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July 24, 2012
It was the recruiting equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.
Orange (Texas) Little Cypress-Mauriceville all-purpose athlete Alex Sezer didn't have any FBS offers and assumed he probably would run track instead of playing football in college. But Sezer didn't want to give up on his football dreams just yet, so he decided on a whim to attend a camp that Texas A&M was running at his high school last month.
"I really wanted to play football," Sezer said. "I told my dad this was really the only camp I was going to go to. This was my shot, so I decided to go out there."
Sezer didn't decide to attend the camp until the day before the event, but he performed well enough to earn a scholarship offer that he accepted.
About the same time that Sezer delivered his life-changing performance at a Texas A&M camp, Matthews (N.C.) Butler safety Channing Stribling was making a similar impression on Michigan's coaches.
Stribling arrived at a Michigan camp as a two-star prospect whose only FBS offer was from Ball State. He did well enough there to get invited to join what was then the nation's top-ranked recruiting class. Even Stribling himself didn't enter the camp expecting an offer.
"At first I thought Michigan was loaded on defense," Stribling said. "My main thing was just to go out, play hard and show coaches they missed another player.''
The improbable rises of Sezer and Striblng show that in an era when players are analyzed more than ever and are committing as early as their freshman year of high school, there still are a few diamonds in the rough out there. They just aren't quite as plentiful as before.
Every now and then, a school will offer someone based on an outstanding performance at its own camp. Perhaps an up-close look at a prospect gives a coach a different perspective that he didn't notice on the player's highlight tape.
It also happened this summer to Marietta (Ga.) Kell safety Quincy Mauger, who received his first SEC offer last month after a notable outing at a Georgia camp. Mauger, whose only previous offers had come from Iowa State and UCF, committed to the Bulldogs last week.
It happens more often at smaller programs than Michigan, Georgia or Texas A&M.
"The middle-tier BCS schools usually end up taking four or five - sometimes more - who either had smaller offers or equal offers," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "The camp evaluation is much more important for the middle to lesser BCS schools. Whether those guys pan out or not is another thing, but they're important for depth at the very least. You take a guy with a lot of upside who you liked at camp but weren't sold on from film, and you hope he develops as a player. It's still common, but not as much with power programs."
That's what made Stribling's situation so unique.
Fourteen of the 22 players in Michigan's 2013 recruiting class are four-star prospects. The only two-star recruits in the class are Stribling and Ottawa (Ill.) Marquette long snapper Scott Sypniewski.
The Wolverines didn't have many spots left available, yet they still took a leap of a faith on a guy who had the offer list of a MAC or FCS recruit.
"For Michigan to take him, with the recruiting class they had going on, that's a rarity," Farrell said. "They must have really fallen in love with his potential. Michigan's recruiting at such a level now - on the same level as a USC or a Florida State or Oklahoma or Texas - where you've got to really wow them to get that offer."
At least one person wasn't surprised by the offer.
Butler defensive coordinator Steve Shaughnessy had monitored Stribling's progress over the past year and knew how much he had improved. He also understood why Stribling hadn't received any high-profile offers up to that point.
Stribling primarily had played receiver for his high school team before dividing his time between offense and defense last season. He refined his defensive back skills this spring and showed Michigan just how much he has improved in that regard.
"He didn't really start training at defensive back until his junior year of high school,'' Shaughnessy said. "Now he's into his senior year, and a lot of those prospect lists are made based on what they did their junior year. They get a certain star rating and that's what they get labeled as."
Butler has a history of producing quality defensive backs. Former Notre Dame cornerback Robert Blanton played in a Butler secondary that also featured former Virginia Tech safety Ed Whitley and Spencer Adams, now a hurdler on Clemson's track team.
Stribling isn't the first Butler defensive back to raise his stock at a Michigan camp.
Blanton, taken by the Minnesota Vikings in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft, had just finished his sophomore year at high school when he attended a Michigan camp and delivered an attention-grabbing performance against a five-star quarterback prospect.
"They went through drills and Ron English, who's the head coach at Eastern Michigan now and was the defensive coordinator at Michigan then, came up to me and started telling me one day how much he liked Eddie Whitley and was talking about Spencer's speed and that kind of thing," Shaughnessy said. "I told him, 'Coach, I'm just going to tell you Robert Blanton's our best guy.' He said, 'Really?'
"That afternoon, they went out there and did one-on-one. [Ryan] Mallett had already committed to Michigan. He was a year older than Robert, who was only a sophomore. In those one-on-one drills, he picked Mallett off three times. The next time we met, Ron said to me, 'I think you're right. I think Blanton is your best guy.' ''
The difference is that Blanton had that big camp moment earlier in his recruiting process and eventually developed into a four-star prospect. Stribling will be a senior this fall and is rated as a two-star recruit.
At least Stribling arrived at that Michigan camp with one FBS offer in hand. Sezer didn't have a single offer before he came up big at the Texas A&M camp.
Sezer was off to a fast start as a running back/defensive back his junior year, but he sprained an ankle midway through the season. Although he tried to play through the injury, he wasn't quite the same. His production suffered as a result.
"I kept trying to play on it and didn't let it heal," Sezer said. "I was just hard-headed and trying to stay in the game."
He was feeling better by the time he participated in Texas A&M's camp. First he opened some eyes with his performance in the 40-yard dash and agility drills. He showed the same kind of speed that helped him take fifth place in the Class 4A state track meet in the 100 (10.8) and 200 (21.73).
The coaches liked his straight-line speed and tried working him out in the secondary. Then he started showing his coverage ability. He basically played the way he had last season before his injury.
"He got a chance to show what he could do," Little Cypress-Mauriceville coach Randy Crouch said. "And he made the most of it."
Sezer and Stribling won't be the top-ranked prospects in their respective classes - or even close to it - but they might offer the best stories of perseverance. They should also provide incentive to any other recruits who haven't earned that third star or first major-conference offer.
Any other prospects in that situation might want to take Sezer's advice.
"You never know what can happen," Sezer said. "Just keep working hard and put yourself in position for when it comes. If I'd stopped working hard and said, 'I don't think it's going to happen,' when I'd gone to the camp, I probably wouldn't have been as impressive. Just keep working hard and put yourself in position when the time comes for the moment to happen."
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