By Gabriel Stovall
Athletes decommitting has been a pretty hot topic locally lately.
And, of course, the obvious big news about de-commitment is resurfacing out of Macon County this week regarding Roquan Smith who chose UCLA over Georgia, and then refused to submit his letter of intent on National Signing Day back in February after the Bruins defensive coordinator unexpectedly bolted to join the Atlanta Falcons’ new coaching staff.
Smith is now currently pledged to Georgia, and will arrive in Athens this summer as a recruit, but in perhaps an unprecedented move in college football recruiting, Smith will forego providing a letter of intent as a precaution in case some other unforeseen situations happen before the 4-star linebacker will be able to get on the college football field.
For some it may simply sound like one harmless, isolated case of a player just trying to ensure that he doesn’t get burned. But according to AJC recruiting writer Michael Carvell’s blog, some coaches believe this could be the start of a growing trend of blue chip college prospects trying to guard against last minute changes of plans by their school/coach of choice.
Around the same time, Morgan County hoops star Tookie Brown recently took to Twitter to announce that he was re-opening his recruitment process after the dismissal of head coach Rick Ray at Mississippi State.
— Tookie Brown (@tookie_b) April 7, 2015
Former Luella (Henry County) coach Jamond Sims guided Brown and Morgan County to a state runner-up appearance this season during his first year on the sidelines at the school. He also went on the same social media network as Brown to vouch for the talents of his star player:
It all serves as a reminder that as college recruiting starts to morph into big business along the lines of the NFL or NBA Drafts, it is gradually pulling the high school game — at least the elite level of it — along for the ride.
More and more you’re seeing high school kids play the selection game. They’re making last minute decisions and ninth hour switches and changes that are keeping coaches and recruiters up all night. Perhaps now the coaches know how the athletes they once pursued feel when they make moves that unexpectedly pulls the rug out from under a kids feet, although some may vibe more with the analogy of pulling the wool over one’s eyes.
What people often forget as they lambaste these kids for making last minute changes, breaking commitments, re-opening recruitment or refusing to sign LOIs is that the same way these coaches are breaking their promises for greener pastures, more money and better opportunities, all in the name of “taking care of their families,” the soon-to-be college star hopeful is too, albeit in a different way.
Surely there are some bonafied prima donnas on both sides of the spectrum that earn the scrutiny their moves trigger. But how many times can you recall reading a report in your local newspaper of how your favorite coach has been rumored to be considering another job, and they parrot thei politically correct company line that goes something like: “I’m fully committed to being the coach at ____________, and I haven’t heard from any other schools about any other jobs?”
And then two weeks later they’re gone — miraculously to the job that they claim they never even knew was open.
You may say that’s just how the game is played. Okay, well don’t get upset when the kids who often become the undesired pawn in a coach’s search for more begins to play back. That’s what Smith is doing. And who can really blame him? It’s also what Brown is doing after the coach whom he built a long lasting relationship with was dismissed.
The relationship between high school player and prospective college coach is a dynamic that most casual observers of amateur athletics either underestimate or just don’t get at all. Take it from a guy like Jordan Lyons. The McIntosh basketball star, in the midst of all of the de-committing talk, recently said something that you wish you could hear more of from big-time high school recruits:
Wherever I decide to commit to, is where I will spend all 4 years
— Jordan Lyons ™ (@J_Lyons_23) April 7, 2015
But when he talked with me after espousing his cyber wisdom, he elaborated even more on that statement and gave some real, honest personal thoughts on recruiting, committing and de-committing.
“I hate de-committing,” Lyons said. “I don’t like it because I believe in loyalty. It’s one of the values I believe in the most, so when I commit to a college I’m going to look at it as a committed relationship. You’ve got me, I got you. When I choose my school I want to be able to look back and say that’s my school forever. I feel like when you break that commitment that means you’ve kind of led (the school) on.”
But in Brown’s case, and even Smith’s situation, Lyons, a rising senior with a steadily rising recruiting stock, said he doesn’t necessarily fault them for what they’ve done.
“For Tookie, I understood why he decommited,” Lyons said. “He had been committed there for a long time, and when the coaches got fired, he still gave it a chance and after that, I guess maybe it didn’t go well, so he decided to part ways.
“That’s the only way I can be okay with thinking about de-committing, if a coach gets fired or leaves. People don’t always understand that coaching is a big part of where you decide to go to school. I mean, when a coach that you’ve been excited about playing for and you’ve built a relationship with just leaves and isn’t there anymore, that hurts a lot.”
Lyons said he has “some great relationships” with the coaches that have been recruiting him the most. After picking up an offer from Mercer Wednesday afternoon, Lyons now has eight scholarship offers. The others come from Middle Tennessee State, Troy, Tennessee Tech, Liberty, Old Dominion, Wofford and Abilene Christian, and Lyons said Troy and Wofford are the ones “recruiting me the hardest.”
Those relationships didn’t just start and develop overnight.
“All of these coaches started early,” he said. “That’s how it should be.”
And he’s right. But also understand the implications of that, when a coach is the one to break his connection with that school he no doubt told the recruit he would be at for the foreseeable future.
The deeper those ties and connections, the harder it is for a player — or, to be fair, some coaches — to just pick up and move on when that connection and relationship is broken for whatever reason, justified or unjustified.
But, it’s a big boy business and a big boy world — even if some of those big boys are still impressionable, young teenage kids looking for some post secondary stability from grown men.
“I honestly just believe that, as a man, if I tell you something, you should be able to hold on to that,” Lyons said. “I don’t believe in misleading you or saying one thing and then letting something else happen. If I tell you something, I’m going to be firm to it. If you’ve got my back, then I’ve got yours. If I’m with you, you’re with me.”
That alone should make Lyons’ stock soar even more Because he’s basically saying, “Don’t look for me to flip on you if I’ve given you my word I’m coming and nothing else on your end changes.”
In other words, when Lyons makes that college decision over the next few months, know that he has taken it seriously, given it much thought and plans to make his bond with that school and coach an unbreakable one.
Hopefully his future coach will be able to share a similar testimony regarding his intentions toward him.
Gabriel Stovall is the editor of thecrescentbuzz.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1 or you can follow us @crescent_buzz.