In-state recruiting is double-edged sword

SAN DIEGO -- From 1990 until 2008, the San Diego Section high school single-season rushing record went unchallenged -- surviving the likes of Rashaan Salaam, Arian Foster and Reggie Bush.

Then came 2008, and Gary Taylor's record fell not once, not twice, but three times in the same season. Robbie Rouse (Madison), Ricky Seale (Escondido) and Tyler Gaffney (Cathedral Catholic) all reset the standard. A year later, it fell a fourth time, and Dillon Baxter (Mission Bay) had the record all to himself.

A common thread among these record-setting backs is that they went on to play at colleges in California. Colleges that weren't San Diego State. Rouse went on to have a brilliant career at Fresno State. Seale and Gaffney went to Stanford, where Seale hopes to contend for the starting job in 2013. Gaffney left football to pursue a professional baseball career. Baxter, a five-star recruit, went to USC but had a checkered career. He then ended up at San Diego State for a brief period but never played a down.

In 2010, Oklahoma came in and poached three players from the San Diego area: wide receiver Kenny Stills (La Costa Canyon), running back Brennan Clay (Scripps Ranch) and linebacker Tony Jefferson (Eastlake).

This is the double-edged sword San Diego State coach Rocky Long faces while recruiting at a midlevel school in California, just like Brady Hoke before him, and Chuck Long before him, and so on and so on. There is plenty of supply. But there is also tremendous demand. This year, Oregon has already plucked three from San Diego, the four-star Robinson brothers from Lincoln High -- Tyree and Tyrell -- and four-star wide receiver Darren Carrington (Horizon).

"When you're talking about the Oregons and the [USCs] of the world, they don't really recruit, they select," said Long, who just finished his second season as SDSU's head coach. "What we do is evaluate and recruit. They are evaluating 10 guys for two spots on their defensive line. We're evaluating 100 guys for two spots on the defensive line."

California is the lifeblood of Pac-12 recruiting. And it's also one-stop shopping for the rest of the country. A coach can hit Northern California one day, Southern California the next, and leave with enough information to fill a five-deep depth chart. That has altered the way schools like San Diego State have to recruit locally.

"It's changed the landscape so significantly," said Tony White, SDSU's cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator. "It seems now we have more SEC teams, Big Ten teams coming in here and poaching those guys. It bumps everyone down a level. For the most part, the top players in California went to the SCs, the Cals, the Stanfords. Teams like San Diego State and San Jose State chose from the B-level guys, so to speak. Now Arkansas and Tennessee and Nebraska are coming in and taking those guys and competing with the Stanfords and UCLAs. When they don't get those guys, they start taking the best of the B-level guys, and that makes it hard for us."

And still, the Aztecs have had great success of late. They have gone 23-13 in the past three seasons, have gone to three straight bowl games for the first time in school history, and took home a piece of the Mountain West championship this season.

"It speaks to how we coach and evaluate our players," White said. "It says something about the coaching and development and strength and conditioning. The technical work and the schematic work. It shows the coaches are developing those guys the right way."

Six SDSU players have been drafted in the past two years -- including running back Ronnie Hillman, wide receiver Vincent Brown and quarterback Ryan Lindley, who is from the San Diego area. Still, White can't help but wonder what the Aztecs would look like if those marquee players had stayed in town.

"You put all of those guys on our team and who knows? Maybe we play in a BCS game and we're the ones playing Florida State," he said. "Those guys were that good. But that's a story as old as time. Every talent-rich area has the same problem. Everyone recruits Southern California. Everyone recruits Texas. It always starts in your backyard, but that's a problem every school in the country has."

That's why Long does his best to ignore the scouting services and player evaluations, instead relying on his eyes, his expertise and his staff. He has had plenty of success doing things his way. At New Mexico he saw potential in an unrated player he decided to put at safety. A fellow by the name of Brian Urlacher. Maybe you've heard of him?

"We're lucky enough to be in a high-population area in San Diego, and the state of California and Nevada and Arizona are close by," Long said. "If we do a great job of evaluating players, our evaluations are more important than scouting services and rankings. There are enough players out there, if we do a good job evaluating, we end up recruiting players that may not be as highly recruited as five- and four-star guys. But in the end after we develop them, they'll be just as good of college players as the guys coming out of high school who are already polished."