At 6-3, 280 lbs., as big as New Orleans, LA center prospect Joey Fontana is, you can see how he wouldn't be that sore thumb on the campuses of some football-rich traditions like Nebraska. But during yesterday's visit, the crowd Fontana saw during his unofficial probably wasn't what he's become accustomed through his country-wide tour thus far. "They had this football thing for ladies, and they are all wearing red or white and I am walking around in this lime-green shirt," Fontana said with a laugh. "I am sure they were looking at me, wondering what the heck I was doing."
That was the amusement part of the trip, but this was all business for Fontana, rated as the number two center in the country by Scout.com. He's been to five other schools thus far, Nebraska makes the sixth, and there will be probably half a dozen more to follow.
Well, to figure out what he feels he needs to figure out about these schools. You know, the stuff you can't see on TV. And when it comes to all of them, learning a lot about a program outside of the reason most sports fans think about when it comes to his future in college. "I got a lot of time to just look at the academics and I even sat down with one of the heads of the engineering program, because that's something I might want to take," Fontana said.
Nebraska has great facilities. Yeah, that's like saying water is wet. Recruits and/or commits, often talk about the enormous weight room, the tradition-rich training table and even the waterfall inside North Stadium. Joey's approach to that was, ‘yeah, it's nice, but that's not what matters to me.'
"If they have a locker room and a football field and that's it, but they have great people in the program from coaches to players to everyone else, that's a place I'd want to be," he said. "The facilities at Nebraska were great, but I don't commit to a place, because of the stuff, I commit because of the people who make everything the way it is."
Despite the pragmatic approach, Fontana said that there was one aspect of Nebraska's strength and conditioning program which caught him by surprise. "They actually have a nutritionist on staff there, who you can talk to whenever you want," he said. "A lot of places, you can talk to one, but they aren't a full time employee assigned to just that place. That was something."
The relationships are often what it comes down to for recruits, kids citing all the extra stuff as just that. Fontana is even more objective about the procedure in that he's making sure to evaluate the relationships not just for what they are, but how he thinks they will be down the road. There was a lot he saw of Nebraska's new head coach Bo Pelini, of course, as Pelini's LSU Tiger defense walloped the Ohio State Buckeyes to win the national championship. But what he was more gratified with or perhaps relieved, Pelini's other side is just as seemingly successful. "Nobody had to tell me he was a great coach. I mean, he's proven that, I'd say. But I was glad to see that he was just as nice of a person," Fontana said. "And that's important. It's important to get that feeling of comfort and trust with your position coach, your head coach and anyone else you might happen to be around for the next four to five years."
Another person also stood out to Fontana, and it just happened to be another coach who was at LSU last year. It wasn't defensive ends coach John Papuchis, who happens to be the one recruiting Fontana right now. It was the linebacker coach, who Fontana said made a very distinct impression on him. "He was just talking about gamedays and what they will be like, and he was saying about how you just want to hide the kids, cover your eyes or whatever, because Nebraska is all about playing with violence," he said with a chuckle.
Now Joey is a logical young man, articulate and when he makes comments about schools and who he likes, he's very aware of what he says, how he says it and even how it could be interpreted down the road. But he's a lineman, and even though he's thinking in every instance about what he should be doing, how he should be doing it and making sure to execute the play, he doesn't mind the thought of pulling around the outside and taking some unfortunate defender off his cleats. "All linemen love that. I know we work on a lot of things when it comes to hands, feet, coming off the ball and executing against defenders in the open-field. But you always want to get a good shot on someone," he said. "It's nice when you get a chance to get a running start and get into a defender. You can really open up some nice lanes."
As Fontana heads down to Kansas State for the next stop of his visit, he thinks about Nebraska as one team which he likes, but he'll tell you right now he likes them all. And not because that's what he's supposed to say, but because he believes it. When it comes to what matters to him, so far every school has done a fine job. "Every place has had something I really liked about it and I could see myself playing at each and every one," Joey said. "I haven't had one bad experience and that's great to say.
"It will make the decision harder down the road, but it's great that I have so many great places to choose from. It makes you feel really good about where you are going to be in the future, no matter where you decide to go."
Amongst some of the planned visits, following Kansas State, Fontana plans on going down to Alabama where his sister is competing in a cheerleader competition. On the day following, he'll head to Auburn, followed up by a Friday visit back at Alabama, where it will be all about checking out yet another potential school.
It's hectic, but Fontana feels fortunate that he can make these trips, that his mom, who is a flight attendant for Delta, makes it even a little easier in terms of cost, and this is just his chance to see so many places he hasn't seen. Not bad for a kid still in high school. "It's been a great experience. There's a lot of pressure to make the right decision, but that's no different than anything else and this has been a really great time," he said. "I don't know when I'll make my decision, because I am a long ways from that right now. But the experience has been great so far."