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Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Decision drama fuels signing day

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

So the kid with the Auburn tattoo is going to sign with, ahem, Alabama.

Reuben Foster
Reuben Foster learned the hard way that hats are much easier to remove than tattoos.

Reuben Foster of Auburn (Ala.) High School, who is the No. 1-ranked inside linebacker and No. 16 prospect overall in the ESPN 150, announced Monday night that he'll sign with the Crimson Tide at some point during Wednesday's national signing day for college football.

Foster originally committed to the Crimson Tide two years ago, but then switched his commitment to rival Auburn in July. The day after Foster initially announced he would attend Auburn, he commemorated the decision by having the school's logo tattooed on his arm. But then the Tigers fired coach Gene Chizik and top recruiter Trooper Taylor after a 3-9 season, so Foster reopened his recruiting. After a visit to Auburn this past weekend, he ended up on the Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa a few hours later.

So much for thinking before you ink.

At least there's nothing laser surgery, long sleeves or a few more words won't correct. A few suggestions to fix Foster's tattoo:

"Beat Auburn."

"Auburn Sucks."

"I committed to Auburn but all I got was this lousy tattoo (so I signed with Alabama)."

Unfortunately, Foster's bizarre saga hasn't been the only drama in a mad college football recruiting cycle. Laremy Tunsil of Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., who is ranked the No. 1 offensive tackle and No. 5 prospect overall in the ESPN150, is one of the biggest stories heading into national signing day. Tunsil, once considered a lock for Georgia, now intends to sign with Ole Miss, according to various reports.

Tunsil's change of heart last week caused the social media world to go abuzz, with many people on Twitter and Facebook accusing the Rebels of cutting corners to land what might be one of the country's best recruiting classes. Along with Tunsil, Ole Miss has secured verbal commitments from Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill.), the No. 1 wide receiver, and Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.), the No. 4 defensive end, and could likely land Robert Nkemdiche (Grayson, Ga.), the country's No. 1 overall prospect, on Wednesday.

The Rebels also remain in the hunt for Chris Jones of Houston, Miss., the No. 6 defensive end in the country. Jones, who previously committed to Mississippi State, was forced to take secret visits to the Ole Miss campus the past two weekends after reportedly receiving death threats from fans.

On Friday, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze defended his program's recruiting efforts, writing on Twitter: "If you have facts about a violation, send it to compliance@olemiss.edu. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family."

Columbia High School coach Brian Allen said he isn't sure which school Tunsil will actually choose because he hasn't talked to his star player about his decision. Tunsil (6-foot-6, 295 pounds) has cut off most communication since reportedly telling Freeze that he would sign with the Rebels during an in-home visit last week.

Chris Jones
Mississippi State fans didn't take kindly to news of Chris Jones' visits to Ole Miss.

Recruiting fans across the country have been forced to rely on Tunsil's Twitter feed for late-breaking information, even if most of them probably don't know it isn't actually his social media account. The imposter still has more than 3,200 followers.

"Once you start getting a lot of people with their hands in the cookie jar, it's hard for the kid to make a good decision," Allen said. "A lot of the parents have no clue with what's going on with football and recruiting. They've never had a kid who had a chance to get a football scholarship. They go to anybody with an opinion, whether it's Joe Blow, Joe the Mechanic or Joe Public. They get involved in situations that can get the kids in trouble or a school in trouble at the end."

When Allen signed a national letter of intent to play football at Florida State in February 1996, he did it in the locker room at Columbia High School.

Allen's coach, parents and five teammates were there to watch, along with a reporter from the local newspaper. There wasn't a formal news conference, and TV cameras weren't there to broadcast the event.

"There was no such thing as Facebook," Allen said. "There was no such thing as Twitter. We didn't use email and rarely even turned on a computer."

Now, nothing surprises Allen when it comes to college football recruiting.

"Recruiting has transformed a lot because of the social media," Allen said. "There are so many people involved in the process now."

Allen isn't alone in his frustration. High school and college football coaches across the country say it has been a recruiting season they won't soon forget. Several of the country's top prospects committed to more than one school over the past several months, and many still haven't announced their final choices with less than 24 hours to go before they'll sign on the dotted line with the schools of their choice.

The drama finally ends on national signing day, when college football teams across the country pump new blood into their rosters, and the blood pressure in grown men will fluctuate over the decisions of 17- and 18-year-old boys.

"It's been very turbulent because of social media," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "The kids are still great kids, but there's just so much misinformation out there that's not true or only half-true, so you end up spending more time trying to convince kids that stories aren't true than anything else. It's just so much more instant  there's stuff flying around everywhere."

Among the other bizarre storylines in recruiting this year:

Fitts and Tunsil aren't the only prospects who will have college coaches sitting on the edge of their seats Wednesday. Montravius Adams of Dooly (Ga.) County High School hasn't said much about his recruiting process from the start. One of the most tight-lipped prospects in the country, Adams is expected to choose between Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Georgia on Wednesday.

Adams, 6-3 and 281 pounds, doesn't have a Twitter account and hasn't said much during interviews with various recruiting services. Dooly County High coach Jimmy Hughes said he's looking forward to the end of the recruiting process, after fielding an estimated 100 phone calls and 200 text messages per week for the past few months.

"It's changed the way the recruiting business works," Hughes said. "It's all day and every day, sometimes seven days a week. It's not only the coaches, but also the recruiting services. There's so many of them now, from ESPN to Rivals to Scout to 24/7, and the newspapers have their recruiting blogs. There's so much money to be made off recruiting for these services, they're all looking for an edge or a scoop."

Programs such as Georgia Tech and Michigan have tried to instill some sanity back into the process. Both programs have policies in place that try to prevent committed prospects from visiting other schools. If a recruit who commits to the Wolverines or Yellow Jackets visits another school, he's in danger of losing his scholarship.

But Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said even the recruits who choose a school early are under constant pressure to change their minds from other coaches. The Yellow Jackets have had three players flip to other schools since Thursday.

"The kids who make a decision early and try to do it the right way fall out of the spotlight," Johnson said. "They're not in the headlines if they're not taking visits and switching schools."

Thankfully, the madness is about to end for most of the country's top high school players.

"I don't know if it's more crazy or we just know more because of social media," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "When you didn't have that world [of instant information] kids might have been changing their minds and going different directions. We probably know a lot more now than we did before. It's tough on the kids. When's a kid get to be a kid?"