The NFL draft showed that the Cincinnati Bearcats are no accident

The Georgia Bulldogs set a record this year by selecting 15 players in one NFL draft. LSU was next in 2022 with 10 picks.

Then there was the team of nine players.

Not Alabama. Not Clemson. Not Ohio.

Not anyone from the SEC or the Big Ten or any “Power 5” conference.

It was Cincinnati. Cincinnati Bearcats Luke Fickel.

Nine draft picks in one category is an amazing feat for any program. Since 2016, only Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, and LSU have boasted classes with more. However, doing so at the 40,000 seat American Athletic Conference School is next-level.

Put it this way, 13 of Georgia’s 15 recruiting picks made it to Athens as four- or five-star recruits per Rivals.com. None of the Cincinnati people were held in high esteem when they graduated from high school—each were three stars or less for each competitor. Only Jerome Ford, who moved from Alabama and was selected in the fifth round by Cleveland, could be considered a desirable recruit. But he left Tuscaloosa in search of time to play.

The Bearcats get-rich-project left the NFL front offices come to life about Fickell’s ability to discover high school talent, develop them at the college level and build a culture of competition.

Success stories included Ahmed “Sauce” Gardner, who Fekl said weighed in at 158 ​​pounds when he was in the back corner at Detroit Kings High School, and ended up moving up to fourth in the New York Jets overall standings. And Bryan Cook, a zero-class recruit, moved on from Howard only to become a second-round pick at Aman for Kansas City.

And, well, any and all of them.

“Obviously your first thought is that you’re excited for all the guys and their families,” Feckle said this week, before laughing. “Then you get nervous and anxious, ‘Hey, we have to replace nine guys who just got drafted into the NFL. “

Ahmed Gardner was a three-star recruit when he landed in Cincinnati, only to be selected by the Gates for fourth place in the 2022 NFL Draft. (David Baker/Getty Images)

The Bearcats started 13-0 last year and broke a glass ceiling of sorts by becoming the first non-Power 5 program to win a berth in a playoff game. UC lost 27-6 to Alabama in the national semifinals, but the team held themselves accountable well.

Then came the draft, which should eliminate any notion that this UC team had just slipped into the playoff due to poor AAC competition. The Bearcats had talent. Lots of talent.

All of this bodes well for the program’s future, especially as it heads into the Big 12. And Fickell has been constantly recommitting rather than jumping into what he calls programs with “bigger logos or bigger pitches.” The pride in maximizing the team and seeing players achieve professional opportunities that were by no means promised is of special value.

Prior to taking up his role at Cincinnati in 2017, Fekl spent 15 years as an assistant and temporary head coach at his alma mater in Ohio. He trained and recruited a lot of guys so the idea was, “Three years and we’ll get you out of here.”

He says the excitement of seeing a player being drafted is often the same — whether that’s five-star or no-star. However, there is more pride in knowing that a player who is lightly recruited is likely to go through more adversity to make it happen.

“To see them go through those struggles, to see this evolution,” Feckle said.

Wins tend to help with recruiting, and UCLA does — the Bearcats are 44-7 since 2018. However, perhaps nothing means more to the kind of players you win than knowing there’s a proven path to the next level. It attracts recruits and motivates players who are already in the program.

“When we see things, it becomes easy to believe,” Fekl said. “I think that’s true of all of us, coaches included… So for now, let’s make this a habit.”

Besides the personality and talent of the players themselves, Fekl points out some of the keys to development. The biggest is consistency. UCLA has the same strength, conditioning, coach, program, same offensive coordinator and system, and until 2022 – when Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman has now left – the same defensive coordinator. The system has not changed although Fickell, a former DC with the Buckeyes, has remained heavily involved.

“Consistency gave our children a chance to grow,” Fekl said.

Then it creates a turn on what Fekl calls “the family atmosphere.” He wants each player to care about each other, encourage each other, love and celebrate each other’s success. However, he also wants them to compete against each other in just about everything.

“So you have growth,” he said.

It seems simple. it’s not like that. What Cincinnati just did was unheard of in football. Getting one man to go from a recruiter with three stars or less to the NFL is an achievement. Nine in one year?

Even cash programs that routinely get the best recruits struggle to develop talent—the University of Texas, for example, had no recruiting selection this year.

One of the keys to UC, especially as it heads into Big 12, Fickell said, is maintaining its identity. He will gladly welcome talented players, but he wants them to have the same mentality.

“We’re not going to do anything different than what we did,” Fickell said. “We’re going to recruit the same kids with the same general philosophy.”

It can indicate that it is working.

“That might open the door,” Fickell said of the benefits of enlistment. “The door might crack. Where in the past we had to hit that door or kick that door, now the recruits greet us. This part gets a little easier.”

The hard part is choosing the right players and the right characters and then training them.

Cincinnati made it look easy this year.

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