Certain of uncertainty

Commits of sanctioned programs sticking with their pledges

Updated: December 6, 2012, 10:45 AM ET
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN RecruitingNation

Beau Sandland turns 20 in February. He's barely a year older than many of the high school seniors set to stand alongside him as newcomers in major college football next season.

But Sandland, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end, has played two years at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif., after failing to qualify academically in 2011 out of Simi Valley (Calif.) High School.

[+] EnlargeTravis Johnson
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comMiami commit Travis Johnson said he doesn't read into speculation about possible penalties for the Hurricanes.

He sees the game from a more seasoned perspective, aware of pitfalls and wary to avoid them. His list of college suitors includes Oklahoma, Kansas State, Nebraska, Arizona, Cal, Arizona State and others. Sandland received a half-dozen scholarship offers from Southeastern Conference programs.

Miami, too. In fact, Sandland visited the school last week.

His No. 1 concern about the Hurricanes? Possible NCAA sanctions as the school, with this second straight year of a self-imposed postseason ban, moves to minimize anticipated penalties.

"To me, it's a huge thing," Sandland said. "That's not something you can overlook. I think they've done a good job of punishing themselves. I hope the NCAA looks favorably upon that. But the NCAA has not been known to be the most consistent with its rulings. They can be all over the map."

If not for the specter of additional penalties in the wake of an investigation after claims of widespread violations under former coaches Larry Coker and Randy Shannon, Sandland said he would view the Hurricanes differently.

Not all prospects share his level of caution. Often, emotion triumphs over reason.

Miami ranks 22nd nationally with its 11 commitments for the 2013 class; five of its pledges are in the ESPN 150.

Other prominent programs with time still to serve on probation include USC (No. 2 in the latest class rankings), Ohio State (No. 6), North Carolina (No. 14) and Penn State (No. 26).

From that group, only Penn State faces a postseason ban beyond this year. But all must forfeit scholarships, ranging from 40 over four years at Penn State to nine over three years at Ohio State.

Depth issues at USC this year contributed to a 7-5 regular season, illustrating the painful truth of scholarship cuts. Still, it seems, most prospects take at face value the word of college coaches in recruiting that the impact of probation can be minimal.

"I feel honored to be one of the guys who got offered right away by the new staff," said North Carolina commit Jordan Fieulleteau of Raleigh (N.C.) Wakefield, a 6-3 receiver who is rated No. 276 in the ESPN 300. "They want to get the best guys, because they knew they're limited in scholarships."

The Tar Heels, serving a one-year postseason ban, must surrender 15 scholarships over three years as sanctions for improper benefits afforded student-athletes and academic indiscretions. Other investigations continue at UNC that could lead to more penalties.

But don't vilify coach Larry Fedora for selling his product to recruits. After all, that's his job. And his coaching staff has a lot to promote.

Fieulleteau's explanation that UNC utilized more selectivity in recruiting is a common refrain -- and a reality -- among coaches at probation-strapped programs. Other pitches include:

• Early playing time, a selling point for all programs, impacted by sanctions or not.

• The opportunity to help heal a wounded program and carve a spot in history for such noble work.

• The chance to form a bond among teammates stronger than what may occur in a typical environment.

It resonated with Christian Hackenberg, the nation's No. 1-rated quarterback prospect. He pledged to Penn State nearly five months before the NCAA hit the program with massive penalties.

Hackenberg stayed with the school through proclamations he would waver amid fallout over the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal. The Nittany Lions are not eligible to participate in a bowl until 2016.

In the days after the penalties were announced, the QB re-evaluated his choice. He considered emotion and reason.

"For me, nothing changed as to why I committed there," Hackenberg said this week.

He watched in person Nov. 24 as Penn State beat eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin in overtime. In that game, the Nittany Lions displayed jersey No. 42 on their helmets to honor injured linebacker and emotional leader Michael Mauti.

After the game, Hackenberg and offensive guard commit Brendan Mahon, an ESPN 300 prospect, spoke with Mauti in the locker room.

"I thanked him for everything he did," Hackenberg said. "He really set the tone for the core group of us guys. We knew we had to be the next group to lead Penn State into the post-sanction years. We want to build off the foundation that these guys set."

Mauti's message to Hackenberg? Keep the thing going.

"I really am taking that with me as I go forward," he said. "It's just another example that it's great to be a part of this family."

At Miami, where the details and timing of potential sanctions remain unknown, the situation remains more precarious.

"I just know that even though they've had their downfalls, they're under new leadership," said Travis Johnson, a tight end commit out of Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.). "They're going in a positive direction at the school, and they've shown that they're still learning from the situation."

Johnson, No. 3 nationally at his position, committed to Miami over offers from LSU, Clemson, Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC.

He said he doesn't "read into" speculation about possible penalties. Instead, Johnson said, he looks at results. Miami signed top recruits Duke Johnson and Tracy Howard a year ago among a class rated No. 8 nationally.

"I know those guys will help keep Miami on track," Johnson said.

Miami coach Al Golden said he talks to recruits about the difficulty of foregoing the postseason again this year. It cost the Hurricanes a spot in the ACC championship game last week against rival Florida State, with a BCS bowl on the line.

Golden preaches the importance of honesty with prospects.

Beyond that, recruits just want talk to the current players.

[+] EnlargeMitch Trubisky
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comNorth Carolina commit Mitch Trubisky said the Tar Heels' Class of 2013 commits are looking at the positives.

"Student-athletes are our greatest ambassadors," Golden said last week in a press conference before he hit the road to recruit. "In a lot of ways, they're the litmus test."

Recruits leave those visits, Golden said, with a feeling that, "hey, what they said in recruiting actually happened."

What happens next, though, at Miami?

That's the worry for Sandland, the junior college tight end. He said he has been open with the Miami coaches about his concerns.

"They've been open with me, too," Sandland said, "and I know at the end of the day, it's not going to affect how I develop as a football player."

Fieulleteau feels similarly about North Carolina. There, he's set to play for receivers coach Gunter Brewer, who tutored Randy Moss, Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon in college.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky of Mentor, Ohio, committed to North Carolina over offers that included Ohio State and Alabama. Once he met Fedora, hired a year ago to replace interim coach Everett Withers, and the new Carolina staff, the sanctions seemed secondary.

"They're looking at kids a lot closer," Trubisky said. "They don't want to bring in troublemakers or kids who aren't going to do their schoolwork. It's all about being professional and handling yourself the right way, individually and as a team.

"As recruits, we're looking at the positives. The school served its time and is moving to bigger and better things."