Commentary

Players watch and wait with realignment

Originally Published: September 22, 2011
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN Recruiting

Vadal Alexander considers himself one of the lucky ones.

Alexander, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive tackle from Buford, Ga., has his pick of top football schools in the Southeast, and he's narrowed his options to LSU, Alabama and Auburn.

Pretty good situation.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comTCU commit Daje Johnson is keeping a close eye on what is happening with the Big East and TCU.
That's his talent at work, though; it's not why he's lucky. With major programs nationally in flux as conference-realignment talk changes almost daily, Alexander, No. 73 in the ESPNU 150, said he's fortunate to have settled on three schools with no concern they'll fall into the crazy shuffle.

"You're used to seeing college football a certain way growing up," Alexander said, "and if it's all changing, that's a huge thing."

If a school on his list faced an uncertain conference future, "it would definitely be a big factor," Alexander said.

It's akin to buying a house without knowing its location. Once again, though, amid all the talk of realignment ramifications, the effect on recruits who sign to spend years at these schools ranks as hardly an afterthought.

Who's thinking about the players?

Imagine the decision now for a TCU recruit. The Horned Frogs continue on track to join the Big East, less attractive after the departure to the ACC of Syracuse and Pittsburgh. But will the Big 12 -- a better geographic fit, and likely to include just nine teams upon Texas A&M's expected departure to the SEC -- come calling?

And with schools jumping leagues seemingly with more ease than recruits can escape letters of intent, recruits owe it to themselves to think hard about their situations before signing day.

TCU pledge Daje Johnson, a defensive back from Pflugerville, Texas, is doing just that. He turned down offers from the schools in the back of the Big 12 bus -- Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State -- for a chance to play in what he considered a more stable league.

Johnson picked TCU in part because of its move to the Big East. He wanted to play games on the East Coast so his mother, who lives in North Carolina, could travel more easily to see him.

"If something happens," Johnson said, "if they change from going to the Big East, it would probably make me reconsider."

Still, Johnson said, this decision is more about the school than it is the conference.

Quarterback Tyler Matthews agrees. Matthews, an Elite 11 finalist from McPherson, Kan., picked TCU because of coach Gary Patterson and the stability in place in Fort Worth.

"It's kind of crazy to see all the different things that are happening," Matthews said. " I'm still happy with my decision. As far as I know, we're still going to the Big East. I'm looking forward to that. Either way, as long as we're under Coach Patterson and all the great coaches there, we're going to do well."

Matthews talks regularly with TCU tight ends coach Dan Sharp. His message? Nothing has changed. But if it does, like perhaps a move to the Big 12 or a merger with that league, Matthews would be fine.

"I think that'd actually be a great thing," he said.

Of course, he lives in the heart of Big 12 country. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Worth another look
His name has hardly surfaced in recruiting talk for the class of 2013, but this ought to do something to get him noticed: Drake Martinez, the brother of Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, rushed for 334 yards on 17 carries and scored four touchdowns last week -- all from more than 50 yards out, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The younger Martinez is a junior at Laguna Beach (Calif.) High School. He also blocked a kick and intercepted two passes in the 73-40 win over Huntington Beach (Calif.) Ocean View.

Sounds like Drake inherited some of the athleticism that helped Taylor, a redshirt sophomore, rush for 965 yards last year and throw for 1,631. This season, he leads the Big Ten in rushing through three games with 384.

Taylor's 7.5-yard average per rush, though, pales in comparison to Drake's 19.6-yard figure last week.

Parting shot
Two of the nation's top programs -- California's Concord De La Salle, No. 3 in the ESPNHS Fab 50, at No. 2 Saint Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- faced off on Friday. The game featured two of the most storied programs in the nation and several big-time prospects, including De La Salle QB and Wisconsin pledge Bart Houston.

It also featured two coaching legends Bob Ladouceur of De La Salle and George Smith of Aquinas. Smith retired in February but remains athletic director at the school. I had the chance to interview both and the two talked about everything from recruiting, the keys to their success and much, much more. It's an interesting look at two great coaches.

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com.

Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman