- From Eric Dickerson and the mysterious disappearance of his Trans-Am to Dante Fowler's late switch from Florida State to Florida, history shows a prospect is never truly committed until he's signed.
Like crashes at a NASCAR race, late flips on the recruiting trail may be the most entertaining part of National Signing Day even if they're not the most dignified. As much intrigue as a top recruit’s signing day commitment can bring, the most memorable moments often involve the prospects who appeared set to head to one school having a last-second change of heart.
As the interest in recruiting has exploded, so too has the drama surrounding late flips. So in compiling the most famous flips in recruiting history, many were found in the last decade. Still, it’s important to pay tribute to some of the original greats, like what ever happened to Eric Dickerson’s gold Pontiac Trans-Am?
(Editor’s Note: This list originally ran on Feb. 1, 2016)
Dante Fowler, DE, Florida State to Florida, 2012
Fowler caught just about everyone off-guard on signing day when the four-star defensive end picked Florida after confirming his pledge to Florida State just five days earlier. The longtime Seminoles commit took several trips to Gainesville amid reported concerns about playing time in a loaded Florida State recruiting class, but he appeared set to stick with the ‘Noles. Will Muschamp’s perseverance ultimately paid off as Fowler announced on national television that he’d join the Gators instead. As its national championship following the 2013 season proves, Florida State had plenty of talent without Fowler, but he became a key piece of Florida’s defense and earned first-team All-SEC honors in 2014 before becoming the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Auburn to Alabama, 2012
The law of averages suggests Auburn should lose an equal number of surprise decommitments to Alabama as the Crimson Tide lose to the Tigers. That hasn’t been the case, with Yeldon’s flip between the Iron Bowl rivals just one recent example. Though technically not on signing day, Yeldon’s switch from the Tigers to the Tide had a similar impact because, as an early enrollee, he was nearly on the Plains when he announced a change of heart on Dec. 18, 2011. Yeldon’s flip came just before the recruiting dead period, and weeks later, he was an Alabama student. The four-star recruit became an instant sensation with the Tide, rushing for 1,108 yards as a true freshman on Alabama’s national championship team.
Shaq Thompson, S, Cal to Washington, 2012
Cal’s 2012 recruiting class appeared to be loaded with defensive talent before assistant coach and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi bolted for Washington in January. Five-stars Eric McCarthy and Arik Armstead flipped to UCLA and Oregon, respectively, while Thompson, the No. 1 safety recruit in the country, opted to follow Lupoi up the West Coast to the Huskies. The Golden Bears had won Thompson’s commitment just a month before he flipped to Washington the Monday before Signing Day. He went on to become an All-America linebacker with the Huskies and a first-round NFL draft pick while Cal suffered from a porous defense.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Auburn to Alabama, 2011
As the No. 2 overall prospect and No. 1 offensive tackle in his class, Kouandjio became the crown jewel of Auburn’s recruiting haul when he picked the Tigers on ESPN, setting off roars from the Auburn faithful. One thing was missing, though—Kouandjio’s letter of intent. It finally arrived three days later, but to the offices of Alabama, where Kouandjio joined his brother, Arie, who signed with the Tide in 2010. Kouandjio later said he simply wasn’t sure on signing day but had just come off of a convincing visit to Auburn the previous weekend. After ultimately settling on Alabama, he helped the Tide win two national championships and became an All-America offensive lineman.
Brent Calloway, ATH, Auburn to Alabama, 2011
In the ultimate twist of the knife, Calloway appeared to offer Auburn a huge recruiting victory over rival Alabama only to take it away. The four-star recruit originally pledged to Alabama in June 2009 but decommitted from the Tide at the start of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 8, 2011. By the fourth quarter of the game, he was an Auburn commit. It wouldn’t last, though, as family disagreement caused Calloway to further reconsider his decision. In the leadup to signing day, Calloway left town before settling on Alabama. His career with the Tide didn’t last long though, as Calloway was dismissed from the team in 2013.
Pat White, ATH, LSU to West Virginia, 2004
White was not a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school, and his future position at LSU was unclear, with a switch to wide receiver possibly in the cards. That helped create the opening for West Virginia and then-Mountaineers assistant coach Rick Trickett, who never relented in his pursuit of White and ultimately won him over on signing day. Losing White didn’t cost the Tigers much as they won a Peach Bowl, Sugar Bowl and national championship during his tenure at West Virginia. But the flip worked out fantastically for both the Mountaineers and White, who led West Virginia to three 11-win seasons and two Big East titles.
Lorenzo Booker, RB, Notre Dame to Florida State, 2002
An early recruit to commit on national television, Booker, the top running back prospect in his class, helped ensure the method would stick by providing a surprising twist. Despite reports the morning of his announcement that Booker was headed to Notre Dame, he picked Florida State over the Fighting Irish and USC. However, Booker didn’t fully live up the hype for the Seminoles, gaining only 2,389 yards over four seasons.
Eric Dickerson, RB, Texas A&M to SMU, 1979
What really happened to Dickerson’s famous Pontiac Trans-Am? The highly touted running back was seen driving a new Trans-Am around the same time he committed to Texas A&M. When Dickerson flipped to SMU on signing day, the car seemed to disappear, the alleged work of a bitter Aggies fan, legend has it. According to Dickerson, the car was a gift from his grandmother that he later sold to a friend. Whatever the true story of the car, Dickerson’s flip altered the course of a player who developed into a star for the Mustangs before becoming a Hall of Fame NFL player. Dickerson rushed for 3,045 yards with 36 touchdowns in his final two seasons at SMU and went No. 2 overall in the 1983 NFL draft.