Early Commits: Recruiting Trend Of The Future

Normally, this is the time of the year when Gator Country's chat rooms double as suicide prevention hotlines. It's the height of recruiting season and that usually means Gator fans are ready to impale themselves on that fine of steak knives that Aunt Myna gave them for Christmas all because it looks like the School Out West is going to steal a recruit or the University of New Jersey at Coral Gables is going to clean up in South Florida.

In most years, Florida fans are either basket cases or close to it when we hit the final ten days before National Signing Day, the first Wednesday of every February. Most years that's true but not this year and what has happened this year might be a trend of things to come.

This year, those same Florida fans who were ready to leap from the highest sofa just 12 months ago are the picture of calm because the Gators have 27 players already committed and all signs point to the final three pieces of Florida's recruiting puzzle fitting into place sometime in the next two or three days.

So much for suspense.

Florida's recruiting class will be one of the best --- if not THE best --- in the entire country. Coach Urban Meyer and his staff have assembled what might be the best recruiting class in University of Florida history and certainly one that will rank with the best ever in the Southeastern Conference. It's a balanced class that meets the needs at just about every position with highly regarded players that just about every big-time football program in the country wanted at some point.

The usual recruiting battles that take place in January were fought long ago and because the Gator staff got off to such a hot start so early the bulk of Florida's battles were settled before Christmas, the time when recruiting normally begins to crank into high gear. Of Florida's 27 commitments, 24 were already in place before Christmas.

Getting the best players committed early in the process has been the cornerstone of Mack Brown's recruiting machine at national champion Texas. For the past four years, Brown has loaded up his recruiting classes with early commitments and to his credit Texas has done an outstanding job of keeping the kids committed through signing day.

Florida has followed the Mack Brown blueprint to a T this year. Loading up early has worked so successfully that you can expect the Gators to try to work the same type of plan next year and for years to come. Scout.com recruiting analyst Scott Kennedy thinks this is the recruiting trend of the future.

"I really think the media crush has as much to do with all the early commitments as anything," said Kennedy. "There's more information out there than ever before. Kids already know so much about the schools because of all that's available to them on the internet and all the attention that's paid to recruiting nowadays. By the time a coach comes calling, these kids already know everything about him, his staff, the program, the campus, the town … everything.

"I think a lot of kids know enough that they get tired early in the recruiting process and they just want to get it over with. I honestly think that most of the top junior prospects who love all the attention they're getting now will be tired of the whole thing by the time August and September get here. I think you're going to see more kids committing early in the future."

Scout.com's Jamie Newberg believes that the emphasis on getting top prospects into summer football camps on campus has had much to do with the early commitment trend. Many kids who are impressed with certain campuses and coaches at camps are coming back a few weeks later in the summer with their parents for unofficial visits.

"I think much of the early verbals, especially in the southern region has to do with the emphasis of college summer camps," he said. "They have always been popular with prospects and schools up north or out west now they are down in the south. Teams have their normal camps in June and then a one day camp or a specific version of that in June or July. Also, more prospects and their families or coaches are making more unofficial visits during spring ball or during the summer."

So many kids are making their commitments during the summer after attending a few camps that the pool of available talent has shrunk considerably in January. More recruiting classes than ever before were filled before Christmas this year and one of the reasons is the greater number of kids who are attending summer football camps.

During the few days of summer camp, coaches can see which kids work hard, which kids are coachable and which kids may have attitude issues. It's a time when high school kids can interact with potential teammates as well. These are elements of the recruiting process that can't be determined by one more game film.

"One of the best parts about summer camps is it gives coaches an idea of who they should be recruiting," said Kennedy. "You bring in a couple hundred kids that you're interested in and you've got the time to spend with them personally that you won't get in the fall when contact is limited along with the number of times you can see a kid play in person.

"This is a good evaluation tool for them and I think it's a good chance for the kids to spend the time on campus and get to know coaches in a real coaching setting. Coaches are a whole lot different when they're coaching than they are when they're sitting across from you in your living room."

The proliferation of early commitments has raised the issue of an early signing period such as the one employed by basketball and all other college sports. The early signing period makes it possible for kids to get the recruiting process out of the way in November so they can concentrate on finishing out their senior season with a bang instead of worrying about where they will be going to school next year.

Proponents of an early signing period for football are divided on the timing. Some advocate an August signing date while others have suggested mid-October or even the same signing day in November that is employed by all other sports.

"I have always been a proponent of an additional signing period, like basketball," said Newberg. "The problem is when? I am of the belief that one in the late summer or first Wednesday in December would be a good time. That way kids and families could be done with the recruiting process and teams wouldn't have to waste their time, energy and money to continue to 'babysit' their committed players.

"The major argument against an additional signing period stems from the non-traditional powers and their belief that they don't get the same early looks at the major D-1A schools."

Kennedy, on the other hand, is strongly opposed to an early signing date. He believes that the sheer numbers of football scholarships make an early signing date impractical.

"It works for basketball just because in basketball if I've only got three scholarships to give, chances are if I need only one point guard I'll only take one," he said. "You're not dealing with the same numbers of kids that you have to deal with in football and you don't have the same kind of attrition. How many players sign in the SEC in basketball every year? Three per school on the average means 36. We will have football recruiting classes at one SEC school alone that may have 30 or 35 in it.

"If they added an early signing date they would only have to ramp up the contact period six months sooner so that wouldn't take any pressure off the kids at all. A lot of kids mature during their senior years, too, so the decisions wouldn't be the same that schools make, either."

Many of the proponents of early signing dates for football say that this would eliminate kids switching schools in midstream of the recruiting process. Kennedy doesn't see de-committing one school and committing to another during the recruiting process as a serious issue.

"Players who don't want to be recruited anymore aren't," said Kennedy. "If you say 'thank you but no thank you' to other schools trying to recruit you after you've made a commitment, I think most of the coaches will leave you alone. If you don't give them hope then they get the message and move on to the next guy.

"I think the kids who de-commit aren't necessarily sold in the first place. They want to be sold that where they're going to go is the best place for them. I think coaches understand this. I think fans are the ones more than coaches who really get their feelings hurt when a player explores more options. I'm for the players. I'm for them going where they are happy and if they're happy then they aren't going to de-commit."

With all the early commitments, de-commitments and the shrinking number of top players still uncommitted with just a few days left before National Signing Day, one thing that is certain is that permanent alterations have been made to the national recruiting landscape. At Florida, the success with early commitments for the class of 2006 is probably a strong signal that this is what to expect as long as Urban Meyer is calling the shots.

One day we might be thinking of Urban Meyer as the guy who put an end to the annual Gator suicide watches of January.

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