A Quick Reverse

After picking Penn State, Dan Kendra, the nation's top prep player, made a new call: Florida State
January 23, 1995

The fallout from Dan Kendra III's change of heart last week was not restricted to the football programs at Penn State and Florida State. No, the surprising developments had a serious impact on the decor of the Kendra house in Bethlehem, Pa. That blue-and-white Penn State bean-bag chair Diane Kendra bought for her son for Christmas? It probably has to go.

"I guess it would look a little strange, considering what happened," says Dan Kendra II, the quarterback's father.

What happened last week threw the athletic departments in State College, Pa., and Tallahassee, Fla., into a tizzy. About five weeks after he made a verbal commitment to Penn State coach Joe Paterno, Kendra, the consensus No. 1 scholastic player in the country, changed his mind and said he was going to Florida State. Barring another switcheroo, he will sign on Bobby Bowden's dotted line on Feb. 1, National Letter of Intent Day. He wasn't the first kid to change his mind, and he won't be the last. But not many high school athletes have received the attention that Kendra has over the last few months, and the story was news wherever college football matters.

Some people close to the situation figure that Danny changed his mind because he needed to get away from his father, who has been heavily involved in his son's athletic life and was an assistant coach throughout the quarterback's four record-breaking years at Bethlehem Catholic. Others say it was the father, MVP of the 1975 Peach Bowl under Bowden at West Virginia, who felt the Florida State system was better suited to his son and who wore away at Danny's resolve to go to Papa Joe U, which is only a three-hour drive from Bethlehem. The latter scenario makes more sense. However, the exact dynamics of the decision-making process may never be known.

But what is clear is that the microscope under which Kendra has lived for the past year forced him to make a premature decision. What is also clear is that Kendra, despite his prodigious athletic talents, is still an 18-year-old kid, and 18-year-old kids can get tied in knots by a process that is at once seductive and enervating.

"When I looked up one day and Hard Copy was at practice," says Bethlehem Catholic coach Bob Stem, "I started thinking this thing had maybe gotten a little out of hand." But the story was a natural. Danny is a big, rugged, handsome kid with a nice smile. He has a pet alligator that was once named Guilty, but now, inexplicably, goes by the moniker of Floyd. Danny's father was a quarterback, and his coach, Stem, was a center who once opened holes for Ernie Davis at Syracuse, and those were all nice angles. So was the Pennsylvania-as-the-birthplace-of-quarterbacks angle: How many players are compared with Namath and Montana before they pick a college? Then, too, without a World Series or hockey, there was plenty of space on the sports pages for kids with strong right arms and a 4.5 time in the 40. "As long as it didn't seem to be affecting Danny, we let everyone come in," says Stem. "But now I wonder how much it was bothering him inside."

Certainly, the attention, which began when Danny was a freshman, had an effect. The publicity was fun, but only to a point; though he and his gator were irresistible to the media, Danny is not particularly verbal or outgoing. And by early December, after he returned from a visit to Notre Dame (one that he said he took mainly to see the campus), Kendra said, "No more visits. I'm sick of it."

Paterno was already scheduled to come to Bethlehem the following week, however. So Paterno came, and, as he rose to leave, Danny said, "Coach, I'm coming to Penn State." The Nittany Lions put out the word, and one of the most closely monitored college decisions of the last decade had been made.

Or had it?

"It had been six months of intense badgering right up until he announced Penn State," says his father. "Then, for the first time, people backed off a little, and Danny could just sit back and think. And pretty soon I started getting the feeling that he had acted just to get it over with rather than because he honestly wanted Penn State. I'd ask him about it, and he'd say, 'Well, it's done.' He didn't have that feeling of exhilaration."

In fact, Danny admits his biggest feeling was simply relief. "I considered it like a blessing [to have the decision made], because everything got back to normal," he says. With things more relaxed, both Kendras began to reconsider. His father says he told Danny, "Look, you didn't sign yet; it's not a done deal," and Danny says they began adding up the pluses and minuses of Penn State and Florida State. His father says he contacted Florida State just after the bowl games and told one of the coaches they should talk to Danny again.

The response was a call to Danny, followed by a visit on Jan. 6 from assistant Chuck Amato, the Seminoles' chief recruiter. Danny took a few more days to think it over, but he finally told his family last week, "I changed my mind. It's Florida State." The Kendras were going to wait until Feb. 1 to announce the decision, but word leaked out partly because Kendra ordered a tape of the Florida State fight song from the college bookstore. "We were going to put it on the answering machine so there would be no doubt about his choice," says the father. The toughest call was to Penn State—Danny's dad made it to offensive coordinator Fran Ganter. (As of Monday the Kendras had not spoken to Paterno.) "Fran was wonderful about it," says the father. Both schools are forbidden by NCAA rules to comment on recruits.

Cynics, plus Penn State fans, undoubtedly believe Florida State continued to recruit Kendra after his verbal commitment. (That is not an NCAA violation but would be considered unethical.) The Kendras say that is not true. Danny has a letter from Bowden, dated Dec. 22, congratulating him on his decision, saying: "I hated when I saw you were committed to Penn State, but that is where I would want you to go if it wasn't here."

Whether the impetus for Danny's change of heart came from within or from his father may forever remain a family secret. But father and son agree that the reasons for the switch to Florida State are valid. Danny points out that the Seminole system, in which quarterbacks are not only permitted but expected to be jackrabbits, is perfect for him. (Those close to the situation insist that the elder Kendra felt Paterno would keep him in the pocket too much and communicated that message to his son.) Danny is a certified scuba diver who likes the ocean, which is not too far from Tallahassee. He even likes the Seminoles' uniforms better.

"Everybody can say what they want about how terrible it was that he changed his mind," says the elder Kendra. "We don't care. Where Dan goes to college doesn't affect the Penn State fan for the rest of his life. But it does affect Dan. He's the only one who matters."

As for the beanbag, well, it will find a home with Christy Cochran, a Bethlehem Catholic senior and all-state volleyball player and Danny's girlfriend. Her college choice is firm—Penn State all the way.

PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONThe Seminole system may suit Kendra, but will Bowden welcome Floyd the gator? TWO PHOTOSAL TIELEMANSDan and his dad (right) agree: A quarterback who likes to run will do just fine in Tallahassee.

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