The Recruiting Zone is not for the feint of heart. You must be sturdy in your resolve at the beginning of a season, to be stern in your conviction, uttering to yourself, "I will not get emotionally involved, I will not get emotionally involved". For, such is the price you have paid for refuting your own advice, falling mindlessly into this turmoil that is seeing each high school prep. Athlete as something more than they are, something special, perhaps a savior to your team.
Stars beg interest and interest becomes obsession and as you fall ever farther into the zone, you can feel yourself slipping away, all the while, names like "Holiday, Arnold and DeAndrea" lope around in your head as not-so-gentle reminders of your earlier fall from grace.
You got involved. From the end of signing day, you had the resolve to be firm in your evaluations, precise in your analysis and like a computer, logic circuits blinking, you would be objective, analytical and most definitely, non-emotional through it all. "They are just kids." you utter to yourself, standing up proud from your new found strength. "They can't save my team."
And, as the early months pass, when the interest in recruiting is at it's lowest, you laud yourself for a determined stance of impunity and autonomy, that you are your own person, independent and not privy to the whims of teenagers and their minute-by-minute changes in direction.
You have even applauded yourself because a "five-star" recruit that says your school is on their list doesn't even phase you as you turn and walk away. "It's nothing to me." you state firmly. "I can resist the urge."
The months wear on and though your pride is seemingly everlasting that your will has not been broken, that your resolve remains absolutely and totally hermetic, you glance, sometimes even stare, wondering just who is who and how many of them are looking towards your team of all teams.
You still laugh in the face of it all, especially when you find yourself caught in a casual conversation with someone who has not been where you have been, you staunchly state, "Yeah, it's kind of fun to keep track of, but I don't get that involved."
As August turns to September, a football season is at hand and within that, you feel that the blanket of security will shroud you from thought processes of cornerbacks running 4.3s or a quarterback that can both throw and run, who's got your school squarely at the top.
It doesn't matter. It's nothing to you. Ahh, the befuddling face of denial.
You wake up one morning and wonder what happened, trying to figure out how you got back to this dreadful spot you thought you were never to return. All your strength, your resolve and steadfast beliefs in learning lessons and all that. It's but a faded memory as you find yourself lost in the numbers, stars, recruiting lists, official visit dates and what they like about your team.
That day was innocent enough as you watched your team battle for another victory, but come out as the loser. Your insight into this devastating turn of events though was that it was this player, that player and basically, every player on the team and oh, how someone needs to recruit better athletes than this.
So, you looked.
"God, there has to be a cornerback, a defensive lineman or a running back that can help my team." you mutter aloud to yourself as you fall deep, back into the abyss without ever knowing. "I just want to see. I want to see if there is anyone out there worth a damn that wants to come here."
And you looked some more.
Before you knew it, you had the top five prospects at each position considered most needed by your team memorized. Their height, weight, forty time and of course, their list of teams they liked. You focused in on "high", "medium" and "low" interest, hitting refresh and hitting it again if only to see your team change in it's present category.
As the football season came to a close, you flipped your existence from the newspapers and ESPN, to Tom Lemming, The Insiders and Rivals. Updates, updates and more updates, each on kids that said your team is amongst those places they considered on being. And, you watched them and their words and now, you found yourself influenced by the very things they said when in reality, they never said a thing.
"What does, "I like it" mean?", you wonder as a recruit took an official to your school and reported that was what he felt. Did he like it or did he LIKE it? You don't know. You need more. You have to know more. More quotes, more sites, more subscriptions, just to find out what that recruit REALLY means when they say those simple three words.
And those stars, the infamous denotations of skill, talent and especially, potential, you have once again found yourself tied to them. The more stars you see, the easier your mind lapses into day-time visions of them running down the field, making a tackle, scoring a touchdown or intercepting a ball. You can even hear the announcer say their name and you drift ever farther into the zone.
It's January now and commits are coming in. You stand transfixed to your 12 separate browsers for your 12 separate subscriptions, waiting for the "Hot News" or "Ticker" to give you that respite from the hell you have so willingly but unknowingly let yourself slide back into. The anticipation is killing you, but those stars, oh those stars, how they offer you comfort at simply the thought of your team getting such a "name" to commit.
With all the incredible athletes out there with all the potential, you have done what you so wished yourself not to do and all but ignored anyone that didn't have at least three of those wonderful symbols by their name. As you drooled over statistics, marveled at quotes from coaches, blushing over their "best player ever", you almost vibrate in your chair, knowing, believing that no matter who the competition is, this kid is going to make the call. He's going to be one of yours.
If your emotions could be translated into a living image, you would be either a salivating waterfall or a geyser, preparing to blow. The combination of anticipation and excitement in each of these "super star" athletes has you engrossed into their lives more than your own. You have literally become what you once begat.
And they choose.
This multi-star athlete chose their school and there are but two directions you can go. Glee, utter delight and a delectation that has you crying in disbelief all the while, you are penciling them onto your recruiting roster, giddy to the point of insanity. The other side first starts with denial as you can't believe that this kid chose that school. After the refusal of acknowledgment, you enter the "sour grapes" zone, spouting that he was overrated to begin with, wasn't good for your system and you might even state, "Have fun riding the pine there, because you could have been something here." It's disgusting to watch and if you had the outside view to look in on yourself, you might laugh, if only in frustration that this road you traveled now finds you again amongst it's most frequent visitors.
But, you rebuild yourself and your confidence, because there are more multi-starred players to look to, some at the same position and with each, you have transferred that angst back into hope, that feeling of betrayal back into one of optimism. You do this, over and over again.
February, signing day has come and you are an emotional wreck. If only it were so easy that it was a drinking problem, a smoking problem or you were addicted to narcotics, there's plenty of places to go, drink some coffee, digress, release and grow from the experience. Nope, you are spent to the point of exhaustion and signing day, the final letters of intent offer you joy as you have rationalized every single commit as the next great class for the future.
They might be, but you laugh at yourself from simply saying it, because you knew where this road started and as you push away from the computer, look at your final recruiting roster that has been re-done countless times because of hopes that never turned to happiness or commits that went somewhere else, you look, you wonder and then, you take time to think, "I can't do this anymore."
"I can't get so emotionally involved." you speak out loud in acceptance of what has happened. "Look at me, I'm pathetic. Where did my life go? Where in the hell are my kids? I can't believe I just did this again."
You sink and you crawl, thinking that this is the moment that all those types addicted to everything else actually strive to hit, so they can find their way back up. You feel that this must be the bottom. Your addiction has completely wrapped you up and spit you out and left you a shadow of your former self.
With this newfound strength, you shed that despair, exchange it in for a some independence and a reminder of what green grass looks like and what air feels like to breathe, not being circulated and recycled by your fan/smoke eater/de-humidifier. It's liberating almost. You feel reborn.
Truly, it's a new day dawning. And, you happen to the grocery store one day in July, as the preview magazines come out and look, just wondering where your team is and ponder just where you think they will be. Amidst those previews is a list of all those commits you cried over with a combination of joy and despondency, but not despair from those gained, but of those lost. You think, it's simply a silent waxing nostalgic of sorts, but as you look , you found a page strewn with players, still in high school under the heading, "Juniors to Watch".
And you look.
Welcome BACK to "The Recruiting Zone."
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619