The Ones That Got Away
The Best Colorado High School Football Players To Go Out-of-State
Monday, February 22, 2016
By Joe Landers
Over the last 25 years, Colorado has lost a number of its best in-state high school football players to out-of-state programs. The intention here is to compile a list of the best who got away. These are Colorado high schoolers who went on to highly productive college or pro careers. On the surface, it’s hard to imagine why one of the equivalent in-state schools couldn’t have kept the player in-state. Going deeper, there are probably very valid reasons in every case as to why the player left the state.
Maybe Calais Campbell was headed to Miami regardless of who offered him. Is it possible that Gary Barnett didn’t want 5’6” Cory Ross and Colorado was the only viable in-state option for Ross at the time? (Ross went on to play for the Ravens.) Maybe the Denney brothers saw no in-state alternative to BYU. (Both went on to play in the NFL.) It could be that Cole Manhart grew two inches and 60 pounds after he got to Kearney. (He was PSq’d by the Raiders in 2015.) I’m guessing McCartney and Bruce felt good enough about their QB options (and their option offenses) that Musgrave never got a sniff in-state.
It’s hard to imagine each of the below future NFLers not making CU, CSU, and Air Force better. There are so many mitigating circumstances that affect every single recruit decision to leave the state and so many reasons every single evaluation by in-state coaching staffs result in them not pursuing an in-state recruit – changing coaching staffs, recruit wants to be somewhere warm, playing time, bigger stage, better alternatives, scheme, the list goes on and on. Is there an equivalent in-state option to Michigan for Carlo Kemp? Only he, his family, and the in-state coaching staffs know if it was ever realistic. Was there a viable in-state alternative for JoJo Domann? Could CU or CSU have done anything to keep Matt Lynch from leaving for UCLA? Did the CU or CSU staffs feel like they had better alternatives to each or did they put their all into keeping this year’s cream of the crop? (For the record, even these three high school greats aren’t on this list because they haven’t done anything in college yet.)
The key assumption with regards to the lists you’ll see below is that each of them could’ve made their in-state equivalent better. It was their choice to leave, the in-state college coaches’ choice to let them walk, or a combination thereof. For example, while he’s a lesser known name, Eaglecrest FS Aaron Swift had a great career at South Dakota from 2010-2014. His in-state equivalent would’ve been Northern Colorado. It’s probably not a stretch to say he would’ve been an upgrade for UNC – Swift led USD in PBUs twice, had a 60-yd pick-six, and started four years in a row (>75% of USD’s games). Thinking of big names, Lamarr Houston’s only in-state options comparable to Texas in 2007 were Colorado State and Colorado – if either could’ve found a way to keep him, he would’ve made both considerably better. Another lesser known name would be Tommy Connors. Like Swift, he never played in the NFL, but he was an outstanding three-year starting SS at Southeastern Louisiana. Northern Colorado was his only in-state comp at the time. Connors led SELa in TFLs, tackles, INTs, and FFs at various points in his career. There’s no question he would’ve made UNC better from 2007-2010.
You’ll see three lists below. The first is of those who have completed their college eligibility and would’ve offered a considerable upgrade for their in-state equivalents. The second is of those who just completed their eligibility this season and concluded an outstanding college career on the field. Lastly, the third is of those who are still in college and based on their on-field production so far, there’s no question they would’ve provided an upgrade at their equivalent P5 school (CU), their equivalent non-P5 I-A school (CSU/AFA), their equivalent I-AA school (UNC), or their equivalent D2 school (Pueblo, Mesa, Adams State, Western, Fort Lewis, Mines). Each list is sorted by their last year of college eligibility.
College Eligibility Completed Before 2016 – Colorado H.S. Football Players
In almost every case on the above list, whether they played at USC or Nebraska-Kearney, the future NFLers on the list would’ve made CU or CSU better. In most cases, even those that didn’t play in the NFL had such great college careers (e.g., Connors, Swift, Preston, Rufran, Theret) that they also would’ve been upgrades for their in-state equivalents.
College Eligibility Completed In 2016 – The Best from Colorado Who Played Out-of-State
The bar is high here. LT Clarke (6’3/295) started four years in a row at tackle for Hawaii. (Starting over 75% of the team’s game qualifies as a year started.) WR McCaffrey (6’2/195) started three of his four years at Duke. DE Yarbrough (6’3/251) not only started three of his four years at Wyoming, but he led the team in sacks all four years, led the team in TFLs three years, led the team in FRs and FFs in 2013, and led the team in QBHs in 2014. To say he has a high motor and is active would be an understatement. DT Sheridan (6’4/280) started his final two years at Montana State, led the team in FFs in 2014, and led the team in QBHs and blocked kicks in 2015. DE Obi (6’3/250) started his two years at Missouri Western State after a CC xfer. CB Brown (6’1/185) started two of his four years at Augustana (SD), lettered all four, led the team in INTs twice, and led the team in PBUs in 2013.
Between I-A, I-AA, and II-A, there are 35 more Colorado high school players who are concluding their athletic eligibility by May 2016. I don’t know if the other 35 started out more highly ranked, but these six clearly stand out based on their on-field productivity in college.
College Eligibility Remaining – The Best from Colorado Playing Out-of-State
The bar is also incredibly high to make this list. OL Skipper (6’10/331) has started at right and left tackle in two of his three seasons at Arkansas. OG Kozan (6’4/300) has started two of his three seasons at Guard for Auburn. Many may scoff at Eastern New Mexico, but WR Johnson (6’5/190) has started three seasons in a row (no redshirt year) and he’s been explosive with TD catches of 70, 73, and 78 yards. RB Christian McCaffrey (6’0/201) needs no introduction. P J.K. Scott (6’5/198) has started two years in a row for Alabama and is widely regarded as one of the top punters in the country. OL Cummings (6’6/314) started most of his RS Fr year in 2014 and all of 2015 at left tackle for Wyoming. RB Paris (5’10/198) has started his first two years in a row at Black Hills State and shown breakaway speed with a 64-yd TD catch. FS Wingard started every game as a true freshman for Wyoming in 2015, led the team in tackles, and made the national FWAA All-Freshman team. There are 227 more former Colorado high school footballers playing at the I-A, I-AA, and II-A levels out-of-state. There may be others who have reached heights similar to what these eight have so far in college. If we’ve missed someone, please let us know.
Part of the issue with keeping recruits in Colorado is limited choices. We’re not Ohio where there are 30 options: eight I-A choices (1 P5, 7 non-P5), two I-AA, nine II-A, and eleven III-A. We’re not California or Florida with seven I-A options and four I-AA options. We’re not North Carolina with six I-A, eight I-AA, and thirteen II-A options. We’re Colorado. One P5 option, two non-P5 I-A options (one of which is Air Force), one I-AA option, and six D2 options – 10 total. See how we compare in terms of in-state options to keep stars in-state.
College Football Schools – By State, Divisions I-A, I-AA, and II-A (FBS, FCS, and D2)
In Colorado, it sure looks like we’re in the same boat as Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, and Utah – two or less (viable) I-A options and very few I-AA/D2 options. I have to believe the sentiments about keeping kids in-state is very similar in those states.
Of the many reasons in-state recruits don’t stay, I would guess that part of it’s that young men want to see different parts of the country and explore beyond Colorado. Some want to be part of the pomp and circumstance in the SEC. Maybe some want to return to a state where they lived as a kid (e.g., Montana). Others might want to see what it’s like to live in California. Regardless of the recruit reasons or the college coach reasons, if you’re pulling for any in-state teams, it’s extremely frustrating to hear stories of great local high school players not even getting a call from CU, CSU, UNC, Pueblo, Mesa, Adams State, Fort Lewis, or Western. (I’d put Air Force and Mines on a different scale due to the rigorous academics and clearly defined career trajectory.)
To see college football wallow in its current state here in Colorado is not easy. To watch the best talent leave means that there’s likely no end in sight any time soon. How can it be cheaper to offer a full ride to some kid from Louisiana compared to a local kid? It seems like the money would go further with local kids, but maybe that’s oversimplifying the finances of building with out-of-state talent. Hopefully, going forward, in-state college coaches will find a way to keep the best Colorado recruits and allow local fans to pull for a local winning team composed of local recruits.