When people learn my job includes covering recruiting, they frown. What, they always ask, could be worthwhile about cataloguing the whims of 17-year-olds?
Easy. The names.STAPLES: America's top high school nicknames
The appreciation of a fine moniker among recruitniks began humbly enough in the class of 1961, when a few in-the-know Illinois fans noticed the name of a linebacker from Chicago Vocational High School and smiled. Yes, Dick Butkus had a fine ring to it indeed. The love of amazing appellations exploded earlier this decade, when Rivals.com and Scout.com began following the adventures of every Football Bowl Subdivision recruit.
The Heralds of the Handle -- the proprietors of the Name of the Year blog and The New York Times' Freakonomics blog among them -- now had access to a treasure trove of information about their favorite splendidly monikered footballers. For instance, they could learn class of 2008 linebacker Yourhighness Morgan (Florida Atlantic) has a younger brother named Handsome. They could celebrate class of 2009 linebacker Barkevious Mingo(LSU), who took home the 2009 Name of the Year award after outpolling non-athletes Taco Vandervelde and Iris Macadangdang. They could marvel at Tennessee-committed class of 2010 recruit Jose Jose, an offensive lineman so big his parents had to name him twice.
Unfortunately, after the class of 2011, there's nowhere to go but down. There may never be another recruit name quite as fantastic as the one that came in a vision to a Nigerian man named Justice Offor as his wife, Nma, prepared to give birth 16 years ago. Convinced the miracle of his son's birth was definitive evidence of God's power, Justice named his son accordingly.
God's Power Offor.
The family emigrated to the United States and settled in Miami when God's Power was seven. Now a junior at American (Hialeah, Fla.) High, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Offor will start this season at weakside defensive end. He already has been blessed with placement on a watch list by excellent Miami Herald recruiting guru Larry Blustein, so messages from interested college coaches are sure to follow.
So quick off the line is Offor that in practice, American coach Chance Benson begs his backfield-dwellers to remain alert because Offor often blasts past the tackle assigned to block him and wreaks havoc. "I tell them to keep their head on a swivel when G.P. is on their side." Benson said.
In case you were wondering, that's what God's Power goes by in daily conversation -- G.P. "When I was in Nigeria, everybody loved that name," Offor said. "People thought I had the coolest name, that I was blessed." But when Offor and his family -- which also includes brother Wisdom and sister Loveth -- moved to the U.S., Offor's fellow elementary-schoolers were not so kind. "I would get bullied. I would get picked on," Offor said. "It was hell being named that." Even in Miami, one of the world's true melting pots, schoolmates teased him without mercy.
"Kids that age act the same way," Offor said. "If somebody's different, they like to pick on them. If everybody's name was Mike and my name was Steve, everybody would say I'm a different person. I got picked on for my name and for my color. Because I'm black. I'm really dark. When those two things meet, it turns into a haunting memory."
Sometimes, the teasing stung so badly young God's Power tried to smite his tormentors with his fists. Alarmed, Offor's mother visited the courthouse and obtained the necessary paperwork to legally change her son's name. Suddenly, the fourth grader was a pen stroke away from being David Offor. Nma told her son to think hard about the decision. Did he want to be David, or did he want to be God's Power?
After serious deliberation, God's Power won. "This name has done everything for me," Offor said. "This name made me who I am."
The name may prove useful as college coaches scan lists of recruits. Obviously, Offor will have to prove himself on the field, but coaches aren't likely to forget him.
The mother of class of 2010 tailback Storm Johnson felt the same way when she filled out her son's birth certificate. "My mom wanted a name that would stick out from the list," said Johnson, a 6-1, 217-pounder from Loganville, Ga., who is considering LSU, Oklahoma and Florida. As for her specific choice, Johnson has two theories. "I guess it was raining that day," he said. The other possible explanation is Johnson's mother, who lived in New Jersey when he was born, was a fan of WCBS weatherman Storm Field, whose real first name is Elliot.
Class of 2010 quarterback Munchie Legaux can empathize with Field. Though his given first name is Benton, the Edna Karr (New Orleans, La.) High star is better known by the sobriquet his mother and grandmother gave him as a youngster. "I can't stay out of the kitchen," said Legaux, who is considering Baylor, Oregon and Tennessee.
Johnson and Legaux boast fine names and lofty Rivals.com rankings, but to find the most tubular name in the class of 2010, we must go to Honolulu, where 6-2, 190-pound senior Wave Ryder plays safety and receiver for the Kamehameha School. Ryder, who has received interest from Hawaii, Utah and Utah State, is the son of native Hawaiians Mike and Wendy, who named their son after Wendy's favorite Butch Helemano song.
So does Ryder surf? "Yeah," he said. "But mostly bodyboarding." And like God's Power Offor, Ryder took his share of ribbing for his name. "When the movie Whale Rider came out, that was a popular one," said Ryder, who has a younger brother named Blaze. But Ryder never would change his name, which makes him nearly impossible to forget. "They always recognize the name before the face," he said.
God's Power Offor refused to change his name as a fourth-grader, and now that name could help propel him to celebrity status as a football recruit. But Offor, an honor student who expects to earn an academic scholarship no matter what happens on the football field, has a plan in case God's Power doesn't become a household name on the gridiron. He wants to be a pharmacist. "It's recession-proof," he said.
Unfortunately, after a name like God's Power Offor, the football recruit name market seems due for a serious downturn. So what's a name nerd to do? Maybe it's time to follow basketball, the sport that gave us God Shammgod and the Mapp brothers, Majestic and Scientific. The class of 2010 looks promising, starting with a 6-3 point guard from Portland, Maine.
His name? Indiana Faithful.