Today’s print edition includes a story about the trend of college football recruits committing earlier and earlier. That trend has arrived in full at South Carolina in recent years. Just take a look at this chart, listing the Gamecocks’ recent classes, when they received their first commitment and how many commitments they had by the end of June of the previous year …
2004 … July 2003
2005 … July 2004
2006 … July 2005
2007 … April 2006 … four by end of June 2006
2008 … April 2007 … four by end of June 2007
2009 … March 2008 … four by end of June 2008
2010 … November 2008* … 10 by end of June 2009
2011 … April 2010 … six by end of June 2010
2012 … December 2010* … nine by end of June 2011
2013 … January 2012 … 14 by the end of June 2012
2014 … January 2013 …five as of mid-June 2013
2015 … May 2013 … three as of mid-June 2013
*Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles was the early commitment in the 2010 class and running back Kendric Salley was the early commitment in the 2012 class.
Why is this happening, with rising high school juniors committing nearly two years before they can sign? Today’s story attempts to explain, but there wasn’t room for all the thoughts of USC recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr., so we’ll offer those here, along with some comments from Rivals recruiting analyst Mike Farrell about USC’s two big 2015 defensive end commitments …
When asked why more kids are committing earlier, Spurrier Jr. said, “I think there’s kind of a little pressure that they recognize that they’re not going to get an opportunity to take all their visits and they kind of want to tie themselves to a program right now. They get around somebody, an advisor or a coach, who says, ‘This is a pretty good opportunity.’
“About five years ago, they said the earlier people commit, the more de-commitments there are. You’ve got to be careful on both ends. You’ve got to be careful if a kid commits and a year later, he’s not any good.
“We’ve offered three or four 2016 guys (rising sophomores). It would be unusual if we could surpass our numbers for 2014 (this summer, with 2015 commitments), which could easily happen, too, because (2014) will be a small class for us.”
Does Spurrier Jr. think commitments nearly two years out from signing day can be flimsier than those closer to it?
“You hope when a young man commits that you’re tied to someone close to him – his parents, his coach, a guy in the community,” he said. “Hopefully there’s someone that has supported and is on your side and is close to the young man. Usually, if a guy commits, you feel pretty good about it. Sometimes, we won’t let a kid commit (even though Spurrier Jr. is ready to take him). I actually had a (2015) player commit to me that I think is a great player and I wouldn’t take him. He’s a great player. I love him.
“I said, ‘I want to make sure that this is the right thing for you. I don’t want you to commit and de-commit. You have not been on our campus. Your parents have not been on campus. If you want to commit when you come, that’s fine. But I want to make sure when you come, and you’re committing, that you want to be a Gamecock and you’re 100 percent.’ I think he’s been on campus, but his parents have not, and I said, ‘I want to make sure your family is here.’”
When did Spurrier Jr. see this change with earlier recruiting start to happen?
“Here’s what happened, and I don’t know exactly what year it happened, but one year, all of a sudden, two or three teams that were pretty good started really recruiting hard and pressing kids to commit and they changed the bar for everyone,” he said. “Because everyone kind of slow-played everybody (recruits). I remember we used to go out in that April, May recruiting period and we’d get tape and get transcripts and go watch practice and see if we can get them here this summer (for camp) and we’ll watch them their senior year and they’ll take their three, four, five (official) visits and we’ll go from there. That’s just what everybody did. Going into that December, January, we used to recruit 50, 60 kids for 22 spots. And we would recruit them all the way to the end with two or three commitments (already received). But we would recruit everyone and that’s what everybody did. Kids took three or four visits, a lot of people made a decision on signing day.
“And then all of a sudden, a couple teams started getting 10 to 15 commitments early. And we’re like, ‘How’d that happen?’ Well, they evaluated them earlier. Well, how’d they do that? They started watching their junior tape. Really? So now, everyone goes back and watches junior tape, evaluates guys and starts offering earlier and starts pressing them to commit. You just saw that in the early 2000s, that kind of happening. That just pushed everybody back and now it’s going further back. Now it’s going to: You need to watch their sophomore tapes. If there’s great sophomore tape, you need to offer them. You need to get them on your campus.
“Whereas seven, eight years ago, never in my life (did I) worry about a 10th grader. Ever. A coach would come in and (say), ‘Listen, I’ve got a 10th grader you need to see.’ No, I don’t. I’ll see him in two years. I don’t know where I’m going to be in two years, but I certainly am not going to evaluate this kid now. Now we’ve got guys (saying), ‘I’ve got a great eighth grader. You need to look at him.’ Well, let me see him. What number is he? Give me some tape, I’ll take it back and we’ll evaluate it. It’s changed and it’s pushed everybody back one, two, three years. Florida (with Urban Meyer) was one of the teams that started doing it. The word was out that people were offering people a lot earlier and that you need to do it, too. So that’s what we started doing.”
Can Spurrier envision a day where he offers an eighth-grade player?
“Sure,” he said. “I had a kid in camp the other day that was an eighth grader (rising ninth grader) that I thought was a great receiver. I feel like he’s a great player. He wasn’t very tall. I think he weighed 125 pounds. But he could run and cut and catch and he looked as good as any 10th or 11th grader that I’m recruiting right now. I didn’t offer him and I didn’t make a big deal out of it. But he was as good of an eighth grader that I’ve ever seen at our camp.
“That being said, I don’t have a problem looking at a kid that … is that (the class of) 2017? God, I don’t where I’m going to be in five years. I have a hard time with that, one. And two, you have a really hard time projecting what a kid will look like. What is he going to look like in five years? I saw a couple eighth graders that were 6-2, 210 pounds. Are you going to be 6-5 and 290? I don’t know what you’re going to look like in four or five years. That gets hard to project.
“More difficult than that, to me, is when I look at a 10th grader that I think is a really good player and now I need to project what they’ll look like. If he’s good enough to offer, I need to offer him. We have to guess what he’s going to look like in two years. But (with) an eighth grader, I’d hate to do that. I don’t want to guess what that kid’s going to look like, what he’s going to be, how fast he’ll be. That’s a long way away. I hope we don’t start offering eighth graders. I hope it doesn’t go that far. I think we’ve offered three ninth graders now (rising sophomores). That’s kind of risky, too.”
Complacency could become an issue with early commitments, Spurrier Jr. said.
“Between now and then, he may get worse,” he said. “(He might think), ‘I’m going to South Carolina or I’m going to Texas. I don’t really need to work hard, do I? What do I need to do? I’m committed.’ It’s like college players that are going to the NFL. They’re like, ‘I just don’t want to get hurt.’ There’s a little bit of that. Where, 10 years ago, (the thought process was), ‘If I don’t have a great senior year, no one’s going to recruit me.’ That’s changed a good bit. It’s a tricky topic.”
Southern California coach Lane Kiffin has led the charge with offering young players. In 2010, he took a commitment from a 13-year-old, seventh-grade quarterback, David Sills, who is a member of the Class of 2015 and remains committed to the Trojans.
Just last week, Kentucky offered a scholarship to cornerback Jairus Brents, another 13-year-old seventh grader (rising eighth grader now). The kid is in the Class of 2018.
“That would be difficult to do,” Spurrier Jr. said of taking a commitment from a seventh grader. “But I’ve seen eighth graders that I think are going to be tough to miss. Seriously, the kid I saw at the camp who was here last week, all the drills I did with him, he’s a guy that I think will have 20 offers by his junior year. I truly believe that. The other thing is: How are his grades? Is he going to get hurt? There’s a lot of things that are going to happen the next four years of his life before he goes anywhere. But talent wise, I think this kid, in my opinion, will really be a great player.”
Some other recruiting notes from Spurrier Jr., and the aforementioned comments from Farrell …
** He offered a couple examples about how often recruiting changes and how inexact it can be.
Example No. 1: “Two years ago, we had somebody who came in and brought in a new iPad application. It was right when iPads came out and he said, ‘This thing will hold your recruiting board and all your players.’ I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. And literally, a year later, I don’t need that at all. I’m glad we didn’t purchase it. It’s amazing how different it is every year and how unpredictable it is. Three or four years ago, we used to go out in the spring and we’d get DVDs of players and bring them back and evaluate them. Now, we don’t do any of that. If there’s not something online or on YouTube or if we don’t have video in the Internet world somewhere … People still mail us DVDs. Rarely do we ever evaluate those. Every bit of that’s online. It’s on Rivals, it’s on YouTube, it’s on Hudl, a new Internet service that high schools can make their own tape on. It’s amazing how quickly you can find information about a young man.”
Example No. 2: “When we start offering players, we try to evaluate how many numbers we want at each position. Honestly, I don’t know what our needs are next year (in 2014). We don’t know exactly how these freshmen are going to pan out, we don’t know potential injuries. It’s kind of hard to predict exactly what our needs are going to be for this (2014) class. We have such small numbers and you’ve got to be so careful. Hopefully we won’t fill up too quick. I don’t think we will.”
** One thing to always remember with recruiting: A commitment is not binding until signing day. Moreover, just because a college coach makes a scholarship offer, that doesn’t mean he is going to take a kid’s commitment. It all depends on how talented the kid is. In short, commitments and scholarship offers aren’t binding until signing day. And if a kid doesn’t pan out as a player or gets in trouble, a coach is allowed to pull an offer, even if it’s been accepted.
“Somebody asked me, ‘How many offers that go out to these young men are actually committable offers?’” Spurrier Jr. said. “There’s a lot of times a guy may want to commit and you slow-play him a little bit. That happens a decent bit. We’re going to take two or three receivers in this (2014) class and we’ve offered 15. That’s a pretty big number. Certainly, we want to prioritize the best we can, the guys we want to take in the class. If the 15th guy committed today, (I’d say), ‘Wait a minute. We need to get you on campus.’ You try to slow-play him a little bit. The number of offers that go out that are actually committable is actually pretty low.”
So how does a coach walk that line, with telling a kid who wants to commit that the school actually isn’t ready to take his commitment?
“You can’t make a mistake in-state,” Spurrier Jr. said. “If you have a guy in-state and he calls you up and wants to commit, you need to take it. Out of state, you can tell a guy he needs to come to a camp. There’s ways to kind of slow-play his commitment. Normally, the guys we’ve offered are guys we all think are really good players, but we just want to make sure we do our best to recruit who we’ve got ahead of them. You can kind of delay that commitment a little bit: ‘We like you, we want to get you here, but we just need a couple more weeks.’ And then of course, if a kid calls us and you aren’t ready to take him yet, you may never talk to him again (because the kid might be turned off). You’ve got to be prepared for that to happen as well. It’s a very interesting science. There’s a lot of gray area on every bit of this.”
** As for those ninth graders (rising sophomores now) who USC has offered, the Gamecocks’ coaches are limited in how they can actually recruit those players.
“We can’t call them, we can’t write them, we can have zero interaction with them at all unless they’re on our campus,” Spurrier Jr. said. “Right now, we can’t email them. There’s zero interaction with them. We called their high school (to offer the scholarship) and the coach can put them on the phone. You can actually talk to them at school if you call their coach. You can’t call them, but their coach can put them on the phone. You’re allowed to send them mail on Sept. 1 of their junior year. Send them mail, email, Facebook, that stuff.”
** The NCAA has suspended the rule proposal that would allow unlimited electronic communication (including text messages) between coaches and recruits – but only in football, and not basketball. Also suspended was the rule proposal that would allow not just on-field coaches to perform recruiting duties. That would have meant rich programs perhaps hiring scores of people to fill their recruiting-specific staffs, which now number a few guys at most programs.
Said Spurrier Jr.: “It was funny because right when they all passed, everybody said, ‘How are we going to keep up with Alabama, who spends whatever they want on recruiting?’ And they hire whoever they need to hire. Every single thing they do recruiting has absolutely set the bar for everyone. People said, ‘We’re not going to keep up with them. We’re not spending $3 million in recruiting. We are not going to do that.’ I think that’s one of the issues that the NCAA is trying to regulate. They’re struggling trying to find a way to monitor phone calls, monitor text messaging. If a coach makes an illegal phone call, what’s his penalty? They don’t really answer that right now. So their answer was: We’ll just make it unlimited phone calls and we just won’t monitor anymore.
“One of our basketball coaches called me last week and said, ‘I’m recruiting this player that’s a football player and a basketball player. I’m calling him every week right now and I’m texting him all the time. If you want me to say anything to him, let me know.’ I said, ‘That’d be great. See if you can get him here.’ I don’t know what the crossover rules are exactly, but he can call and text all the time. And we can’t do anything.”
** Finally, Farrell, the Rivals national recruiting analyst, thinks USC has two very good defensive ends committed for 2015 in Shameik Blackshear and Arden Key.
“I really think (Blackshear) has the potential to be elite, right in that range where the upside is there where he could be one of the top – if not the top – defensive rush ends in his class. He’s tall (6-4, 232), has some moves. The knock against him on film is he’s extremely raw, but then you see him in person (and notice how much he improved from his freshman to sophomore year). I think his ceiling his amazing.
“(Key) is real skinny (6-5, 198). He was at our Atlanta camp. He’s a skinny kid. Probably either going to be an outside linebacker in the 3-4 or be one of those edge rushers, seven technique guys. Extremely thin, but long and angular. Further away from his ceiling and the ceiling is not as high as Blackshear’s, but the type of guy that athletically, you can’t pass up.
“Those long angular skinny guys (like Blackshear and Key), they drive you nuts because they can play anywhere. Blackshear, he’s going to be an edge holder, five technique, line up over the tackle and come off the edge, but also really do well against the run.”