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College programs' pipeline to NFL matters to top recruits

Jae C. Hong / Associated Press
New USC coach Steve Sarkisian will look to keep the Trojans' NFL pipeline flowing strong.

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- As the summer camp circuit for high school athletes winds down in July, more than 150 of the best of the best descend upon Nike's headquarters to participate in a multi-day competition called The Opening.


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CFB 24/7 counts down the 14 college football players or coaches to watch in varying categories in 2014.

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Many of the top players have already verbally committed to a school seven months before National Signing Day. For those who have already made a decision -- and even for those who haven't -- College Football 24/7 wanted to know if picking a school with a reputation for sending players to the NFL played a factor in their recruitment.

In a not at all surprising thing for top recruits to say, nearly everyone said "yes" to some degree.

"That was a big factor, just knowing that USC always puts tackles in the league," said Chuma Edoga, a five-star offensive lineman from Powder Springs (Ga.) who is slated to go across the country to play his college ball. "That was a big part of the pitch from coach (Steve) Sarkisian and coach (Tim) Drevno. It's great to know they have the most players in the NFL and if you go to USC, you're going to make it to the NFL most likely."

"That was huge. You definitely want to go to a school that sets you up in the right place," fellow Trojan pledge and Elite 11 quarterback Ricky Town said. "USC does a great job of that. They've had a quarterback go the NFL nearly every year."

That the Trojans commits would mention their future school's success in being an NFL pipeline is no surprise considering there are more draft picks from the program than anywhere. In CFB 24/7's "Position U" series, you'll find the school on every list from quarterback to linebacker to running back.

The same goes for powerhouse college programs such as Miami (Fla.), Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State among others. If you have a reputation for turning recruits into draft night stars, chances are that's a big part of your pitch to high school players.

"It wasn't the deciding factor, but it was a big factor in deciding to go to Alabama," said Crimson Tide quarterback commit Blake Barnett. "Obviously, if you have hopes and desires to go to the NFL, you'll want to surround yourself with the best people to get you there. That's big."

As much as coaches are selling their school's history to recruits, they're also selling themselves and their coaching abilities for turning up and comers into first rounders. Barnett mentioned offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's past success with quarterbacks as a key reason he's leaving the West Coast to go to Tuscaloosa.

"I know what they're capable of doing and I want to go to the next level knowing everything I can. I want to be a perfectionist my position. With the success Sal Sunseri has had, I want him to teach me so I can be successful at the next level," Florida State commitment and Ridgeville (S.C.) defensive lineman Michael Barnett remarked. "I often go on YouTube and watch Bjoern Werner highlights when he went there. I watch Mario Edwards, Chris Casher, all their highlights to see how they are put in the best position to succeed."

While being an NFL pipeline at a certain position or overall is a key consideration for top recruits making a tough decision, it's not quite as important to front office folks gearing up for the NFL draft process.

Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie attended The Opening to see his son, defensive tackle Kahlil, compete. He noted that every player gets an evaluation based on who he is and how he played, not really because they're coming out of a certain school. Still, he acknowledged that a school turning out a number of prospects often comes down to coaching and that does have a little bit of an impact in how certain players are viewed.

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"Some of the guys, the way they're coached by coaches who have been there a long time, you know (what you're getting). Like at Iowa, (Kirk Ferentz) is an old offensive line coach so if there's a talented offensive lineman, you know what you're going to get," McKenzie said. "It goes more toward the coaching longevity and what you're known for. They know how to recruit it and know how to coach it so you look into it as a scout.

"At the end of the day though, before you put them on the board, you have to figure out how they're going to help your team. I don't care where they come from."

Academics, location and depth chart all tend to enter into the discussion when top high school players are making the tough choice as to where they're going to play football for the next three to five years. At the end of the day though, the NFL is on a lot of top recruits' minds and if you have the track record as a school or coach, you better be sure you're selling it to the maximum.

Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.

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