Four sacks containing roughly 2,000 letters from love-struck recruiters sadly sat by his Riverside, Calif., front door, like trash waiting to be taken to the curb. Chris Claiborne dipped into a bag and pulled out a two-inch-thick stack of letters. "Take a look at this one," said the 6'4", 235-pound Claiborne. 'All the players are asking about you," the letter offered succinctly. "Your [sic] the man!" screamed the next. Men of many letters they are, but no one will ever mistake college football coaches for, say, Cyrano de Bergerac. You would have never guessed it, though, from the soft, smitten look on Claiborne's face.
"How could I say no to any of these schools?" said Claiborne, a linebacker who like so many other recruits wrestled with his college decision. Indeed, he had been unable to bring himself to say no to any of his final choices. He had left that task to his J.W. North High coach, Mark Paredes, who in the week preceding national signing day dutifully called Arizona, Texas, Colorado and, finally, on Feb. 6, Notre Dame with the news that Claiborne, the Cal-Hi State Player of the Year, had chosen to stay close to home and attend Southern Cal.
Claiborne's decision to play for the Trojans brought to a conclusion an especially bizarre series of events. On Jan. 30 the Riverside Press-Enterprise quoted Claiborne as saying of USC, "It's Tailback U, and I want to be part of that tradition." The newspaper had been duped by an impostor, who had given several programs false commitments. "It was funny, I guess, but it made me mad, too," Claiborne says. "Making a decision is tough enough without some joker getting involved."
Since last fall Claiborne had taken careful inventory of the schools that were recruiting him, weighing variables that ranged from whether notes from coaches had been handwritten to whether he would be given a chance to make an immediate impact next fall. Then came the hardest part, culling one school from his final five choices. "I decided I wanted to be close to home," he explains. "But there was only one school where I thought the distance might not matter: Notre Dame."
On Feb. 2 he made his final official visit, to South Bend, willing to be swayed. "You could feel the tradition," he says. "It was everything I thought it would be." But the distance, not to mention the bitter winter cold of northern Indiana, did turn out to matter. Four days later, Claiborne's mind was made up.
"It'll be hard," Claiborne said last Wednesday. "When I was a kid, I used to dream that I'd play for Notre Dame someday." He then picked up the phone and called Mike Van Raaphorst, the highly rated quarterback from La Mesa's Helix High with whom he will room next fall. "No, don't worry, I'm still going to SC," he told Van Raaphorst. "Time to go make it official. Time to sign on the dotted line."