The visits are all but completed. The recruiting pitches have been made. The pressure and promises have reached an all-time high. Signing day is just around the corner, on Feb. 6, and it's almost time to make a binding commitment.
So what factors should carry the most weight as recruits make this important decision?
The following is a look at some of the factors you should and should not take into account when making this 40-year decision. Yes, I said 40-year decision and here is why: The university you choose and what you accomplish on and off the field once you arrive on campus will stay with you for the rest of your life.
• Do base the decision on the reputation of the program.
If you want to wear the navy blue and white with no name on the back uniform of Penn State because of what it says about the standards inherent in the program, that is a great factor to consider. Penn State has a reputation for developing boys into men, making sure its players graduate, and caring about your post-football future. If you crave the discipline of having to go to class and wearing no facial hair that comes along with the blue and white, you are on the right track.
Likewise, if you don't want to attend the University of Miami because of the stereotype that exists among some people about former Canes, you are completely within your right by doing so.
• Don't base your decision on a particular jersey number.
As athletes, we tend to grow attached to the number we wear because of the way it identifies us. No. 23 Michael Jordan. No. 12 Tom Brady. Though it would be nice to be able to continue to wear the same number that you have worn in high school, this should not be among the top factors during your deliberation. Your performance and name mean a whole lot more.
• Do base the decision on the academic reputation and program offerings.
Of the thousands of prospects who will sign letters of intent on Feb. 6, a very small percentage will ever get drafted by an NFL team. Even more to the point, let's assume that your dream does come true and you not only get a shot in the pros, but you make an NFL roster. The average playing career for an NFL player who makes a roster for at least one year is 3.2 years. My question when I talk to high school athletes is simple: What are you going to do when you are 25 and football is over?
• Don't base your decision on hastily made promises or the decisions of other players.
Though it may sound good when a coach promises a starting job or immediate playing time, the reality is that those promises are often broken once you arrive on campus. The problem is that there is nothing in the Letter-of-Intent that binds these coaches to the promises they make to you and your family while sitting in your living room. It is very likely they were saying the same thing to another recruit the night before or the year before in order to get them to sign.
• Do base your decision on the coaching staff, system, and the ability they have to prepare you for an NFL Career.
This one comes with a substantial caveat. If you dream of being an NFL player (and almost every Division I-A prospect does), you should certainly take into account the system that you will play in, the coaching staff you will play for, and their track record with developing NFL players, specifically at your position. The problem with this line of thinking is that all of these factors can change without a moment's notice if that coach leaves or is fired.
Brian Brohm's draft stock took a bit of a dip this season after his performance suffered when Bobby Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons. Ryan Mallett signed with Michigan in the hopes of being the next great Wolverine drop-back passer to someday enter the NFL ranks. Now that Lloyd Carr has retired and Rich Rodriguez is in charge, Mallett transferred to Arkansas.
At the end of the day you should always trust your instincts and go to the school that just feels right when you step on campus. Absent that feeling, make sure you take into account how this decision will affect you for the next 40 years, not simply the next four.
Ross Tuckeris currently on IR with the Washington Redskins. He is a contributing writer on the NFL beat for SI.com.