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Crushed Recruits : Some Hot Prospects Get Devastating Reality Check on Signing Day

February 08, 1996|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Satisfaction for some arrives with a 32-cent stamp, but for others it doesn't come at all.

Hopes built through years of high school football culminate in the letter of intent, a magic form offering a free education in return for playing in Division I.

And then there are players such as running backs Patrick Duffy of Hemet High, Mike Vanis of Loyola and lineman Brandon Elliott of St. Bonaventure. They have practiced, led their teams to victories, worked and achieved, in many cases, excellent statistics and accompanying honors.

They flip through the mail, hoping for the letter. Another promising handwritten note would be appreciated. A letter of rejection is anticipated.

Instead, there is nothing.

"College recruiters love to keep you hanging," said Duffy, whose suitors once included Nebraska, Penn State, UCLA and Notre Dame. "They keep telling me to keep in touch--something may happen."

Time has run out.

On Wednesday, the college football signing period began. Fax machines at colleges across the country spat out responses from blue-chip star players who have returned their letters of intent.

Other high school standouts wait, hoping their offer just got lost in the mail.

"I still go down to the mailbox with a little hope that I will find something," Vanis said.

He's not alone.

Judged a step slower, an inch shorter or 10 pounds too light by Division I standards, many players discover a recruiting process that can be cruel and learn they must take a different route to play college football.

They turn to the back of their scrapbooks or dig through trash cans to track down phone numbers for Division I-AA coaches who might have scholarships to offer, though not the prestige of Division I.

"You are led to believe the decision is yours to make, but it's not," Duffy said.

Duffy, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound fullback and linebacker, was touted by one recruiting magazine as one of the top Western Region players. When the recruiting process began in March of his junior year, he was invited to 26 summer camps and attended four: at Nebraska, Penn State, UCLA and Notre Dame.

"I received letters from the top schools in the country," Duffy said. "Each of them, every day for a long time. They don't tell you everything there is to know. What are their plans? How they really feel about you."

Although he led the Southern Section with 148 tackles as a senior and rushed for 1,074 yards, Duffy's stock apparently has dropped significantly. Although he scored 1,100 on the Scholastic Assessment Test and received mostly A's in the classroom, Duffy has discovered what it is like to be on the "B list" at the elite schools.

"I was sort of the No. 2 guy at schools that were getting commitments from their top picks," Duffy said. "I don't think size was a factor."

Duffy still hopes to sign with Iowa or Stanford, but even that might be only a dream. He has received interest from several Division II schools.

Other players do not have as many options.

Vanis, a 5-11, 180-pound running back, had more than 2,500 all-purpose yards during his senior season and helped Loyola reach the Division I finals. He was named the offensive player of the year in the Del Rey League and selected to the All-Southern Section Division I first team.

"He's a step too slow," Loyola Coach Steve Grady said.

Vanis is being recruited by the University of San Diego and St. Mary's, neither in Division I. And San Diego does not offer athletic scholarships.

St. Bonaventure's Elliott, a 6-4, 235-pound offensive lineman, was convinced he was going to get a scholarship offer from Nebraska. Then the national champions stopped calling.

"It's hard to realize that there are people out there better than you," he said. "One day, I'm on top of the world because I think I'm going here or there."

In December, when college coaches are permitted to contact players daily, Elliott received regular messages from Nebraska, Southern Methodist and Colorado. Boise State, Nevada Las Vegas and Brigham Young also called.

"I found myself checking the mailbox closely for letters," Elliott said. "I made sure I was home weeknights. Every time the phone rang, I checked to see who it was. My hands would get sweaty while I talked on the phone."

But Elliott was not invited to take a recruiting trip outside California. He visited Cal State Northridge and UC Davis, a Division II school, before signing with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

"I'm just happy to be staying close to home and getting a scholarship," Elliott said.

Cal Poly SLO Coach Andre Patterson estimates that about 350 football players will contact his office, hoping to get a scholarship to his Division I-AA school.

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