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“Kids who had it easy, great athletes, never had to work hard _ all of a sudden, the daily grind, competition rears its head, meaning they have to work harder than they’ve worked in their life,” said Bellotti, now an ESPN analyst who will take part in Wednesday’s signing day coverage. “Everybody is bigger, stronger, faster and committed.”

A program is fortunate to keep more than 80 percent of a signing class deep into those players’ careers, Bellotti said, but 65-70 percent is more typical. He suspects that as early commitments have become more common, attrition increases, because it’s harder to predict whether a high school junior will pan out than a senior.

Coaching changes can lead to more attrition, and Florida, USC and Tennessee have all gone through one since 2007 _ two for the Volunteers. LSU had limited contributions from fifth-year seniors on this past season’s team that reached the BCS title game, relying on a talented group of younger players.

For Florida, which went a combined 15-11 the last two seasons, several 2007 signees proved so good they turned pro early, including Maurkice Pouncey, Aaron Hernandez, Joe Haden and Major Wright. But the Gators’ list from that year also includes a quarterback from College Park, Ga., named Cameron Newton.

“I don’t think there’s any question, the more you can keep a team together, the more you have fourth- and fifth-year players playing, the better you’re going to be,” Zook said.

At Texas, which went 13-12 in 2010 and ‘11, the unfulfilled promise of Higgins’ class was hard to miss.

On Feb. 7, 2007, Texas coach Mack Brown said of the signee from Schertz, Texas, “Defensive tackle is a position of need for us and he’ll help us out there.”

But Higgins struggled with the transition to college, recalling he “wasn’t ready for Austin life that early.” He went home after one semester, later returning to the program as a walk-on.

He stood on the sideline during the BCS championship after the 2009 season but didn’t play. Higgins eventually earned a scholarship and a spot in the starting lineup, then his playing time diminished and he left the team late in 2010.

Higgins was just going to complete his degree and become a physical therapist, until coaches at lower-division schools started courting him. So he came to Canyon, Texas, where a big crowd is 15,000 fans instead of the 100,000 in Austin.

An all-conference pick this past season, he’s inspired by J’Marcus Webb, who also transferred from Texas to West Texas A&M and now starts for the Chicago Bears.

“I didn’t want to let my potential go to waste,” Higgins said.

After the 2005 list of the nation’s top recruits featured an inordinate number of busts _ such as Fred Rouse, kicked off Florida State after one season for what coach Bobby Bowden called “conduct detrimental to the welfare of the football team” _ Rivals.com started trying to include evaluations of character in its rankings, said national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. The recruiting service also publishes new team rankings each summer based on which players actually enroll at the schools, to take into account recruits who didn’t qualify academically or otherwise failed to make it to campus _ though nobody seems to notice.

“That’s never brought into play on signing day,” Farrell said. “Signing day is about unlimited potential and the solution to all our problems.”

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