Your son started his recruiting process earlier than most kids. In fact, he received his first offer when he was in the 8th grade. Were you prepared for this type recruitment?
"No, I wasn't. I typically don't do any type of interviews because this process is about him not me but maybe this will help someone out there. This is only my opinion from my experience as a father. I'm not an expert, just a father "
So, how did you deal with it if you weren't prepared?
"This was my families first time going through the process so we grew up with him during the process. There are so many different dynamics that go into this process that no one is fully ready for it. The main thing that helped us in the process is by being real to the fabric we are made of. No matter what you do in life you approach it in a real fashion, meaning be honest, first and foremost. If you aren't comfortable with something, then let people know.
"I think the biggest thing that I have seen in the process is parents not being supportive enough with their kids versus making their kids decisions for them. Some kids are programmed like robots. You should be supportive and not make the decision for them. It's a fine line to walk for a father I know. Be honest with everybody. Be honest with the school and your child. I see a lot of fathers pushing their kids to schools they don't have any interest in or just isn't a realistic fit for their skill set. In the long run I feel the kid will feel cheated and they will blame the parent. Whatever school he decides on, then I'm going to support him. I'm not moving to the town with him but I'll be at every game. A lot of times kids don't get that support. Instead, they're kind of pushed into a decision. Trust me I will give my normal father advice and guidance as I do with anything in any of my kid's life but the decision is his to make. It's a decision that will affect his entire life. It's a 40 years decision not 4 years. I'm just going to support him. And how I can support him is by giving feedback and helping him visit different schools so that he can see them for himself. Don't think I'm saying not to have input and influence because I will have my say but I'm just not going to make his decision my decision"
Robert is visiting a lot of schools this summer, probably 10 to 12 schools. How did he decide which schools to visit?
"It just happened naturally. Nothing was planned. It was like we'll go up there this week or go there this week. Or the coaches invited us to their school. It wasn't like we went into the summer saying that we are going to take this many visits to these schools. We just let it come natural. I don't want to put any restraints on him. I want him to do whatever he is feeling and I'll help him do that. I don't want this process to beat him down."
Robert is still a kid no matter what the process is like. You are the adult. When you go on the trips I'm sure you are really paying attention to what the coaches are like because they are going to be the male adult in his life while he is at the college that he chooses. How do you handle that part of the process?
"You are right, I'm, basically, interviewing my son's father. A lot of kids don't realize that they are not going to spend a lot of time with the head coach. The majority of their time is going to be spent with their position coach. So, as a parent, I want to get to know the running back coach. I want to know if he has the same moral fabric that I have, does he preach the same thing that I preach? Is he preaching academics first, hard work. Those are the things that I am looking for in a coach. When you send your son off to college you want to be sure that it is in line with the way he was raised the majority of his life.
"I grew up in a boxing family. My father was a boxer. But he got out of it early so that he could raise us. He preached to us not to follow in his footsteps but to follow your own path. We did choose to box on our own. When Robert and Aapri were young me Aapri's father and I kind of pushed them to box early on but I realized that was my dream, not Robert's, so I told him to find his own dream, not mine. He then tried to find his dream. He tried baseball and basketball, then he ended up finding football. He wasn't naturally good at football. He was slow and he was heavy for his age but he worked at it. That goes back to the moral fabric where you work for it. I would rather he earn it that way, than having it given to him. Now, he has run a laser timed 4.47 forty. That goes back to him working for it. I teach my kid to work for it. And he's worked himself to being a 4-star, to possibly a 5-star recruit in the future. No one has given that to him, he's worked for it. And I'm proud of him. And I'm also proud of his academics because he's a great student."
I want to talk about his academics. He's not just a great student but a really great student.
"He goes to a great school. Academically, it's one of the best schools in the area. I definitely want to mention that. His teachers push him. Even his football coaches push him academically because they see his potential. When I go to teacher conferences the teachers talk about his academic potential first and how he can reach his full academic potential. They also point out things like maybe he's sitting in the back of the class when they feel he should be sitting more in the front or that he's not raising his hand enough. They say a lot of kids follow Robert. That's how they want to push him to be better."
Academically, he's also in the Beta Club, which is a great honor academically. That's like being a 5-star academic recruit.
"Yes, it is. I don't think he realizes it right now but that's a great accomplishment. I was so proud of him that I cried.
"I've seen my son run five touchdowns in a game before but I was much more proud of seeing my son receive his Beta Club certificate in December. And he's returning back to the Beta Club this year.
"He has to do a certain amount of community service hours (for the Beta Club). He has to do 25 hours but he's already done 35 hours. While he's required to do 25 hours, he always does more than that.
"He works for an organization called Operation Knockout. It caters to kids in unfortunate situations. He goes out and talks to them. He also goes out and helps clean the sides of the roads. He just does this stuff because he knows it's the right thing to do.
"I teach him to never put himself on a pedestal because of football. Running a football or making a tackle don't make you better than anyone. He's been doing this type stuff for around four to five years.
"This is the first time that I have told anybody about this."
Having a kid like Robert has to make you really proud. You aren't just proud on a high school Friday night but throughout the week because he does so much good.
"I get emotional sometimes but I couldn't have asked for a better kid. As a parent, you always strive to be a better parent. You always strive to be a better parent, a better role model.
"The thing with Robert is he listens. Sometimes, when I think he's not listening he is listening. I always tell him to pick great friends and he has excellent friends. I couldn't have asked for better friends for him. I always tell him to treat people the way he would want to be treated. And I tell him character is built based on what you do when people aren't looking. Anyone can put on an act for a certain amount of time, but what are you doing when no one is looking? How do you treat others? That is what builds your character."
Early in the recruiting process, Robert committed to Mississippi State, then later on decommitted. Explain that entire process to fans.
"I really don't think he was ready to commit when he did. It was a new process for him and he was a wide-eyed kid. I couldn't understand why he committed but he was a 14, 15-year-old kid and that was what was in his heart at the time. And, again, I'm not going to be an overbearing father and tell him 'no, you can't do that son.' I said, 'I don't think you should do that son.' But it was his decision and he made his own decision.
"As time went on, he knew he had made a rushed decision. Part of trying to be a good parent is letting your kid go through things and learn by making their own decisions. That doesn't apply to every situation but certain things kids have to learn on their own or through experience. I was originally against him committing and I told him not to but he decided to commit. Then, I supported his decision.
"The decommitment, however, was a father moment because I had to teach him by telling him that we needed to slow the process. That goes back to us being honest.
"I know that he caught a lot of flak for decommitting. I told him that he would rather be honest than be deceiving. I told him that he needed to be honest with people. And at that point he didn't have the type relationship that he wanted from MSU. He wanted to build it the right way. He could have held onto the commitment but he wanted to be honest about it. And sometimes honesty hurts. From what we saw, I know the fans didn't take that too well.
"I want fans to know this, Robert has always been behind Mississippi State. I think people misunderstood him decommitting, thinking that he didn't like Mississippi State any longer. He's always followed Mississippi State. He watched every game that was broadcast last season. He supported them every single game. He always wore his Mississippi State hoodie when he went places.
"I think a lot of fans thought, because he decommitted, that he didn't support Mississippi State. And a lot of those fans said horrible stuff about him. The thing about us is we were realistic about the process. So, if I were a fan I would have probably felt the same way. But the fans don't understand the process. When a kid who is a 9th grader commits, they aren't really ready to commit. There is still so much time left in the process. You just have to take your time. A lot of schools want him to commit. But now I try to always be that person in the back of his mind who is telling him to take your time and go through the process. He'll know when it is right now."
And part of that process is taking visits and meeting coaches, players and seeing the schools themselves.
"A lot of kids say that they are interested in a school. But how can they say they are really interested in a school that they haven't even visited. You really need that visual. That's why I want him to see the schools. You can still make a bad decision even if you go to the school but at least you are basing your decisions on facts. You at least have a feel for the schools."
My last question, now that you have visited Mississippi State and met the coaches, what are your thoughts about Mississippi State? I know you have been here once before but that was during gameday and you really didn't get a true feel of the coaches due to them being in gameday mode.
"I like Mississippi State a lot. It looks like a different campus. When we came here the first time they didn't have these new facilities. They were just working on some things. It is totally different from what I remember.
"Getting to sit down and talk to coach Greg Knox and coach Deshea Townsend was great. Being able to take our time was big for us. The last time we came it was gameday and the coaches were in game mode. Your mind is not really on meeting a recruit. Now, the process was slowed down and they had more time to meet us and talk to us. We got a chance to see the new weight room, which was huge. It is probably the best weight room that I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of them.
"I like how Mississippi State is trying to build a culture around here. I remember watching a video of (former MSU head) Coach (Sylvester) Croom where he talked about building a culture. He talked about it taking time to change the culture. And I believe that (MSU head) Coach (Dan) Mullen is well on the way to doing that. That takes time. Mississippi State is in the SEC. You aren't going to win in the SEC like overnight. It is more about building it, and building it the right way.
"I saw the incoming freshmen working out in the weight room and they were working hard. Their strength coach is very, very intense. That is something that we love to see.
"I think that today's visit to Mississippi State had a big impact on us. We were already high on Mississippi State but we were at Mississippi State to get the details about Mississippi State.
"Please let the Mississippi State fans know that they have a great program here. Let them know that their program will take care of itself. Mississippi State will shock a lot of people this upcoming year"
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.