NFL Draft: Is the local talent pool drying up?
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
It's all Laurence Maroney's fault.
If the former Normandy High standout had stayed for his senior season at the University of Minnesota, the St. Louis area's string of representation in the NFL draft wouldn't be in serious jeopardy.
But Maroney left after his junior year, and it's hard to argue with his choice. The New England Patriots selected the speedy running back in the first round (No. 21 overall) a year ago, signed him to a five-year, $8.7 million contract and deployed him as a key component in their backfield.
While sharing time with since-released veteran Corey Dillon, Maroney rushed for 745 yards on 175 carries and added 194 yards on 22 receptions. He scored seven touchdowns.
Maroney's early exit, however, means that the 255 picks in this weekend's seven-round draft probably won't include anyone who played high school football here. That hasn't happened since the Rams arrived from Los Angeles in 1995.
St. Louis almost was shut out in 2004. But the Patriots snapped up Riverview Gardens product Christian Morton, a cornerback from Illinois, in the seventh round, just 22 picks from the finish. Three area players were drafted in both 2005 and 2006,
including two first-day selections (rounds one through three) each year.
Several local rookies are expected to be invited to NFL training camps — but as free agents, not draftees.
What does this development mean? Probably very little, according to several longtime observers of high school football here. "I would assume it's just one of those cyclical things," Webster Groves High coach Cliff Ice said.
"Maybe the kids that got recruited out of here four or five years ago just weren't as good a crop as we've had in the past," said CBC's Bob Shannon, who has been coaching in the area for 35 years. "You're talking about a rare athlete that's going to get that opportunity even to go to college, and then you've got to be very good in college to have a chance at that next level."
Larry Kindbom, head coach at Washington University since 1989, said that a paucity, as well as a proliferation, in local draftees is based more on specific athletes in a particular year.
"It really comes down to the individuals," he said. "When you get somebody at the level of being drafted, you're getting people that certainly have abilities a touch above and beyond. Very few people get drafted; it really comes down to the elite, the best of the best."
Danny Heitert, who runs stcgridreports.com and has been evaluating area talent for almost two decades, added: "I don't see any obvious reason why that's happened in 2007. But I think 12 months from now, it doesn't happen again."
Among those expected to show up on NFL draft boards next year are Missouri seniors-to-be Darnell Terrell, a defensive back from Eureka, and William Franklin, a wide receiver from Vashon. Both, in fact, considered leaving after last season but decided to return to school.
"Just in this given year," Kindbom said, "there aren't elite athletes out there."
But is it really that simple? Or is this an indicator that not only is St. Louis' production of top-shelf players beginning a downward spiral but that the quality of prep football here overall is waning?
Ice acknowledged that theory might have some validity. "You could certainly point to the number of state championships," he said.
Since 2002, St. Louis-area high schools have claimed just two of the 10 state titles in the top two classes: DeSmet (2005) in Class 6 and Webster Groves (2002) in Class 5.
Conversely, Kansas City-area schools have won three times in Class 6 (Blue Springs South in 2006; Blue Springs in '03 and '01) and four times in Class 5 (Raymore-Peculiar in '06, '05 and '04; Park Hill in '03). Columbia Hickman took the Class 6 title in 2004.
The trend can be back-dated at least a decade, said McCluer North coach Jim Schottmueller, when a "feeder" system was developed in Kansas City.
"The Kansas City school districts put organized sports in their junior highs, run by the high schools. So the head football coach is in charge of the seventh- and eighth-grade team, as well as the ninth-grade team, 10th-grade team, etc.," said Schottmueller, who has coached here for 28 years. "I've researched this, and I truly feel that we are at a huge disadvantage."
Jefferson City had a similar system in place for many years and dominated the playoffs. "They were the only one that had sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, ninth-grade football," Schottmueller said. "Their kids might not have been better athletes, but they had done it for so long ... they just didn't make any mistakes."
The same traits, he noted, are showing up among Kansas City teams. "Their kids are just a little bit more polished than our kids. They've had two extra years of being in the same system," Schottmueller said.
The emphasis on football there has surged, while here it has leveled off, if not declined, DeSmet coach Pat Mahoney said.
"You might have 10 or 12, maybe 15 coaches on one staff in the building (there); I have no varsity coach on staff in the building. So, I do a lot of coaching on the cell phone," he said. "Plus, football is the main sport over there. If you're an athlete, you go out for that sport."
As yet, however, Kansas City's prep success hasn't been reflected in the draft. Few picks in recent years have had KC roots, the latest being Kansas State running back Darren Sproles, a fourth-round selection by San Diego in 2005.
"We're in a part of the country that doesn't do spring football and doesn't do a lot things that are done ... where there's more of an emphasis placed on development," Ice said. "We do year-round what we can as the rules allow. But our kids probably aren't getting developed as much as what some other parts of the country do."
Still, all insisted that high school football here remains generally healthy and that if, indeed, no local player is drafted, it should be regarded as a hiccup rather than a harbinger of a recession.
"Had Maroney waited a year, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Kindbom stressed. "If anything, there are probably more St. Louis kids in the mix in college recruiting year in and year out than there were when I came here 18 years ago."
Re: NFL Draft: Is the local talent pool drying up?
I agree with this article. The St. Louis talent pool will get better but KC should continue to dominate HS football, despite the fact that the best talent somes out of STL.