Children are complicated, fickle, naive creatures who seldom have any perspective on the trappings of adult life. Few 16-year-old kids in this country know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Hell, most of them have never even done their own taxes.
It’s why uniforms, shoes, weather, license plates and even a coin flip have been used to select a university in the recent past. And I don’t expect National Signing Day 2014 to be much different.
The 2014 cycle has already provided plenty of excitement. Coaches like Butch Jones, Mark Stoops and Gus Malzahn have done an elite job putting together their first full classes at SEC programs. New USC coach Steve Sarkisian is preparing for a monster final day of recruiting. And April Justin, mother of Landon Collins and Gerald Willis, has not once (Collins, 2012) but twice (Willis, 2014) witnessed her offspring shun the in-state LSU Tigers for an out-of-state SEC rival against Mama's wishes on national TV (Willis picked Florida over LSU).
Willis is just one of many interesting, bewildering and sometimes hilarious recruiting decisions. My personal favorite came from Florida State signee Fred Rouse. On our national radio show on Sirius, he was asked, where are you going to college? And Rouse responded with “You know, a lot of people want me to go here or there. But I had to think, you know, what Fred wanna do? And Fred want to go to Florida State.” I think I have replayed that clip a thousand times since. The first-person, verbally illiterate announcement was absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately for everyone involved, his career wasn’t nearly as entertaining on the football field as it was on radio airwaves.
The Imaginary Scholarship
Nothing compares to Kevin Hart’s story. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman at Fernley (Nev.) High wanted to play college football so badly that he wrote his own fairytale ending complete with press conference. On Feb. 1, 2008, Hart held a historic announcement at his high school in which he picked Cal over Oregon. “Coach Tedford and I talked a lot, and the fact that the head coach did most of the recruiting of me kind gave me that real personal experience,” Hart said at the announcement.
There was only one problem. Jeff Tedford had never spoken too, visited or contacted Hart. Neither had Oregon, Washington or Oklahoma State, his other finalists, for that matter. Eventually, Hart admitted the entire recruitment was fictitious and apologized to all parties involved.
The Forged Signature
April Justin isn’t the first parent to disapprove of their son’s educational choices. In 2011, Reserve (La.) East St. John defensive back Floyd Raven had decided that Texas A&M was the right school for him. There was only one issue, however, his letter of intent had already been sent to Ole Miss. The Rebels' admissions department couldn’t read the signature and asked for a second copy. Raven’s mother wanted him to go to Ole Miss so badly, that she had forged the signature and sent it to Oxford without her son’s knowledge. Eventually, Floyd learned of his mother’s “betrayal” and sent the appropriately signed paperwork to Texas A&M.
The Coin Flip
It takes thousands of hours of labor and thousands of dollars to recruit athletes at the highest level. But in 2009, Atco (N.J.) Winslow Township linebacker Ka’Lial Glaud trimmed the entire process to a few cents. After taking five school-funded official visits, Glaud had narrowed his list to West Virginia and Rutgers. But the linebacker was still so torn he couldn’t make up his mind. So naturally, he decided to let chance decide his fate as he literally flipped a coin between the two programs. Heads he goes to WVU, tails he goes to Rutgers. He has posted 47 total tackles in three seasons for the Scarlet Knights.
The Five-Minute Flip-Flop
Flip-flops happen in recruiting all the time – especially, as National Signing Day draws near. The recruiting picture gets clearer for all parties involved, while schools get desperate to fill needs with late scholarship offers. Cyrus Kouandjio, the nation’s No. 2 player in 2011, however, made heads spin in record time a few years ago. An offensive tackle from Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha, Kouandjio's older brother, Arie, was already at Alabama. Yet Cyrus announced on ESPN that he would be attending Auburn, not Alabama. No more than five minutes after the bright TV lights had gone out, however, the younger Kouandjio recanted his pledge to the Tigers. He never sent in his letter of intent to Auburn and three days later it was revealed he had officially signed with Alabama via Twitter. Longtime commitments are snaked away at the last minute every season, but never has a kid committed on national television only to decide to sign with someone else five minutes later. The venom of the Yellowhammer rivalry only added to the drama of the younger Kouandjio's signing.
Lone Star Identity Theft
The Ron Weaver saga wasn’t really a huge story on National Signing Day since he completely duped an entire university with identity fraud in 1996. In fact, it is the last documented case of identity fraud in major college football.
Ron Weaver signed with Texas and played every game of the regular season in the 1996 season under coach John Mackovic as a 23-year old defensive back. There was only one problem. Weaver was actually a 30-year old by the name of Ron McKelvey who had used up his collegiate eligibility when he play at Sacramento State back in 1989. He duped Mackovic, the University of Texas at Austin and the NCAA — which later found no wrongdoing in the case by the school. Weaver was suspended the day before the Longhorns lost to the Hokies in the Sugar Bowl.
Mom Hires A Lawyer
Alex Collins, a four-star running back from Miami who had an excellent first year in the SEC, was one of the biggest stories on NSD ’13. He announced he was signing with Arkansas but it was reported that his mother, Andrea McDonald, had absconded with her son’s Letter of Intent and went into hiding. She wanted him to stay close to home at play for the University of Miami and made sure everyone knew about it.
It was later reported that she did not, in fact, steal the LOI but still stood firmly against letting her son play at Arkansas. So Collins had to have a second ceremony where he signed another LOI, this time with his father’s approval. While this was going on, it was reported that McDonald hired an attorney to “represent the family’s interests.” Her efforts ultimately fell on deaf ears and Collins, wearing, of course, a camouflage suit, signed with Bret Bielema and Arkansas.
For what it was worth, Collins was named SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year this past season after rushing for 1,026 yards on 190 carries.
The Announcement Props
I am not one who enjoys recruiting announcements. They are filled with superfluous rhetoric from coaches, analysts and handlers. They go on too long and rarely does a recruit offer any pertinent news or information other than his college of choice. Every now and then, however, if done with style, an announcement can be fun – or infuriating. Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell made fans coo when he pulled out an actual Bulldog puppy to signify his decision to play for Mark Richt in Athens. Andre Smith sent the Crimson Tiders into hysterics when he pulled out the houndstooth hat at his announcement for Alabama.
But Antonio Logan-El’s live announcement back in 2006 was met with a slightly harsher response. The Forestville (Md.) High offensive lineman had been committed to Maryland for the better part of a year. While dressed in Maryland red in front of a Terps crowd at the ESPN Sportszone in Maryland — including head coach Ralph Friedgen’s wife — Logan-El first pulled out a Florida hat before tossing it to the ground. He then pulled out a Tennessee hat. That, too, was tossed aside before picking up the Terps black and red headgear. After a few nice words, Logan-El threw his Maryland hat to the ground and held up a picture of Joe Paterno and announced he would be heading to Penn State. The decision was met with screams of “traitor” and violence nearly resulted. Logan-El, much to the pleasure of Terps fans, washed out at Penn State after only one redshirt year.
At least he actually made a decision, however, as the worst recruiting press conference in history has to belong to Greg Little. The peculiar wide receiver held a press conference in October of his senior year to announce what school he would be attending. Fans waited with anticipation while Little huddled with his family and coaches for a long period of time. He emerged from the mini-summit to announce that he had narrowed his list to Notre Dame and North Carolina. It’s the only news conference I can remember where a recruit officially announced that there was nothing to announce.
The Slimy Mentor
The most recent trend for elite recruits, for some reason unbeknownst to me, is to wait until after National Signing Day to make a decision. Terrelle Pryor, Orson Charles, Latwan Anderson, Vidal Hazelton, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio and 2011's top prospect Jadeveon Clowney all signed their LOIs well past signing day. But Wichita (Kan.) East running back Bryce Brown, and his handler/mentor/coach/agent/leech Brian Butler, set a new low for recruiting sludge back in 2009.
Brown, whose older brother Arthur was enrolled at Miami, had been committed to the Hurricanes from the early stages. He did not sign on NSD and instead took a couple of extra visits to Tennessee and LSU after Signing Day. While Brown watched the calendar flip to March without a decision, Butler, who was a convicted felon and fledgling rapper, set up a website in order to charge $9.99 per month for recruiting updates on his protégé.
Threats from Butler about Brown potentially skipping college for the Canadian Football League only further exemplified how ridiculous the handler’s influence was over Brown. Meanwhile, Miami (and others) stopped recruiting the troubled tailback until halfway through March, when Brown got “a sign from god” to go to Tennessee. Arthur left Miami for Kansas State (where he became an All-American) shortly thereafter. Bryce lasted one year in Knoxville before transferring back to Kansas State as well. He played in two games in 2011, got three carries and comically declared for the 2012 NFL Draft where we was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles.
Obviously, most of the names who waited until beyond Signing Day to make their decision official have had major trouble getting their careers started on the next level (with the exception of Clowney). So there does appear to be a fairly simple and obvious lesson to be learned here: Sign the stinking papers and get to work because nothing is guaranteed on the next level.