In 32 years of interviewing athletes, it's never happened before. When I finished talking with Opelika defensive tackle Tommy Jackson last Tuesday, I reached out to shake his hand. He gave me a hug instead.
Jackson was hugging everyone in sight Tuesday. He'd just committed to Auburn, along with teammate Will Herring, and he was excited. He had a right to be. A special young man was celebrating a special accomplishment.
"I talked to Jackson about football, about how his personality changes when he gets on the field. But those aren't the things I'll remember. I'll remember the love and respect he has for his mother and grandmother. I'll remember the smile.
And I'll remember the hug.
For the past four years, I have traveled around the state for The Huntsville Times interviewing the members of our Elite 11, our list of the state's top prospects. It's been an enlightening experience. I've been to new schools in cities. I've been to small schools in the middle of nowhere. I've seen a glittering new weightroom at Shades Valley High School and homemade weights at Sunshine High School. I've talked to good students and marginal students, fast kids and big kids, white kids and black kids.
It was while on this Odyssey that I learned that Mayo Sowell had literally risked his own life to save an elderly lady from a house fire. I saw first-hand the great work that John Croyle, father of Brodie, does at Big Oak Boys Ranch. I got a hug from Tommy Jackson.
Those are the kinds of things I remember. The football is secondary to the people.
Whether it is players like Spencer Johnson or Anthony Bryant at rural schools or Sowell or Karlos Dansby in the city, they all want the same things. They all have the same hopes and dreams.
As this wild and crazy thing they call recruiting heads toward a conclusion, there'll be those who will criticize teen-age boys for making the decisions they make. No doubt, some Auburn people are unhappy today with Chris Browder for changing his commitment to Alabama. Those same people, of course, were delighted when he changed it from Alabama to Auburn.
Choosing a college is not an easy decision for any student, athlete or not. For an athlete, the pressure is immense. These days, the Internet and the proliferation of so-called recruiting analysts simply adds to it. I mean, who are you if you haven't been on Countdown To Signing Day?
College coaches are skilled salesmen. They all sound good. They all say the right things. They all seem like your friend. For an 18-year-old kid, dealing with all that can be awfully difficult.
In less than two weeks, it will be over for the most part. Players will sign with great fanfare and attention will shift elsewhere for a time.
But at schools large and small, away from the public glare, young men will work and dream of one day getting that call, of earning a college scholarship.
I thought this Auburn basketball team was going to be a good one. Then I thought it wasn't as bad as it seemed. Now I think it's a talented team that is playing every bit as bad as it seems.
Oh, the Tigers play defense. They play defense with a passion matched by few others. They play championship defense. Unfortunately for them, they aren't able to carry that over to offense.
The problem on offense is that there isn't any offense. Players who could once shoot can't shoot anymore. Not even layups are necessarily high percentage shots for this team. Free throws certainly aren't.
It's not too late to turn things around, but it's getting close. The Tigers are 1-5 going into Sunday's game at Tennessee, another major disappointment. Barring a massive turnaround, this team isn't ready to beat anybody on the road.
At this point, even an NIT bid seems a long shot. How quickly things can change. It was just three years ago that Auburn went 16-2 in the SEC and won the championship outright. This team has some extremely talented young players. It might be they get to that level one day.
For now, they're a team that can't score. And a team that can't score can't win.
Elsewhere in the league, it doesn't look like an overly strong year. The West is particularly weak. Alabama is 4-1 and will probably win it, but the Tide is no great team. In the East, Florida is a national contender. Georgia and Kentucky are good. That's about it. Those three and Alabama could be the SEC's only NCAA Tournament representatives this season.