The Stress of National Signing Day

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

College football’s National Signing Day is here – and it’s completely out of hand.

From 17-year-olds getting nationally televised press conferences to announce their college decisions, to signees receiving death threats from the fans of teams they didn’t choose, to mothers running off with their sons’ Letters of Intent so they can’t sign, the craziness and attention put on one decision is overwhelming.

Selecting a college, whether or not you’re an ESPN Top 150 athlete, is a big decision that can have huge ramifications. And for highly sought-after prep football players, the stakes get even higher.

There are smooth-tongued coaches talking about the difference they’ll make in the program and how it’ll set them up for a future in the NFL. There are potential teammates – potential best friends – telling them how great it is to be {insert mascot name here}. There are high school coaches, high school teammates and family members all influencing the decision, one way or another.

Everything that factors into a typical high school senior’s college selection process is in play: location, campus, academic opportunities (maybe). Top recruits have an even longer list to consider: the coaching staff, and how long the coaches are expected to stick around, the team’s recent success, the likelihood of playing early and often, and of winning a championship and how well they’ll be groomed for the NFL, and for life.

To figure it out, they listen to pitches from well-versed recruiters. They begin to build relationships with their potential head coaches, position coaches and teammates – at each of the schools under serious consideration. They start to imagine their futures at each of those schools – and they might realize they could be happy in more than one program.

They realize it’s not an easy decision. It’s a choice that could be the difference between reaching a lifelong goal of playing in the NFL and languishing on the bench, facing an uncertain, football-less future.

There’s a lot riding on one choice, on one hat that a ridiculously talented teenager selects in front of a roomful of media members and some television cameras.

But seriously, no pressure.

The movie The Blind Side depicts a revolving door of the nation’s top coaches, all offering more and more in attempt to outbid the competition for the top young talent, and while some recruits bask in the attention and soak up the spotlight, others agonize over the decision and the ramifications it will have on their lives, and the lives of those they love and respect.

It’s tougher now that social media is involved. Recruits don’t just hear from coaches; they hear from fans, often nasty, vitriolic fans. They keep in touch with other players and prospects whom they meet at football camps and on campus visits. Their relationships with certain programs, and certain players and coaches, grow stronger.

But there’s still a choice to be made.

Sometimes, it’s made for them. Recruits who had their heart set on one school don’t get an offer or, worse, have their offer pulled in favor of another prospect with a higher-star rating.

Some milk their decisions until National Signing Day. Others wait until that day, or even later, because this is the biggest decision they’ve made to this point in their young lives and they just don’t know what to do. 

Recruiting is big business, because college football is big business. Recruiting matters because winning is a lot easier with the right players, and in college football, winning is everything.

It’s a cutthroat industry, and the recruits are often caught in the middle. They’re still kids, but they already face so much pressure to perform well enough on the field to get scholarship offers, to go to a good program and play well so they can go to the NFL.

The decisions they make today are laced with their dreams, others’ expectations, hopefully some common sense, and the knowledge that no matter what, they’ll be letting someone down.

That’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of a high schooler who just wants to play football.

 

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