Fourteen-year-old running back Dylan Moses publicly vowed to play football at LSU after the team offered him a scholarship last week. (He had this to say to ESPN about his life-altering decision: “It means that all my hard work is paying off. All the two-a-days and practices from when I was six on up, it’s paying off right now.”) Meanwhile, 14-year-old quarterback Tate Martell pledged his allegiance to the Washington Huskies.
Heads were shaken sadly across the country. But according to former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, there’s nothing new about commitments of this type: “We had three or four guys that we thought were really special,” he said, who were offered scholarships at comparably young ages in his time with Vols. The difference, Fulmer says, is simply that in the pre-Rivals.com era, there wasn’t anyone around to report on those agreements. Meanwhile, recruits cannot officially commit to schools until they are seniors, so the schools’ offers and the recruits’ promises are non-binding offers — and as the examples below indicate, recruits can and do change their minds.
Take, for example, Evan Berry, a 5-foot-10 cornerback, who committed to Tennessee ate age 13 in 2009. “It’s the only college I know right now, and it seems the best for me. My dad went there and my brother is there now. I know I can do the same things there,” he said at the time. “I have a real friendly relationship with the coaches there. I know I don’t know them too well, but I know I will have plenty of time to get to know them.”
Since then the coaching staff at Tennessee has changed. According to Scout.com, Berry’s received only “medium interest” from the new regime.
Basketball prospect Michael Avery committed to Kentucky in the eighth grade after Billy Gillespie saw him at a summer camp four years ago, earning raised eyebrows at the time from late NCAA president Myles Brand. (According to Kentucky.com he called it “untoward”.)
“If you’re in recruiting, it’s very, very competitive,” Gillispie told Kentucky.com . You start earlier and earlier all the time because you’re seeing guys earlier.
Gillespie was since replaced, of course, by John Calipari. Avery, who was 6-4 at the time, has grown an inch and is now, according to the Los Angeles Times, heading to Division II Sonoma State.
In 2006, Tim Floyd offered a scholarship to USC to an enthusiastic 13-year-old named Ryan Boatright. At the time, Floyd telling the Associated Press that “in a perfect world, we’d all wait until spring signing date when these kids are high school seniors. But that’s just not the world that we live in in college basketball. Am I supposed to wait until Duke or Kentucky offer, and then it’s OK?”
Floyd, of course, was ousted from USC after it turned out recruiting middle-schoolers wasn’t the worst thing he did to get top players to play for his team. Boatright, meanwhile, announced in 2009 that he was no longer committed to USC. He now plays for UConn, where he averaged 10.4 points and 4 assists a game last season.
Dwayne Polee Jr. also committed to USC and Floyd when he was 14 in 2006, staying loyal to the school until 2009, when he announced he was reopening his recruitment. That year, he committed to St. John’s, where he stayed for stayed for a season before transferring to be closer to his ill mother. He now plays for San Diego State University, where he is expected to be a major contributor coming off of a year when he had to redshirt due to NCAA rules.
There’s still at least one high-profile recruit who could still end up at the school he chose when he was 13: David Sills, a 16-year-old quarterback from Delaware, who committed to Lane Kiffin and USC when he was in middle school. Now, still three years away from college (he just finished his freshman year of high school), ESPN.com reported last week that he still seems very much enthralled with the Trojans. The background on his phone, according to the report, shows Matt Barkley and safety T.J. McDonald coming out of the famed Coliseum tunnel. Fortunately for Lane Kiffin, he also seems to have developed into an excellent high school quarterback.