Today, if you didn’t know, is National Signing Day — the day where high school football players across the nation sign their letters of intent and send them in to the school of their choice, locking them into an athletic scholarship.
In recent years, recruiting has taken on a life of its own, with “recruitniks” following the battles, scrutinizing every potential comment or “tell” of a top-flight recruit and analyzing their school’s incoming class.
It is in that vein that I give you this, one of the great recruiting battles of our time:
In the late 1990s, there was a kid in Greenville, S.C. He had some talent, and pretty early on, the recruiting materials started filling his parent’s mailbox.
The kid was pretty smart, and managed to pare down his school choices pretty early.
Eventually, it was narrowed down to Georgia Tech, Furman and the University of South Carolina.
Each school had their draw — Georgia Tech had strong academics, a nice tradition and a fun urban setting. After all, Atlanta was a big city, and the kid thought moving away to the big city would be fun. The school was strong in what he wanted to study, and it was an early favorite for his services.
Furman was smaller, yes, but in a way, it was his “hometown school.” It also had strong academics, not to mention an understated tradition. The school recently invested into some facilities, and that part was very appealing. The kid had a good feeling that he would shine if he went to school there.
South Carolina was also a favorite. The kid grew up going with his father to South Carolina football and basketball games, and it was a sentimental favorite for sure. Admittedly, he had to do some research into their academics, but, like Furman, they recently did some renovations to key facilities, and that helped.
So then the battle began.
South Carolina was the first to offer. The kid’s mother got all teary eyed when the offer came in. It was a happy moment.
There was pressure to commit right then, but, the kid was smart, he wanted to let everything play out. After all, he knew this was a huge decision, one that would impact his future unlike any previous decision he made. He knew that whatever school he chose was going to be a key component to his dream of a fruitful professional career.
Furman followed up with an offer of their own shortly thereafter. No word from Georgia Tech.
Not helping the kid was the fact that everyone — friends, family, you name it — kept hounding him about where he was going to go. It was a stressful time, for sure.
The process moved on.
He took an official visit to Furman and an official visit to South Carolina.
As one would expect, Furman offered a little more personal attention, since that was a big draw for the school — a smaller student body leads to a close-knit community.
However, South Carolina did a good job wooing the kid on his visit as well.
After the official visits, the letters from other schools generally stopped flowing in. It was getting close to decision time.
Georgia Tech sent word that at the moment, they were oversigned, and while they were still very interested in having the kid come to school at Georgia Tech, the numbers would have to work themselves out before an offer could officially be extended. So, basically, it was well known that it was between Furman and South Carolina.
Since Furman was in the kid’s backyard, almost literally, he took a lot of unofficial visits to the campus. He had friends there, and was seen a lot on the weekends playing basketball in the student rec center with members of Furman’s football team and other students.
Decision day was far off, but the whole process was still very stressful for the kid. I think he was ready for it to be over. He wanted to make up his mind and just get it over with.
He took an unofficial visit to Furman one weekend, then returned home. It was then he decided that he was finally ready to commit — and he chose:
The factors he cited? Well, South Carolina was in Columbia, which was a different city than Greenville. The idea of going somewhere a little farther away from home appealed to him. He liked the vibe down there, he liked the facilities, and, yeah, it was bigger than Furman and would present a series of challenges, he was ready to tackle it head on.
Not to mention, he grew up going down there a lot, and it just felt like a good fit. It felt like home.
So, he was ready to go, a firm commit to South Carolina.
Then, late in the game, Georgia Tech swoops in with a late offer. A lot of people thought the kid might change his mind, since he had his eye on Georgia Tech very early in the process.
He was firm to South Carolina, and he honored that commitment.
The kid wound up going to South Carolina. He had a couple of bumps in the road early on, but wound up graduating and is currently enjoying that very fruitful career in the pros.
That was me.
Note, there was nothing said anywhere in that whole story about playing football.
Every last bit of it is how it happened, though. When I started out, I wanted to major in computer science, so obviously I liked Georgia Tech.
Furman built a new building just for computer science, and South Carolina had renovated an existing building. I got wait-listed at Tech, and eventually got in, but I had already decided to go to South Carolina.
Both Furman and South Carolina gave me nice scholarship offers, but, in the end, I wanted to get out on my own a bit, and, yes, South Carolina just felt like home.
I did have a rough first year, part of which dealt with a change in my major from computer science to journalism, but, I came out on the other side, graduated, and currently enjoy the fruits of my educational labors with a nice career.
Stories like mine, however, with the word “football” thrown into the mix, would make a “recruitnik” salivate with joy.
So what am I trying to say here?
Admittedly, I’m not a “recruitnik.” I enjoy games a thousand times more than following stories like the one above. I generally only pay close attention to recruiting right now, around National Signing Day, since I do want to see what kind of class the Gamecocks pull down.
In the end, I generally feel sorry for the players who are in the middle of the recruiting storm. I can tell you, trying to choose where to go to college was stressful enough for me, and I didn’t have the eyes of the world watching me through recruiting services, fan message boards and communities invested in the comings and goings of a sports team. I can’t even imagine what some of these players go through.
Even in my casual approach to keeping up with the recruiting, I know I’m part of the problem. I don’t know what the solution is, or even if there is one, to soften the insanity of recruiting. The best thing I think we can do as fans is just keep a little perspective on the whole matter. Or try to, anyway.