DEL MAR — When it started last spring, the process of being recruited as a top college football prospect seemed like a Picasso painting to Tyler Batson.
His own preconceptions gave him an abstract notion of what it was supposed to be. But beyond that, it was unclear. There was an unnatural combination of excitement and uncertainty.
It was exciting to receive letters and talk to coaches from universities that Batson, an outside linebacker from Torrey Pines High School, had watched on television since he was a kid. He kept hearing he was just the guy they needed on their football team.
But that was tempered by times of stress and anxiety . . . or exhaustion. He did not know how he would pick the right school, or even how to tell the others no.
When it got to be too much, Batson talked to Pete Egoscue, a private trainer who was helping him get stronger and faster through a variety of weight and diet techniques. In the tough times, Egoscue also helped with inner strength.
Batson figured Egoscue was the only person he knew who did not have an interest in where he went to school. Everyone else did, including friends and family. He even got called into the principal's office for a lecture on the benefits of a Stanford education.
Egoscue remained neutral.
"He didn't care where I went," Batson said.
Egoscue admits he did care but was careful not to say. He understood what Batson was going through, and he knew how to help.
"Everyone around him is giving him rational reasons why he should go here or there," said Egoscue, who has worked with several high school and college players and the Chargers' Billy Ray Smith. "But the fact is, he's going to base his decision on irrational reasons. Every athlete I've seen did exactly the same thing. I told him, 'Just go with your instincts, pal.' "
As probably the most recruited player in San Diego County, Batson probably could have played at UCLA, USC, Washington, Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa or Ohio State.
But after weighing the pros and cons, reading countless letters and talking on the phone to interested coaches hundreds of times, Batson went with his instinct.
He chose Stanford.
"It's the hardest thing to explain why I chose Stanford," said Batson, who also considered Colorado and Washington until early January. "It was something about the atmosphere. It felt right."
The gut feeling turned into a solid commitment when Batson signed a letter of intent to play at Stanford Wednesday, the first day high school football players could accept a scholarship.
It seemed a simple ending, but Batson will tell you it was not.
He does not have horror stories to tell--no cars offered, no trips to Bermuda, no promises of wine and women, no money under the table--but the nine months leading up to the decision were complex, to say the least.
MARCH 6: THE FIRST LETTER
It came from UCLA. Batson was ecstatic to know that he was actually going to be recruited by big-name schools.
He had an idea he would be after he received a letter from Street and Smith's college football magazine about being selected a preseason honorable mention All-American. But the letter from UCLA solidified his hopes.
Said Batson: "It's great to get those letters in the beginning. I was excited that so many schools were interested. A lot of the first letters are questionnaires. I filled out a lot of those."
There were many questions. The first ones wanted football information: position, height, weight, time in the 40-yard dash.
After Batson answered that he was a linebacker, 6-feet 5-inches, 227 pounds, 4.8-second 40, most schools sent more letters.
Batson had a good junior season, but not spectacular. He averaged about seven tackles a game.
At first, he'd go to the mail box to get them each day. After a while, he sent his 13-year-old brother, Bryant.
The letters came in the summer and early fall. Utah, Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan, Nebraska and tiny Colorado College in Colorado Springs--where his parents, Bob and Sandy, went--all expressed interest.
By the time Batson decided where to go, about 50 schools had sent letters at least once. They filled up two small plastic file cabinets.
The first letters were usually started with: "Dear prospective student," or something equally anonymous. As time went on, the letters either got more personal or they stopped coming, because either Batson or the school--or both--had lost interest.
If Batson showed interest or the school was really interested in him, the letters got even more personal. USC had a girl named Kelly write notes weekly just to wish him luck in the upcoming game or say that USC was still interested in him.
"She calls all the time, too," Batson said. "She just asks how my season is going. I usually feel uncomfortable talking to her."
Bob and Sandy Batson got nearly as many letters addressed to them, especially around the middle of October.