By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Perspective is an interesting thing. Anyone standing on the sidelines of the battle between a shepherd boy named David and a giant named Goliath would have picked the winner of the battle to be Goliath ten times out of ten. After all Goliath passed the eye test. Nine feet tall wearing armor that weighed 125 pounds and using a spear with a head that weighed 15 pounds. Facing a shepherd using a sling and a stone. No contest. Who wouldn’t pick Goliath and yet we know how that battle ended. Not well for the giant.
Some times size matters. In football games size is important. For offensive and defensive linemen it is critical. Some teams prefer to have big running backs and large linebackers. Others like backs and linebackers with speed and/or shiftiness. When it comes to other skill positions some coaches prefer tall, athletic wide receivers while others look for speed and great hands.
Again perspective is the key. Here is a little. Physical attributes don’t guarantee success in football but they do help the player that has them have a better chance of succeeding. Take a skill position such as wide receiver or running back for example. At the NFL Combine last year the fastest 40-yard dash time was 4.37 seconds. Next closest was 4.4 seconds. Those were the fastest times in the complete Combine. For perspective UK’s Boom Williams ran the 10th fastest time at 4.51 seconds.
A little more perspective. UK Football – during the Hal Mumme era – had a pretty fast wide receiver. Guy named Craig Yeast. Played in the NFL. Stood five feet seven inches tall and weighed about 160 pounds. When he graduated from UK he was the all-time leading receiver in catches and second in receiving yards in the Southeastern Conference. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at the NFL combine.
I know. The big question is ” what’s the point?” Again its perspective. Kentucky recently passed on a player that was Mr Football in the state of Kentucky. D’Mauriae VanCleave. So did every other FBS Football team. They passed on a guy that is five feet seven inches tall and wears about 160 pounds. Sound familiar? Sound like a guy that was the SEC all-time receiver back in 1998?
But there’s more. This guy that was Mr Football in Kentucky runs a 4.3 forty-yard dash. That would have qualified as the fastest time at the NFL combine last year. Faster than Craig Yeast back in 1998. Faster than Boom Williams back in 2017. Faster than any other player going into the NFL last year. Here’s what his coach – Clay Clevenger – had to say about that, “You don’t see many kids with a 4.3 40 at any level.” He is spot-on with that observation. The NFL Combine times bear that out.
So why did VanCleave have no FBS offers? Seems like it’s the same reason most people would have picked Goliath over David. Goliath had the look. Over nine feet tall. He had the star rating. Most feared man among all men in the land. When recruiting football players most FBS schools follow the herd. They look where everyone else is looking.
Sometimes better perspective comes from the eye of the person closest to the situation. Here is perspective from his coach at Danville High School. He said, “If he (D’Mauriae) was 5-10, he’s probably being recruited by every school in America.” But he’s not. He’s only five feet seven inches tall. End of story.
At the end of the day coaches across the country – including Kentucky – may have missed out on a great running back or slot receiver because they couldn’t take a risk. They wouldn’t roll the dice. It looks better to take a kid that is a three star prospect from somewhere else but never gets on the field than to take a risk and offer to a Mr Kentucky Football who doesn’t have three stars after his name. Or have the size and weight preferred by most FBS coaches.
So next football season – or seasons to come – if you see the Kentucky Wildcats struggling on offense because their receivers can’t get separation or their running back doesn’t have enough of a burst of speed to get past the linebackers after he hits the hole think about D’Mauriae VanCleave at Wofford and what might have been.
Every once in a while you have to roll the dice and put your money on the underdog. If for no other reason than it just feels good. Who knows, you might just come up with another all-time leading receiver in the SEC from a small town in Central Kentucky. It’s happened before.