Proviso West wide receiver Kyle Prater returned home Sunday after participating in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. He was supposed to be packing his bags for a trip to Los Angeles to enroll at USC for the next semester with a look toward spring football practice. Now he isn't sure what he is going to do or where he is going to go.
USC coach Pete Carroll changed Prater's plans when he announced he will be the next coach of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL. When Prater heard the news on Friday, he was devastated. He looked great in pre-game workouts early in the week but disappointed in the game. Obviously, his heart wasn't in it and his mind was elsewhere. Who can blame him?
Now Prater will sit back and wait and weigh his options. Feb. 3 in the signing day for college football recruits. Prater likely will wait to see who succeeds Carroll at USC. He also will re-consider Illinois and Notre Dame, maybe Oklahoma. He visited all of those schools officially and they were on his list of finalists. He still has one official visit remaining, though it must be to another school that he hasn't visited.
Most players in the class of 2010 who have committed to USC and others who are considering the school said they were considering USC because of Pete Carroll. It is likely that Ron Powell of Moreno Valley, Calif., the best defensive end in the nation, chose Florida over USC on Saturday after he heard the news about Carroll's departure for Seattle.
The lesson in all of this for recruits is don't pick a school becase of the head coach, even if he is Joe Paterno or Bear Bryant or Nick Saban or Pete Carroll. Pick a school because of its football tradition or academics. Go there for what the school can do for your future, what the diploma will mean in the next 40 years. Remember, coaches are unreliable.
Give Carroll credit. He chose to make his announcement before the signing date, while USC recruits like Prater and Powell and offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson of St. Paul, Minn., the nation's top-rated player, can still weigh their options and choose another school if they want to. Jimmy Johnson and Butch Davis chose to leave Miami (Fla.) after the signing date, leaving their recruits without an option. Instead, they were stuck.
But kids don't listen. They are more interested in playing for a program that will get them to the NFL faster than any other school...or girls or parties or television exposure. Tradition and academics usually don't count for much.
Prater isn't the first big-time athlete who got caught in the buzzsaw. And he won't be the last, even this year. Prater got caught up in the USC/Carroll hoopla at an early date and made his commitment at a well-organized and publicized announcement party. Only a week later, he reportedly received some negative reports about USC recruiting and declared he was a "soft verbal," meaning he intended to make other visits to be sure he was making the right decision.
Not so long ago, Pete Carroll visited his home and Prater announced that he was "solid" on USC. He wasn't interested in any other school. I wonder if he taped Carroll's living room speech. He should play that back to all recruits who think coaches are who they say they are. Now maybe he realizes that recruiting is a cold-blooded business, that all that talk about "family" is a lot of nonsense.
Kids should only announce for a school when they are absolutely, positively convinced that there is no other school for them. I have always been opposed to early commitments and this is the best example why. There is no such thing as a "soft verbal." You are either committed or you are not. And if you, you shouldn't be interested or persuaded to visit other schools.
Over the weekend, Florida and Tennessee demonstrated why the SEC is head-and-shoulders above the Big 10 and other conferences in recruiting.
Florida coach Urban Meyer, health issues aside, was on the phone daily talking to Florida recruits in the U.S. Army game. He persuaded Sharrif Floyd of Philadelphia, Pa., the nation's premier defensive lineman, to choose Florida over Ohio State--after Floyd said he was leaning to Ohio State. And Meyer persuaded defensive back Matt Elam of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who originally had committed to Florida but had switched to Florida State, to re-commit to Florida. Now Florida likely will sign the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, ahead of Texas.
Meanwhile, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin and his staff flew in a private jet and checked into a hotel across the street from the players' headquarters. They couldn't see the players, according to NCAA rules, but they called them constantly and wanted them to know that they were across the street and fully supported them.
So what happened? The got commitments from defensive lineman Brandon Willis of Duncan, S.C., and defensive back Ahmad Dixon of Waco, Texas. On Friday, Willis said he was going to South Carolina. On Saturday, he committed to Tennessee. Dixon switched from Texas to Baylor to Tennessee. It shows the aggressiveness and tenacity of SEC recruiting.
Finally, the most impressive player in the U.S. Army game was 6-5, 235-pound quarterback Cole Marcoux of the Bronx, N.Y. He plays for former Notre Dame quarterback Gus Ornstein. He is committed to Dartmouth. But he is looking for a major Division I offer and Big 10 schools should look at him. He has great arm strength.
Marcoux got a ticket into the U.S. Army game by winning a reality show that was produced by the game's sponsor. He threw two touchdown passes. In my view, he looked better than all of the more highly publicized quarterbacks in the game, including BYU-bound Jake Heaps and Texas-bound Connor Wood.