Players under radar still can thrive
It seems as though every year some of the best high school football players in central Ohio are ignored by major college coaches because they are perceived to be too short, too slow or lacking the physical strength to succeed at the Division I level.
College coaches often are so fixated on recruiting players they consider to have the prototypical size, strength and speed that they often overlook or dismiss talented athletes who have thrived at the prep level.
But college recruiters who look past a player's physical attributes and see the value of his intangibles benefit from finding hidden gems.
Perhaps the best example of an overlooked player from central Ohio who overcame the odds to succeed not only at the Division I college level but in the NFL is 2001 Westerville South graduate Lance Moore.
As a senior in 2000, the 5-foot-9 wide receiver set what at the time were state records for receptions (103) and touchdown catches (24) in a season, but he wasn't offered a Division I scholarship until after national signing day.
Moore decided to attend Toledo even though he didn't receive a full scholarship. In four seasons with the Rockets, he appeared in 50 games and had 4,146 all-purpose yards and 222 receptions for 2,776 yards and 25 touchdowns. He still holds the team record for receiving yards in a season (1,194, set in 2003) and touchdown receptions in a season (14, set in 2004) and was named first-team all-Mid-American Conference as a junior and senior and first-team academic All-American as a junior.
Despite having a stellar college career, Moore was not selected in the 2005 NFL draft. He was signed and released by Cleveland in 2005 and finished that season on the New Orleans practice squad. He was a special teams player in 2006 and played in all 16 games in 2007.
In 2008 Moore had a breakout season, leading the Saints with 79 catches for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns.
In the 2009 season New Orleans played in the Super Bowl, during which Moore had two receptions for 21 yards and caught a two-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter to help the Saints beat Indianapolis 31-17.
Moore is in his eighth season with the Saints.
"When Lance was a freshman, he told me he was going to make it to the pros someday and I just laughed because he was undersized and wasn't very fast," South coach Rocky Pentello said. "By his senior year, he was still undersized, but he was very fast. Everyone overlooked Lance because of his size, but he plays with a lot of heart and has a never-say-die attitude, and those are things that can't be measured."
Another area player who succeeded in Division I despite being overlooked by recruiters because of his size was 2004 Pickerington Central graduate Ryan Manalac.
Manalac, who was listed at 6-0, 185 pounds as a senior, wasn't offered a Division I scholarship because he was viewed as being too small to play linebacker and too slow to be a defensive back.
However, he walked on at Cincinnati in 2004 and, by his junior year in 2007, he was a starter at outside linebacker and earned a scholarship.
In 2009, Manalac was signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent and appeared in one game that season. He currently is a graduate assistant on Michigan State's coaching staff.
"Ryan played safety and running back for us and he was seen as a tweener," Central coach Jay Sharrett said. "We knew Ryan could play Division I college football, so we encouraged him to walk on to a team, and he worked hard and became the first Central graduate to play in a regular-season game in the NFL. The NFL is packed with MAC players and many of them were passed over by bigger schools that didn't see them as being ready to play college football, at least not immediately."
Moore and Manalac are just two examples of area players who persevered and proved that they could succeed at the Division I college level despite their size. The moral of the story is that no athlete should give up chasing his dream because he doesn't fit a certain prototype.
Just ask Moore, who has a Super Bowl ring to prove it.