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January 29, 2013

Early pledges leave time for twisting in the wind


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Reuben Foster's Rivals.com profile says uncommitted, but the ink on his forearm says Auburn.

Welcome to 2013. Twists and turns are the norm.

It all starts at the top, too. The script for the recruitment of No. 1 overall prospect Robert Nkemdiche reads like a bad sitcom. This summer, his mother returned from Nigeria, where she lives and works, to find her son committed to Clemson. She put the kibosh on those plans post-haste.

Thomas Tyner, the No. 2 running back, seemingly came down with the yips and de-committed from Oregon for less than 24 hours in October.

Linebacker Alex Anzalone's story includes a de-commitment from Ohio State spurred by a tweeted photograph of a registered sex offender. It also features three separate verbal commitments, the last of which came to Florida the day before Anzalone enrolled.

Remember when Florida-based Greg Bryant broke his pledge to Oklahoma in an effort to "stay close to home" in the South, only to quickly commit to Notre Dame?

And those are just the five-stars. This, it seems, is the year of indecision. If nothing else, it's been fascinating to observe.

"There are a bunch of strange stories," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "The fan bases will think Anzalone is the strangest one, but there are so many others. That one isn't even weird to me."

The most publicized case is that of Foster. It's a tale as old as time: player gets Auburn tattoo on forearm to celebrate his commitment flip from Alabama. Player de-commits from Auburn. People laugh and shrug.

Of course the Tigers' coaching change forced Foster's hand, and there's a solid chance he could end up in an Auburn uniform after all. The story was sensationalized because of the tattoo, and it was given new life Sunday night when news broke that Foster will visit San Diego State, of all places. But at its core, the situation is simply the most famous case of a trend for 2013 -- a microcosm of the larger, distorted picture.

An anomaly? Probably not. It's more likely the next step in the direction of modern recruiting. For better or worse, this is where things stand.

"It's going to get worse and worse, and the new recruiting rules are going to make it worse," Farrell said. "Coaches are going to have access to kids earlier. They're also going to essentially have unlimited access to kids. They're really going to be able to pressure kids into early commits more so than they do now, and that's why there will be more of this."

Strange or not, the case of Anzalone wins the award for most twists. The five-star prospect de-committed from Ohio State in May amid concerns that a convicted sex offender, who reached out to Buckeyes players and recruits including Anzalone via Twitter, had involved himself in recruiting visits.

A commitment to Notre Dame followed but was broken the day before Anzalone was set to enroll in classes. And just like that, the No. 2 inside linebacker in the 2013 class was a Gator.

"A lot of fans think Anzalone is crazy, but he's not," Farrell said. "His situation ... he got yo-yo-ed around. It wasn't him. He committed too early to Ohio State. I think the part about the picture with the sex offender was something his dad ran with. I don't believe it was the true reason for the de-commitment. With Notre Dame, Brian Kelly told him he wanted him there and he'd be there for him. So when he saw Brian Kelly looking around, he felt betrayed."

Tyner's split-second change of heart took place well before Chip Kelly began his first game of footsie with the NFL. It's less talked about than the cases of Foster, Nkemdiche and Anzalone, but the motivation behind it has an all-too-familiar feel.

"I think he de-committed because he had been committed for so long and felt pressure to look at other programs," said West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney. "After about a day of experiencing the recruiting process again, he was done with that. He realized there wasn't going to be a better fit for him."

For better or worse, the culture of early commitments leaves more time for doubt. It creates indecision. It also adds another bullet point to the case for adding a basketball-esque early signing period to the football world.

"They definitely need an early signing period," Farrell said. "Last spring was like January of any other year. I remember going around to camps, and I'd be in an airport checking my phone and see that 10 kids committed. These were big-time kids committing at spring games or campus visits. The spring activity this year was akin to the days leading up to signing day. When I saw that was happening, I said, 'This is going to lead to a very interesting December and January.' That's kind of where we're at."

The early-signing thing is a different conversation, though. It's also one that was beaten into the ground with a sledgehammer long ago. For now, all that's left to do is sit back and watch.

And that, at least this year, is more than entertaining enough to pass the time.



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