The kid played football in a little town outside of Spokane at a time when there were no concentrated recruiting rankings, outside of the Long Beach Press-Telegram that came out with its often-quoted Best in the West list. The California newspaper picked out a handful of high school players and graded them 1 to 10.
Dave Browning did not make this elite grouping. He was a farmer’s son who emerged from tiny Liberty High School. He drew no recruiting attention from anyone and headed for junior college in Spokane to get noticed.
The defensive tackle wound up starting two seasons for the University of Washington, serving as a 1978 Rose Bowl captain, getting drafted as a second-rounder by the Oakland Raiders and playing in a Super Bowl.
A dozen years later, this also was the situation for Steve Emtman, who hailed from the same agricultural region, from Cheney High School, again just outside of Spokane.
Another farmer’s kid. Another defensive tackle. Another recruit largely ignored because of his geographical circumstances.
Emtman had no obvious recruiting recognition and just two local college football choices: he picked the UW over Washington State. He was just getting started. He helped lead the Huskies to a national championship and became a first-team All-America choice, the Outland Trophy winner and the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in 1992.
Even with recruiting rankings in place from coast to coast, and website to website, this sort of thing to varying degrees still happens more than you think.
Evidence of the continuing imperfections of recruiting and grading talent were brought to bear once more on Tuesday when UCLA posted a chart online showing Pac-12 schools with the highest percentage of 3-star recruits drafted by the NFL.
This was based on 247Sports rankings examined over the previous four years.
UCLA and the UW stood 1-2 — positioned considerably higher than the rest of the conference.
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USC was ranked dead last on this list, but largely because it tends to land mostly 4- and 5-star recruits. Then again, the Trojans finished 4-8 last season with that surplus of football wunderkinds and since have gutted nearly half of the roster inherited by new coach Lincoln Riley.
In another survey, Yahoo Sports found the following schools nationally that had turned the most 3-star college recruits or lower into first- to third-round NFL draft picks from 2010 to 2020:
Ohio State (14), Wisconsin (13), Boise State (12), LSU (12), Stanford (12), Louisville (11), Washington (11), Mississippi State (10), TCU (10) and Utah (10).
The moral to this story is often times there is not a lot of difference between a 3-star high school player and one rated higher.
Yes, 5-star recruits often are freaks of nature whose talent level holds up through each level of football thereafter. But there are no guarantees. For every selfie taken with a 5-star, such as the accompanying photo of quarterback Sam Huard posing with UW fans, don’t necessarily ignore the 3-star. Get a photo with them, too.
Most college football teams have to build around the designated 3-star player and the UW, its 4-8 season in 2021 notwithstanding, over the past dozen years has done this as well as anyone.
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