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Five-star ranking ‘meant the world’ to Massie

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Bears tackle Bobby Massie walks through an almost empty locker room, checking each name that hangs over a locker.

A few minutes earlier, he was asked if he could name the four players on the Bears roster who were ranked as five-star recruits by Rivals.com coming out of high school. He's stuck on the last one.

The Bears represent a wide variety of paths. There are players, like Taylor Gabriel, who made their mark at small schools before catching on as undrafted free agents. There are those, like Allen Robinson II, who garnered offers to big-name schools and exceeded expectations. There are those like Roquan Smith, who were blue-chip recruits and top 10 draft picks.

Smith only got four stars as a high school senior, and Massie is now in the area of the lockers of Cordarrelle Patterson on one side and James Daniels on the other (both four stars). He considers Aaron Lynch, a five star on other websites, but not Rivals.

The first was easy: Massie himself. After a year in prep school, Massie was upgraded from four to five star, as he set a new record for piling up offers at Hargrave Military Academy. 

The second comes nearly as quick. Cornerback Kevin Toliver II enrolled at LSU as one of the highest-rated recruits. This fact usually found its way into stories about Toliver signing with Chicago as a rookie before last season.

Massie looked to the corner with safeties Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix placed together. Both hailing from the University of Alabama, which boasted the top class eight times between 2008 and 2017, either seemed like a good bet.

"Ha Ha," said Massie.

He's right. Clinton-Dix was ranked seventh in the nation in 2011, a prestige that followed him as a first-round draft pick. Jackson, on the other hand, was a three-star recruit, a scouting coup by Nick Saban's staff and proof that such rankings still have significant gaps.

Khalil Mack was a two-star recruit, missed by every powerhouse in his native Florida. David Montgomery was similarly ranked and despite coming up in the heart of Big Ten country, became a cornerstone in the turnaround at Iowa State.

Kyle Fuller wasn't the highest-rated recruit in his own family. In a family with four NFL players, only younger brother Kendall got the fifth star from Rivals.

It takes a few guesses, but Massie's eyes eventually turn to the locker next to his.

"Eddie Goldman," said Massie, with a Colonel-Mustard-in-the-library triumph.

He's got all four. Goldman was one of a trio of five stars, along with Jameis Winston and Mario Edwards, that helped lift Florida State to a BCS Championship in 2014.

While Massie says it doesn't mean much now, he's still a bit nostalgic for the first time he saw five stars under his name.

"It meant the world to you," said Massie. "You were acknowledged for how good you were. It was all about stacking scholarships in high school, anyway. That's all you cared about."

With dozens of offers, Massie ended up at Ole Miss after an impressive official visit. It didn't hurt that Massie had read and loved "The Blind Side," and Michael Oher served as his host during the weekend. He went to Oxford, intending to be the school's next star tackle.

The NFL had always been the goal for Massie, and by the time he took over a starting spot during his freshman season, he knew that, as long as he stayed healthy, he'd find a place in the league.

Massie's experience represents one end of the spectrum. Mack and Gabriel show the other.

Listed together, the median Bears player got three stars. That was the exact ranking of Fuller, Robinson, and the Bears' other starting tackle, Charles Leno Jr. .

Leno took what might be described as the medium path: neither celebrated nor ignored. He wasn't the focus of a nationwide recruiting circus, being new to football, light for a lineman and playing in a run-heavy offense at San Leandro High School in Northern California. Still, by his senior year of high school, he was weighing several offers.

Leno didn't start playing football until his sophomore year. He didn't attract much attention, stuck behind future San Jose State defensive tackle Moa Ngatuvai. When Leno got the chance to play, he drew the attention mostly of teams in the Mountain West and WAC.

However, Leno believes that playing behind and learning from great players was more important to his development than natural talent.

"I'm just very fortunate in my position,” he said. “When I was in high school, barely knowing how to play football, I had a guy in front of me that kinda groomed me, shaped me, helped me understand how to play the game. When I got to college, same thing."

In high school, it was Ngatuvai. At Boise State, it was future Arizona Cardinals tackle Nate Potter. Once he arrived in Chicago, it was Jermon Bushrod. If Massie was born to be a tackle, Leno shaped himself into one through a series of unofficial apprenticeships.

Where Massie had his eyes on playing professionally, Leno didn't give it much thought. Going into his senior year in Boise, Leno was planning on returning to California and starting a career as a firefighter. It wasn't until agents started calling that he realized that he might end up in the NFL.

"I wasn't thinking about none of that when I was in college," said Leno. "It just eventually clicked for me. My dad always says, 'You need one year to figure it out. Once you figure it out, you're going to be good.'"

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