On a day like Wednesday, George Iloka is a stout reminder there is no map quest or Google alert or Instagram as a guide to an NFL career.
Take a look at Bengals players from this past season as collegiate prospects. Images via Rivals.com
First of all, Iloka, who has started the last 34 games for the Bengals at safety, including two in the postseason, didn't have a Wednesday. The signing day for high school football players.
While his classmates were signing, Iloka says he was already at Boise State, "in winter conditioning throwing up," after he graduated Kempner High School in Houston in three and a half years.
And, second of all, he says Rivals.com and Scouts.com and every other recruiting web site had no idea who he was. Somehow, he ended up with two stars.
"Rivals is completely, utterly, B.S. It's a joke," Iloka says. "There are some good scouts in there, but when you're in high school they base it off stats, height, weight your 40 (yard dash). I actually had no stars. They didn't know crap about me."
Here's how Iloka ending up getting stars that don't always light up the NFL sky:
Kempner changed coaches after Iloka's junior year and when the new coach took a look at his 6-4 wide receiver, he suggested he play safety in spring ball. Iloka balked. He loved receiver and had played nowhere else.
"I'll never forget this,' Iloka recalls. "He told me, 'If you ever grow into your frame, you'll make a decent NFL safety. You're a physical receiver. Just play defense in the spring.'"
Spring high school ball in Texas is almost as good as fall ball and after the colleges saw Iloka practice he had 15 business cards handed to him. Slightly more than the two offers he already had from Division III schools to play receiver.
But most of them wanted to put the brakes on. He had yet to play safety in a game and this was only spring and…
But Boise State was the only one to offer him a scholarship in the summer, just before his senior season. Later there would be offers from Colorado State, Houston, Rice, and Texas-El Paso, but Iloka committed in the summer before he even took a visit to Boise.
"It wasn't what I expected but I wanted to play football and they win football games, so it was a no brainer," Iloka says. "They were loyal to me. I had never played safety before. They took a chance on me. I respect that loyalty."
Then, somehow, Iloka saw he had two stars. But when he had gone to all the camps and done all the drills with all the other prospects and was getting ready for his senior season, he had none.
"They just assumed if that school offered, he has to be decent," Iloka says. "So they said, 'OK, give him two stars.' That's how that was. That's how that goes."
Iloka wanted to get to Boise early. He had taken all his classes by that first semester senior year and even though his coach urged him to stay for the spring, Iloka got the degree and was gone. The signing day would have to be without him.
"I was used to being in the football program and not getting home until six or seven,' Iloka says. "Now I was done at 2:30 and there and was nothing to do. You can get in a lot of trouble where I come from with nothing to do. I wasn't interested in going to The Prom or walking with my classmates. I'm not into that kind of stuff."
You'd have to say it all worked out, 34 NFL starts later, for the tall, skinny wide receiver still scoffing at those two stars.
"There are no stars on the field when you go out there. There are no stars on your helmet when you go against the guy across from you," Iloka says. "Same thing in the NFL. You don't walk around with where you were drafted on top of your head. It's what you make of it.
"I'm glad the way everything turned out and I didn't stay around and went to Boise. I started as a freshman," Iloka says. "I'm glad I got to the fifth round and the Bengals gave me a call (in 2012). Everything works out the way it's supposed to work out. I put myself in control of my own football destiny and how good I can become and keep growing based off what I do and not a scout or some little web site that grades people." No signing day and no stars. But the stars were aligned with signs.