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Recruiting: Is 4.4 in the 40 real or a dream run?

TAMPA — In about the time it takes you to read this sentence, a high school football player can run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds.

Or at least that's what he'd have you think.

But don't believe the hype. The truth is, most kids aren't that fast.

"Everybody says they run a 4.4," said Larry Blustein, a Miami recruiting analyst who has been scouting Florida for more than 40 years. "But very few do."

Why do so many athletes claim they run so fast? Because they are convinced it gets them noticed. It's hard to argue that, given recruiting services and football fans' infatuation with speed.

The magic number: 4.4.

"It's going to catch people's eyes," said Charles Fishbein, director of Elite Scouting Services. "But I think it's one of the most overrated things out there."

Every evaluator has his favorite tool for sizing up a player. Fishbein's is the vertical and broad jumps. He thinks they measure a player's explosiveness much more than a 40 time.

For ESPN national director of recruiting Tom Luginbill, it's the three-cone drill and the short shuttle, which measure a player's quickness and change of direction.

"You want speed, no doubt about it," he said. "But how often do you run unabated in a straight line for 40 yards on a football field?"

Both analysts have seen their fair share of timed sprints at various camps and combines, but rarely have they seen a 4.4 pop up.

"The 4.4 is almost like a myth," Fishbein said.

•••

More often, the most highly rated prospects at the skill positions are running in the 4.5-4.65 range.

"Most of the time when a high school coach says a guy is 4.4, he's at least 4.5 or 4.6," Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis said.

"All high school guys lie about their height and weight and speed. And there's nothing wrong with that; they should be trying to get their kids' names out there."

NFL draft expert Gil Brandt, who has perhaps timed more people in the 40 than anyone in the world, chuckles when thinking about how many times he has had to give the bad news to a coach that his player is not as fast as he said the player was.

"You want to win a wager?" the former Dallas Cowboys chief talent scout said. "Ask someone how tall they are. If they say 6-2, bet 'em that they are closer to 6 feet. Ask a guy how fast he runs, and it's the same thing."

Every analyst warns that a reliance on the 4.4 standard is not a recipe for success. Faster players have failed, and slower ones have succeeded.

At last year's NFL combine, former Largo High standout Dexter McCluster ran what was considered a disappointing 4.58. But anyone who watched him play at Ole Miss saw a much faster player.

"Speed is a lot of times misleading," Brandt said, though the craving for it continues.

•••

Even in a year when the Tampa Bay area high school talent pool has never been deeper, the true 4.4 athlete is scarce.

"I call 4.4 speed scary fast," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "Lindsey Lamar (a former Hillsborough player now at USF) was scary fast. You don't see many of those guys."

Nature Coast Tech's Ja'Juan Story and Robinson's Frankie Williams might be the closest, though the 4.5-4.6 range has been plenty sufficient for Plant's James Wilder Jr., Jefferson's Andre Davis, Countryside's Alex Dixon and Pasco's Jamie Byrd, to name a few.

"You don't have to run a 4.4 to be a great football player," recruiting analyst Blustein said. "I think kids get too caught up in that number."

Blustein said no college scout relies solely on the 40 time. He said those scouts focus on finding kids who can play. But, he said, recruiting services give more weight to the 40, even adjusting their rankings based on the latest times.

Brandt said 50 percent of the people timing players don't know how to do it right. Callahan said that to record a 40 time to sell to a college, he's unwilling to let someone he doesn't know or who isn't qualified do it as a hedge against getting a time that could end up hurting one of his players.

The 4.4 is repeated so often, players lose sight of how fast that — or even 4.5 and 4.6 — really is.

Many high school coaches, such as Lakeland's Bill Castle and Jacksonville Bolles' Corky Rogers, don't want their players participating in camps and combines, even if most players enjoy the one-on-one drills, instruction and chance to measure up to their contemporaries.

"There's only a few guys that I know that have gone to a combine and got something off it," Clearwater Central Catholic's Davis said. "One was Louis Murphy (Lakewood), who goes to Miami and runs a 4.4, and that puts him on everyone's chart. He was on an 0-10 team that year, but he ran so well, it got him noticed. And (former CCC wideout) Riley Cooper ran a really good time, and so did (CCC linebacker) Colin McCarthy."

Murphy and Cooper are in the NFL, and McCarthy, who played in college at Miami, could join them this year.

Analysts Fishbein, Luginbill and Blustein don't blame coaches who are leery of the 40 times recorded at camps and combines.

"You can be a player that produces for three years on the field, and you go to a combine and run a bad 40 time, and those three years get thrown out by some kid who hasn't produced but runs a 4.4," Fishbein said. "People get skewed into thinking that guy's the better football player."

Recruiting and assessing talent is a science for which there is no perfect formula. But the 4.4 endures.

It's just one piece of the puzzle. But it's a bright, shiny piece we can't take our eyes off.

"A few years ago, the time was 4.6," Davis said, "then it was 4.5, now it's 4.4, and we're starting to hear that there's 4.3 guys out there.

"I don't know where these guys are. My stopwatch never seems to stop on 4.4."

Recruiting: Is 4.4 in the 40 real or a dream run? 01/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 9:22pm]
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