Recruiting the hard-ball way

WHILE NEVER A BIG fan of the trend toward those super early scholarship offers in college football recruiting, I've grown used to them over recent years and have come to accept the practice as permanent rather than chic. Still, I must confess that my jaw just about hit the floor the other day during a casual surfing of the Scout.com 2007 prospect database.

Curious as to how early the early birds were flying this year, I clicked on the commit lists of a couple of dozen Division I-A schools. Most had between zero and three verbals, including Penn State, the birth mother of the super early offer concept a decade ago. A handful of teams – Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida and North Carolina – tallied as many as six verbal commits.

And then I moved the cursor over to my alma mater, the national champion University of Texas Longhorns.

Here we are not even to the end of May and Mack Brown already has racked up 19 verbal commitments – 17 of them from in state. I'm not kidding. Nineteen!

National letters of intent won't be signed for another nine months and Texas' 2007 recruiting class is almost wrapped up.

Thinking this might be some sort of quirky regional aberration, I clicked on Oklahoma. The Sooners have three verbals so far. Same for Oklahoma State. I then checked on Texas A & M. The Aggies have what I calculated to be the second-most in the nation, but with eight they pale to the Longhorns.

I kept clicking -- Texas Tech two, LSU seven, Tennessee five, Florida State zero.

Out here on the West Coast, USC and UCLA are the closest you get to early stockpiling. They have five verbals each. The rest of the Pac-10 schools are between zero and two.

So what the heck is cookin' down in Austin?

A heaping helpin' of high-pressure selling, it turns out.

Texarkana quarterback Ryan Mallett, one of the most coveted prep prospects in Texas this recruiting season, offered all the insight you need when he announced last month – gasp! – that he would be heading north to become a Michigan Wolverine.

At 6-6 and 210-pounds, this five-star phenom cuts an impressive swath. While keeping his cards close to the vest, it was widely believed this winter that he was leaning toward Michigan and Texas, with Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Alabama and Florida State lurking.

But at some point along the way, reports the Texarkana Gazette, Brown rescinded Texas' offer to Mallett.

To one of the most highly rated prep quarterbacks in the nation?

A kid from a high school that has been a pipeline to Austin in recent years?

Why?

Because it seems when Mack Brown offers you a scholie, by gum, you take it. And right quick!

"They (Texas) wanted me to commit really, really early, and we weren't ready," Mallett told the Gazette. "They were the only ones that really asked for an early commitment."

I guess when you're the national champions you can play hardball with 17-year-old juniors and feel good about it.

But don't think Coach Brown is all piss and vinegar. Turns out his soft side is what won the 'Horns the national title.

True fact.

Coach B said the primary reason his team won it all was because he took personal interest in his players for the first time in his career. He learned what music they liked, what their hobbies were, etc. In turn, this enhanced communication on the team, which led to greater on-field success.

It also didn't hurt that Pete Carroll made that bone-headed decision to go for it on fourth down.

NOTABLE NOTES:

The earliest verbal commitments in Cougar history are believed to be linebacker Alex Hamill, who made his pledge the first week of May in 2003, and Shelton Danzy, who announced in the last week of April in 2004. Speaking of Danzy, no word yet on where he'll be transferring to this fall. He said in March that it likely would be to a Division I-AA school.

Carson York, the offensive lineman from Coeur d' Alene whose position coach at Lake City High is Hamill's father Henry, is thought to be the Cougars' first scholarship offer recipient in this recruiting season. WSU extended him an offer just one day after LOIs were signed this past February. Scout.com analyst Allen Wallace reports this week that York is leaning toward Oregon and Stanford, with WSU and others close behind.

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