Wild Tales From The Recruiting Trail

With national signing day just around the corner, Phillip Marshall writes about some of the behind the scenes manipulations that have happened in the SEC.

Before the Internet, before recruiting analysts and before the NCAA passed numerous rules trying to get things under control, recruiting was a far different game than it is today.

As recently as the 1970s, about the only rules governing recruiting said colleges could not pay players to sign. Beyond that, almost anything went. There were no limits on contacts or visits and no rules against alumni involvement.

It was a different world out there.

Here are a couple of stories to lighten up the day (the names are left out to protect the guilty):

In the late 1970s, a basketball coach in this state thought he'd pulled off a coup. It was the night before signing day and he'd picked up a prospect and taken him to hide out in a motel. They ordered steaks from room service and lounged on the beds watching television.

The coach asked the prospect if there was anything he wanted. The prospect told him he'd like to have some beer. The coach dutifully got in his car, drove to the store and bought some beer. In the early 1970s, a Vanderbilt assistant coach was recruiting a running back. The battle was between the Commodores and Florida.

When the Vanderbilt coach arrived at the running back's home, he sat down and had a couple of belts of rot gut whiskey with the running back's stepfather. Pretty soon, an assistant from Florida arrived. Offered a drink by the stepfather, he declined and said "Sir, we drink Chevis Regal at Florida."

The Vanderbilt assistant coach, realizing he needed to do something, picked up the bottle and gulped down several swallows straight from the bottle. "Your whiskey is plenty good enough for me!" he said.

The stepfather looked at the Florida coach with disdain and told him it was time for him to leave. The Vanderbilt coach excused himself and threw up. The running back went to Vanderbilt.

Those are true stories, told by those who were there.

Recruiting, in many ways, is much calmer now than it was then. There are still cheaters out there, of course, and always will be. But rules that limit visits and contacts at least allow prospects to keep some amount of sanity in their lives. They can't be hid out in hotel rooms and the like, at least not legally.

Wednesday will be the big day for thousands of high school kids who sign football scholarships. They will be full of hope and excitement. On signing day, everybody is going to be a star.

Come August, reality will set in. Playing college football is very hard. Playing college football and making the grade in the classroom is even harder. Playing college football at a high level is harder still.

That's what makes recruiting such an inexact science. There are plenty of players out there who have the size, speed and athleticism to play Division I-A football. It's usually the things that can't be measured that make a player become a star.

Some recruiters are better than others at looking beyond the size and speed and seeing those things. All of them make mistakes. Some players blossom physically after they arrive in college. Some are so driven to succeed that they overcome physical limitations. For some, potential is all they ever have.

That's why signing day is just the first step in an uncertain journey.

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