This article, How to Keep Football Stars in College, written in 1941 by William Bradford Huie and published in Colliers Weekly Magazine, is a historical gem and an absolute must read for anyone who shares our interest in college football recruiting, specifically the signing and discarding of recruits.
Before his career as a writer for Colliers and the Birmingham News, Huie worked as a tutor for his Alma Mater, the University of Alabama, and had some sort of involvement in the football program although not clearly defined, which was probably not uncommon at the time. After he left the University, Huie continued to be involved with the football program, kind of like an old-school booster if you will; like a 1930's version of Logan Young, the infamous booster associated with the Albert Means recruiting violations that placed Alabama on probation. That's pretty much where the similarities end with Huie and Young. Having never heard of Huie before, we decided to do a little bit of reading on him. Turns out he's kind of a big deal in Hartselle, Alabama where they named a library after him. Also turns out that he is a very accomplished writer, something we are not and never will be.
What does William Bradford Huie have to do with this site?
William Huie's story speaks to the very reason this site exists - the human element in college football recruiting. We're not here because we think there is a huge competitive advantage given to programs that oversign, nor are we here because we're outraged by the uneven playing field in college football. We are here to tell the human story behind what happens to the players that are chewed up and spit out by the coaches and programs that allow it to go on.
If you don't read the whole article by Huie, we implore you to just read the last two sections: "Boys are Only Human" and "Why Football's Lost a Fan." Here are just a few excerpts:
"Three thousand hopeful young men have entered the University of Alabama to play football during the fifteen years I have been close to that machine. Fifteen hundred fell out by the end of the first semester. All of these initial casualties had played football in high school and had learned little else. When the athletic department dropped them, what could they do? Even if their parents could afford to send them to classes, they were not prepared. They had come to college prepared only to play football. Had football not robbed them of their opportunities in high school some of them might have worked out successful college careers."
"Some weeks ago, with Collier's cameraman Hans Groenhoff, I examined the records of a hundred or more products of the Alabama machine. We traveled many miles and interviewed boys all the way from the Tennessee Valley to the Black Belt fans in southern Alabama. Many of them were coaching and "teaching" in small-town high schools-manufacturing new prospects for the Tide-at salaries of $900 to $1,350 a year. The rest ranged from complete unemployment with "no prospect of work" up to Big John Miller, All-Southern guard in 1931, who, as premier snuff salesman in four TVA counties, seemed to be faring best of all."
"Jimmie Moss was playing with his two children the night we called at his four-room farmhouse in Morgan County. Jimmie and I were kids together. In elementary school he was smart enough. But in high school he learned he was a star tackle. He went to Alabama the year I did, on a football scholarship. I remember the day he left the university. It was three months after he had entered. His knee had been wrenched the first week out and he had had no chance to make himself seen among those scores of striving freshmen. His scholarship had soon played out. He was a picture of dejection. He was heading back to the small town we came from, and there'd be no band to meet him."
In an earlier post, we pointed out that there appears to be a trend in the state of Alabama with regards to the number of recruits signed. There is no denying the numbers, they are off the charts. Auburn leads all teams in the BCS conferences in the number of LOI's signed (253) since 2002 (this excludes the service academies as they are exempt from limitations). And only three programs outside of the SEC have signed more players than Alabama at 235: Troy University (248) located in the state of Alabama, and two teams from the Big 12, Iowa State (243) and Kansas State (238) [Update: further investigation on Kansas State and Iowa State have revealed that they rely heavily on JUCO players and since JUCO players only have 2 years of eligibility when they arrive it explains why their numbers were high - this is not the case with the Alabama schools].
We hinted that there might be something "cultural" behind these high numbers. And, as if someone from above was listening, a link to Huie's article was delivered to us like stork delivering a newborn to our doorstep. At first we couldn't believe it, surely this article is fake, surely its a fictional tale made up by a rival. There's no way any of this is true...no way.
"As a hobby it's been exciting. We fellows in the alumni association have had a lot of fun. We've drunk a lot of good corn whisky and told a lot of swell stories. Our haven't-missed-a-game records have been as precious as our politics. And, yes, you've guessed it. We're guilty of all the sins in the book. We've recruited players from all points of the compass. We can quote you current on-the-hoof prices for tackles or tailbacks. We've helped build a feeder organization that's bigger than the New York Yankee farm system, and we've fought our big-time competitors on a nation-wide front."
For some reason, this sounds eerily familiar, just to a much lesser degree than back in Huie's day.
"The Red Shirts composed the "suspension" squad. They were the fifty or more prospects who had already served their time on the freshman squad but had not yet been chosen for the varsity. You see, under the five-year eligibility rule in the Southeastern Conference a boy can play a year on the freshman squad, a year on some intermediate squad, and still play out his full three-year varsity career. Thus in the spring the coaches look over the varsity and see what is needed to fill the holes resulting from what the sports writers politely call "graduation." They look over the Red Shirts first since they are older and better developed. Then they pick up a few from the freshman squad. Next they consign the rest of the freshmen to the Red Shirt pool to grow and develop another year. The chaff portion of the Red Shirt squad is then fired off the pay roll, and the brain trust promptly allows them to flunk and fall out of school. This fate will already have caught up with more than a hundred freshmen before the end of the first semester."
In the 1980's, James Brooks, former Auburn running back admitted that he couldn't read after attending Auburn University for 4 years. Reading between the lines you can see that the same thing was going on at Alabama back in Huie's day.
"I remember in particular one great hero who was an All-America guard. He had been on the campus for seven years, and we had labored and dragged him through everything but elementary English. I would sit and read to him and point out and define the various parts of speech. "Here, Spike," I would say, "is a noun. And here is a verb.
He would nod his head, and I would read on. After six lines I would point back to the two words and ask him what they were. He would give me a blank stare, and the session would be ended.
I got Spike his pass in English, however, and the night he marched up and received his degree his professor and I sat in Tuscaloosa's most respectable bar and drank a toast to the great American system of public education."
We're kidding of course when we say that there is no way this article is real. Of course it is real. We actually took the time to track down scanned images of the original article just to make sure...
We're not naive enough to think that this kind of stuff didn't go on back in those days, and we don't believe for a second that it only happened in the state of Alabama. The stork just hasn't delivered anything to us about other programs yet...hint, hint.
It is important to know that at the time of Huie's article, Alabama was the largest public university in the south and most likely a strong influence on the rest of the public universities in the south.
Regardless, after reading the entire article, you get a little better idea of just how things used to be and how far things have come. Huie, if still alive today, would fall out of his chair laughing at this website. We could see him saying something like, "you mean to tell me that people are worried about a few recruits here and there...heck, what Saban pushes through the system in 4 years is less than we did in a month back in the old days." He would be right. But the BCS didn't exist back in those days, the Internet didn't exist back in those days, and college football was not a billion dollar industry. Times change, but sometimes old habits or mentalities carry on in the face of change.