It is inevitable that with recruiting comes heartbreak and disappointment for fans, coaches and even prospects. After all, prospects are basically choosing a partner in the form of a university and athletic program for the next step of their athletic careers and, more importantly, their lives. At the same time, these prospects are also rejecting universities, in some cases up to 40 or more. Though prospects tend to simply make their decision based on what is right for them and where they feel most comfortable, fans of rejected schools often don't see it this way and can take the rejection as an insult against their school, program or, in extreme cases, even themselves.
What's In A Choice?
Recruiting is actually a lot like the countless reality romance shows we see today. A prospect lines up all of his choices and proceeds to narrow his list based on an infinite set of factors. You name it and it can play a role in the decision, from climates and campuses to facilities and fans. Sometimes they like the idea of helping a program return to glory, like when Derrick Williams picked Penn State this year. Other times they want to go with a recent winner, like when Walker Ashley opted for USC.
There are a million and one variables that can sway a prospect's decision, and frankly that can be tough for coaches to address and plan for. Sometimes schools have always been the favorite of the prospect — they have dreamed since they could walk of playing for a school. That was the case with Steve Quinn, who initially committed to the Nittany Lions this year, but, after receiving an offer from his "dream" school, Notre Dame, changed his mind.
Sometimes the school is a favorite initially, but the program makes a move that causes the prospect to change his mind. That happened with Jerome Hayes after Fran Ganter left the PSU coaching staff and entered into an administrative role with the program. Hayes all but eliminated the Lions from consideration until a late push by the current staff — and by PSU commitment Justin King — convinced him Happy Valley was the place to be.
Other times it is a last-minute decision. The point is every prospect and situation is different and has to be dealt with accordingly. When the list is finally whittled down to a handful of schools, the probability increases for a "yes" and hence so does the interest and anticipation of fans. Yet for those schools left behind, who have invested large amounts of time, money, effort and, to some degree, emotion, rejection can be a tough pill to swallow. Many fans of unselected schools feel like jilted lovers who have fallen for prospects and the idea of what they can do for their program's futures. In many cases excuses or conspiracy theories develop, from "he was afraid of the competition on our team" to "he led us all on" to "he was just using us to get an offer from that other school." In some cases these reasons may be correct, in others they could not be further from the truth.
It is interesting when multiple stories from multiple sources will come out on a prospect on the same day and each will list a different school as the leader of the pack. Is this a case of loyalty clouding the truth and folks reading between the lines, of the prospect telling the fans what they want to hear or of a simple case of miscommunication?
Though the term "commitment" has lost some of its meaning within recruiting realms, with prospects changing their minds regularly on which school they will attend, the athletes are not the only ones changing their minds. In fact, last recruiting season Ohio State rescinded a scholarship offer to Florida wide receiver Da-Juan Morgan. The reason for this change of heart given by OSU was that Morgan did not rank in the top half of his graduating class, despite his grade point average of 3.25, a reason which is suspect at best to some.
Morgan promptly accepted an offer from North Carolina State, which seemed to have no issue with his academics. On the other hand, some feel that the Buckeyes were hopeful to ink superior receivers on signing day, like New Jersey's Dwayne Jarrett and Pittsburgh's Devon Lyons, and were simply looking to cut players loose to ease a numbers crunch with remaining scholarships.
This past season, Anthony Barksdale, an All-Long Island fullback from Farmingdale, N.Y., received an offer from North Carolina, only to have it rescinded after he refused to commit early. The bottom line? It seems in some circumstances commitments can be soft on both sides of the equation and prospects too can feel disappointment when it comes to recruiting. The jilting can go both ways.
A Tale of Two Stars
Penn State has had its share of triumphs and disappointments in recent recruiting seasons. From Williams and Gaither to Cushing and Hayes to Henne and Morelli, it is easy to identify specific cases where the Nittany Lions experienced the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
On the one hand you have Williams, a top prospect nationally who reportedly had over 40 offers and ultimately chose Penn State. It was viewed as a huge victory for the Nittany Lions.
On the other hand you have Jared Gaither, who was from the same high school as Williams and also reportedly had over 40 offers. He ultimately chose Maryland over Penn State. It was viewed as a significant defeat for the Nittany Lions by many fans.
In the end, both Williams and Gaither did the same exact thing for themselves. They just chose the program that they felt was the best fit for them and their future. However, looking at this situation related to Penn State, Williams is viewed as a hero and Gaither is viewed as something less by Nittany Lion fans.
This is all part of the recruiting game. Prospects make their own decisions in the manner that they deem fit for themselves, much like the offers the programs extend. It is a simple premise that sends shockwaves throughout the college football world. Despite the "guarantees" and "sure things" which seem to be commonplace in recruiting, the bottom line is that the decision is their own make to make, just like every other kid going to college across America, whether they play linebacker or play the violin. It is impossible to second-guess a situation with so many variables.
The Bottom Line
Unfortunately, despite the continual teaching of this lesson with names like Kendra, Simms, Jones, Evans, Nicol, McCabe, Steffy, Henne and Walker, fans continue to invest their emotions and buy into the predictions.
Will some of the predictions prove to be right? Absolutely, after all, if you guess heads or tails on 10 coin flips, chances are you are going to get a few correct. However, just because you get a few right does not mean you have the ability to guess the next 10 flips with certainty. In the same manner, when a recruiting prediction comes through, it does not mean that anyone can predict the thoughts and decision-making process of a 17-year-old with any semblance of regularity.
Now all sights are focused on then next set of high school seniors-to-be, the athletes who will make up the recruiting Class of 2006. Penn State is said to be already involved with many top-caliber recruits, so let the excitement begin to build.
As you go through the process though, remember, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, because disappointment is all part of the game.