We've had a lot of great interviews around here lately, but none excited me more than the chance to talk with Rivals.com's Geoff Ketchum. Geoff is the executive editor of Rivals' Texas page, Orangebloods.com, the author of the always insightful "War Room" segment, and one of the most knowledgeable Texas Longhorn insiders in the business.
Burnt Orange Nation: Covering high school prospects strikes me as an awfully tough business -an inexact science, for sure. What's the biggest challenge for you when you're covering prospects, in terms of projecting their ability to play big time college football?
Geoff Ketchum: That's a good question and one that I often get asked. I'm not sure that it's any one thing, but rather a combination of issues. Quite frankly, the talent evaluation is the easy part. Trying to get an idea of what makes a player tick, his character, what motivates him and how he'll respond to the college climate is the hard part. There are a lot of guys on college campuses across the country that have the talent to be major college players and potential NFL players, but they don't have the drive to put in the hours to make it happen. It's not unlike people that are forever talking about losing weight, but never actually go to the gym and curb their eating habits. Everyone can talk a great game, but who has the internal drive to reach out and shake their potential by the balls. It's the same thing in the NFL for that matter. What's going to happen to a guy once he gets enough money to be financially secure? If I could find a blueprint for finding that answer, I'd make a mint for sure.
Burnt Orange Nation: In your experience, what are the one or two greatest non-quantitative measures for predicting success at the collegiate level? What do you look for in a high school kid's makeup when projecting him at the next level?
Geoff Ketchum: Right off the bat, you want to find a player that does everything with passion. You're looking for a kid that hates to lose more than he loves to win. Those kids are the ones that put in the time in the classroom because excelling in all aspects of life is mandatory. Also, you want a kid that isn't afraid to be a leader. That's something that you can see on the field. If things are going bad, does he go into a shell, start yelling or does he rally his teammates and never stop competing? I know in talking with college coaches for the last decade that they don't care about a kid's talent if he doesn't have the other stuff.
Burnt Orange Nation: We all know about the big names from the 2006 class that will have an immediate impact on the team - guys like Sergio Kindle. Can you tell us a player or two that are a little less heralded but might surprise fans and make an immediate contribution?
Geoff Ketchum: Well, look no further than Boerne place-kicker Hunter Lawrence. If you want to know which player could have a huge impact on making another run at a national championship, he's the guy. If the season started today, Greg Johnson would be the punter, place-kicker and kickoff guy. Those are three tasks that the staff doesn't want to unload on one player. The hope is that Lawrence can come in and play right away, whether it be as a kickoff guy, the place-licker or both. In a dream world, Lawrence can come in and be satisfactory in the place-kicking duties, which will let Johnson focus on punting. If he can't be that guy, it'll be a big disappointment. That's a lot of pressure on one player, especially a true freshman, but that's the reality of the situation.
(Editor's Note: Lincoln Rose interviewed Hunter Lawrence for BON back in May. Click here to listen to the interview.)
Burnt Orange Nation: Do you have any insight into how the Colt McCoy - Jevan Snead battle will play out? Is there anything in either quarterback's makeup that leads you to believe one or the other will separate himself?
Geoff Ketchum: It's impossible tell right now what's going to happen with those two players this season, but I do think the eventual winner of that battle will emerge in the next two months during the team's informal seven-on-seven workouts. That's when the real chemistry building between the receivers takes place and I think the team start to have an idea of the leader is by the end of July. As it stands right now things are very close. Both kids have great make-ups and upside.
Burnt Orange Nation: Looking to 2007, and coinciding with the June release of the Rivals 100, just how good is this Mack Brown class of 2007 going to be? When it's all said and done, might this wind up the best recruiting class in Texas history?
Geoff Ketchum: Yes. I felt like last year's class was the best class of the Mack Brown era, but we've entered something new that probably hasn't been see in the current climate of college football. Right now the Texas staff isn't recruiting right now as much as they are selecting whomever they want. There are still a few spots left in this class, but I expect this to be Mack's best class, which is obviously saying quite a bit.
Burnt Orange Nation: With what may be the nation's best front seven, a second straight year under Gene Chizik (after several straight years of new D-Coordinators), and an experience secondary, the defense looks like it's going to terrorize opponents. Just how good do you see this defense being, and can it be dominant enough to lead the Horns to another title?
Geoff Ketchum: I don't know if it can be dominant enough to lead Texas to another national title because I really believe it's going to take three complete phases to put together a repeat season of 2005, but I expect this defense to be outstanding. They need to find a replacement for Michael Huff, but outside of that, this defense should be faster, quicker and more athletic across the board. I think the linebacker play will be much better this season with the continued emergence of Drew Kelson, Robert Killebrew and Rashad Bobino, along with young stars Roderrick Muckelroy and Sergio Kindle. The front four will be five or six deep at defensive end and if Roy Miller is as good as everyone thinks, the play of the defensive tackle unit will be improved from last season.
Burnt Orange Nation: The Rivals.com network recently purchased Fanblogs, a move we've praised in this space. How do you envision blogs supplementing Orangebloods' and Rivals' already extensive coverage?
Geoff Ketchum: Personally, I'm not a big blog guy. Those that are members of the website know that I'm very active on the message boards and you never have to look very far for my opinion on any topic. I encourage the rest of my staff to be the same way. That being said, if implementing blogs into our coverage is something that our subscribers want, then we'll likely give it to them. Our goal is to always be the one-stop-shop for Texas Longhorn football fans and the fact that we're the largest college team website in the country means that we're doing a good job thus far. We always want to be ahead of the curve in this business.
Burnt Orange Nation: Great chatting with you, Geoff.