As the 2020 NFL draft played out, the pater familias of high school football recruiting rankings admired his progeny.
Four-star Joe Burrow went to Cincinnati No. 1 overall, five-star Chase Young went to Washington at No. 2 and five-star Jeff Okudah to Detroit at No. 3.
Joe Terranova did not sire any of those three former Buckeyes, but in the early 1970s he fathered the recruiting rating system that has grown from cottage industry into high-rise office building.
"I still follow it. Once in awhile I even write a little," he said.
Terranova, 78, never dreamed his makeshift recruiting newsletter, first printed out of his home near Detroit almost 50 years ago, would spawn what has become a multimillion dollar business that includes online sites like 247Sports.com and Rivals.com.
He was a young Ford executive with an interest in recruiting, and on a whim he wrote a recruiting story for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, listing the top 100 players and ranking the top 10 recruiting schools nationally. Terranova’s contact information appeared with the story, and within days he had 200 subscribers at $2 a pop.
Industry growth? Thirty-five years later, on signing day 2005, nearly 7,000 users logged on to the main message board on Scout.com for hourly signing day updates on Tim Tebow’s choice between Florida and Alabama. Today, 247 and Rivals combine for more than 300,000 subscribers, who pay about $10 for analysis and access to message boards.
Why so much interest? Bill Kurelic, who created his own recruiting service in the mid-1980s before joining Bucknuts.com 12 years ago, described recruiting rankings as being 1A to the actual games themselves.
"It’s the second season, so to speak," Kurelic said. "People love college football … and the lifeblood of college football is recruiting."
Rankings and ratings have become a game within the game.
"The coaches absolutely take seriously rankings in recruiting," Kurelic said, sharing that coaches tell him so. "It’s like beating Michigan on the football field; they want to have a better class at Ohio State."
Old-school thinking like mine tends to downplay the importance of recruiting rankings, not because they are irrelevant — 21 of the 32 players drafted in the first round on Thursday were former four- or five-star recruits — but because we never caught the wave of interest that began swelling a decade ago. (Note: We also have been around long enough to see plenty of five-star recruits go bust, so we remain suspicious.)
It will disappoint some fans to learn that Ryan Day downplays the importance of "star" ratings. The Ohio State coach explained Sunday that ratings produced by recruiting sites mostly are cause and effect.
"A lot of the scouting sites base their rankings off of who the schools offer," Day said. "I’m sure they’re giving three, four and five stars based on the type of offers they get. We don’t base (recruiting) off stars you have."
Day explained that stars also tie to exposure.
"Are guys going to camps? If a kid has offers from some of the best schools in the country, it means multiple staffs have respect for their talent level and potential, then they probably deserve a higher ranking," he said.
Scouting sites are careful not to push back too hard against coaches who undervalue their services — coaches play an integral if not official role in the ratings process, thus sites are wise not to upset them — but the recruiting analysts strongly defend their work ethic.
Kurelic taught industrial arts and architectural drafting and coached basketball at Dublin High School before going all-in on his recruiting business, which differed from the national sites by concentrating on individual schools.
"Basically, I don’t ever completely take a vacation," he said. "If I go on vacation to Florida, I’m doing some work from there, because Ohio State is not taking a vacation from recruiting."
Kurelic works all avenues in compiling information, including hours of cell phone calls to recruits, college and high school coaches and other analysts in the 247Sports network.
"And a pretty fair amount of time going out on the road to see kids play in person and at camps," he said.
What motivates the analysts has changed over the years. Terranova began as a hobbyist; Tom Lemming, Max Emfinger and Kurelic made recruiting analysis more of a full-time job. Today, dozens if not hundreds make careers out of rating high school football and basketball talent.
"I kind of joke that nowadays all you need is a cell phone to call yourself a recruiting analyst," Kurelic said. "But a lot of good people are doing this."
Papa pioneer did it first.
"One of my claims to fame was I picked (Dan) Marino and (John) Elway 1-2 coming out of high school," Terranova said. "I also said Bo Jackson would win the Heisman Trophy, and he did. I had a lot of credibility."
A five-star talent before there was such a thing.