If you're a high school senior football player who didn't sign with an FBS program this week, there's no need to feel sorry for yourself.
One look at the New England Patriots should provide all the inspiration you need.
The Patriots' 53-man active roster includes 36 players who attended high school since the current version of Rivals.com started in 2002. Of those 36 players, 18 were two-star recruits or didn't appear in the Rivals.com database at all.
That's right. Half the Patriots who came up during the Rivals.com era weren't five-star, four-star or even three-star prospects. Twelve of those 36 players were two-star recruits. The remaining six either began their college careers as walk-ons or enrolled at non-FBS programs.
HOW WERE THEY RATED?
Here's a look at the recruiting rankings for each of the players on the active rosters for the New England Patriots and New York Giants. We don't have rankings for the players who were high school seniors before the current version of Rivals.com formed in 2002. Their colleges are in parentheses.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
No stars (6)
CB Kyle Arrington (Hofstra), LB Dane Fletcher (Montana State), S James Ihedigbo (Massachusetts), OG/C Nick McDonald (Grand Valley State), CB Antwaun Molden (Toledo/Eastern Kentucky), OG Donald Thomas (Connecticut).
Two stars (12)
LS Danny Aiken (Virginia), S Patrick Chung (Oregon), WR/CB Julian Edelman (Kent State), K Stephen Gostkowski (Memphis), RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Indiana/Ole Miss), LB Gary Guyton (Georgia Tech), DT Kyle Love (Mississippi State), CB Devin McCourty (Rutgers), DB Sterling Moore (SMU), OT Sebastian Vollmer (Houston), C/OG Ryan Wendell (Fresno State), RB Danny Woodhead (Chadron State).
Three stars (10)
DT Ron Brace (Boston College), S Sergio Brown (Notre Dame), OT Marcus Cannon (TCU), DE Brandon Deaderick (Alabama), QB Brian Hoyer (Michigan State), P Zoltan Mesko (Michigan), LB Rob Ninkovich (Purdue), DE Alex Silvestro (Rutgers), WR Matthew Slater (UCLA), OT Nate Solder (Colorado).
Four stars (6)
TE Rob Gronkowski (Arizona), TE Aaron Hernandez (Florida), LB Jerod Mayo (Tennessee), RB Stevan Ridley (LSU), RB Shane Vereen (Califiornia), DB Malcolm Williams (TCU)
Five stars (2)
QB Ryan Mallett (Michigan/Arkansas), Brandon Spikes (Florida)
Pre-Rivals era (17)
DE Mark Anderson (Alabama), QB Tom Brady (Michigan), WR Deion Branch (Louisville), OG Dan Connolly (Southeast Missouri State), DE Shaun Ellis (Tennessee), RB Kevin Faulk (LSU), DB Nate Jones (Rutgers), LB Niko Koutouvides (Purdue), OT Matt Light (Purdue), OG Logan Mankins (Fresno State), WR Chad Ochocinco (Oregon State), FB Lousaka Polite (Pittsburgh), DT Gerard Warren (Florida), OG Brian Waters (North Texas), WR Wes Welker (Texas Tech), LB Tracy White (Howard), DT Vince Wilfork (Miami).
NEW YORK GIANTS
No stars (4)
WR Ramses Barden (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), WR Victor Cruz (Massachusetts), LB Zak DeOssie (Brown), OG Mitch Petrus (Arkansas).
Two stars (4)
OT James Brewer (Indiana), S Derrick Martin (Wyoming), TE Bear Pascoe (Fresno State), LB Spencer Paysinger (Oregon).
Three stars (9)
CB Prince Amukumara (Nebraska), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (Marshall), LB Mark Herzlich (Boston College), FB Henry Hynoski (Pittsburgh), WR Jerrel Jernigan (Troy), LB Greg Jones (Michigan State), DT Linval Joseph (East Carolina), S Tyler Sash (Iowa), RB D.J. Ware (Georgia).
Four stars (13)
TE Jake Ballard (Ohio State), TE Travis Beckum (Wisconsin), CB Will Blackmon (Boston College), C Jim Cordle (Ohio State), WR Mario Manningham (Michigan), WR Hakeem Nicks (North Carolina), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (USF), CB Aaron Ross (Texas), RB Da'Rel Scott (Maryland), WR Devin Thomas (Michigan State), DE Justin Trattou (Florida), OT Tony Ugoh (Arkansas), LB Jacquian Williams (USF).
Five stars (1)
S Kenny Phillips (Miami)
Pre-Rivals era (22)
C David Baas (Michigan), DT Rocky Bernard (Texas A&M), LB Chase Blackburn (Akron), LB Michael Boley (Southern Mississippi), OG Kevin Boothe (Cornell), DT Chris Canty (Virginia),QB David Carr (Fresno State),OT David Diehl (Illinois), S Deon Grant (Tennessee),RB Brandon Jacobs (Southern Illinois), DT Jimmy Kennedy (Penn State), DE Mathias Kiwanuka (Boston College), QB Eli Manning (Ole Miss), WR Kareem McKenzie (North Carolina), S Antrel Rolle (Miami), OG Chris Snee (Boston College), DE Dave Tollefson (Northeast Missouri State), DE Justin Tuck (Notre Dame), K Lawrence Tynes (Troy), DE Osi Umenyiora (Troy), P Steve Weatherford (Illinois), CB Corey Webster (LSU).
Now they're heading to the Super Bowl.
"We have a great scouting department," Patriots defensive back and former two-star recruit Sterling Moore told reporters this week during the Super Bowl media day event. "If they see something in a guy that can help their team, they use him.''
Moore epitomizes that approach.
After spending two seasons at Laney Community College in Oakland, Calif., Moore selected SMU over the likes of Eastern Michigan and FCS programs Massachusetts and Sacramento State. He went undrafted last year and signed a free-agent contract with the Oakland Raiders, who dropped him from their practice squad a week before the Patriots picked him up.
Moore made arguably the biggest play of the Patriots' season two weeks ago when he knocked the ball away from Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans in the end zone to prevent the Ravens from scoring a game-winning touchdown in the final minute of the AFC championship game. Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal two plays later to seal the Patriots' 23-20 victory.
"I'm confident in what I can do, and I was just hoping for a shot," Moore told reporters. "I felt like if I could get on a team, then they would like my ability."
But he isn't the only improbable success story on the Patriots' roster. In fact, he has plenty of company.
Danny Woodhead was one of the most prolific running backs in Nebraska high school history, but he didn't get any major college offers. He moved on to Chadron (Neb.) State and twice won the Harlon Hill Trophy given annually to the nation's top Division II player, yet he didn't get drafted. He found a home in New England last season and has a career average of 5.1 yards per carry.
Sebastian Vollmer grew up in Germany and was described by former Houston and current Baylor coach Art Briles as a "diamond in the rough" when he signed with the Cougars a week after National Signing Day in 2004. He matured into a second-round draft pick and now is a starting offensive tackle for the AFC champions.
The Patriots' entire starting secondary - Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, James Ihedigbo and Patrick Chung - consists of former two-star or no-star recruits. And that doesn't even include Moore or wide receiver/cornerback Julian Edelman, who began his college career at the College of San Mateo (Calif.) before spending three years as Kent State's starting quarterback. Now the former sleeper recruit is one of the NFL's most versatile players.
"Usually the MAC guys have a chip on their shoulder because they feel like they were snubbed their opportunity to play big-time ball in college," said Edelman, referring to the conference that includes Kent State. "I think that is what helps small-school guys get into the NFL. We are hungry.''
The New York Giants' roster also features plenty of guys who took an indirect route to the Super Bowl.
Perhaps the best feel-good story of the 2011 season is the improbable ascent of Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz from UMass to the Super Bowl. The Giants also have a number of players who switched positions since their high school days. Tight end Travis Beckum, the No. 56 overall prospect in the 2005 recruiting class, played linebacker at Oak Creek (Wis.) High. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was rated as a three-star cornerback prospect, while cornerback Will Blackmon was primarily recruited as a running back.
But the Giants who played football during the Rivals era generally were held in higher regard as recruits. Thirty-one members of the Giants' 53-man roster played high school football since the formation of Rivals.com. That group of 31 includes one former five-star recruit, 13 four-stars, nine three-stars and four two-stars. Four were walk-ons or non-FBS players.
The two Super Bowl teams feature a total of four former five-star prospects: Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin, Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett, Giants safety Kenny Phillips and Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes. Austin is on injured reserve and therefore isn't part of the Giants' active roster.
So even though the Patriots enter this game as slight favorites, they actually are the Super Bowl team with the most underdog stories. That includes the long road traveled by the guy who made the most critical pass breakup of the season.
"It's been a roller coaster," Moore said. "I just try not to think about it right now, especially with this game Sunday. It'll be something I'll think about definitely after the season and kind of reflect on how I got here. But now I'm just looking forward to the Giants."