Scenes from signing day
Signing day means different things to different people. With that in mind, ESPN.com reporters talked with people at different rungs of the organizational level at Auburn, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee and Texas A&M about their school's signing day.
No Sleep 'Til ...
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's final commitment in a 2014 signing class that Vol Nation hopes is a huge step in returning it to national prominence came rolling in sometime around midnight Tuesday.
True to form, Butch Jones was still wide awake. When is he not?
"Everybody asks me, 'Hey, Butch has to be drinking that 5-hour Energy," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart joked, "and I tell them, 'Butch is 5-hour Energy, and he's like that every single day."
But Wednesday was no ordinary day for Jones and the Vols. They put the wraps on a class ranked No. 5 nationally by ESPN and a class that included 11 ESPN 300 players, only one shy of the Vols' three previous classes combined.
"This is probably the closest-knit recruiting class that I've been a part of, the brotherhood that these players have built," Jones said. "We live in an instant-gratification society today. It's very easy for somebody to pick a school because they're winning.
"We wanted individuals who had great competitive character and understood Tennessee and wanted to be a part of building this program back to where it should be."
The best part for Jones on Wednesday was that he could sit back and enjoy it all. There was very little, if any, drama for the Vols.
Jones thinks Malone's commitment in early December helped to regenerate the Vols' momentum on the recruiting trail after being so hot early. Malone, ranked by ESPN as the No. 7 receiver nationally, picked Tennessee over Clemson, Florida State and Ohio State.
"A lot of these individuals had been committed for so long, and you're going into a long dead period," Jones said. "You almost have to re-recruit them, but I thought Josh Malone's commitment really got things going again for us."
Jones, who's never been accused of being a big sleeper, was in the office Wednesday at 6:20 a.m. He had an early wake-up call of sorts.
"The last commitment came from Michael Sawyers around midnight, and that rejuvenated me," Jones said. "Your mind's racing in a million directions. I'd just gotten to sleep, and my wife woke me up and said, 'You've got to get up. It's signing day.' You can see the mindset in the entire Jones' household.
"It's days like this that remind you of the magnitude and importance of Tennessee football."
-- Chris Low
The 10 Percent
Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop rolled off his hotel mattress at 5 a.m. Wednesday and skipped his usual breakfast of Froot Loops and Pepsi.
He was needed at the Lasch Football Building, after all. And even the cereal with the cartoon bird on the box couldn't wait. It was one of his boss James Franklin's favorite days of the year, a Christmas of sorts for the recruiting world, so Shoop preferred to dust the snow off his SUV and start what would inevitably become a 12- or 14-hour workday.
It was the most relaxing day he's had since landing in Happy Valley three weeks ago.
"I'd agree with that statement," Shoop told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon. "There were no surprises today, but these last three weeks have just been a whirlwind for us. It's been kind of crazy."
Before the fax machine even began whirring, he caught about a half-hour of Michigan State's defensive film -- something he feels he can learn from -- and then polished off his report on the top safeties for 2015.
By 7 a.m., he entered Penn State's blue-and-white war room, a place where he'd stand in a corner with a blue can of Pepsi and intermittently rush out of the room, stick a finger to his ear and chat with 2014 commits and 2015 prospects. He talked to about 20 before the clock struck noon, all the while skipping the room's three coffee makers in favor of about five cans of soda.
"The guys kind of make fun of me for that," Shoop said with a laugh, adding he's no coffee drinker.
He watched the faces of signees light up when Franklin spoke with them via FaceTime on a big screen. He buzzed around the football building, somewhere, when a line of trumpets blared the school fight song moments after the fax of three-star tailback Nick Scott was received. And he chatted with alumni and the staff during the unusual lull.
Wednesday marked his 20th wedding anniversary. His wife remains in Nashville, Tenn., and they'll meet for a breakfast date Thursday. But Shoop couldn't skip all this. You just don't miss signing day.
"Some people think this job is so glamorous, but 90 percent is a grind -- and 10 percent is glamorous," he said. "But that 10 percent that is glamorous is so incredible. It's such an incredible adrenaline rush. It's why you deal with the other 90 percent.
"This is that 10 percent."
-- Josh Moyer
Drinking It All In
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As a coach who worked under Dana Holgorsen for several years, Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital is no stranger to energy drinks.
Red Bull has long been a staple of Spavital's, a habit hard not to pick up when you hang around Holgorsen, the West Virginia head coach who seemingly guzzles the sugary beverage at will. Spavital, who worked under Holgorsen at Houston, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, is adopting his own energy-drink kick now, a habit shared by Texas A&M special teams coach Jeff Banks.
"Me and Coach Banks call it 'Lion's blood,'" Spavital said laughing, referring to one of the Monster-brand drinks. "It's the red Monster. We're starting to name all the energy drinks."
Spavital even knocked back a few on Wednesday morning, but fortunately for him, it wasn't out of necessity. It was as about as stress-free a signing day as the 28-year-old coach has had in his young career.
Six of the Aggies' 11 offensive signees were early enrollees who have already been on campus, attending classes: ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Allen, five-star athlete Speedy Noil, offensive linemen J.J. Gustafson, Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor and receiver Josh Reynolds.
So on Wednesday, Spavital simply sat back, watched the remaining five faxes roll in, fulfilled his media duties for Texas A&M's in-house athletics media production team, as well as couple of other outlets, and enjoyed the drama-free morning.
"It's the first time it's really ever been this way [for me]," Spavital said. "Normally, you're waiting on kids to sign with you. They say they're signing, then you lose the communication. It was pretty stress-free. We had four offensive midyear kids, which was pretty good."
And even though the quarterbacks coach was on time to Bright Football Complex on Wednesday morning [he arrived at 6 a.m.], he was too late into the coaches' meeting room to place a friendly wager on which national letter of intent would arrive first.
"Guys are making bets with each other on who's going to be the first guy to send it at 7:01," Spavital said, smiling. "I actually didn't get to be a part of it because by the time I got into that room, the first fax already came in."
The final offensive prospect's letter of intent to get approved [ESPN 300 receiver Frank Iheanacho's] was given the go-ahead at 7:57 a.m., less than an hour from the time the madness began. Spavital's lone remaining question mark was on a prospect whom several staff members helped recruit -- ESPN 300 guard Braden Smith, who ended up announcing his intentions to go to Auburn roughly 2½ hours later on ESPNU. But Spavital and the Aggies were pleased with the group they had, and now the young offensive coordinator turns his focus to his new group and specifically his quarterbacks.
Spavital, who made his debut as a playcaller during Texas A&M's 52-48 win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, is tabbed to tutor the quarterback who will succeed Johnny Manziel. Will it be Allen? Is sophomore Kenny Hill the answer, or will it be veteran Matt Joeckel? That's the question Spavital and the offensive staff will have to answer eventually, as the offense now belongs to him.
"You can sense the competition," Spavital said. "We tried to keep it as laid-back as possible, but you can tell everybody wants that starting job. I like it."
-- Sam Khan Jr.
Snow Problems Here
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The metaphorical heavy lifting after two full years of work was done.
But thanks to the overnight snowfall that blanketed the roads and his driveway, Mark Pantoni still had to do some literal hard labor before he could check the fax machine and enjoy the fruits of his labor.
So the Ohio State director of player personnel and recruiting guru was up at 4 a.m., shovel in hand, trying to make sure he was still in the office at least two hours before the fax machine started humming. And when all 23 signatures were collected on yet another top-10 class for the Buckeyes, Pantoni breathed one quick sign of relief -- and directly turned his attention to the next wave of talent Urban Meyer will be chasing.
"It's been a long day," a smiling Pantoni said late afternoon on Wednesday. "But it's exciting, you know, because it takes about two years of effort, and there's just the relief of being able to call them Buckeyes and make it official.
"It's a big relief that pretty much everyone we expected got in. We got it done early with no major surprises, so it was a good day for us."
Meyer and his relentless group of assistants typically enjoy the credit and will reap the benefits of assembling another strong collection of talent, but they are always quick to shine the spotlight on Pantoni for the tireless work he does behind the scenes.
A former staffer for Meyer at Florida before following him to Ohio State ahead of the 2012 season, Pantoni's organizational skills, ability to build relationships with recruits and a Twitter feed that offers at least a glimpse into the whole process have made him something of a cult hero for the program. But even while taking a brief moment to reflect on the work that paved the way for the Big Ten's best class, Pantoni's mind was already moving on to the next one.
"I'm just staring at that fax machine [in the morning] waiting for them to come in, and during down time I'm messaging 2015 kids to keep it rolling," he said. "There's no catching your breath.
"Tomorrow we'll be straight going back to work; got to get going to get this next class ready."
-- Austin Ward
Roller Coaster Of Fun
AUBURN, Ala. -- When Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs drove into work Wednesday, it felt like any other day. He started with a conference call at 8 a.m. and had various other calls and meetings throughout the day. However, after his first call, he popped over to AU's "war room" just in time to see ESPN 300 offensive lineman Braden Smith commit to the Tigers.
It wasn't any other day. It was national signing day.
"My main focus today really was signing day," Jacobs said. "I had some other things going on, but that was the No. 1 thing, and I think it went great."
The war room was where Gus Malzahn and the other coaches waited for recruits to fax in their letters of intent. They received 18 signed letters in all, but the big news of the day came when Smith announced his school of choice.
"It's us and Texas A&M, both great schools and both great institutions with great history," Jacobs said, reliving the moment. "Are we going to get him or not? When we did, the excitement erupted. It's about like scoring on the last play of the game. There's a lot of energy in there.
"Maybe it's sort of like a roller coaster. You're going up the hill and you're not really sure if it's going to drop off and be a thrill or if it's going to level off and be flat."
The whole day seemed like a roller coaster for Auburn. After Smith signed his papers, local product Rashaan Evans surprised most people by choosing in-state rival Alabama. All was not lost, though. The day ended on a high note when ESPN 300 defensive end Andrew Williams joined Smith and announced his commitment to the Tigers.
"It's fun because sometimes you don't get a guy that maybe you thought you were going to get or maybe felt like you were going to get," Jacobs said. "All of a sudden you don't get that guy, but you get two that you got in on late. It's really fun."
Thursday should go back to normal for Auburn's athletic director. He can take a break from recruiting and all that goes with it, but the same can't be said for his head coach.
"You're just always looking to the future," Jacobs said. "As a matter of fact, [Malzahn] was on the phone with a 2015 recruit just a few minutes ago. You've got to keep moving."
-- Greg Ostendorf
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