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February 15, 2013

Early commitments worry high school coaches

THE LIST: The Class of 2014 Rivals250

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
NEW ORLEANS -- Legendary high school football coach J.T. Curtis knows a thing or two about commitment.

He has been married to the same woman -- Lydia Curtis -- since 1968; has coached at River Ridge (La.) John Curtis Christian since starting the program in 1969; and has raised his family in a house two blocks from campus since 1977.

He has also not had a single player de-commit from his college pledge -- although he can tell you about two players who were close.

As the second-winningest high school coach ever, there is not much Curtis has not seen or done. But the explosion of social media might be ushering a new age in recruiting, one that allows college assistants direct access to prospects while circumventing the high school coaches who interact with the players on a daily basis.

His job -- and that of his peers -- Curtis said, is to protect his players no matter the evolution of recruiting.

"College coaches tell kids what they need to hear," he said. "There is a reason that there are pieces of tape on their helmets when practice starts. (Recruiters) only care about them to the point that they need to get them signed."

According to Curtis, the changing of the NCAA rules on texting and other social media interaction has been a positive in some respects, but the opening of a Pandora's Box in others.

"There is a lot more self-promotion available to the kids and a lot more direct contact that can happen between schools and players with texting, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram," Curtis said. "Now, some of that is good because it will open up more doors for kids. But that can be bad because coaches sometimes feel like they do not need to do their due diligence with us.

"We have been pretty lucky here because our staff has been together so long that we have great relationships with college coaches, but it could be different at other places."

John Curtis Christian won the RivalsHigh100 National Championship this season while also winning the state title for the 25th time. The team signed seven players to FBS-level schools, and it has two players already earning four-star status as well as inclusion in the Rivals250 for the Class of 2014.

Linebacker Duke Riley was one of the two players who nearly broke the commitment streak for Curtis this season. He was set to commit to TCU but instead accepted an offer to LSU the day before National Signing Day.

It was a dream offer for Riley, and Curtis said he knew that all along, which is why he encouraged Riley to wait on pledging to TCU.

"Duke came in and told me that he was ready to commit and that it didn't look like LSU would offer," Curtis said. "I just said to him, 'What if LSU offers?' Once you commit it is over. When you commit you are married to a team and you don't change."

LSU came to the school and offered the next day.

TCU coaches were understandably upset to receive the news that a player who could likely start for them next year would not be coming on campus.

"The coaches there were confused. They really thought he was coming, but that is why we don't commit early here," Curtis said. "I have had a lot of coaches tell me that they wish more schools did it this way."

Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution tracked de-commitments in the state of Georgia and found that 56 of the 184 players who signed a Letter of Intent from the state had de-committed at least once in the most recent recruiting cycle.

Tony Sanchez is the head coach at Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. He said he prefers if the recruiting process starts with him, but from there it is up to each player.

"We have pretty good relationships with the colleges that come into the school," Sanchez said. "To be honest though, I am only as involved as the families want me to be, and that can be from start to finish or it could be just to make introductions, and anywhere in between doesn't bother me.

"I have only had one player that did all of his own recruiting; that was totally without me using social media and talking to coaches on his own."

Bishop Gorman had six players sign with FBS-level schools this year. It already has one committed for next season and has a running back, Nathan Starks, ranked inside the Top 50 of the Rivals100.

Sanchez said that he can only recall two kids in his coaching history to de-commit, but he also said that he has had multiple schools pull an offer after a prospect committed.

"You can only go to one school," Sanchez said. "We try to talk to the kids about that and explain to them what commitment means, but today it isn't just on them. We don't want them to make a hasty decision, but once you start talking to schools or get on a campus, everyone is pushing you to commit and sometimes players get swept up into it.

"Being on Facebook can make it harder, too. Fans and coaches from all over have access to you and it makes it tough. Recruiting is so accelerated that I hope for everyone that the next step is a second National Signing Day."

Multiple signing periods have been implemented in other sports, but not in football.

The booming business of college football, according to Curtis, has added to the pressure on coaches and makes the process more problematic for all involved.

"The success and failure of the men are broadcast on national television every weekend and that is hard," Curtis said. "To have a good team you need good players and everyone is doing what it takes to get them.

"We tell our kids to slow down the process and really take their time. Talk things out. Take their visits. You will learn a lot about who is telling you the truth because their story never changes and who is recruiting you because their story swings in the breeze, trying to change it to what you want to hear."

The message was heard by Curtis receiver Malachi Dupre. The No. 83 player in the Rivals100 is already taking time to go see schools. Last weekend, Dupre and Rivals250 linebacker Kenny Young made a trip to the West Coast to see UCLA.

Dupree said that UCLA, Florida State, Clemson, and LSU have been most active with him, and while he is honored, he isn't forcing his decision.

"I am going to take my time and see as much as I can," Dupre said. "There isn't any pressure on me to make a decision, so I am going to make it when it is right."

Dupre added that what his coaches have told him has made an impact.

"I will do what is right when the time is right," he said. "They have given me a lot of advice and have been through this more than me, so I will take my visits and go from there."

Getting off of the computer and setting foot on campus is something that J.T. Curtis has emphasized with all of his players.

It is a hard and fast formula for Curtis as to finding out if a college will be the right fit and not a Catfish scheme.

"Go on your officials but make time to talk to some people that they haven't prearranged for you," he said. "All the official visits are the same: you'll get on campus and there is a pretty girl waiting for you. Then you meet a player that the coaches know will speak glowingly of the program and his experience, and then you are swept up to see the highlights. Go search out the redshirt player at your position and ask how he is being treated because that could just as easily be you.

"Just about every player that goes to play football at that level thinks they are going to the NFL, but they aren't. If those kids are taking the virtual tours of the school and just believing what they are told on the phone, then they are doing themselves a disservice.

"We are in a different world and the time to be ready is right now."



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