Back in the day when Alabama football coach Bear Bryant was ruling the SEC with 14 conference championships, he was once asked the key to his success and the Bear growled something like, “Being able to talk an 18-year-old boy into making a decision within about 15 minutes …”
Anyone who has ever raised children knows that is nigh impossible, but, because of that rare phenomena, there is a chance sleepy little Calhoun, Ga., may soon have its worst fire since General Sherman’s Civil War march. Today’s decision by a kid named Da’Rick Rogers could tear the town asunder.
At a 9:45 a.m. “announcement party” this morning, Da’Rick – universally recognized as the top high school football player in the state - is expected to start a near-riot when he reveals he’ll cast his lot with the University of Tennessee instead of the University of Georgia for the next four years.
Yes, it’s National Signing Day, the date when the top high school athletes from around the country can finally sign scholarship papers with college teams. The problem with Da’Rick, a phenomenal receiver, is that all year long he’s been committed to Georgia. When he reportedly called UGa coach Mark Richt within the last 48 hours to tell him that he’d …. uh, changed his mind, the jilted ‘Dawg fans have gone berserk.
It gets better. Back during the season, Calhoun High quarterback Nash Nance committed early to Vanderbilt. But then the talented Nash guided Calhoun to the state finals and bolstered his stock considerably, drawing the attention of the SEC heavyweights. Nash was wooed by new UT coach Derek Dooley and Tennessee’s heady lure was strong enough to cause Nance to “break the engagement” with the crest-fallen Commodores.
That was okay in Calhoun, but when Nance’s best friend, the one they call “Da’Freak” because he’s a human highlight film, spurned Georgia … oh look out! Rogers is one of the best athletes in the country. Really. He plays “leap frog” with his teammates before games by bouncing over their shoulders – with them standing up!
The trouble is Calhoun is solidly a “Georgia Bulldog” town. Forget the fact Da’Rick spends several nights over at the Nance house where Nash’s mom and dad have long since become like surrogates to Rogers. Forget Da’Rick and Nash are closest friends. There hasn’t been this big a ruckus over a late-night theft since some Civil War soldiers stole “The General.”
So today some irate ‘Dawg fans in Calhoun are figuratively spouting, “there will be blood” and, already, there is a movement underfoot to boycott the elder Nance’s carpet business. Ridiculous, you bet, but that is how big recruiting has gotten.
Here’s a kid who hasn’t even graduated from high school, but when Da’Rick Rogers’ picture appeared on Facebook over the weekend, kissing Tennessee’s 1998 national trophy, it sent the now-scorned Bulldogs into apoplexy. Last week somebody also said there was a picture of him holding a “Big Orange” sign at a UT basketball game, too. You talk about heresy!
Believe it or not, recruiting is now followed closely across the country, but nothing compares with the intensity within the Southeastern Conference. Five of its teams are now ranked in almost every Top Ten list. The rankings change almost hourly, faster than the 18-year-olds’ whims which drive them.
But as dawn broke on Signing Day, Florida was entrenched as having the best class in the country. Despite Urban Meyer’s continuing health saga, the Gators have 25 commitments, four from players rated “five star” and 16 more from “four star” prospects. In comparison, Texas is now No. 2 with 25 commitments, with two “fives” and 19 “fours.”
Surprising Auburn is No. 3 on Rivals early-morning list. Alabama is No. 4, LSU is No. 6, and Tennessee is No. 7, which is incredible in light of Lane Kiffin’s recent departure. Georgia is now No. 16, South Carolina is No. 18 and Ole Miss is No. 25, but – wait – all of this is based on commitments, which means nothing now that “ink” becomes the standard.
When a scholarship is signed by an athlete, it is binding, whereas a commitment – quite obviously – does little more than make the bride blush. The Rivals list will change today because some of the best players in the country were still wavering on Tuesday. Today most will convert to “ink” and the guessing will be over.
But nowhere in the nation will it play out any juicier than in Calhoun. Da’Rick, every bit a “five star” prospect, was solidly in Georgia’s camp before making two trips to Tennessee the past two weekends. During last week’s snow, UT assistant coaches literally drove four-wheel-drive vehicles to Calhoun to fetch the two defectors. That’s how nuts it gets.
A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the Atlanta newspaper and Tennessee’s “package deal” was hinted to be in the works, but Nance said that wasn’t true.
“It was kind of funny really,” said Nance at the time. “Usually [recruiters] are quick to talk to Da’Rick about that. But they didn’t really talk about that this time. (UT) Coach Chaney really focused a lot on me. He didn’t talk to Da’Rick that much. Of course, he said they’d love to have Da’Rick up there. But he spent a lot of one-on-one time with me.
“Really, honestly, it’s not as big of a deal as people talk about. People talk package deals and all that, but we’re looking at it separately. We’ve talked about playing together, but if it doesn’t happen it’s fine with me,” Nance also said.
Guess what? “It” was expected “to happen” in Calhoun this morning at a much-ballyhooed “press announcement.” Tell the fire department to be on “Code Red” … no, make it a “Code Orange.”