Steve Sarkisian clutched his cellphone and let it blare.
It didn't ring. It didn't chime.
For effect, the Washington Huskies' new football coach then held the phone up to James Boyd, star quarterback and defensive end of the Los Angeles Jordan High Bulldogs.
Boyd smiled, having received the intended message.
Dogs should stay together.
Only weeks earlier, Sarkisian and Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt had been part of a USC coaching staff counting on a commitment from Boyd to come and play defense for the Trojans. Having since been hired by Washington, they were now trying to entice Boyd to switch allegiances.
And so, huddled over a corner table at the Watts Coffee House one morning last week, the Huskies' coaches met with Boyd in the presence of his high school coach, two teammates and a reporter.
Holt sat at the head of the table with junior receiver Deshawn Beck to his left, then Boyd, Sarkisian, Jordan Coach Elijah Asante opposite Holt, and, circling back around, the reporter and senior receiver Delvon Purvis -- who, by the time Boyd officially signs an NCAA letter of intent one week from today, might become the most influential person at the meeting.
Purvis is a mid-range recruit -- three stars out of a possible five by most experts -- a player thought to have plenty of potential who is not high enough on any major college's wish list to have yet attracted a scholarship offer.
He's tight with Boyd, though, and Washington has invited both of them on a recruiting trip to Seattle this weekend.
"I just want to get him to a Division I school," Boyd would later say of his teammate.
Washington might be willing. By offering Purvis a scholarship and Boyd the chance to play quarterback, the Huskies have hopes of stealing the highly coveted Boyd away from USC.
College coaches cannot comment on recruits until they sign letters of intent, but Asante called Purvis "an integral person in this process."
"It's really like a Rubik's cube with a lot of pieces and everyone's scrambling at the last second," the high school coach said. "One move affects five other moves."
Similar maneuvers are playing out across the country as coaches make a final push to secure commitments and sway loyalties in the run-up to national signing day Feb. 4. For example, UCLA has received commitments from a pair of mid-level recruits from Honolulu Punahou High, the home of All-American linebacker Manti Te'o, the nation's top uncommitted prospect.
"You'll see it a couple of times every year," said Tom Lemming, a recruiting expert for CBS College Sports Television. "BCS-type schools will try to bring in a buddy or a teammate to land a great player. And a lot of times it does work."
It's a calculated risk. Sometimes schools get stuck with the lesser player if the star decides to go elsewhere.
Scholarship offers can be rescinded until the paperwork is officially signed, but "that's a real bad PR move," Lemming said. "Most of the time they're going to have to bite the bullet and take the other player anyway."
Oral commitments such as the one Boyd has made to USC are not binding, and Washington's coaches aren't the only ones out there seeking to flip recruits. Just last week, Harbor City Narbonne receiver Byron Moore Jr. decommitted from USC -- this after he had switched to the Trojans after first saying he would attend UCLA. And Carson tight end Morrell Presley enrolled at UCLA after first committing to USC.
"Bobby Bowden is doing it. Joe Paterno is doing it. Pete Carroll is doing it," Asante said. "It's on. Game on right now."
Asante also has a stake in the game. Equipped with a law degree from USC and bigger aspirations than coaching on the high school level, Asante made several not-so-subtle references about being added to the Washington staff as a quarterbacks coach. Evidence of similar quid pro quo arrangements can be found throughout big-time college athletics, with coaches, friends and relatives of star recruits often finding employment connected with the university.
Holt played along, quizzing the coach about some of the formations that helped make Jordan's passing offense the most prolific in California last season. Asante meticulously spelled out plays dubbed "Fried Chicken," "Fried Meatloaf" and "Al-Qaeda" -- a triple pass that got its name, the coach explained, because it "terrorizes defenses."
Pressed about his involvement later, Asante said he's primarily serving a larger purpose: getting as many players as possible to major colleges and out of the inner city. The importance of this endeavor recently became clear to the coach when he took Purvis to the sand dunes at Manhattan Beach.
It was the first time the teenager had seen the ocean.
"When he saw the water, he said, 'Is that the water? Is that the beach?' " Asante said. "And this is at 17 years old. It really blew my mind."
The Washington coaches converged for their recruiting visit at a hair salon owned by Asante at the corner of Wilmington Avenue and 107th Street in South L.A.