Originally created 01/26/00

Football recruits often face intense pressure



Want to know how anxious recruiters sell their schools to big-time football prospects? Allow Jason Respert to indulge you.

"I've heard several times, `Out of all the recruits we're recruiting, you're the one we want,"' said Respert, a 6-foot-3, 290-pounder from Northside High in Warner Robins, Ga. "Or, `I've got you as my top lineman.' Or, `You're the best in the nation.'

"Stuff like that."

Though such accolades might not be the stuff of fiction, the offensive lineman who is acclaimed by many as the top prospect in Georgia is not given to believing everything.

"You've got to keep in mind that recruiters are going to tell you what you want to hear," he said.

If every recruit were as wary and discerning as Respert, it might make for fewer broken hearts come fall. In the cut-throat battle to sign the top players, recruiters can exert intense pressure on prospects to commit, sometimes making promises that go unfulfilled.

"Sometimes I feel like a big target," said Andrea Gause, a tailback from Conway (S.C.) High. "Some coaches call me and try to pressure me to visit their colleges, even when I've told them I don't want to go there."

When word has spread about a prospect, there are few ways to remove the bull's-eye from his chest. But often, the best way to reduce the distractions and aggravations that come with recruiting is to make an oral, non-binding commitment well before the Feb. 2 signing day.

Arnold Harrison, a key part of T.W. Josey's defensive line in 1999, went to Georgia on Jan. 7 for his first visit. A day after Bulldogs coaches offered him a scholarship, the 6-3, 208-pounder committed.

Harrison still had visits lined up for Louisville, Furman, Middle Tennessee State and South Carolina State, but he said Georgia's offer was too good to pass up.

"Committing early took a lot of the pressure off me," Harrison said. "The recruiters were calling me a little after that, but they stopped after I told them I committed."

But it is possible, as Sean Young discovered, to commit too early. The celebrated offensive lineman from Northwest Whitfield High in Cohutta, Ga., visited Clemson in early December and was "overwhelmed" enough to commit to the Tigers.

"I was the only recruit visiting that weekend, and the coaches spent a lot of time with me," the 6-8, 295-pounder said. "I ain't going to lie to you: I liked it a lot. I loved it. But I was a little overwhelmed when I committed, and the week after that I decided to change my mind.

"Looking back, I guess I came to my senses when I got back and was home for awhile."

A month later, Young visited Tennessee and was impressed again -- so much that he committed to the Volunteers over Georgia and Clemson.

"Tennessee was just on a different level than Clemson is," he said. "Athletic-wise, school-wise and playing-wise, everything is different there. It's a good place, and it has better playing time for me than Clemson, because Tennessee lost four linemen this year."

But not even what appeared an ironclad commitment by Young -- "I am sticking with this one," he said shortly thereafter -- was enough to keep away jilted coaches.

Georgia head man Jim Donnan visited Young the following Tuesday, then Clemson offensive line coach Ron West was in Cohutta two days later. Young didn't seem terribly bothered by the attention.

"They ain't going to stop calling me until signing day," said Young, whose older brother Chad Young is a Bulldogs offensive lineman. "That's fine, though. It might make it a little more interesting if people still think I'm going to Georgia, but I'm not going there. I'm going to Tennessee."

Hobie Holiday was so enamored of Alabama during a Jan. 7 visit to Tuscaloosa that he committed on the spot. But when the linebacker from Houston County High returned to his home in Warner Robins, Ga., he said he realized he made a mistake.

A day later, he rescinded the commitment.

"He thought about it when he got back," Houston County coach Doug Johnson said. "I think he just reconsidered and realized he wanted to take his visits before he made a firm decision."

The following Friday, just hours before Holiday left to visit Georgia Tech, Alabama coach Mike DuBose drove to Warner Robins armed with a final plea.

"He was trying to throw all this tradition stuff in there," the 6-3, 227-pounder said, "but I already had my mind set that I wanted to look at stuff from my point of view. I just had to think about a couple of things and look at some more things before I put myself somewhere for four years."

Early last week, Holiday removed Alabama from his list and was considering Georgia and Georgia Tech. Sunday, he committed to the Yellow Jackets.

"I think coaches put pressure on people," he said. "They put enough pressure on some guys, and some guys will fold and commit."

Sometimes, players say, coaches will use playing time as incentive in luring prospects. But Rod Wilson, a quarterback from Cross (S.C.) High, said he would consider leaving if the promises of summer went unfulfilled in the fall.

"I would think about transferring if I sat the bench after they promised me I could play," said Wilson (6-3, 203), who is considering South Carolina, North Carolina, Penn State and Clemson. "That would mean the coach didn't keep his word. If they tell me something, they better hold up to it."

But Respert offers better advice: See for yourself.

"You've got to keep in mind that recruiters are going to tell you what you want to hear," he said. "The recruiters really aren't the key with me. I've got to go and see what you're telling me.

"I've told recruiters that I don't want anything given to me. If they say, `We'll guarantee you this,' I know it's just a false screen."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.



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