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Signing day for high school football players nears — expect firestorm

With players announcing their college choices Wednesday, get ready for recruiting mania on TV and the Internet.

February 02, 2014|Eric Sondheimer

Every new recruiting year, fans look forward to seeing what innovative ideas teenagers can come up with to announce their college choices.

Lately, most have been stuck on the cap routine, in which an athlete reveals the winning school by lifting one of three baseball caps on a desk while trying to keep the TV audience in suspense.

Or they try to emulate LeBron James with "I will be taking my talents to...."

With signing day on Wednesday for high school football players, get ready for 72 hours of recruiting mania on TV and the Internet.

ESPNU is planning 11 hours of nonstop coverage on signing day (the ratings are always good in Tuscaloosa, Ala.).

The rise of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, has only added fuel to the recruiting fire that seemingly burns more brightly each year.

The live announcements really started in 2002 with former Ventura St. Bonaventure running back Lorenzo Booker and his national TV announcement on ESPN that he was headed to Florida State.

The next year, a headline for my column read "Hype Wagon Is Out of Control."

"In this era of the 500-channel television, the focus of high school sports is changing in ways few could have imagined," I wrote.

The announcements have only multiplied. It brings to mind the line from one of those "Star Trek" TV series: "Resistance is futile."

High schools are now holding signing parties in the school gym.

It's a wonderful time for parents and their children to celebrate with friends, classmates and a few hundred strangers the earning of a college scholarship.

So break out the balloons, invite the media and have a party.

But remember, some people actually take these things a little too seriously.

I witnessed two of the most bizarre college announcements of the 1980s.

In 1984, 6-foot-8 John Williams of Crenshaw was the best basketball player in California. He called a news conference to announce his college choice and never showed up.

A man wearing a Panama hat who later identified himself as a family friend read a statement signed by Williams and his mother that Williams had signed with Louisiana State more than a week earlier but kept it secret for fear of possibly being kidnapped.

In 1986, 6-8 Sean Higgins of Fairfax was supposed to announce his college choice before school in the principal's office. He never showed up. The principal announced Higgins had signed with UCLA. Higgins later got out of the letter of intent and ended up at Michigan after alleging a stepfather had threatened him with a baseball bat. (Higgins' mother said there had been no coercion.)

Fast forward to 2011. I'm back at Crenshaw for the college announcement by running back De'Anthony Thomas. It's the age of Twitter. Suddenly, my BlackBerry is going crazy with continuous emails, because seemingly every Oregon and USC fan is clicking "Follow" on my Twitter account, trying to learn about Thomas' choice as I give a play by play.

When he finally makes the announcement that he's going to Oregon instead of USC and tears are falling down his face, there's real shock among the people watching in the room and I'm trying to shoot video, take notes and send out tweets.

There have been other strange occurrences, such as in 1996, when former Sylmar running back Durell Price thought he faxed his letter of intent to Ohio State from a drugstore. After learning there had been an error, he changed his mind and signed with UCLA.

And who can forget receiver Jordan Payton of Westlake Village Oaks Christian in 2012 committing to USC, California and Washington and twice going on TV to announce his decision, then signing with UCLA.

"It's crazy, but the people have to understand this process is crazy," Payton said at the time.

Last week, Payton, now a starter at UCLA, told me, "You get pulled in so many different directions. You're so young. You build relationships with coaches and don't want to let them down. I can't imagine how much crazier it is now."

On Wednesday, the state's No. 1 uncommitted player, defensive back Adoree' Jackson of Gardena Serra, is scheduled to announce his college choice from the school gym at approximately 11:05 a.m. on ESPNU. Florida, USC, UCLA and LSU are the supposed finalists.

Let's hope everything goes off without a hitch. Then again, Jackson likes maximum drama. I'll be watching and hoping he shows up.

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