To gauge the value of Wilde Lake senior running back Raphael Wall, ignore his 1,500-yard, 25-touchdown season for a moment, and instead consider the colleges he has already turned down.
Wall has said thanks but no thanks to recruiters from such titans as Michigan, Miami, Nebraska and UCLA. Just over a week ago, he informed Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech via phone that he wasn't interested in playing for them.
"The guy from Georgia Tech was nice, but the guy from Pitt won't give up," Wall says. "The toughest thing for me to do is to let schools down. A lot of schools won't take no for an answer. I kind of knew it would be like this. The coaches warned me.
"A lot of times I wake up in the morning and wonder how I got myself in this position."
Explosive speed, good size, superb cutting ability, solid work ethic and cocky self-assurance have plenty to do with it. Wall, who has rushed for some 3,500 yards over the last three seasons, has put himself in the kind of predicament most teen-age athletes only dream about.
Over the next two months, he plans to visit five schools before choosing where to pursue a promising college career.
The five? Let's start with defending national champion Notre Dame and work down. Wall plans to visit the Fighting Irish's South Bend, Ind., campus in two weeks, one week after he checks out Rutgers. Then it's on to two more perennial Top 10 schools, Tennessee and Clemson. And somewhere in between Wall wants to give the University of Maryland a good look.
This fall has been hectic for the player Wildecats coach Doug DuVall declares is "the best running back, maybe the best athlete, ever to come out of Howard County."
In between his weekly 100-yard rushing performances and the classes, homework and football practices that have filled his schedule for the past three months, Wall has spent hours on the phone with recruiters who call so frequently that he says it's no wonder his grades have dipped slightly.
"I'll be in the middle of my homework and somebody will call," the 17-year-old says. "Since the end of the summer, I'd usually get about five calls a night throughout the week.
"This year has been kind of a struggle. Last year, I had a 3.0 (grade-point average). I'm maintaining a 2.8 right now. I've got a lot of classes coming down on me. As soon as football is over, it will get easier."
And when Wall winds up his four-year stint at Wilde Lake -- the Wildecats played Damascus Friday night for the Class 2A state championship -- a new standard by which to compare the county's future running backs will have been set.
"For me as a coach, he's a once-in-a-lifetime kid," says DuVall.
The 1990 Wildecats, arguably DuVall's best team in his 18 years at Wilde Lake, may be remembered as a once-in-a-lifetime team for numerous reasons.
Wilde Lake's defense surrendered a school-record low 29 points during the regular season. Its big, mobile offensive line laid the foundation for an offense that averaged 36 points. Its potent passing combination of quarterback Phil White and wide receiver Oba McMillan teamed for seven touchdowns.
But from the beginning the team's centerpiece has been the 6-foot, 200-pound Wall. His speed (4.45 seconds in the 40-yard --), power and knack for finding the open field has helped him gain at least 150 yards eight times this year and score at least one touchdown every week.
"Yards don't have anything to do with it," Wall says. "You've got to look at a lot of things, like how well you read blocks, how well you cut against the grain, how well you see past the defender, how you do when you don't have blockers in front of you. That's what the colleges look at. I rate myself pretty well."
Wall finished the regular season with a career-high 1,546 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns, tops in school history. That wasn't enough to win the league rushing title, which Oakland Mills' Korey Singleton won with 1,817 yards. Wall, however, carried 75 fewer times than Singleton. He averaged 10.4 yards a carry, over two yards more than Singleton.
Wall's playing time was also deceivingly limited, due to the proficiency of the Wilde Lake offense. The Wildecats never trailed during the regular season, winning their 10 games by an average of five touchdowns. Most of their victories were sealed by halftime or shortly thereafter, around the time DuVall was telling Wall to call it a day.
"I figured it out the other day. Raphael played six football games," DuVall said. "Six games and he rushed for 1,500 yards. He averaged 15 carries a game. If I had left him in for most of the game and let him have 25 carries, who knows how many yards he would have picked up?"
Wall, who says he's never satisfied with his play ("not until I break every run for a touchdown"), was disappointed not to reach two goals he'd set this year -- 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. But he doesn't fault his coaches for removing him from so many games early.