Cleveland High School football star Sterling Johnson was all set to make his dreams come true after the University of Tennessee long ago offered him a scholarship.
But it turned out the offer wasn’t really what it seemed to be.
“I guess it was non-committable,” said Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive lineman who has since committed to Clemson University.
Non-committable is a new term in college football recruiting, and refers to offers that aren’t exactly that.
“Some of the offers [Johnson] had were committable, some were non-committable,” Cleveland coach Scott Riley said. “They usually don’t say this is non-committable because then it’s not really an offer.”
Johnson’s story is not unlike others. Michael Clark, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com, has seen this before.
“It’s tough,” Clark said. “I think it’s tough on the kids. I think takes them time to bounce back
from that. It can be embarrassing, tough to handle.”
Campbell University coach Mike Minter has seen both sides of the recruiting game. He was a star player at the University of Nebraska and then became a key player for the Carolina Panthers. Now he is a head coach.
“So I’ve got you, number’s one, two, three,” Minter said. “And so the third guy, I’ve still got to
recruit you, I’ve still got to make you feel good, but I really want number one, right?”
And that’s the reason coaches offer more scholarships than they really have to offer.
“If you don’t offer a guy, he won’t come visit your campus,” Duke University coach David Cutcliffe said.
But it works the other way, too. As Cutcliffe pointed out, many players want to get an offer in hand and then shop and see if they can get something better.
“That’s where some of the de-commits come in and it’s horrific advice to young people,” Cutcliffe said. A de-commit is when a player commits to one school and then later changes his mind. Decades ago, players rarely changed their minds but that has become much more common in recent years.
Another local player getting plenty of attention is Wake Forest senior Bryce Love, who is one of the most sought-after running backs in the country. Stanford, Georgia and Florida are just a few of the powers that have offered him a scholarship. But are those Love said there is only one way to find out.
“Really, I feel like you should ask. Really, ultimately, if it’s not a committable offer usually they might fall back a little bit,” Love said.
It’s also imperative that the parents ask the same question – if my son committed right now, would you accept his offer?
Clark, the recruiting expert, said most coaches are fine with this line of questioning, largely because they have reputations to uphold.
“Take care of the people that you recruit,” Campbell’s Minter said. “Be fair, be true and don’t play games.”
And players should do the same in return, Duke’s Cutcliffe said.
“Tell us the truth of your interest,” Cutcliffe said. “This isn’t a game. This is your future, this is our futures.”
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