If you follow college football recruiting, you know the rules are as follows: Outside of a cap on the number of official visits a recruit can take that are paid for by the hosting university, there are no rules. A high school football recruit is free to offer a verbal commitment to any school and it will remain non-binding until he signs a national letter of intent the spring of his senior year (and as former Notre Dame signee Eddie Vanderdoes proved, not even signing the dotted line is a guarantee). With such a borderline anarchistic system in place, recruiting stories are becoming legendary.
Several years ago USC made national headlines for accepting the commitment of an 8th grade quarterback named David Stills. Not to be outdone, this past spring LSU accepted the commitment of a 14-year-old quarterback from Texas. Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy admitted the fact Auburn had a Chick-Fil-A restaurant on its campus helped him chose Auburn over Clemson, and recent Georgia signee Lorenzo Carter claimed recruit Raekwon McMillian chose Ohio State over Georgia because he didn’t like how he looked in a portrait Georgia gave him.
Recruiting has meandered so deeply into the bizarre that Rice was able to land the commitment of a 3-star quarterback by sending a letter to the recruit’s pet cat, Kitty Granato, encouraging the cat to help Rice land the quarterback and ending the letter with the phrase, “Paw me if you have any questions.”
The University of Notre Dame is far from immune to the peculiar and has currently been experiencing an unusual recruiting season in its own right.
Notre Dame received a verbal commitment from Rivals 4-star quarterback Blake Barnett last November. Arguably the most gifted quarterback commitment of the Brian Kelly era, Barnett has been accumulating accolades at an alarming rate. In addition to rapidly climbing Rivals’ rankings, the California native was the very first quarterback prospect to be invited to the Elite 11 camp, an elite competition amongst the nation’s very best high school quarterbacks.
Despite Barnett’s verbal commitment and repeated statements pledging loyalty to Notre Dame, the offers continued to roll in for the talented signal caller, with Alabama, Michigan and Oregon pressing hard for his services. Rumors began to circulate that Barnett had taken a surprise visit to Eugene, Ore., to visit the Ducks, and within 24 hours Notre Dame was in need of a new quarterback for the Class of 2015.
Cornerback Shaun Crawford’s recruitment has also been unorthodox. A Rivals 4-star from Ohio, Crawford visited Notre Dame with his father last August but reportedly felt disrespected from then-defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco. Crawford, measuring in at 5’9”, lacked the prototypical size sought by Diaco at the position. Shortly after the visit to South Bend, Crawford committed to Michigan.
The less stringent size requirements of newly appointed defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder rekindled interest in the Fighting Irish. Crawford once again visited Notre Dame and shortly thereafter decommitted from the University of Michigan, as well as canceled plans to visit Ohio State. While Notre Dame is now presumed the ultimate destination for Crawford, all has been silent from his camp since his second tour in South Bend.
Linebacker Josh Barajas’s recruitment has also had several twists and turns. The Rivals 4-star Indiana native was long considered to be a Notre Dame lean when he turned heads with a commitment to Penn State head coach James Franklin in March.
“They can do what they want but I am going to put my foot down,” Barajas told the media after his commitment. “I gave coach Franklin my word, and that is where I am going to go.”
With such strong statements on record, Barajas’ sudden change of heart and ultimate flip to the University of Notre Dame in June stunned many. Barajas cited a desire to be close to home as the reason for his switch.
Notre Dame has experienced a very strange recruiting cycle very early in the process, with eight months left until national signing day. And given early indicators – such as current Notre Dame offensive line commitment Jerry Tillery having taken visits to LSU and Arkansas as well as considering a trip to Texas – the unpredictability characterizing the current recruiting class is far from over.
While college football coaches and analysts continue to debate the merit of an early signing period, fans are left with no other option than to keep a bottle of Pepto Bismol near and hope for the best.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his fiancée. Scott can be reached at email@example.com.