published Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Wiedmer: Emotions too dependent on 18-year-olds

The call came to our office early Tuesday morning. The man wanted to know when Calhoun (Ga.) High School wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers was going to announce between Georgia and Tennessee.

Told that Rogers would make his choice during a 9:45 a.m. ceremony today at the school, the man said he'd have to call in sick so he could make the event.

"I wish I lived close enough to do that," said my buddy Brad, who bleeds UT orange inside his home near Huntsville, Ala. "I'd do that in a minute."

Welcome to college football's national signing day, or as some might view it, "Who let the nuts out?"

After all, Brad insists that his last name remain anonymous so he can maintain employment. It seems that on this day last year he spent so much time on the Internet scouring various Web sites for signing news about the Volunteers that his boss pulled the plug on his Web access.

Brad's friend Brandon Price is an engineer for the Army. He's taken a day off from work each of the past three years on signing day -- "I even took an off day when Bryce Brown signed, and that wasn't until March, I think," he said -- but this morning finds him in Maryland checking out new weapons for the military.

"It's killing me," Price said, "but at least I know I'm helping defend my country."

Just how into football recruiting, particularly Tennessee recruiting, is the 28-year-old Price, who was born in Knoxville?

"It's probably the biggest reason I'm not yet married," he said. "Let's just say sleep's been at a minimum ever since that coach who will now remain nameless left us and we had to re-recruit all these players."

Exactly when this obsession with football recruiting began is hard to say. The Internet's recruiting sites and message boards have certainly fueled the fire. ESPN rolling out ESPNU elevated the madness.

But to prove it's everywhere, especially in the South, consider this newspaper's Web site. During a 24-hour period between Sunday evening and Monday evening, UT beat writer Wes Rucker's story on Rogers attending Sunday's Tennessee-Florida basketball game drew 4,321 hits. In second place was the obituary section with 1,936 hits. The third-most read story was a second Rucker recruiting story.

And for what? At the rate these kids change their minds, a verbal commitment has become as unreliable as "the check's in the mail."

Take Rogers, for instance. Committed to Georgia for nearly a year, he now looks to be leaning UT's way. But he wore a red-and-black shirt to the UT-Florida game just to keep people guessing.

Then there's Markeith Ambles, another possible UT signee. Ambles made the news this past weekend for using some suggestive language in tweeting Knoxville radio personality Heather Harrington and calling her a "pretty girl."

Countered Harrington in a return tweet: "I am not a Vols hostess and I don't hang with recruits."

Ouch.

Or as a fan named Shawn said Tuesday night, "I'm waiting on the faxes to roll in so I can base my next four years on what some 18-year-old kid does."

Not everyone is this crazed, of course.

Longtime Big Orange fan Patrick Bobo works for the city of Chattanooga. He's excited about the class he believes new UT coach Derek Dooley will sign today, but he doesn't follow it all year, preferring to live in the precious present over the foggy future.

"I kind of care about it," the 29-year-old said. "Especially the last four or five weeks before signing day. But I'm not one of those guys who knows these kids' names in August. A lot of times I'll be with my friends on game day and I'll say, 'Can we talk about today's game instead of next year's recruits?'"

Yet Bobo seemingly is in the vast minority. Most point to the irrefutable argument that newly crowned national champ Alabama has been at or near the top of the past two recruiting classes as proof that none of this is overblown.

"I know I'll be texting and e-mailing my friends all day at work to find out what's going on," said 23-year-old Darrin Wall, whose request to take a vacation day from work today was denied. "If we (UT) get both Rogers and Ambles, I might have to go out and celebrate."

And if they don't, especially if they don't get Ambles, it might be radio host Harrington doing the celebrating.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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