New early signing period adds tricky twist to high school football season
Edison quarterback Griffin O’Connor moved closer to his dream of playing college football by committing to a college over the summer. The decision also nudged him further along a recruiting speedway that features a newly-designed and much-debated twist.
Starting this December, for the first time high school seniors such as O’Connor will have the option to sign a national letter of intent with a college just days before Christmas. The date falls about seven weeks before the traditional and celebrated signing period in early February.
It is a major curve, and one O’Connor isn’t quite sure he wants to take on. With his senior season just under way, more pressing maneuvers occupy his thoughts.
COMING SUNDAY, AUG. 27
“After I committed, I’m focusing more on just the season at hand,” said the quarterback, who helped guide the Chargers to the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 title last December.
“Once the season ends, then I’ll make a decision if I want to sign on the earlier date or the later one.”
Other top Southern California recruits are signaling they will opt for the early off-ramp. St. John Bosco quarterback Re-al Mitchell and Mater Dei offensive lineman Tommy Brown said they plan to sign in December with their respective selections: Iowa State and Alabama.
The recruits won’t travel these highways alone. Their high school teams and the ultra-competitive college coaching staffs will be right there too, also challenged by the new rule.
In the end, all roads hope to lead to a signing day.
“It’s actually going to be quite interesting,” said Brandon Huffman, national director of college football recruiting for Scout.com. “It’s going to have its strengths, its weaknesses … but recruiting is always evolving. This going to be one of those, let’s see how it goes.”
MORE TRANSPARENCY MIGHT HELP
Mitchell is built for speed.
The senior blazes on the field as the Braves’ dual-threat quarterback and on the track as a sprinter. He also worked hard over the summer so he can graduate after the fall semester.
His accelerated graduation and passion for Iowa State make him eager to sign his letter of intent on Dec. 20, the start of the new early signing period, which will last 72 hours.
“It’s really good for high school football and college football being able to see who is really committed in the first place and who really wants to be a part of that signing class,” said Mitchell, who last season helped the Braves capture CIF State Open Division and CIF-SS Division 1 titles.
“From there, other kids can see where kids signed early and kind of decide where they want to end up.”
The NCAA expressed a similar sentiment in its April announcement of the December signing period. The governing body said it hoped to make “the recruiting environment more transparent” with changes that complement the regular signing period, which will arrive Feb. 7, 2018.
Brown, Mater Dei’s 6-foot-7, 315-pound senior left tackle, knows recruiting treks aren’t always clear. His older brother, Dillon, a pitcher in baseball, committed to Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers reportedly rescinded the offer. Dillon landed at Cal State Fullerton, but the saga left Brown vigilant about the recruiting process.
“I do have that (story) in the back of my head just because it did happen before to the family,” Brown said, “so it will help knowing that (signing day) comes early but I’m not too worried.
“Talking with (Alabama offensive line) Coach (Brent) Key and Coach (Nick) Saban, I feel they’re as committed to me as I’m committed to them. … And then once I sign, I can start getting in the other recruits’ ears like, ‘February, you can sign (with) Alabama.’ ”
The early signing period also opens new lanes for college coaches. UCLA hopes to sign all of its class of 2019 commitments – including glitzy addition Olaijah Griffin of Mission Viejo — in December.
“It gives everyone an opportunity to kind of close that book and move on to the next chapter of recruiting, which is a good thing,” said Matt Bernstein, the Bruins’ director of player of personnel.
“The NCAA did a study and a lot of recruits are worn out by the time of the recruiting process. … (And we) have the opportunity now to say (for example), ‘OK, Jaelan Phillips is locked in. We don’t have to worry about anything because he signed.’ We can go ahead and move on to the next big guys on our list.”
Wide receiver/defensive back Mike Washington of Monrovia said the stress for him comes from multiple schools competing hard for a commitment. The uncommitted senior said Hawaii showed him heavy interest before Boise State and Tulane created a three-wide duel for the lead.
“I don’t know what I want to do now. You don’t want to upset anybody,” he said. “(The early signing period) definitely lifts the burden off your shoulder. … It’s a lot of pressure.”
CAUTION FLAGS ARISE
The early signing period has some high school and college coaches pumping the brakes.
One concern involves official visits. This season’s crop of seniors will again balance taking recruiting trips with their team’s schedule and school calendar. But for those aiming to sign Dec. 20, the window for the official trips, which are paid by the universities, will be smaller.
“It’s going to be really hard, especially for teams that have an extended season and do well, to be able to get five official trips in (during) that fall,” said Centennial of Corona coach Matt Logan, who guided the Huskies to the CIF State Open Division finals in 2012-2015.
“I know a lot do unofficial visits but … some kids don’t have the ability to take unofficial visits like a lot of kids do. It’s worth a shot but I don’t know.”
Some of Logan’s concern could be eased in this spring. The NCAA also adopted rules to allow official visits by juniors starting April 1 through late June. The governing body said the change – like the early signing period — was made to help student-athletes in recruiting.
“That will be when you’ll actually start seeing some changes,” said Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. “If you host a kid, you need to be prepared to take that kid’s commitment. A lot of schools aren’t ready to do that, that early.”
Stanford coach David Shaw sees other potential slick areas on the recruiting track.
He believes recruits who are 16 or 17 years old and their families benefit from having as much time as possible to make a college decision. While Shaw has been a rock of consistency at Stanford since 2011, he wonders what impact the departure of coaches will have on recruits.
“No one can tell me that some of these guys are still not going to change their minds between December and February and when they change their minds, guess what? We’re going to let them out of those letters of intent,” Shaw said at the Pac-12 Conference media days.
“My little crystal ball here is you’re going to recruit and sign an offensive lineman … Well, his O-line coach may get a coordinator job someplace else. Maybe become a head coach someplace else. And (you) may talk about changing the offense with a new coordinator, new line coach.
“Well, (the recruit) may not want to play in that new system. So now, you’ve created a problem in December that we wouldn’t have had in February.”
Bernstein waved his own caution flag. Coaches will be stressed by hosting official visits in the spring, making the almost year-round recruiting progress even more grueling.
No path will be perfectly smooth for recruits and coaches. And while there might be apprehension, Bernstein cautions the college-side should remember one thing.
“The coaches have done this to themselves and guys like me have done this to ourselves,” he said. “I call it an arms race to nowhere because everyone is just building up their recruiting arsenal.
“More and more personnel is being dedicated to recruiting. More and more to graphic designers and videos and marketing and contacting. Always being on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, making sure your brand is good and making sure you’re in constant correspondence with these guys. … We amped up the game.”
The rules and recruits are trying to keep up.
COMING SUNDAY AUG. 27
Look for the SoCal Prep Legends high school football preview magazine in Aug. 27 edition of the Register and other Southern California News Group newspapers.
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