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The lesson Bryce Brown taught us

Wednesday afternoon, instead of being out at the University of Miami for the second practice of the spring, I was inside The Miami Herald filming our newest installment of The Recruiting Report (a new webcast set to be released in two weeks). During our show, I got a chance to sit down and talk with the No. 1 recruit in Miami-Dade County for 2010, Miami Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler.

Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler is one of two of UM's 2010 commitments. By first impressions, Todd was one of the most polite and personable kids I've interviewed recently in the 13 years I've been following recruiting and covering high school football in South Florida. Everything out of Todd's mouth began with 'No Sir' and 'Yes Sir.' He was funny, engaging and had a lot of interesting things to say about himself. For starters, he fought obesity an early age (weighing 167 pounds when he was only 7 years old). He's also the nephew of former Cane Earl Little. But the most interesting stuff to come out of Chandler's mouth during our interview -- on and off camera -- was the reason why he decided to commit to the University of Miami before his junior season was even over. At first, everything Chandler said sounded great, the type of response you want to hear from a high school recruit.

"It just feels like family," Chandler said of UM. "I know Jacory [Harris], Marcus [Forston], all those guys. We all won a championship together. Plus, it's home."

And then, the word BUT got into our conversation. "But, I've been really beginning to feel the love from other schools," Chandler said. "Oklahoma, Florida State, they're really coming hard after me. I'm going to have to give those guys a look."

Before the conversation went any further, I'll admit I lost my cool. 'But aren't you committed to Miami?,' I asked. 'Did you say you were done with recruiting?', I continued. 'Or,' I stammered, 'Is this going to be another Bryce Brown situation?'

Chandler quickly backpedaled. "No way, Sir," Chandler responded. "With all due respect to Bryce and his decision making process, I'll never handle it like that. I'm committed to Miami. When I make up my mind, it will be over. I'm not going to create a circus like that."

Willie Williams took us for a ride in 2003, but even he had more respect for the recruiting game than Bryce Brown. Chandler isn't the first kid I've interviewed whose been committed but still isn't done with his head-scratching process. Bryce Brown wasn't the first either (Canes fans remember the Patrick Johnson show in 2007). Still, the phenomenon of being "committed while looking elsewhere" is relatively new to the recruiting world. Sure, kids have made dramatic last minute switches before. There were stunners on National Signing Day long before Bryce Brown ever became the nation's No. 1 recruit and running back. 

But there is no denying the way the recruiting game is being played nowadays is much different than it was just a few years ago. A month before national signing day 2009, nearly 90 percent of Top 150 players in the country were committed -- and still taking other visits. It seemed like there were really just a few players who might make things interesting. Then, when it came time to sign the paperwork, stunning stories began to take place across the country as longtime commitments jumped ship, and others like Brown decided to hold off on signing. I was at Monsignor Pace for one of those stunning moments when defensive back Kayvon Webster (a longtime UM commitment) didn't even call Hurricanes coaches to let them know he was going with USF. He just bolted, did them dirty.

Somehow, NSD 2009 just felt very dirty to me too -- even more filthy than what I thought was the scummiest recruiting story I had been around. You know the one I'm talking about. The year was 2003. Me and more than a dozen reporters were sitting in a library at Carol City High, waiting for the then national recruiting story of the year then to make up his mind. We'd find out later a lot more about Willie Williams not long after that. But what I appreciate now (even after the circus that story turned into) was  the genuine level of suspense and honest build up of emotion of it. Nobody knew where Williams was going to UM before that day. Nobody knew because even Williams (somebody with a lengthy police record) treated his recruiting process and the colleges chasing him with more respect than most kids do nowadays (even with his laugh out loud commentary in his recruiting diaries). Why? Because he didn't lie to anyone about his feelings. He didn't commit to Larry Coker or Bobby Bowden or anyone else and then change his mind. He spoke the truth when he was asked about where he wanted to go to school, telling reporters all the time 'I don't know.' High school athletes nowadays ought to know (whether their mentors want them to say it or not) there is nothing wrong with saying 'I don't know where I want to go to school.' 

Bryce Brown committed to UM in February 2008. 13 months later, nobody is still sure where he is going Now, just as I felt then when the Willie Williams diaries changed the game (it certainly did change the way colleges spend lavishly on recruits during their official visits), I feel this Bryce Brown saga has changed recruiting again. Maybe for the better (maybe the next high school superstar will stop short of committing when he knows he wants to take visits) or more likely for the worst (maybe it's the start of a permanent, new trend). At the very least, we know this: it's rendered commitments meaningless. Now, instead of being excited about a high school star's decision and the college choice they've made, fans are going to be wondering if any of it is true. We are going to judge them -- fairly or unfairly -- the moment "BUT I'M TAKING MY VISITS" comes out of their mouth.

Bryce Brown should not take all the blame for ruining recruiting and the word commitment. The media has done its part in further glorifying the "commitments" of high school players to prospective colleges. Rivals and Scout have certainly made a nice living off it. So has The Miami Herald, and every other struggling newspaper in the business. I've been a part of it, too. I've been just as guilty in trying to be the first reporter to tell you who the next high school superstar is to choose the Canes. Earlier this week, I dedicated an entire blog to a pair of high school players coach Frank Haith reeled in 'commitments' for in Miami's 2011 and 2012 classes.

But the truth is we've made this story much more than it needs to be. We've turned it into a yearlong odyssey. Blue-chip reporters from top-notch newspapers like the New York Times, magazines like Sports Illustrated and TV and radio stations have covered Bryce Brown nearly as much as the Alex Rodriguez steroid scandal. They've done it all because they want to be the first to tell you whether or not Bryce Brown's letter of intent was pulled by UM, or, if he may or may not make an official or unofficial visit to watch the Canes practice next week. Frankly, it's pathetic. 

Ultimately, nobody will ever really know until March 16th what Bryce Brown is going to do. What I can tell you is I'm done using the word 'commitment' loosely when it comes to recruiting. I now fully understand why coach Randy Shannon doesn't believe in it. No matter what a kid can tell you about his heart, his feelings, his dreams and where he would like his future to be, it means absolutely nothing until he signs that scholarship. I think we can all agree, Bryce Brown has taught us that. From now on, when I talk recruiting with any prospective high school star and he mentions the word commitment, I'll follow it up with the obligatory question if he mentions taking other visits. You know what it is... Is this going to be another Bryce Brown situation?

Comments

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Great article Manny! Well done! You have written what we all have been thinking.

Manny,
nice story. Gibzon, BB pathetic brother (so you claim) plays for the U and has no part in this ridiculous drama so get your facts straight. Like I've been saying all along look at the talent pool for RB in 2010 (Gore, Clemments, nuff said.) so good luck to BB in wherever he decides to go but I'm not holding my breath on this Miami will be fine.

Let the BB thing be a lesson to the U...OFFFER A SCHOLARSHIP WITH A TIME LIMIT...DON'T SIGN BY A SPECIFIED PERIOD AND THE DEAL IS OFF THE TABLE....END OF STORY..

Just hope this guy just goes away with his mentor and his father...

This melodrama plays out in 16 days. If BB goes elsewhere, we have a great stable of RB and 2010 has talent in SoFl. If BB signs here,..., dream for a minute,..., I do not believe he will be in the offensive rotation next year because he will not know the offense and more importantly the blocking especially against blitz packages,..., but can you imagine BB back on kickoffs with Lamar? Pick your poison both are big and fast. Teams will start to pooch kick to avoid the long runback. The offense will start with good field position. The playbook is wide open.

Great insight and well written Manny - the problem is not the kids, it is the system. These kids, for the most part, have never travelled outside of their home towns, they mostly come from poor families and have really never seen the real world outside of their school and their city. So when the opportunity arises and teams from all over America come courting these kids and treating them like kings, it is only natural that they would want to see first hand what it is like to live a life of glamour and attention, if only for a few weekends. It shoud not surprise anyone that these kids opt to take the trips because it may their only opportunity to travel and be courted this way. I think if we were in their shoes we would take the trips, I just have a problem with the early commiting - there should not be any commiting to a school until siging day. Signing should be moved up so that coaches can prepare their classes with plenty of time. But don't be too hard on these kids for wanting to take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity - they've earned it and I can understand where they are coming from.

what alot of people have to remember is they are 17 and 18, and in some cases, NEVER have left their home town. SO, even if they LOVE UM, and know they are coming, U are aloud to take 5 visits. they go out on a plane, eat lobster and steak, get the royal treatment etc, so, when alot say ""im taking visits"" , that really means I want a free trip, With all the kids that committed to us, webster and bryce are the only 2 that didnt shy away. They also get put on a pedestal, thinking they are the shi_. Meaning, when they sign and go to school, there most likely headed to the scout team and might never get the pub like they do from rivals and scout, so, I think thats why some kids take it to the extreme more than others. LETS HOPE WE CAN KEEP NIX THE OTHER DT COMMITTED FROM JACKSONVILLE FOR 2010--him and chandler are the top 2 in the state. TODD< TALK TO NIX EVERY DAY

Terrel Pryor started all of this last year. Prior to him in the '08 recruiting class no one did this. I've got to say with the way this thing played out that Bryce knew he was going to do this all along. I mean really it's not like hr ignored all of the coaches recruiting him until the month prior to signing month. He listened the entire time and knew what he liked when he initially heard it. My words "YOU'RE A GREAT ATHLETE, BUT GET LOST"!! Randy said it best when he said we want kids that want to be at the U.

if this kid has any balls he would come to Miami, shut his mouth and compete. show everyone he is the real deal or be put on the depth charts or he can tranfer. JMO. Truth be it, he might be just afraid of the competition.

C'mon Manny. Do a little proofreading. I know this isn't English literature, but can't you make some effort?

"Me and more than a dozen reporters were sitting..."

I cannot believe that any of the other twelve plus would have written a sentence like that. That sentence structure is not covered by some obscure grammatical rule. It is basic English.

How about , "Twelve reporters and I?" That is not so hard.

I couldn't finish the article because reading that sentence was like hearing fingernails on a blackboard.

Please tell me that you are a FSU alum or better yet, hold an English degree from UF.

Way to go Manny. Commitment is after you sign that scholarship form. We give to much credit to these players that sometimes don't amount to anything more than a headline. Where's Willy "Wonka" Williams these days. It's bad enough when we blow up these talented players in the NFL or college, but it's worse when we blow them up in Highschool. Great coverage Manny on the practice session!.
U DA MAN!

Thanks for the article Manny.

Cheers,

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