Bust or sleeper? Five-star recruits won't always be stars on the field

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 2 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Brett Denney

Jason Olson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Back in 2003, Thomas Huff and Tony Castaldi were two of the prizes of Urban Meyer's first recruiting class at Utah.

Huff was a lanky 6-foot-4 receiver with 4.3 speed from Camelback High in Phoenix and was recruited heavily by several Pac-10 schools. Meyer called him the "frosting" on his initial recruiting class.

Castaldi was also well-recruited, and Meyer said of him, "Defensive linemen are hard to find … he's going to be a great player."

So how did these prize recruits turn out?

Well, neither player ever started a game for the Utes. Huff caught just one pass in three seasons before transferring in 2006, while Castaldi was a backup lineman who played in just three games before being declared medically ineligible his second season.

Meanwhile, there was this unheralded 5-foot-11 defensive back from California in the same recruiting class who was barely mentioned in an 839-word Deseret News story that February about Meyer's first recruiting class at Utah.

His name? Eric Weddle.

We all know how this kid turned out, becoming a freshman All-American, a two-time defensive player of the year for his conference, a consensus All-American and an eventual starter for the San Diego Chargers.

That same year, the prize recruit for the BYU football team was an offensive lineman named Ofa Mohetau from Euless, Texas. After narrowing his choices to Miami, Texas, Arizona State and BYU, he chose the Cougars, much to the delight of BYU coaches and Cougar faithful. He was the top LDS recruit in the nation that year and headlines proclaimed BYU landed a "big one."

"This guy's going to be a player for a long, long time," said BYU recruiting coordinator Mike Empey the day Mohetau signed.

Well, "a long, long time" turned out to be just two years as Mohetau left BYU after playing for a year and redshirting another. He ended up at a junior college in Texas before going to Texas Tech, where he was just another player. Today he makes a living fighting on the MMA circuit rather than playing in the NFL as everyone assumed back in 2003.

Overshadowed in that BYU recruiting class were such future standouts as David Nixon, Brett Denney and Mitch Payne, none of whom received the gushing accolades when they were signed like Mohetau did.

Another BYU "bust" was quarterback Ben Olson, who was the top-ranked LDS athlete in the country the year before Mohetau in 2002. He was one of three five-star quarterbacks in the nation that year along with Vince Young and Trent Edwards, who both starred in college and went on to play in the NFL.

Because BYU already had some experienced players in the program when he arrived, Olson didn't get a chance to play his first season and then went on an LDS mission. He decided to transfer to UCLA, but he never came close to living up to the hype in four injury-plagued seasons.

Such are the vagaries of college football recruiting.

For every five-star recruit like Mohetau and Olson there are two-star recruits like Weddle, who turn out to be real stars.

Today, on national letter-of-intent signing day, you'll hear about which schools signed the most four- or five-star athletes and which school won the recruiting battle in every conference in the country. It makes for interesting conversation between seasons, but every schools in the country will have its share of hits and misses.

Some of the top players to come out of the state in recent years were little-recruited athletes such as Alex Smith, Jordan Gross and Robert Johnson at Utah; and Scott Johnson, Ben Criddle and Andrew Rich at BYU.

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