A mother forges her son's signature on a letter of intent. A newly committed Georgia player hoists a live bulldog to celebrate his college choice. A top-rated quarterback tries to avoid an argument by telling his mother — by text message — that he's not picking her preferred school.
Those were the highlights, or lowlights, of Signing Day, Act One.
Act Two comes today in Rock Hill, S.C., when defensive end Jadeveon Clowney celebrates his 18th birthday and gives his parents what he calls a Valentine's Day present when he reveals his college choice live on ESPN. Clowney is widely ranked as the nation's No. 1 recruit, reportedly once got over 800 cell phone calls in a single day, and has even been followed by a film crew in recent weeks. Fans at Alabama, Clemson, South Carolina and other schools will nervously await his pick.
It all begs the question: How did signing day turn into a full-blown circus?
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has an answer. He blames LeBron James.
"LeBron changed it," Phillips said. "I mean, let's get real. He changed it, too."
It's an odd comparison, drawing parallels between high school kids making a brief spectacle out of announcing a college choice on television and James' infamous "The Decision" special on ESPN in which he announced he would be joining the Miami Heat last summer -- during an hourlong show that raised roughly $4 million for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Yes, on Feb. 2, the first day high school kids could formally sign, many copied James' signature line from that night, saying they would "take their talents to" their respective college.
But the spectacle of signing day — or days, now — has been getting out of hand for many years. And 2011 was no exception.
It's simply the way of the world these days, some say.
"Do we make too much of Paris Hilton? Yes. We make too much of all the stuff that's out there," said Tom Pagley, the athletic director at Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Dwyer High. "If there's a market for it, that's what is going to happen. The kids, as much as we want to think they're living in a grown-up world, they're still 17-, 18-year-old kids and it's one of the most important decisions of their lives. It's our job to protect them."
Pagley's school had a slew of major-college signees this year. Some, like Florida State tight-end-to-be Nick O'Leary — the grandson of golf great Jack Nicklaus and one of the most coveted athletes in the nation this year — signed their letters relatively quietly, in a quick ceremony.
Others, like quarterback Jacoby Brissett, waited for a bigger stage. Also a basketball player at Dwyer High, Brissett waited to make his announcement until Feb. 4, senior night for the basketball team. With his mother looking on, in some dismay, Brissett chose Florida over Miami.
He told friends and coaches his decision Feb. 3. He texted his mother the news around 5 p.m. on Feb. 4.
"I think the process should be more private," said Brissett's mother, Ellicia Brown. "I think that the kids and their parents should be able to talk about it, and let it be that. ... I am sick and tired of it."
Some coaches have what they believe is a solution: Add an early signing day.
In many cases, kids are committing to schools a year or more ahead of the actual signing period. Then they take weekend visits to other schools, keep getting offers, waver at times, and often wind up changing their minds.
Proponents of early signing days say it could save colleges enormous sums of money. Recruiting doesn't end with a commitment. It ends with the signed letter of intent, and until that arrives schools are compelled to continue sending coaches on the road — across the country in some cases — to see games and make phone calls as often as possible, just to ensure that commitment is still solid.
"Those young men are 17 years old, 18 years old, and they're getting bombarded with professional recruitment for months on end," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "And I think the early signing period allows that to end at a period where the young man can make a decision and go. That's why I'm in favor of it."
Former Miami coach Randy Shannon once said he would withdraw a scholarship offer from recruits who played the "hat game," the one where kids bring a few caps to their various signing events, try some on, throw discarded hats to the side and then proudly display their final pick.
The hat game is almost passe now.
Georgia signee Isaiah Crowell got his first scholarship offer as a freshman in high school. When his three-year recruiting saga ended, he lifted a bulldog — in a mini Georgia jersey, no less — to celebrate his decision.
"Hat tricks, dog tricks, whatever people are doing ... that's changed it more than anything," Phillips said.
Then there was the story of Floyd Raven, who never told his mother his final choice was Texas A&M.
She thought he was picking Mississippi.
So she faxed the letter to Ole Miss on the morning of Feb. 2, unbeknownst to her son. His real letter went out hours later, this time to the Aggies.
"You never know," Southern California coach Lane Kiffin said. "You still don't know the last night sometimes. ... You never know until the faxes come in for sure."
And that's likely how several big-name coaches will be feeling this morning about Clowney.
His recruiting process has been likened to Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who waited more than a month after the signing window opened before deciding on the Buckeyes. As was the case with Pryor on his decision day, all recruiting eyes will be on Clowney early today.
He knows which school he's picking and has told his mother his final decision. Everyone else is left to guess.
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