Football recruiting world has language of its own

Stephenville QB Jarrett Stidham signed a financial-aid offer with Texas Tech but switched to Baylor.
Stephenville QB Jarrett Stidham signed a financial-aid offer with Texas Tech but switched to Baylor. Special to the Star-Telegram

By now, most major colleges are putting the finishing touches on their 2015 recruiting classes.

National Signing Day is less than two weeks away and, after the slew of all-star game announcements earlier this month, the number of marquee prospects who haven’t made a decision is shrinking.

But from now until Feb. 4 — when recruits can officially put pen to paper — there is likely to be as frenzied of a recruiting stretch as any. It tends to get that way this time of year.

Commitments. De-commitments. Re-commitments. Hat selections. TV announcements.

Below is a guide to help you through the sometimes confusing, often hectic lexicon of recruiting as we enter the home stretch until signing day.

No guarantees

First things first: One of the most common misconceptions about recruiting is that a commitment actually means something. It doesn’t.

It’s nice for a player to pledge his allegiance to a school, but it’s no guarantee — whether it’s a “soft verbal” or a “solid verbal,” it’s just that: an intention. And intentions can change, especially for teenagers with plenty of options.

The only way to officially snag a recruit is for him to sign a National Letter of Intent, the document that is inked by prospects and delivered (mainly via fax) to schools on National Signing Day.

Recent twist

While a school can’t lock down a prospect before National Signing Day, the prospect can lock down a scholarship months in advance.

Early enrollee prospects — those planning to enter their selected school at mid-semester — can sign a “financial-aid offer” starting Aug. 1 of their senior year. The financial-aid offer does not bind a recruit to a school; it only binds the school to a recruit, at least financially.

Two recent examples last fall of recruits signing an offer with a school and then ending up at another are Waco Midway’s Ben Hicks, who signed an offer with Houston, and Stephenville’s Jarrett Stidham, who signed an offer with Texas Tech.

Now, Hicks has committed to SMU, while Stidham flipped to Baylor.

Counting counters

Every player on scholarship is considered a “counter,” one of 85 that an FBS team can have at any given point. A player in his first year on scholarship is an “initial counter,” one of 25 an FBS team can have.

That, essentially, means schools can sign a maximum of 25 recruits to National Letters of Intent on National Signing Day.

Red shirt. Gray shirt. Blue shirt?

It’s not uncommon to find a recruiting class with more than 25 recruits, thanks to a couple of loopholes that have popped up in recent years.

The first involves “gray shirting” a player. That’s when a recruit pays his own way for the first semester — while not playing or practicing — before joining the program and receiving a scholarship at the start of the second semester. This allows a school to recruit a player for, say, the 2015 class, while designating him as an initial counter for the 2016 class.

The second trick involves “blue shirting” a player. That’s when a prospect arrives on campus as a walk-on — without taking an official visit to the school or receiving an in-home visit from the coach — before being placed on scholarship after practice starts.

Maintaining a “non-recruited” status is crucial for a blue shirt. But it does allow a school to offer an immediate scholarship to a player without the player being considered an initial counter. It would only count toward the overall limit of 85, and count as an initial counter for the next recruiting class.

Official visits key

Some of the most important recruiting developments over the next few weeks will happen during — or because of — “official visits.”

Each recruit can take up to five, and they’re paid for by the school. Each FBS school can host up to 56 official visits. (Side note: Last-minute “unofficial visits” can be crucial, too. Recruits can take an unlimited number of these, but they have to foot the bill.)

Official visits are a school’s chance to pull out all the stops, a 48-hour window packed with everything from stadium tours to one-on-one meetings with coaches.

Now in-contact period

The next two weeks will be the final push for coaches to draw recruits, especially through Jan. 31.

Why those dates specifically? It’s the final “contact period” before National Signing Day. A contact period doesn’t limit the type of communication coaches can have with recruits. Whether it’s on-campus during an official visit, at a recruit’s high school or an in-home visit, it doesn’t matter, as long as the limit of six off-campus contacts per recruit is followed.

On Feb. 1, the recruiting calendar goes back to a “quiet period,” when coaches can only make in-person contact with recruits on campus.

Feb. 2-Feb. 5 marks another “dead period,” which means recruits can’t be contacted in-person but can be reached via mail or telephone (Twitter and texting included).

As it stands

Here is a brief rundown of where each major school in Texas stands with their 2015 recruiting classes:

TCU: 22 commitments. Top prospect: East Jefferson (La.) CB DeShawn Raymond. Top remaining target: Gladewater DT Daylon Mack.

Texas: 24 commitments. Top prospect: Mesquite Poteet LB Malik Jefferson. Top remaining targets: Aledo WR Ryan Newsome, Gilmer DB Kris Boyd.

Baylor: 16 commitments. Top prospect: Stephenville QB Jarrett Stidham. Top remaining target: Cedar Hill WR DaMarkus Lodge.

Texas A&M: 23 commitments. Top prospect: Allen QB Kyler Murray. Top remaining target: DT Daylon Mack.

Texas Tech: 16 commitments. Top commit: Honolulu Farrington DT Breiden Fehoko. Top remaining target: Corona (Calif.) Centennial OT Lio Lafaele.

National Signing Day

Feb. 4