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You Can Say No to a Buffalo, but Not Forever : Pomona Star J. J. Flannigan Tried, but Colorado Recruiters Kept Coming Back

February 13, 1986|BOB MUIR | Times Staff Writer

More than once, highly touted Pomona High running back J. J. Flannigan, romanced by the glamour schools of college football, told University of Colorado recruiters he would not attend their school.

"I told many schools that I didn't want to go there and I never heard from them again," Flannigan said. "But I turned down Colorado three times and they still kept coming. They showed me they really wanted me and kept me interested."

The Buffaloes' persistence paid off.

Flannigan, 6-0, 185, signed a letter of intent Wednesday to attend Colorado after giving Coach Bill McCartney a verbal commitment last week.

Flannigan's decision ended one of the hottest recruitment battles of the 1985-86 season for a Southern Californian. Colorado pulled off the coup by outlasting powerhouses USC, UCLA, Michigan and Oklahoma.

But it was a close call.

"I didn't know I was going to Colorado until the night my father and I discussed it. In fact, two nights before, I thought I was definitely going to Michigan. I was all set to go. Everyone said I had it down to Colorado and California. It was in every newspaper. But I was going to pull Michigan out of the blanket."

Lure: Play as Freshman

The decisive element in Flannigan's decision was that Colorado guaranteed him a chance to play in his freshman year. Although other schools made similar promises, Flannigan realized that at USC and UCLA, he would have to wait to play.

"Every last one of them said, 'If you come you'll play your first year.' But I knew where I would and where I wouldn't play.

"I wanted to play right away, and I think I can help Colorado a lot. I know about the opportunity for me to play at Colorado, and that's what kept my interest."

What happened to Michigan?

"People kept asking me what was wrong with Michigan. There was nothing wrong with Michigan. I just didn't feel comfortable there (on a campus visit). I didn't feel like I was a part of it. They would win with or without me.

"Plus, it was nine degrees outside when I was there and there weren't too many people walking around."

During the first few months of recruitment, Flannigan had many favorites.

A Frantic Period

"I've never had a childhood fantasy of playing for any one team. But as the letters started to come in more frequently, I always felt that I wanted to go to Iowa. Then, I got more letters and my mind was always changing--Georgia, Alabama, and my family's from Alabama so I thought that might be a place I could play. With every letter my mind said 'that is a good place and this is a good place.' "

Although his list of finalists seemed to change every day during the final weeks, Flannigan narrowed his choices to Colorado, Michigan and California.

"I knew I wanted to break it down . . . and I didn't want anybody to change my mind," he said.

USC, reported to be one of Flannigan's final choices, was never actually considered, he said.

"I didn't want to be a shadow. If you go to SC, people expect you to live up to O. J. Simpson and Marcus Allen. The last three guys that have gone there (Aaron Emanuel, Ryan Knight and Fred Crutcher) haven't lived up to that and so they are getting a lot of bad talking about them. I don't need that."

Flannigan ultimately decided against California because he did not want to be in competition with the Bears' great sophomore back, Marc Hicks.

"He has set his mark there. If I was there, I'd probably be second. If Marc got hurt then I'd go in. Everything would be about Marc and I would come later.

"Knowing that I'm better than someone else and then still ending up playing behind them gets to me."

Flannigan is used to being in the limelight.

In his junior year he rushed for 1,934 yards and 18 touchdowns. And the letters came from UCLA, USC, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas and Oregon. In his two-year high school football career, Flannigan, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, totaled 3,267 yards and 39 touchdowns. He received more than 400 letters from colleges.

Although warned about the constant pressures of recruitment, Flannigan said he was not prepared for what he faced.

"I can't believe that it started out to be so fun. The calls came in every once in a while at first and that made me feel good. Then they came harder and harder. Last month, I was getting 30 phone calls a night," said Flannigan, who lost five pounds during the experience.

"I was losing my appetite. I lost a lot of sleep. I'm still sleepy now because I still haven't had a good night of sleep."

Pressure built as Flannigan found it hard to say no to colleges.

Saying 'No' Didn't Work

"I though I could tell someone that I didn't want to go to their college and they would leave me alone. But it wasn't like that. They would call and keep calling.

"That's why I kept delaying the decision. When I was sure I didn't want to go somewhere, they'd call me back and tell me something I wanted to hear that would get me interested again."

To escape the daily pressure, Flannigan visited friends regularly, including teammate Lamar Gray, a 6-2, 220-pound linebacker who also signed with Colorado.

"Sometimes I'd think I couldn't take this recruiting anymore and we'd sit down and talk about it. He's like a big brother to me," said Flannigan about Gray.

But now that he has made his decision, the pressure is off.

"I'm glad it's calmed down now that everyone knows where I'm going. But for a while there it really got to me. I just wasn't ready for it."

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