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Top prospects rarely wait until signing day to announce their decisions anymore, making the day a bit anticlimactic.
By JOEY KNIGHT
Published February 7, 2007
[Times illustration: Steve Madden]
Each of the Times' top 20 area recruits already has announced his college decision, mirroring what appears to be a national trend.
Polite applause and congratulatory snippets will accompany Sherod Murdock's ceremonial signing with the University of Pittsburgh this morning, which is far from the way Middleton High's star cornerback originally had this day scripted.
At one time, he hoped to keep his college of choice a secret until national signing day, revealing it amid shrieks of excitement, hoo-wahs of approval and a few dozen flashbulbs.
"Definitely, you want to have your day in the sun," Murdock said. "Every athlete wants to have that one moment where everyone wonders where you're going to go, because you've worked so hard to get to this point."
But had he opted for that scenario, Murdock might not have arrived at his announcement wearing a tie and sports jacket.
Instead, he might have been fitted for a straitjacket. After one early commitment to Alabama, a de-commitment and the emergence of a new favorite (Pitt), all interspersed with a few zillion phone calls, Murdock was going out of his mind.
"People called until around 11 or 11:30" each night, he said. "It got hectic. I couldn't even go home and do homework without people calling every five minutes."
Murdock's plight partly helps explain why national signing day, the first day high school seniors may sign a binding letter of intent with a college, seems in danger of becoming devoid of suspense.
Case in point: Each of the Times' top 20 area recruits already has announced his college decision, mirroring what appears to be a national trend.
Eight of the Times' top 10 national recruits also have revealed where they'll play at the next level. The University of Florida, in fact, already has nine of its oral commitments enrolled in classes.
The result? "Signing day's going to be anticlimactic," CSTV national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said.
"That's why it's easier to give you a top 10 (signing class ranking) right about now; it won't change much. ... Last year, nobody knew who was going to win until national signing day. Now, Florida's got it locked up. It's all done. Florida's the winner."
All because recruits can't - or won't - keep a secret anymore. The reasons for that transcend the incessant ringing of a cellphone.
One of those reasons is chronological: Players commit earlier because schools offer scholarships earlier. Scout.com national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said Texas had roughly 20 oral commitments during last May's evaluation period.
"Now I don't really agree with all the early offers because you could run into problems," Newberg said. "Kids get hurt during their senior year, or they're just not as good as you thought."
Other reasons include the proliferation of summer camps, which allows many recruits to choose a school well before their senior season; and the swelling trend of unofficial campus visits.
For kids who can't make a trip, the Internet can reveal all they wish to know about a school.
"Whatever they need is at their fingertips," Newberg said.
But it's what's at a recruiter's fingertips - namely a prospect's cellphone number - that prompt many to get the recruiting process, and ensuing announcement, behind them.
Upon committing to Miami last week, Plant quarterback and reigning Mr. Florida Football Robert Marve said he had gotten "a million phone calls from everybody in the world." Murdock, who committed to Alabama last year, estimates he got roughly the same amount when Mike Shula was fired as Crimson Tide coach.
"If some kids don't mind the bombardment of phone calls and pressure," Newberg said, "and if you can handle it and you want to wait (before announcing your choice), go for it."
But many less-heralded prospects can't afford to wait.
College coaches trying to fix their rosters often want a quick answer from recruits, especially the ones not atop their board. Often, the scarcity of scholarships - only 85 per Division I football program - can be used as a ploy to force a fringe prospect to make a quick decision or risk having his scholarship offer withdrawn.
"It's just a trick the schools use on the weaker players," Lemming said.
Murdock said he has seen it happen. So has Countryside quarterback L.D. Crow.
"I know when I talked to UCLA earlier, they were really low on scholarships. They had a really big senior class," said Crow, who is headed to Stanford.
"They had offered four quarterbacks and they said the first one to jump on it was the one who would get it. They really want to know right away, but that can bite you in the butt at the same time. You can always back out of your commitment; it's nonbinding. So it can hurt the colleges, too."
Veteran Armwood coach Sean Callahan, who routinely educates his recruits on such pitfalls, said linebacker Derrall Anderson found himself in a similar quagmire recently before he committed to Arizona State.
Upon hearing of Anderson's visit to ASU, Callahan said another school recruiting the player phoned his office to say it would no longer pursue him.
"My advice to him was, 'If Coach (Dennis) Erickson offers you and you feel good about it, my recommendation is to take that commitment,' " Callahan said. "Unless you've got a (prep All-American such as) Torrey Davis or Mike Pearson ... they could all lose something if they're not careful."
Perhaps by no coincidence, all five of Armwood's Division I recruits who sign today have long since revealed their schools of choice. Yet for the recruiting junkie, the day won't be totally bereft of disappointment.
Several nationally coveted prospects, such as Louisiana athlete Joe McKnight and Washington, D.C. defensive tackle Marvin Austin, are expected to finally reveal their schools of choice today.
"The trend is definitely (to commit) earlier, there's no question about it," Newberg said. "But at the same time, it ain't dull right now. It's as crazy as I can ever remember."