As the Alex Collins saga grinds to a close, it casts light on a side of recruiting that is seldom covered or talked about. For all the hype and attention surrounding these high school kids, there's also considerable pressure being placed on them.
Kids hear from dozens of different coaches, players, relatives and other recruits that all have an opinion on where they should go. Recruiting reporters call and badger them almost nightly about who've they spoken to and which direction they're leaning. For some recruits the attention is enough to make them buckle, for others it almost seems like they thrive in the situation.
In South Florida yesterday at three different locations, there were three very different reactions on display to the recruiting process. As three young men prepared to make college choices that could potentially take them out of their hometown, they all showed in their own way how the nearly year-long (longer in some cases) recruiting process can finally take its toll on a player.
For five-star Booker T. Washington linebacker Matthew Thomas, as the pressure mounted with signing day approaching it became easiest to become detached and keep everyone outside of his family at an arm's length. That marked a bit of a contrast from the kid Jimbo Fisher had been recruiting up until that point.
"I've had a great relationship with him for a long time," said Jimbo Fisher on Wednesday. "It was good to see the old guy come back because at the end I started seeing that tight guy [leading into] decision day, after [signing] day though, their old personalities come back.
"It's funny how you get used to them for two-three weeks they start when they have to make that decision they start going into that shell and then when it's over with it's like, 'hey that's the guy I knew two months ago,' that old personality comes back. But it was pretty nerve-racking [for him], it came down to the wire it was a very tough situation."
Thomas had a number of offers, but was being pulled between the hometown Miami Hurricanes- who mounted a very large final push- and the Seminoles up in Tallahassee. He opted to sign his letter of intent with Florida State, but the pressure and strain of the decision and all the different voices in his ear clearly had an impact.
"Think about the biggest moment you've ever had, the pressure," said Fisher. "You're 17 years old, there's a lot of heat and all the social media, all the recruiting services that call everyday, everybody at school's got 14 places they want you to go, an aunt, an uncle, there's a lot of pressure on these kids and until they sign you don't ever know how they're going to act on a signing day."
That was never more true than with Stacy Coley, the four-star receiver out Northeastern HS.
Coming into signing day the expectation was that Coley would commit to Florida State. All indications up until that point had him leaning towards the Seminoles. It was going to be difficult to get the young receiver to leave home and head up to Tallahassee for college, but after the work FSU put in on the recruiting trail Jimbo Fisher and his coaching staff felt confident heading into his decision.
But working against Florida State was the pressure from those closest to Coley that wanted him to stay close to home, to be a local hero at the University of Miami.
That pressure brought Coley literally to tears and as ESPN cut to commercials the TV cameras showed Coley succumbing to his emotions just moments before he was scheduled to make his announcement.
That was when Jimbo Fisher got the feeling he wouldn't be coming to Tallahassee.
“It feels good [to have it over with],” said Coley after his announcement. “I relieved a big stress off my shoulders and I can be an average kid again. I thought it was just beneficial for me and my family. Just stay home."
If the pressure got to Thomas and Coley, Keith Bryant almost seemed to revel in it. For weeks leading up to his announcement he was using social media to drum up interest, tweeting things such as, "I'm about to shock the world."
Bryant played his recruitment process like there was a difficult choice in front of him and things were wide open, when in fact they had been closed for some time.
"Keith was very key in getting a lot of those other guys [to commit],” said Fisher. “You talk about a guy working the phones. Keith wanted a lot of other good players around him. He was trying to work [Thomas], he was trying to work [five=star corner] Jalen Ramsey, constantly texting, calling, he was that guy working other people to get that class together. He wanted good players around him."
Bryant played up the decision long after knew where he was heading. While Thomas and Coley couldn't wait to get it over with, Bryant drank it all in.
National Signing Day has become a strange circus full of showmanship and family drama. Thomas, Coley and Bryant all handled the rigors of the recruiting process and the pressure of that final decision in vastly different ways. Over in Plantatation, Florida, Alex Collins' situation has demonstrated the toll the process can take on a family.
And as the coverage of recruiting continues to increase and more and more people grow an interest in it, things are only going to get crazier.
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