Gil LeBreton

Football signing day: Still crazy after all these years

Arlington Bowie football player Tope Imade gets help from a Bowie coach, Nate Van Cleave, left, and mom and dad, Betty and Felix Imade, during National Signing Day last year.
Arlington Bowie football player Tope Imade gets help from a Bowie coach, Nate Van Cleave, left, and mom and dad, Betty and Felix Imade, during National Signing Day last year.

As the story goes, college booster groups would fly in this so-called “recruiting guru” every year to give his assessment of the school’s incoming football recruits.

The gathering would be festive. Beer, live music and crawfish fueled the anticipation.

In time, the recruiting guru would arrive to great applause, stride to the microphone and issue three words. Every year, as the story goes, the same three words:

“Best. Class. Ever.”

The audience would roar. The band would play.

And the recruiting guy would shuffle off to his next stop, where he would repeat the exact same routine.

“Best. Class. Ever.”

In a lot of ways, college football recruiting hasn’t changed much since that fabled day in 1989 when Dallas Carter’s Derric Evans, with a wine glass in one hand and a ballpoint pen in the other, signed his grant-in-aid with Tennessee while sitting in a hot tub.

Four-star safety Deontay Anderson announced his college decision (Ole Miss) last year after jumping out of an airplane.

The hot tub has been replaced, though, by the table with the caps. You know the drill.

TV cameras. Player sits down at table between mama and about 35 or 40 aunts and cousins. Four ball caps on table. And with much orchestrated suspense, the 18-year-old dons the chosen cap and announces he is “taking his talents” to Tuscaloosa. Or Starkville.

National Signing Day this year is Wednesday, Feb. 1. But a lot of you probably already knew that.

Eternally passionate, college football fans know that National Signing Day is like Christmas in February. The second season. The day when everybody sees stars —five stars, four stars, whatever stars fill your team’s need.

The prime difference nowadays is that recruiting has become college football’s Wall Street. Its zealots track commitments like day traders.

Thanks to the many online recruiting sites — from the established ones such as Rivals and Scout to the self-anointed gurus that operate from their parents’ basements — fans can follow a teenager’s daily whims as he contemplates the most important decision of his life.

Which reminds me. Why the urge, fellas, to leave your beloved home state? Why do long, cold winters in Ohio and Michigan seem more comforting than your mother’s cooking?

Know this before you sign with Out-of-State U.:

Traditional media don’t have the manpower, travel budgets or newsprint that we used to. If you leave your home state, you’re gone. Don’t be phoning Hansen or Newy, asking why the touchdown you scored didn’t make the Sunday night highlights.

And if that NFL career doesn’t pan out for you, don’t come home expecting to be hired by all the Aggies and UT exes that you spurned five years before, when you took your talents to Auburn.

But I digress. To an already flawed tradition, we’ve now added social media. Grown adults can follow the scrambled brainpans of 17-year-olds daily on Twitter and Instagram.

And if the kid doesn’t pick your school, they troll him. Haters gonna hate.

No wonder you have two-star recruits taking to the internet to “announce” they were narrowing their college choices to three FCS schools and “Please, no interviews.”

Coaches aren’t exactly helping. Does everybody have a helicopter these days to hop from one recruit’s home to another’s? Did Nick Saban really need to hire a lights-flashing police escort to follow safety Todd Harris home?

It’s crazy. It’s recruiting.

Warm up the hot tub. National Signing Day is a little more than a week away.

But I have a feeling you already knew that.

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