Early signing period

Southeastern Conference football coaches are talking about adopting an early signing period ... again.

Although the proposal was shot down Friday by the athletics directors and presidents, it has surfaced two years in a row at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., and could resurface in a revised form next year. League coaches voted 9-3 on Wednesday to hold a Signing Day in late November or early December each year, in addition to the one traditionally held the first Wednesday in February.

Although the proposal created a bit of a buzz before its hasty demise, an early signing period for football is not a new concept. Haywood Harris, longtime sports information director at the University of Tennessee, recalls the Vols doing some early signings way back in the 1940s.

"Some of the players signed in December back then," said Harris, now listed as "historian" in the athletics department staff directory. "I don't remember it being reported in the newspapers; recruiting wasn't the big deal then that it is now. If you signed a big star it might make the papers, but there was no list of signees, as there is today."

So little publicity was given to recruiting in those days, in fact, that virtually no one noticed when the Vols brought in a cluster of superstars one year.

"Nobody knew about the great 1948 freshman class that had Hank Lauricella, Andy Kozar, Bert Rechichar, Herky Payne, Gordon Polofsky and Jim Haslam," Harris recalled. "It just didn't become public information in those days.

"I was in school at that time, and I remember getting pretty excited when a guy from the ROTC department said he had been by the football field and had seen some really good-looking prospects. He specifically mentioned Lauricella and Payne. You needed a good tailback to run the single-wing back then, and we had gotten two of them."

Three years later, Lauricella, Payne, Haslam, Polofsky, Rechichar and Kozar formed the nucleus of Tennessee's 1951 national championship squad.

Sixty years have passed since that '48 class enrolled, so it's understandable that Harris' memories are a bit sketchy. He doesn't remember if Vol head coaches Robert Neyland and Bowden Wyatt favored the SEC's early-signing period or not. And he doesn't remember when the early-signing period was abandoned.

He does remember, though, that recruiting in the '40s and '50s was secretive and competitive. Even in those days, head coaches were intent on keeping their most prized prospects under wraps.

"You never knew how many guys signed early because there wasn't any publicity about it," Harris recalled. "The average fan wasn't even aware of a signing deadline. It was just an internal deal. You'd sign a guy on Tuesday just so Alabama wouldn't sign him on Wednesday."

The main reason the SEC's early signing period eventually faded into oblivion was that so few schools honored it. Although the other league programs would back off a prospect once he signed early with an SEC team, non-conference schools would continue to pursue him.

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