SYLMAR — He was not on the guest list for UCLA Coach Bob Toledo's soiree.
But with one phone call, Durell Price became the life of the party.
Price, the City Section 4-A player of the year from Sylmar, had committed to play football for Ohio State and was expected to sign a letter of intent on national signing day Wednesday.
But after a strange string of events, including a fax machine "omen," Price changed his mind and called Toledo, who was celebrating the end of the recruiting season with his coaching staff.
"I thought it was a spoof," said Toledo, mindful that some college coaches have been fooled by a recent string of player impersonators. "I was a little leery."
Price convinced Toledo by recounting the day's bizarre events.
Around 2:30 p.m., Price went to a local drugstore with his mother, Debbie, and asked the clerk to fax his letter of intent to Ohio State.
Price even signed the letter on top of a copy machine.
But he didn't feel the joy that a freshly signed recruit should. Instead, he felt like he signed his life away. He wasn't happy.
"Depressed," he said.
After all, Price would be leaving behind his parents, his girlfriend, Joy Moss, and the couple's 18-month-old son, Durell Jr.
The Prices returned home, only to hear a voice-mail message from the Ohio State coaching staff.
The drugstore clerk had accidentally faxed the wrong side of the two-sided document.
Instead of receiving a signed document, Ohio State received a page of recruiting do's and don'ts.
The letter of intent would have to be faxed again.
Price took it as an omen.
"It was like, man, did I do the right thing if it didn't go through?" Price said.
Price, who was supposed to throw a party of his own at 7 p.m., pondered his future. He wanted to stay close to home. Close to his family.
He told his mother to change the theme of his party.
Friends and family expected to see the house decorated with the scarlet and gray of Ohio State.
Instead, they found UCLA recruiting letters hanging on the wall.
"It was two surprises in one," said Price, who faxed a signed letter of intent to UCLA at 10:15 p.m.
Coach John Cooper of Ohio State, which is scheduled to play UCLA in Columbus in 1999, wasn't happy with the surprise.
A letter sent to Price last year said he was the Buckeyes' No. 1 running-back recruit.
And a physical comparison between Price and Eddie George, Ohio State's departing Heisman Trophy winner, pleased Cooper: George is 6 feet 3, 227 pounds, Price is 6-1, 220.
Cooper held a press conference Wednesday afternoon and officially unveiled the Buckeyes' recruiting class.
Price was one of 23 recruits included on a media release.
Small wonder the Buckeyes' coaching staff felt color in its collective cheeks when Price chose the blue and gold of the Bruins.
"Hey, if he's not happy, I don't want him here," Cooper tersely told the Columbus Dispatch.
Price said Cooper used harsher words after the coach learned of the Sylmar star's change of heart late Wednesday night.
Cooper also discussed the matter with Sylmar Coach Jeff Engilman during a 45-minute phone conversation Thursday.
"It didn't sit well with [Cooper]," Price said. "But like they would have said to me, it was a business decision."
Ohio State's loss is UCLA's gain.
"I'm going to welcome him with open arms," Toledo said, "and give him every opportunity to do what he can do."