It's become almost automatic at signing-day news conferences: "I'll be spending the next four years at (fill in a school)."
The kids who are confidently eyeing an early entrance to the NFL might say "three years" and some say "five," but it's basically part of the script in some fashion. In reality, the amount of players who actually spend a full four seasons at whatever school they commit to -- assuming they don't switch before signing -- can be quite low.
Of the 236 high school seniors who signed with a Pac-12 school in 2011, only 137 (58.1 percent)* appeared on that school's roster in 2014.
To get a sense for how the attrition manifests, I categorized the varying reasons into five groups: dismissals/transfers; injury/health; entered NFL draft; other/stopped playing football; non-qualifiers/never appeared on roster.
Here is the breakdown:
Played in 2014: 137 (58.1 percent)
Dismissals/transfers: 50 (21.2)
Injury/health retirements: 17 (7.2)
Entered NFL draft after three seasons: 11 (4.7)
Other/stopped playing football: 11 (4.7)
Non-qualifiers/never appeared on roster: 10 (4.2)
Of the players who signed, 92.7 percent were on rosters as true freshmen, with the remainder made up of a combination of grayshirts and players who did not qualify or never enrolled. That percentage dipped to 83.9 in 2012 and 70.8 in 2013 before sinking to 58.3 this past season.
Stanford was the obvious outlier. All 19 players who signed as part of David Shaw's first class in 2011 were on the team in 2014 -- and all 19 are expected to walk at the school's spring commencement ceremony.
On the other side of the spectrum is Washington State, which retained seven of the 21 high school players who signed with former coach Paul Wulff through at least a portion of the 2014 season. That class, which was ranked No. 10 in the Pac-12 by ESPN.com and also included six junior college players, was hurt significantly by those who never enrolled (four) and transfers/dismissals (six). Three of those 10 -- Rahmel Dockery (Oregon State), David Davis (Cal), and Demetrius Cherry (Arizona State) -- eventually landed at a different Pac-12 school.
Though the Cougars had the worst retainment percentage in the conference (33.3), Arizona State was left with the fewest players from its class -- the last under former coach Dennis Erickson -- with just six of 14 (42.9). Six transferred to play college football elsewhere (two are currently at the FBS level), one didn't qualify, and Israel Marshall took a medical retirement.
I found it interesting to sift through the data, but it's tough to draw any meaningful conclusions from just one year's data because of the variables in play -- particularly coaching changes.
Cal (16-33 in that span) and Colorado (10-39) are good examples.
In theory, it makes sense to assume a high retention rate is more desirable. Except Cal (70 percent) and Colorado (60.9 percent) ranked second and fourth in the conference, respectively. And unlike Colorado (coached then by Jon Embree), Cal's class (under former coach Jeff Tedford) was highly rated, coming in at No. 18 in the country. I still maintain retention is a good thing, but primarily if it's part of a larger theme of continuity.
The Bears lost one player to medical retirement and one transferred, but four entered the NFL draft after three years in Berkeley -- defensive lineman Viliami Moala, running back Brendan Bigelow, tight end Richard Rodgers, and cornerback Kameron Jackson. Rodgers, in Green Bay, was the only one to stick on an NFL roster.
The conference's other seven players to leave after three years include: running back Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona), running back De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon), receiver Brandin Cooks (Oregon State), receiver Marqise Lee (USC), center Marcus Martin (USC), running back Bishop Sankey (Washington), and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. All seven were drafted.
Oregon, which boasted Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and offensive tackle Jake Fisher in its 2011 haul, is an example of how a talented roster can lead to departures. Of the five players who transferred, four -- Devon Blackmon (BYU), Tacoi Sumler (Appalachian State), Anthony Wallace (North Texas), and Tra Carson (Texas A&M) -- were at FBS schools in 2014. The Ducks also saw two players retire because of injury, and tight end Colt Lyerla leave (along with Thomas) for the NFL.
By no means should kids stop aspiring to "spend their next four years at (school)," but let's just hope they understand the track record of those who have come before them.