Setting the record straight, Part II
Sometimes kids say the strangest things. I've been talking to high school athletes and observing the recruiting process for more than 40 years. I understand there is a lot of pressure involved in selecting a college and kids handle it differently. Some handle it better than others. Some can't handle it at all. Kids always are concerned about what they say to the media, just as coaches are, but for different reasons. Kids worry that they will say something that their friends will tease them about. Coaches worry they will say something that will end up on an opponent's bulletin board.
In the end, when they see their quotes in print, they sometimes wish they hadn't said it. Or a parent or friend or coach or alum reminds them that, even if they believed what they said, it wasn't the right thing to say at the time because it puts the kid in an uncomfortable position. Professional athletes often have the same reaction. The latest case is wide receiver Kyle Prater of Proviso West, one of the most widely recruited players in the country in the Class of 2010. Last week, when he had 18 scholarship offers, more than anyone else in the Chicago area, Prater was very candid about his recruiting process and his timetable for making a final decision. It was obvious that he and his family and Proviso West coach Famous Hulbert had put a lot of work into it. In a response to a question regarding any schools he definitely had decided to visit (officially) before making a decision, he said: "I want to visit Michigan State and Penn State for sure and Stanford." That's three out of five official visits allowed by the NCAA, if he declines to make an early commitment and fulfills his promise to wait until after the season to make a decision. I said they were three finalists (out of five official visits). I didn't say they were his favorites. The word "favorites" wasn't mentioned. Even so, it doesn't mean he will attend any of them, only that at the time of the interview he had singled out those three schools for official visits. But what he said last week isn't binding in any way. By the end of the 2009 season, he could decide on five entirely different schools. Prater also said he plans to wait until after his senior season to make a decision, that he wouldn't make an early commitment like many other players. Asked if he had a "dream school," as many athletes do, and if there were other schools that he hoped to hear from as his recruiting process moved along, he said: "As a child, it was Michigan. Then I fell in love with Ohio State. But I have no offers from them. I hope they will offer me. I would like calls from the SEC, from Alabama, and from the Pac-10, from USC. I will wait it out. I don't want to commit early. I want to get a feel for where I want to go." Now, in an interview published by Edgytim.com and republished by Orange and Blue (Edgytim works for Rivals, which runs Orange and Blue, in case you didn't know), Prater said: "It was written in one of the Chicago papers that I have three favorites. It couldn't be any further from the truth. I'm not sure if I wasn't clear in responding to the reporter's question or maybe he was confused. But the three schools he listed as my so-called favorites were actually the three schools that have offered me recently. And that was all. The three schools mentioned are all fine schools. But I'm really far from naming any real favorites." Favorites? Who said anything about favorites? Once he said he wanted to wait until after the season to make a decision, I asked if there were any schools that he "definitely" planned to visit among his five paid, official visits. He said: "I want to visit Michigan State and Penn State for sure and Stanford." If anyone was confused, he was. I made it very clear. He had no obligation to say what he said. It's on the record. He can play Roland Burris and he can change his mind. He can choose any school that he wants. And he can accumulate 100 scholarship offers if he stretches out his process until next February. Good for him. He can weigh all of his options and make the best choice for him. That's the way the process is supposed to work. But, please, don't say you didn't say what you said because you're getting pressure from other schools and you don't want them to feel bad and you want to run up a list of offers that is more extensive than any other athlete. Or you are paying a premium to a recruiting analyst and he expects you to tell him things that you aren't supposed to tell anyone else. For elite athletes, recruiting is supposed to be an enjoyable and important experience in their high school careers. For some, it is an enormous ego trip. They thrive on the attention, the daily telephone calls from college coaches, media and recruiting analysts who almost daily document their journey along the recruiting trail one offer at a time. In the end, if he sticks to his game plan, Prater will make the best decision for him. Hopefully, he won't have any regrets. I always am fascinated by the way kids inevitably come to their decisions. I'll be curious to see how Prater arrives at his--and if Michigan State, Penn State and Stanford are in the final mix. As I said, it's a long way between now and February 2010.
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