One of the most intriguing—and disconcerting—aspects of high school football recruiting is the strange phenomenon known as the “de-commitment.”
It should be noted that high school players withdraw their commitments on a regular basis and, for the most part, it is an innocent process where recruits give their pledges early on only to change their minds as new opportunities avail themselves.
For example, Thomas Graham —a highly decorated cornerback— gave his verbal word long ago to sign with the Trojans only to rescind it sometime later.
That isn’t what this article is about.
Rather, it is the flurry of late pledge withdrawals that often come as national signing day draws near.
Are these de-commitments a product of young men changing their minds or is there something else of a slightly nefarious nature behind their decisions to open their recruitments?
In USC’s case, as of this writing, there are four prep players –Wylan Free, James Lynch, Daniel Green and Marlon Williams– who fit the description of “late de-commitment.”
It should also be noted that the above-mentioned players have been designated as three-star prospects.
Of course, none of the players in question suggested that their decision to look elsewhere to play ball was anything but their own and not a prod from USC’s coaching staff.
Oct 17, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Southern California Trojans interim coach Clay Helton before a NCAA football game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
But is that true?
Let’s not forget that there was a time when USC was 1-3 and looking down the barrel of a season that could be historically bad.
Under those circumstances, the Trojans would be fortunate to sign players of this quality.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, USC reeled off nine straight wins, won an exciting Rose Bowl, and finished ranked third in the nation in the AP poll.
And now, suddenly, the Men of Troy are one of the hottest programs around and the fruits of recruiting are ripe.
Which brings us back to those four young players who pulled their pledges recently from USC.
None of these young men suggested that their decision to play elsewhere was anything but their own.
No one said that USC’s staff gave them a nudge and pointed them down the road toward other programs.
Rather, their announcements were cloaked in some nebulous verbiage such as “I have decided to open my recruitment” followed (sometimes) by “I would like to thank the coaching staff at USC for this opportunity.”
More likely their de-commitments came because of the USC brain trust looking around and deciding that given their success this year, the Trojans could do better—much better.
And you can hardly blame them, right?
Why take a three-star player when there may be an opportunity to secure a four-star or perhaps even a five-star?
Still, it is this part of recruiting that leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth as now four young players must scramble to find a program that not only fits them but is also willing to cough up a scholarship.
For fans of USC who don’t care about the ugly side of recruiting and are only interested seeing their program improve, the flurry of late de-commitments should portend of good things to come.
USC has built a solid reputation for late signings—including on the first day of national letter of intent signing—and this year will likely see the same in this recruiting class.
And then there is case of the “silent commitment.”
You know, those behind the scenes handshakes between a highly-regarded recruit and the staff designed to allow these young players to complete the process by taking official visits to other programs.