When it comes to college football, National Signing Day has become almost as big and important as the games played in the fall.
In today’s world of social media, college football recruiting has risen to a whole new level. Now, when prospects tweet anything about a school, rabid fans hit follow and then offer their own opinions on where a particular athlete should sign.
Behind the scenes, where fans and internet junkies are not allowed to go, the prospects themselves are dealing with more pressure than anyone realizes. Official visits, coaching changes and late offers tend to throw things into a whirlwind. And, oh yeah, these kids have to attend school too.
Ashley Ridge quarterback Steven Duncan was one of the few area players that ended his recruiting before the 2015 season started, committing to Western Kentucky. Duncan held firm to his commitment and never wavered, which allowed him to focus on his final prep season.
“It can be a little stressful at first, when you don’t have any offers,” Duncan said. “Once you get that first offer, it seems the other offers roll in. But I knew very early that I wanted to be a Hilltopper. I wanted to commit early and focus on my season and on being the best teammate I could be.”
Duncan’s world changed slightly in January when new South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp became interested in the 6-5, 230-pounder with a rocket arm. Rumors began to swirl that Duncan might be interested in the Gamecocks, which totally changed what had been a relative easy recruiting process.
“It got kind of crazy at the end,” he said. “I was very honored that South Carolina contacted me, but in the end, Western is the place I needed to be. I had to respect my home state school and I listened, but I just knew in my heart that I already had made the best decision for me.”
The most heavily recruited prospect in the area has been Fort Dorchester offensive lineman John Simpson, who also was targeted by the new coaching staff at USC. In the end, Simpson narrowed his choices down to Clemson, Florida and LSU. He has said he won’t announce his decision until Wednesday.
Simpson’s experience during the recruiting process was far different than Duncan’s because he went through the official visit process. That process meant more scrutiny and more involvement from fan bases and fellow students.
Fort Dorchester head coach Steve LaPrad has plenty of experience dealing with high-profile prospects. Fort Dorchester has produced current NFL players Carlos Dunlap, Robert Quinn and Byron Maxwell. LaPrad says his primary role is as an adviser and blocker.
“I only offer advice if I am asked, but what I try to do for the kids is deflect a lot of the stuff that they don’t want to be involved in,” LaPrad said. “This recruiting thing is all glamour when it starts, but it can really wear on you. A month into this stuff, the players and the parents are ready for it to be over.”
LaPrad says Simpson has had a particularly tough time this winter in dealing with the pressure of being a top-rated recruit.
“John is such a great kid and he has a hard time saying no,” the coach said. “He’s very, very stressed out. It’s been tough on him because he really likes everyone involved. All of the schools have been great to him and that makes it really hard for him to tell them no. Plus, he’s trying to wrestle and trying to keep his grades up. He’s got so much on his plate.
“But John is in a great position. He really can’t make a bad decision. The three schools left — all would be great fits for John. Getting to this point, however, has really been tough for him.”
Lowcountry football players expected to sign Wednesday:
Chris Felder, Summerville — Valdosta State
Chandler Farrell, Summerville — USC (preferred walk-on)
John Simpson, Fort Dorchester — TBA
Datron James, Fort Dorchester — TBA
Chris Morales, Fort Dorchester — TBA
Diondre Champaigne, Fort Dorchester — USC
Norman Hand, Colleton County — Tennessee Tech
Nick Salley, Colleton County — CSU
Trey Murray, Colleton County — Catawba
Tre Smalls, Hanahan — North Carolina A&T
Sam Denmark, Hanahan — Virginia Tech
Dominique Green, Hanahan — Lenoir-Rhyne
Buss Hamilton, James Island — S.C. State
Joseph Sweatt, First Baptist — Wingate
Danny Long, Berkeley — Limestone
Keenan Simpson, Cane Bay — Jacksonville
Steven Duncan, Ashley Ridge — Western Kentucky
Brandon Brown, Ashley Ridge — Wofford
Blake Jeresaty, Bishop England — Wofford
Malik Brown, West Ashley — CSU
T’qele Holmes, West Ashley — Coastal Carolina
Wade Rouse, West Ashley — Newberry
Justin Berry, West Ashley — TBA
Johnny Ray, Wando — Charlotte
Bailey Hart, Wando — USC (walk-on)
Malcolm Garrett, Cross — S.C. State
Javon Kinlaw, Goose Creek — Jones Community College
Dijon Profit, Goose Creek — The Citadel