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Redefining 'commitment'

11th-hour changes becoming common in recruiting

Posted: Tuesday January 24, 2006 3:17PM; Updated: Tuesday January 24, 2006 7:01PM
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Miami's Larry Coker had his quarterback of the future ... until the recruit changed his mind in favor of Penn State.
Miami's Larry Coker had his quarterback of the future ... until the recruit changed his mind in favor of Penn State.
Bob Rosato/SI

On the various Web sites that track such things, Pat Devlin had been listed as a Miami commitment for nearly seven months. Just three weeks ago, the Parade All-America from Exton, Pa., told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "I'm committed to Miami 100 percent."

But in the turbulent game of college recruiting, the word "commitment" doesn't always take on the same binding definition as it does in the real world. No one knows that better right now than Hurricanes coach Larry Coker. Last weekend, his 100-percent committed quarterback -- the fourth-best QB prospect in the country, according to Scout.com -- took an official visit to Penn State, where he was reportedly serenaded by students chanting his name while attending the Nittany Lions' basketball game against Ohio State.

The son of two PSU alums (his mother was a Nittany Lions cheerleader), it seems Devlin started to have second thoughts about his pending decision after Miami fired its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Dan Werner -- the coach who recruited Devlin -- following a 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl. On Monday night, he informed coaches from both schools of his new "commitment": Penn State.

It was a familiar situation for both schools. Like Devlin, Anthony Morrelli, the Nittany Lions' projected starting quarterback next season, had been committed to another school, Pittsburgh, for several months before taking a last-minute visit to Happy Valley. And just last year, Derek Shaw, a quarterback from California who had committed to Miami the previous summer, also reversed course in mid-January and instead signed with Arizona State. The year before that, Miami pulled off a similar heist of its own, landing Pennsylvania running back Andrew Johnson -- who'd been committed to Pittsburgh since July -- on signing day.

Though such 11th-hour reversals are still far from the norm, they've become prevalent enough that coaches are spending nearly as much time re-recruiting their committed prospects as they are chasing the remaining undecided ones in these final, frantic days before national signing day next Wednesday, the first date prospects can sign official letters-of-intent.

"As a recruiter you have to be on your toes, because there are always people taking swipes at your guys," said one major-college assistant. "The recruiting process doesn't stop when someone commits. You have to stay on them until they sign."

Nearly 80 percent of Scout.com's Hot 100 players have already announced their college commitments, but that doesn't mean they're not still being recruited by other schools. A particularly high-profile switch took place last year when Louisiana quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, one of the nation's top overall prospects, insisted for months he was committed to Texas, only to wind up taking visits to LSU and Mississippi State and eventually signing with the Tigers.

There was a time earlier this month when it appeared this year's top-rated quarterback, Arkansas-bound Mitch Mustain, might pull a similar move after briefly reopening his recruitment (Notre Dame was among his suitors), but he re-committed to the Razorbacks. Besides Devlin, however, there are a few other notable prospects causing their prospective coaches to lose sleep these days.

• Springdale, Ark., receiver Damian Williams, a high-school teammate of Mustain's, has been committed to Florida since August, but was spotted in Fayetteville last weekend. (The pair's high-school coach, Gus Malzahn, is now Arkansas' offensive coordinator). Asked by Scout.com whether he may switch allegiance to the Razorbacks, Williams said, "I don't know. There's a chance of anything, but I'm still committed to Florida."

• Another player who committed to the Gators, Virginia receiver Damon McDaniel, is scheduled to visit rival Florida State this weekend. The 'Noles, who need to replace recently dismissed receiver Fred Rouse, are also reportedly pursuing a recruit who committed to Michigan, Greg Matthews of Orlando, Fla. Meanwhile, Alcoa, Tenn., tight end Brandon Warren, a longstanding FSU commitment, has been getting the full-court press from Tennessee and will visit the Knoxville campus this weekend. Ole Miss is apparently still hot on the trail of two previously committed LSU prospects.

It may sound unethical for rival coaches to continue actively pursuing previously committed prospects, but in today's recruiting climate, anyone is considered fair game until that letter-of-intent gets faxed on Feb. 1.

"The reality is that no one is going to give up on players until the very end -- that's just the world we live in today," said the coach. "Once a kid commits, you check in with him from time to time to see how he's doing and if he's having any doubts about his commitment."

Many coaches think much of the last-minute chaos for both coaches and prospects could be avoided if the NCAA had an early-signing period for football -- perhaps before the start of the season in September -- like it does for basketball.

"That would help," said the coach. "You could lock down guys and not worry about them going elsewhere. They would be signed, sealed and delivered when they committed."