MISSOURI CITY, Texas -- At the mere mention of a lineman named Cortez, Max Emfinger -- the self-described national prep football recruiting expert who publishes a newsletter ranking high school football players -- flies into a tizzy in the family kitchen.
"Cortez is a non-combatant," he tells his wife, voice rising. "A non-combatant!"
Ginger Emfinger winces at the outburst. Cortez hasn't "graded out" well because his parents won't buy him proper shoulder pads. And he's only 11 years old, for heaven's sake -- a member of Emfinger's pee-wee football team.
"Just knock his name off that roster!" Emfinger commands. "He doesn't have what it takes.
"I know what I'm talking about. I've seen it a million times."
Just where a former dictaphone salesman acquired the skill to evaluate Cortez -- or any of the thousand high school seniors he ranks each year in his national recruiting service -- is a matter of some conjecture.
He claims to have drawn on "his days as a scout for the Dallas Cowboys" to develop a mathematical formula projecting collegiate football success.
But detractors cast Raby Maxwell Emfinger Jr. as a shameless self-promoter pawning off questionable blue-chip lists to thousands of the nation's most fanatical college boosters. They point to his apparent ethical shortcomings and his advertisement of suspect expertise.
Some college football coaches even say he intentionally denigrates the recruiting efforts of schools refusing to purchase his products.
Rivals in the business also insist Emfinger pirates or fabricates much of the information he sells.
But for almost 10 years, Emfinger has made a living selling his rankings -- right or wrong.
And despite severe tax problems and recurrent credibility gaps, Emfinger, 47, pledges undying devotion to his "Super Scout" persona.
"It's like a snowball rolling downhill -- you can't stop it," he says. "Besides, what else could I do?"
Emfinger's National High School Recruiting Service Inc. is one of half-dozen similar ventures catering to a small-but-intense subculture of recruiting buffs.
His established presence in the midst of the Texas high school football hotbed has helped him carve out an enviable niche. Overzealous alumni always are interested in Emfinger's specialty his home state's top talent. And using information supposedly taken from reliable sources, his magazines also attempt to provide a national recruiting overview.
In the days preceding the February national signing date, "Super Scout" barely can handle all the requests for appearances on radio sports talk shows across the country. Newspapers tout his lists and assessment of each program's potential signees. And once signings are complete, they search him out for further evaluation.
It is this exposure -- this "Max media" -- that drives the Emfinger business machine, hawking to more than 4,000 subscribers a $55 series of periodic talent lists and 900-line telephone messages.
"The more shows, the more we sell," says Emfinger.
For fees of more than $1,000, his company also claims to provide major college football programs important information and access to a extensive film library.
All of that grosses his company somewhere in six figures, he says. "But," he adds, "the most we've ever paid taxes on since we've been in business is $36,000."
That's a pittance, considering -- as he once told Sports Illustrated -- "what I do is coordinate all recruiting in this country."
A recent visit to Emfinger provided some curious insight into his nationwide operation.
The nerve center of this ubiquitous enterprise is not the west Houston suite listed on brochures, but the loft-office of the suburban Emfinger family home south of Houston. (The "suite" is only a mail drop.)
"Super Scout" can be found at a computer keyboard upstairs, wearing his customary golf shirt, softball shorts, gold-nugget watch and Texas-shaped necklace pendant. The work space picture window overlooks the verdant seventh green of Quail Valley Country Club.
Across a broad desk is strewn the source of much Emfinger-hyped inside information -- newspapers, magazines, recruiting lists sent by fellow fanatics, and computer printouts.
Some of the lists appear hand-scrawled and photocopied. "This guy here is from Georgia, but he gives me Tennessee every year," says Emfinger, waving one. "He's just a recruiting buff. Never have to pay for any of this stuff."
He paws through another heap of paper, pulling out a thick computer-paper printout. "See this here? This is all of A&M. They give me this every year."
Emfinger's publications sometimes rely on statistics of dubious accuracy. Important height, weight and speed figures are often provided on questionnaires filled out by the player or his coach.
An exaggerated time, an inch here, a pound or two there, and a player can gain significant stature in Emfin