The more he thought about it, the luckier Miles Sanders considered the best football prospects in the class of 2018 to be.
He didn’t have the luxury that wound up being bestowed on them Wednesday, after all.
Wednesday marked the first day in a new era for the NCAA when it comes to big-time football recruiting, and for the next generation of Miles Sanders-like players, that’s a good thing. Prep stars have three days to accept scholarship offers from a school and sign letters of intent to be guaranteed that spot on the team, long before the traditional National Letter of Intent signing day in February.
Many of the top prospects in the nation took the opportunity to get the process over and done with, and Penn State’s fax machine received letters of intent from 21 prospects by the time early afternoon hit.
There have been plenty of years where the February signing day didn’t go anywhere near that well for the Nittany Lions.
Just like there have been plenty of late Decembers and Januaries that didn’t go all that smoothly for prospects that wish they could have avoided what the newest Nittany Lions avoided all together.
“I would have done that,” Sanders said last week eagerly, when the new system was explained to him. “I’d have been OK with that.”
Coaches and athletic directors and, yes, even players have been clamoring for an early signing period for years, for varying good reasons. Coaches don’t have to run around like track stars trying to make sure players committed to them for the last year are still on board. Athletic directors don’t have to hear from coaches and fans and donors about needing more resources — a better overall effort — to land the best possible class when every competitor is on the road in January.
But the best reason is so players can avoid what Sanders had to endure in the final six weeks of his recruitment.
“Especially when you’re a top recruit,” he said, “that’s a really tough time.”
The Sanders example: Sanders, you might recall, committed to Penn State when he was just a sophomore tearing up the WPIAL at Woodland Hills High School near Pittsburgh. He was known then, but not a hot commodity on the national scene. He hadn’t become the top-rated running back recruit in the nation yet.
Once all that happened, though, other major programs didn’t much care that he was already committed to Penn State. Alabama offered him a scholarship. So did LSU. And just about every major program in the Big Ten. And USC. And Notre Dame.
That’s what major programs do. You don’t get the types of prospects you want by waiting in the background. As December 2015 hit, with Sanders still a little less than two months away from signing day, his phone was ringing off the hook. He was being asked to visit just about every school that offered him, and he actually took a few up on their offers, listening closest to Pittsburgh and Michigan State.
Just before signing day in 2016, Franklin complained about “negative recruiting” against his program from regional schools. He has never mentioned specifics, though it is thought that some of that vitriol comes from the staffs at Pittsburgh and Michigan State relentlessly pursuing Sanders, and the comments that came with it.
Sanders wound up staying true to his long-held commitment, signing with Penn State. But coaches wouldn’t put on the full-court press every January if just as many players didn’t back away from theirs.
The early signing period should, in the future, remedy that, because coaches won’t have the time to hit the road to do as much recruiting as they have in the past before the day arrives. It will make coaches’ lives easier and recruits’ lives better, and isn’t that what this should be all about?
The cost is the excitement and the helter-skelter feel to the February signing day, which made for great entertainment over the years. But here’s guessing that’s hardly going to be missed.
The Parsons example: Just ask Micah Parsons, the do-everything monster of a recruit from Harrisburg High School, the Miles Sanders of the 2018 class, so to speak.
Nobody in the nation seemed to enjoy the recruiting process as much as he did, taking all of his official visits, all over the country, to schools like Ohio State and Georgia and Oklahoma and Nebraska. He attended camp at Alabama, too. He committed to Penn State early, decommitted when he decided to take all his visits, and he had been pretty much the top uncommitted recruit in the nation for the last few months.
He got the attention that went along with that, too, and seemed to bask in it.
But Wednesday, he stood behind a podium in downtown Harrisburg and looked on as a video announced his college choice. He recommitted to Penn State.
Then, almost immediately, he signed his letter of intent and faxed it in.
There was another month of fun to be had on the recruiting trail, if he wanted it.
And Micah Parsons didn’t.
Donnie Collins is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.