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Last updated: Wed. Feb. 27, 2013 - 06:00 am EDT

COLUMN

NFL Combine mocks college recruiting hype

Pro scouts find the best players, no matter where

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For more on sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1.

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INDIANAPOLIS – Remember signing day, when all the hotshot high school football players put on their college caps and posed for pictures? The NFL Combine mocks that.

Eric Fisher is a perfect example. Huge and perfect.

Fisher is a 6-foot-7, 305-pound offensive lineman from Central Michigan University. Central Michigan, you might recall, was not in the BCS national championship race last season. Fisher, however, is a projected first-round draft pick, a coveted offensive lineman. There are those who think he might go No. 1 overall.

Everybody except Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan passed on him coming out of high school.

“The only Big Ten schools I talked to were Michigan State and Purdue,” Fisher said. “Neither of them really wanted anything to do with me.”

See, that's why college signing day is such a farce on several levels. We rank players, project which college had a “top 10” recruiting class and don't think twice when guys like Fisher are overlooked.

Four or five years later, Fisher garners the attention of every NFL mover and shaker while dozens of hotshot one-time recruits send out resumes to the real world.

Fisher's development from overlooked prospect to potential No. 1 draft pick had everything to do with the deadly combination of work ethic and attitude.

“A lot has to do with coming from a small school,” Fisher said. “I think that's the mentality of small-school guys. A lot of people don't hear about us until we get to this level.

“I play with a chip on my shoulder. I wouldn't say off the field I have a chip on my shoulder, but when it comes to football, that's who I am.”

Fisher was more of a tight end than a tackle when he was attending Rochester Hills Stoney Creek High School outside Detroit, so maybe it's not fair to bash on Michigan State or Purdue coaches missing his potential. It shows the inexact science of recruiting, no question.

Fisher said he doesn't hold a grudge against those bigger schools that ignored him. He said he loved his time at Central Michigan and made the most of it.

There's the possibility, too, that Fisher benefited from the longer odds that required him to push his training to reach an elite level.

The pros noticed his drive as well as his production. General managers from the Lions, Bears, Seahawks and Chargers all came to scout him during his 2012 season. He performed well on and off the field at the combine, pushing Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel for best tackle available.

There are those, including NFL Network's Mike Mayock, who believe linemen on both sides of the ball belong among the top five picks. Alabama guard Chance Warmack and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper are also considered potential top picks. Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson turned heads, as well.

Back to Fisher: When it comes to inspirational stories, his should resonate with high school players everywhere. He had a solid career, excelled in the Senior Bowl and turned more heads with his consistent, strong performance in the combine.

Offensive linemen are often among the most intelligent, thoughtful players on a football team, and it showed in Fisher's professional handling of the attention.

Fisher drew inspiration from San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who also played at Central Michigan.

“It's great having a role model like him,” Fisher said. “You see his picture up on the wall (at Central Michigan), a first-round pick. He came in with a tight-end body. He started the way I did. He got in touch with me recently, and it's great having someone like him to look up to and talk to about what to expect from the Senior Bowl, pro day and the combine.”

Staley's advice was something he already heeded: Never take a play off.

Fisher and the combine is a needed jolt of reality after the hype of the college national signing day.

Recruiting is an inexact science. Don't buy the hype. Everyone wants to be the next big thing coming out of high school. Sometimes guys like Eric Fisher end up bigger, in more ways than one.

rhayes@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.


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