillip Lindsay.
Embree, like Dan Hawkins, Gary Barnett, Rick Neuheisel and Bill McCartney before him, says securing the best in-state talent is a priority every year for his program. Coaches around the nation say the same thing in regard to their programs and their respective local recruits.
Some of them mean it. Some of them mean it to a certain extent and some are just saying what they have to say to pacify some in their fan base and their state’s high school coaches. It’s part of the gig.
Embree will, of course, say that he is among those who mean it. After all, he was an in-state recruit back in the 1980s who chose to stay home instead of playing at Ohio State or UCLA. His choice along with those of several other in-state stars from his generation helped McCartney build the Buffs into an eventual national champion.
Embree has strong sentimental feelings about in-state recruiting, but does he really need to keep all the best in-state recruits year in and year out?
Absolutely not. In fact, if he does succeed in that regard, he could be costing himself wins over the long haul.
Why? Well, there is still a significant talent disparity between prep football in Colorado and prep programs in other areas of the country.
Obviously that notion will get a few people fired up, but it’s not even close really.
Colorado has always produced standouts on the high school gridiron who go on to very successful college and pro careers, and those numbers have grown over the years along with the state’s population. But even with the improvements in talent and depth around the state, most high school teams and individuals in Colorado simply aren’t playing the game at the same level as some of their counterparts in California, Texas and other spots around the nation.
Yes, there are some elite programs in-state that could travel anywhere and be very competitive, but the average high school team in the Denver area would lose to the average high school team in Southern California more often than not.
Those places produce better athletes, on average, and players who are better prepared for the college game, on average, than you find here. And Embree and his staff are right to focus a lot of time and energy trying to pull players from those regions.
Every year, CU fans tie themselves in knots worrying about the local four-star recruit choosing to go play for another Bowl Championship Series school. Sure, there are times when it turns out that CU missed out on a pretty good player when that happens, sometimes even a star. But there are far more examples of players leaving the state and CU in their rear view mirrors and never panning out.
The truth is a healthy percentage of those players were inclined to leave the state in the first place, regardless of the sales pitch they received from the local schools.
Embree and many of his assistants have proven previously in their careers to be strong evaluators of talent and, perhaps more importantly, potential. CU fans should consider that in years when more local prospects are leaving the state than staying home, it’s not always a bad thing.