As the NFL Draft Combine came to a close recently, there was a lot of talk about the rising and falling draft stock of the 330+ participants. There was also talk that had sophomore University of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney been able to come out for the draft, he would undoubtedly be a top three pick. There is nothing that the 2014 Heisman hopeful can do on the field this coming college season to raise his draft stock. This has all led some ‘talking heads’ asking if Clowney should petition the NFL on the legality of their draft age restriction, or if he should just sit out this season to avoid injury.
If Clowney were to spend the year working out and preparing to play at the highest level instead of playing for the Gamecocks, there is no doubt that he would still be drafted high in the 2014 draft – still possibly at number one. If any GM were to ask why he didn’t play, all he would have to do is show copies of the MRI for teammate RB Marcus Lattimore – whose knee was shredded not once, but twice as a college player. Of course, this is all for nothing because Clowney has committed to play college football and to not fight this NFL rule – which in my opinion is best for him and all of college football.
However, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see this idea trickling down to high school athletics. Let’s consider the hypothetical situation of Five-Star Point Guard Prospect, Andrew McPasser. In our made-up scenario, McPasser is an elite Point Guard with offers from all the big time programs in college basketball. It’s not a question of if he will be playing for one of the greatest traditions in college basketball, but where he will be playing. He is a rising senior and over the summer while playing travel ball on the top-tier circuit, one of his best friends – a three or four star player – tears his ACL.
McPasser and his family are traumatized by this situation both because they are close to the other athlete, and because what if it had been McPasser himself? He has an insurance policy in place and if something did happen he would diligently rehab to get back to where he was, but what if he could nearly eliminate the risk of injury? Let’s build on this hypothetical story by saying his high school team won a state championship the previous season and he was the ‘Player of the Year’ so both personal accolades and team accomplishments have already been met.
McPasser has already considered taking the path of players like Solomon Poole at Georgia Tech who completed his high school studies in December and enrolled in to college early. By not playing his senior season, McPasser could prepare himself academically for college, improve his strength and conditioning, and focus solely on his college career – and eliminate the risk of getting injured in a high school game.
There is the risk that some programs would no longer recruit McPasser since he’s not playing his senior year, but for every Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse or Wisconsin who takes him off their list, a UCLA, Kansas, UNC, or Oklahoma State is waiting in the wings to bring in this rare talent of a player. Some may even encourage him to take the year off to work on other skill sets and avoid injury.
I hope this kind of thing doesn’t become commonplace – but I’m sure players are considering it, especially if they have had a previous injury. There is much more to being in high school than just playing sports and making those memories of being a senior athlete. I doubt this will become a normal occurrence nor will we see an abundance of players like Poole or Jarnell Stokes at the University of Tennessee who left high school early to play in college, but it is an issue that should be discussed, and I believe discouraged.