National Signing Fray
By BJ Bennett
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Wednesday will be a special day for many all across the country. Part of what makes the whole development so meaningful is, in part, what can make it so difficult.
Often lost in the recruiting process, an annual frenzied rank-and-file of the nation's top prep players, is the recruit himself. It's a game, a time where personalities are marginalized in a mass blending of individual people into grouped personnel. We as a college football community analyze every angle of athleticism from how far and how fast to how much and how high. Evaluation isn't just limited to what is, but also what could be. As linemen tussle for position in the trenches, testing data and measurement totals fight for notebook space. In an age and era of numbers, one key figure almost always goes unmentioned.
Your average scouting combine keeps valued height and weight records, forty yard dash and shuttle times, vertical leap calculations and bench press, squat, power clean and leg press grades. These marks become much more than mere athletic identifiers, they serve as a prospect's newfound identity. Once a player steps into the spotlight, a paper trail follows like an extra-inning baseball box score.
Of every fact that is quantified, age is often rarely discussed or considered.
For the high school athlete, it can be quite the transformation. In a span of mere months, players become very real local celebrities. Neighbors they don't know suddenly offer guidance and advice. New friends emerge at school. New opportunities arise around town. Doors that were once closed are now held completely wide-open. It's a quick and sudden turn from riding the bus to school to being on the fast track to stardom.
"Going back to my experience, I didn't have any time to get away from it. As soon as the football season was over, from November until February when I signed it was all football. I was getting phone calls nearly every night. I would hang up with one school and bam another was calling. I didn't have time to chat with my friends on the phone. My house phone was always blowing up. It was just overwhelming," former All-SEC University of Georgia defensive tackle Gerald Anderson remembered. "Everywhere you go, people know that you are getting recruited. Everybody wants to know what's going on. From November 'til February it was full-fledged, it was on."
With more local attention and media coverage comes widespread opinion and scrutiny on some not yet old enough to buy their own movie ticket to Wedding Crashers. Scouting reports are found online, in print, seen on television and heard on radio. Every play makes up a highlight reel. More so, players' past accomplishments and future goals can become common knowledge.
"Going through the process of being a high profile recruit, you really go from being a high school football player to being a seriously highly sought after commodity. Whatever recruiters have to say or do to get you they are more than willing to do because their jobs depend on it," stated former first-team All-American University of Florida tight end Ben Troupe. "They really do their research on you and know everything about you and your family."
The biggest change for these young men is often the introduction of high-profile, nationally-known head coaches into their lives and, in many instances, into their living rooms. From watching the likes of Alabama and Auburn, Florida and Florida State and Clemson and South Carolina on television, to hosting their head coaches for dinner, elite recruits become prized patrons in the eyes of some of the biggest names in sports. During the months of January and February, forty yard dash times and bench press numbers serve as the ideal currency in college towns all across the country.
"It's a huge culture shock. I remember just getting recruited, you had Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt walking the halls of Ware County High School. Even though they were here to see us football players, you had kids who were football fans and they just thought it was the best thing since sliced bread," Anderson continued. "As a kid getting recruited in that, there is a sense of pride and happiness that brings to you, just having have these icons courting you to come to their college. Just a couple months ago these guys coached good football teams to great victories and now they are courting you to build on that tradition. That's just an overwhelming experience, a lot for a 16 or 17 year old to have to take in."
At home, the dynamics are much more complex. Every football player weighs options that stand to effect the rest of his life. Athletic, academic, cultural and social change hangs in the balance as teenagers box out friends in and family in attempt to make the best decision for them and their future. Family matters, community influence and peer pressure blur the decision-making process like rain and sleet do field paint on a cold Saturday in the fall. As the build-up to National Signing Day mounts, so does the tension.
For some, however, the option over committing early helped lessen the stress.
"My recruiting process started after my freshman year, I was 14 years old. My recruiting process started very early and I don't imagine it's any different for some guys these days," explained former Tennessee and Georgia Tech quarterback A.J. Suggs. "As a youngster at a young age, I kind of got used to it. I got used to the feeling of constantly being evaluated. To me it was more of a driving force or a motivating factor. But I felt fortunate that I committed before my senior year. I enrolled early so I think some of the pressure went away."
Lost in the shuffle of of college football's second season, are the kids and families sometimes blindsided by the rush. It's not the recruiting process is a negative one; it brings great opportunity to some seniors who otherwise might not have the chance to go off to college and expand their horizons. The pace and stress, though, can sometimes shift the focus.
"It was a tremendous blessing to be apart of that great process. It is just that, a process. But the fact that you are 17 and naive to a lot of the stuff makes it easier to go through because you are potentially in some ways getting manipulated by some to come to a school," Troupe concluded.
Wednesday will be a special day for many all across the country. Not just players and their families, but for high school students and prep teams. For small towns and tight-knit communities. Part of what makes the whole development so meaningful is, in part, what can make it so difficult. On National Signing Day, it all comes to fruition.
"You definitely felt like you were representing not only yourself but your family, your friends and all those things. I remember Powder Springs, Georgia being called over the loudspeaker and it was a proud moment. It's a proud moment when you hear those things in the stadium or on TV."
By signing their national letter of intent, a big step from Friday to Saturday will officially made for high school football recruits. Dreams, though just beginning, will start to come true for many budding college football stars.
"After February, after signing day, you get that sigh of relief," Anderson added. "I can imagine what these guys are going through. "
After signing their respective scholarships, many will have a great track to follow into the rest of their lives. For a good many of these 16, 17 and 18 year olds, however, solidifying their future will allow them to finally enjoy the present.