Most top recruits favor college first

NEWARK, N.J. -- Brian Toal is one of the top football
recruits in the nation, yet he knows he needs a lot more experience
-- and size -- before he's ready for the NFL.

He's not alone.

Although a federal judge ruled high school players and college
underclassmen should be eligible for the NFL draft, many will stick
to school for now, and they wonder if any teenager could handle the
big time.

"My goal is to turn pro; it'd be nice," Toal said. "But I'm
not sure I'm ready."

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound running back/linebacker could start at
Boston College as a freshman. He was recruited by virtually every
major college program in the country, including Miami, Tennessee,
and Penn State.

He and many of the nation's best young players say they plan to
use college to hone their game, and to grow, both physically and
emotionally. Then they can consider playing in the NFL.

"I don't think anybody can go straight out of high school,
including myself," said Ted Ginn Jr., one of the nation's most
recruited high school players, out of Cleveland Glenville.

Ginn has drawn comparisons to Deion Sanders with his blazing
speed, but he realizes he needs to play college ball. He will be a
defensive back at Ohio State after playing quarterback, wide
receiver and cornerback in high school.

"We may be fast enough. But we're not strong enough, or
mentally ready," Ginn said. "Those are grown men. They have a lot
of experience."

Cleveland St. Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle, whose teams have won
nine Division I state championships since 1988, said none of his
players who went on to the NFL would have been ready after their
senior year.

Top recruit Jeff Byers agreed college is essential for young
football players who dream of turning pro. The 6-4, 290-pound high
school center from Loveland, Colo., is headed to co-national
champion USC.

"You might be able to take a hit from someone in high school,
but you get to the NFL and you're going to have to take a hit from
a guy like Brian Urlacher," Byers said. "I don't know of any
18-year-old that would be able to do that.

"The NFL playbook is like 6 inches thick, and a guy coming
right out of high school isn't going to be able to handle that

A federal judge sided with Ohio State running back Maurice
Clarett on Thursday, striking down the NFL's 1990 rule that a
player must be out of high school three years to enter the draft.

The NFL is appealing, but in the meantime set a March 1 deadline
for high school players and newly eligible college underclassmen to
apply for April's draft.

Longtime observers of high school football panned the judge's

"It was a horrible ruling," said Allen Wallace, publisher of
the SuperPrep college football recruiting magazine. "I can't think
of a single one I've met who's emotionally and physically ready to
succeed right away in the NFL. You're essentially asking them to
throw away their childhood and pretend they're adults.

"Football is the most violent of all sports, and some of these
kids would be opening themselves up to serious injury."

Running back Adrian Peterson also was one of the nation's most
heralded recruits this year at Palestine High School in Texas. The
6-foot-3, 208-pound Oklahoma signee runs 10.33 in the 100 meters,
said his coach, Jeff Harrell.

But even a player as physically gifted as Peterson would benefit
from a couple of years of strength and conditioning in a college
program, Harrell said.

"The physical contact would be a big step," he said. "I don't
want to say it can't be done, but a kid lining up to run the
football against high school linebackers and trying to run against
Ray Lewis is a little different. That's a huge jump from high
school. The NFL is the best players in the world."

Jerry Bomar, coach of Grand Prairie in Texas and father of
Oklahoma quarterback recruit Rhett Bomar, believes it's unrealistic
to compare high school football players to teenagers in the NBA.

"In basketball they don't get hit in the mouth," Jerry Bomar
said. "I think it would be very hard on a kid physically. Plus
they don't understand that the pros spend 14 to 16 hours some days
studying football.

"I would be very disappointed if my son wanted to do that. It
seems like we're trying nowadays to try to grow up kids so fast. I
just think you're supposed to go through things, taking steps to
get there."