Recruiting no longer fun for many high school players
Published: Monday, February 7, 2011
Updated: Monday, February 7, 2011 20:02
For P.J. Jones, it was one of the most trying times of his life.
"Sometimes, I would just cut off my phone and go into a closet somewhere, just chill in there for awhile. Just disappear for a couple hours and see if something changed, but when I come back out, it's right back to it," he said.
Jones, currently a senior at Tupelo High School, is considered a four-star prospect on the defensive line, and he signed a letter of intent to play for Mississippi State on Feb. 2.
The 6'3", 260-pound tackle was considered one of the most sought-after high school players in the state of Mississippi, and he said the process of his recruitment was one of the most stressful times he has ever endured.
The calls from coaches of the country's biggest football programs started as soon as the NCAA allowed them — his junior year.
"It built up, but when it got to the mountain top, it didn't come down," Jones said. "It just kept going up. It kind of got worse and worse and worse and worse and worse every day. I had like 30 missed calls when I got out of school every day."
Jones committed to MSU two weeks before the Feb. 2 national signing day, but he said even doing that did not stop the calls from coming in. In fact, Jones said, his new rival Ole Miss began recruiting him even harder once the Rebels found out he was planning to sign with the Bulldogs.
Jones' story is not a unique one. For the big-time players, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said the three weeks leading up to signing day are "just crazy."
"There's people coming at these young men from every direction," Mullen said. "I've heard more stories than you could ever imagine of different people showing up on their door step and what goes on in recruiting, the situations these young men get faced with. You just hope, you know, over the next couple weeks, the reason they make their decisions, that they make decisions for the right reasons."
It is not just coaches, of course. Paul Jones covers recruiting for Bulldawgjunction.com, and he said some of the worst pressure can come from family, friends and fans of different schools.
"I think it's obviously stressful, because not only do you have the phone calls, but you have people asking every day at school, and every time they're out, ‘Hey, where you going, man? Just curious,'" Paul Jones said. "A lot of [recruits] say that same thing that, ‘It was exciting in the beginning, but I had no idea what it was really going to turn into.'"
For C.J. Johnson, a five-star linebacker and the top-rated player in Mississippi, it turned into a war on, of all places, his Facebook page. The Philadelphia native committed to MSU early in his junior year, but then in early January of this year, he backed off of his commitment to Mullen when MSU's defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left for the same position at Texas.
After that, he said his phone, Facebook and everyday life were consumed with recruiting.
Many fans, or people posing as fans from other schools, flooded his Facebook page with accusations against him and his family for anything from taking money to his mother being given a job by Ole Miss boosters.
Johnson said things like that made it hard for him to enjoy the recruiting process.
"It was tough, because, you know, I'm a quick-tempered person, and I get fired up pretty fast," Johnson said. "It don't take much to kind of get me going. I just had to — it was hard to try to stay away from it. When my family got involved, I just cut it completely off, man, I'm done. I cut it completely. A guy over in Alabama, Brent Calloway, me and him was talking about it the other day. He said he actually got death threats."
After the fans come the media. Just as there are multiple coaches calling a recruit from each school interested in him, there are multiple writers, bloggers and TV guys who cover each school calling the recruit, hoping to share his thoughts with the eagerly awaiting public.
Mullen, perhaps unsurprisingly, considers this a problem.
"This time of year, there's a lot of media attention that gets thrown into recruiting," Mullen said in mid-January. "A lot of 17-year-olds want their moment in the sun. I think the expansion of how the media has jumped into recruiting has really, almost, in some ways, negatively affected these young men who now want to get their name in the paper, or want to get on TV one more time, or want to do something. It can affect and cloud, sometimes, the things that go on."
However, Paul Jones, one of those men in the media covering these high schoolers, said many of them bring it on themselves.
"Some of these kids put themselves in position to get the stress," Jones said. "You can't expect to say, ‘Hey, I'm announcing on TV on this certain date,' and not expect to get hammered every day leading up to it. A lot of them put themselves in that position to be hounded and to have more stress. It goes both ways."
Paul Jones also noted the difficulty many of the kids have making their choices, saying not all of them have supportive parents or even coaches to guide them through the process.
P.J. Jones said he "was getting pulled every which way" throughout his recruitment, and it was hard for him to decipher the truth.
Both P.J. Jones and Johnson admitted that many coaches would speak negatively about other programs, particularly the one they were both interested in — MSU — though Johnson ultimately chose to attend Ole Miss.
Certainly, all coaches will tell recruits why their school is the best, and MSU's new co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said recruiting, in a nutshell, is all about establishing trust and a connection.
"You're not gonna get a kid to a school unless you can find out what he's interested in and help him find the place you're at," Collins said. "[It's] being a good person, caring about people, being instantly likeable or being able to find a connection with kids and their parents, with the people that surround them. Probably the biggest thing is just a general enthusiasm and excitement for the place that you're at."