Before Brian Robison wreaked havoc as a defensive end for the Vikings, he was a high school linebacker and three-star prospect turning down colleges that wanted him to change positions.
“Oklahoma was one of the schools that told me straight up — ‘We want to put a few pounds on you, let you bulk up a bit and put you at straight defensive end,’ ” Robison recalled via telephone on Monday. “I was like, ‘I’m a linebacker, so that ain’t going to work.’ ”
It wasn’t going to work in 2002, when the Splendora, Texas, native verbally committed to Texas after being assured he would get to continue playing linebacker. Fifteen years later, Robison is tied for fifth on the Vikings’ all-time list with 56 career sacks as one of the franchise’s most reliable defensive ends.
Rarely do the best-laid plans of high school athletes (or non-athletes, for that matter) stick to schedule, so keep that in mind as you track and compare your favorite college’s recruiting class during Wednesday’s national signing day.
You don’t need to look beyond the Vikings roster to see examples of the unheralded paths taken to the NFL by players both driven and fortunate enough to stand above the crowd. That’s the case across the league with Sunday’s Super Bowl littered with two-star recruits like Falcons center Alex Mack and unrated prospects such as Patriots receiver Chris Hogan, a Monmouth product.
“It doesn’t really matter what these recruiting services put on what type of athlete you are — three stars, two stars or five stars — it really doesn’t matter,” Robison said. “It’s about what you do when you’re there.”
This isn’t a critique of the recruiting ratings system, which can be a relatively reliable barometer for future success. The Vikings field a handful of former five-star recruits, and most of them, such as Adrian Peterson, Stefon Diggs, Everson Griffen and Kyle Rudolph, proved to be worth the high marks bestowed upon them as teenagers.
But for many, including Robison, the ratings create chips on shoulders as the players are compared with their peers. Robison instantly recalled being tabbed a “three star” and assessing some of the five-star recruits he’d known back in 2002. Some prospects are even being judged at positions they may never play for their college and/or professional teams.
Before Xavier Rhodes was deflecting passes as a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Vikings, he was a three-star prospect touted as a “good-looking possession receiver with great hands” out of Miami Norland Senior High School, according to his ESPN recruiting profile. His Florida State coaches quickly moved him to cornerback.
Linval Joseph, a fellow top-shelf NFL defender, was a three-star offensive tackle recruit who preferred playing defense. After ex-Florida coach Urban Meyer reneged on his offer to Joseph just before signing day, Joseph scrambled and landed at East Carolina, where he would grow into a second-round NFL draft pick.
Vikings special teams ace Audie Cole was a two-star quarterback recruit from Monroe, Mich., before he signed with North Carolina State, where they saw him best as a linebacker. Other former two-star prospects on the Vikings roster include cornerbacks Trae Waynes, a first-round pick, and Captain Munnerlyn, a seventh-round pick.
Such players as Marcus Sherels and Adam Thielen, the Vikings’ leading receiver last season, didn’t even get stars as “unranked” prospects. Thielen needed one season at Minnesota State Mankato to turn a $250 nonscholarship offer into a full scholarship. He now has earned his way to what likely will be his first guaranteed million from the Vikings this offseason.
And Robison ultimately would buy into being a defensive lineman after his redshirt freshman season at Texas.
“Eventually they made the choice for me to move to defensive end,” Robison said. “I guess I’d say it worked out for the better.”