Every football coach covets players with speed, but that asset alone is not
Coaches desire durability, dependability, toughness and, maybe most importantly,
A concoction of speed, grittiness and lack of fear of hits is what coaches want, and it's what makes the scholarships flow.
Three Pac-12 coaches who know something about recruiting speedy players and
running wide-open, spread offenses all said similar things on this topic:
Recruiting fast prospects is not enough. If they don't care about football, have
a desire for the game, and if they can't take a hit without going to the
trainer's table, then they move on to the next recruit.
"If I recruit a guy that just has raw speed ... I try to make sure they're
tough," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "If they're
just raw speed and talented, but football doesn't mean a lot to them then I don't
Track times are nice but only play a minor part in the evaluation process for
Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who has burners at almost every
The Ducks average more than 53 points per game, with a majority of their yards
coming from the running attack. Kelly's team averages better than 330 rushing yards per outing.
That is welcome news to four-star running back Thomas Tyner, an
Oregon commit who re-opened his recruitment earlier this month only to re-commit
to the Ducks days later.
Tyner, also a track star, is pushing again for
five-star status after rushing for 2,325 yards and 29 touchdowns on 183 carries
so far this season. There have been questions about Tyner being injury-prone
throughout his career but no questions about his speed and toughness, two
attributes that set him apart from other running backs in this class.
"Our questions about Tyner were never about avoiding contact or shying away from
big hits," said Rivals.com recruiting
analyst Mike Farrell. "They were always about nagging injuries, track injuries,
hamstring issues, the kind of thing that can make a stellar talent never live up
to his potential."
The Ducks' preference to run means players are getting hit, tackled and piled on, so Kelly needs tough,
hard-nosed guys who can take a pounding. Just because he runs a fast offense --
Oregon has outscored its opponents 427-155 but is trailing in time of possession
-- doesn't mean Kelly isn't looking for maulers.
Toughness is a key factor, a major consideration, when Kelly recruits players.
"You take a track kid who runs 10.5 but doesn't want to get tackled or get hit,
he's not going to be a good football player for you," Kelly said. "We're looking
for football players first and foremost.
"We believe we have a system that accentuates their speed, we have a great
strength and conditioning coach that can improve their speed while they're here.
You can't just look at a kid and say, 'He's fast, let's take him' and I know
he's not tough. You can't teach him that. You can improve a kid's speed but you
can't improve a kid's toughness."
To narrow the focus even further, speed mixed with toughness might not be
enough. It's football speed that matters most. Running as fast as possible is
for track, not the football field where sometimes a second is needed for a hole
to open, or a stutter-step is necessary to fool a cornerback.
Going up and down the field quickly might take a little bit of patience. A move
might have to wait for blockers to set up. Players have to start and stop, go in
motion, be decoys, wait just a second and then make something big happen, make
that explosive move downfield fearlessly.
That's football speed and to Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez,
whose Wildcats upset USC last weekend, that is a crucial aspect of
speed in football.
"You want fast guys, but you want fast guys who can play," Rodriguez said. "Some
guys have football speed. If you time them in the 40 or the 100, they might not
be fast but you turn on a film and they get from point A to point B really
quickly whether on offense or defense.
"Whether that's straight recognition or desire, you want guys who play fast
rather than guys who are just fast. If you get a fast guy who plays fast, then
you have everything you want."
The market is there for athletic prospects. But if a prospect shies away from
getting hit or sometimes taking one on the chin, forget about it. Coaches will
pass that recruit over for someone else.
Coaches want speed at key positions. They want toughness everywhere.
"Everybody wants explosive players," Rodriguez said. "You want guys who are
explosive, but also have a desire and love for football. Football is a tough
sport so you want guys who want to put the work in, that aren't afraid to mix it
up whether on offense or defense."