Marlin Lane is a talented high school football player.
A 6-foot-1, 205-pound running back from Daytona Beach, Fla., Lane has speed and power and the will to come back from a serious knee injury to rush for more than 500 yards after missing the first half of his senior season.
His production and his potential drew the attention of big-time college football programs across the South.
Lane had been committed to Clemson for more than a year — he even has a Tigers tattoo on his shoulder — before the school pulled his scholarship. Lane refused to stop taking visits, and when Clemson backed away he reopened his recruiting and quickly became one of the hottest properties as schools look to fill out their recruiting classes.
Four-star running backs who are looking for homes often get a lot of attention, especially this late in the process, and Lane was no exception. Tennessee came calling. So did Auburn and Florida State and Miami.
Monday, word leaked out that Lane had picked Tennessee. Then word leaked out that he was waiting to make a decision. Then word leaked out that the Volunteers were Lane's final decision. For now, at least.
So it goes in recruiting, the pressure-filled drama of the lifeblood of college football programs that typifies the real-life drama raising blood pressures for college coaches.
Lane brings much-needed speed and athleticism to a Vols backfield that is starving for it. He could get on the field as soon as September — either in the pro-style offense that he cited as one of the reasons he picked Knoxville or as a kick returner.
In truth, Lane currently could be viewed as Tennessee's biggest prize in what is shaping to be a strong recruiting haul — at least right now, more than a week before scholarships can be signed and at least months and probably years before four and five stars on websites become big-time stars on Saturdays.
And that's the message that's becoming more and more difficult to decipher between hat-choosing ceremonies and silent commitments and players bouncing back and forth.
Yes, recruiting is paramount for success in the football arms race that is the SEC — the adage about it being more about the Jimmys and the Joes than the X's and the O's has never been more true — but it's little more than educated guesses, especially before the Feb. 2 signing day.
Get recruiting updates now through signing day in the daily 5-at-10, updated Monday through Friday at 10 a.m.
This is not a knock on recruiting — it's exciting and vital. Plus, what the heck else are college football fans supposed do between now and the start of spring practice — Senior Bowl lineup breakdowns?
Rather, this is simply a pre-emptive caution, a reminder that recruiting classes like drafts and used cars can't really be evaluated until weeks, months and often years later. Signing day is filled with hits and misses, and that's even after the scholarships have been signed.
The phrase "nonbinding verbal commitment" should be required reading this time of year. Between now and signing day hundreds of players will make up their minds about their college futures. Dozens more will change their minds — whether they have tattoos of one school or not.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...