Early pledges lead to indecision for top recruits
The Rivals.com player profile for Reuben Foster notes that he's uncommitted, but the ink on his forearm reveals a large Auburn logo. Welcome to 2013, where twists and turns have become the norm.
It all starts at the top. The recruitment of No. 1 overall prospect Robert Nkemdiche has unfolded like a bad sitcom. This summer, his mother returned from Nigeria, where she lives and works, to find her son committed to Clemson. She put the kibosh on those plans post-haste. Thomas Tyner, the No. 2 running back in this year's class, seemingly came down with the yips and decommitted from Oregon for fewer than 24 hours in October. And linebacker Alex Anzalone's story includes a decommitment from Ohio State spurred by a tweeted photograph of a registered sex offender. It also features three separate verbal commitments, the last of which came to Florida the day before Anzalone enrolled.
Remember when Delray Beach, Fla., product Greg Bryant broke his pledge to Oklahoma in an effort to "stay close to home" in the South, only to quickly commit to Notre Dame? This, it seems, is the Year of Indecision. If nothing else, it has been fascinating to observe.
"There are a bunch of strange stories," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "The fan bases will think Anzalone is the strangest one, but there are so many others."
The most publicized case surrounds Foster. The 6-foot-2, 228-pounder got an Auburn tattoo on his forearm to celebrate his flip to the Tigers from Alabama, but he decommited after head coach Gene Chizik and lead recruiter Trooper Taylor were fired. Of course, though coaching changes prompted Foster's decision, there's still a chance he could end up in an Auburn uniform. The story was sensationalized in part because of the tattoo, and it was given new life on Sunday night when news broke that Foster will make a largely unexpected visit to San Diego State. But at its core, the situation is simply the most famous case of a 2013 trend -- a microcosm of the larger, distorted picture.
An anomaly? Probably not. More likely, the abundance of drama is the next step in the direction of modern recruiting. For better or worse, this is where things stand.
"It's going to get worse and worse, and the new recruiting rules are going to make it worse," Farrell said. "Coaches are going to have access to kids earlier. They're also going to essentially have unlimited access to kids. They're really going to be able to pressure kids into early commits more so than they do now, and that's why there will be more of this."
Anzalone's case highlights the number of twists a recruitment can take. The five-star prospect decommitted from Ohio State in May amid concerns that a convicted sex offender -- who reached out to Buckeyes players and recruits including Anzalone via Twitter -- had involved himself in recruiting visits. A commitment to Notre Dame followed, but Anzalone broke his pledge the day before he was set to enroll in classes. And just like that, the No. 2 inside linebacker in the 2013 class was a Gator.
"A lot of fans think Anzalone is crazy, but he's not," Farrell said. "He got yo-yoed around a bit. It wasn't him. He committed too early to Ohio State. I think the part about the picture with the sex offender was something his dad ran with. I don't believe it was the true reason for the decommitment. With Notre Dame, Brian Kelly told him he wanted him there and he'd be there for him. So when he saw Brian Kelly looking around, he felt betrayed."
Tyner's split-second change of heart took place well before Chip Kelly began his first game of footsie with the NFL. It's less talked about than the cases involving Foster, Nkemdiche and Anzalone, but the motivation behind it has an awfully familiar feel.
"I think he decommitted because he had been committed for so long and felt pressure to look at other programs," said West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney. "After about a day of experiencing the recruiting process again, he was done with that. He realized there wasn't going to be a better fit for him."
For better or worse, the culture of early commitments increases doubt among top prospects. It also adds another bullet point to the case for adding an early signing period to the football world.
"They definitely need an early signing period," Farrell said. "Last spring was like January of any other year. I remember going around to camps, and I'd be in an airport checking my phone and see that 10 kids committed. These were big-time kids committing at spring games or campus visits. The spring activity this year was akin to the days leading up to Signing Day. When I saw that was happening, I said, 'This is going to lead to a very interesting December and January.' That's kind of where we're at."
The early signing debate is a different conversation, though. It's also a conversation that was essentially silenced with the passage of the most recent recruiting rules. For now, all that's left to do is sit back and watch.
At least this year, that's more than entertaining enough to pass the time.