Photos by Derrick Mahone / ELCA's Keyante Green and Lovejoy's Arshad Jackson both had second thoughts about their initial verbal commitments. Green switched from UCLA to Purdue, while Jackson de-committed from Auburn and will choose between Florida State, Ole Miss and Tennessee.
Tyler Vaughn was nervous. So nervous that the Union Grove senior defensive lineman sat on the decision to back off his verbal commitment to play football for Akron University for several days for fear of how the Zips coaching staff would react to the news.
“It was exactly what I expected,” Vaughn said. “They were mad.”
Akron called his father. It called one of his dad’s close friends. It called Vaughn’s high school coach, Paul Burgdorf.
The day is here when high school senior football players make their college commitments official — or end months of speculation. The Clayton News Daily ad Henry Daily Herald finishes their mini-series on college football recruiting with a look at both sides of the “flipping” phenomenon that’s become more common.
Follow our sports staff on Twitter using the hashtag #SigningDayCND and #SigningDayHDH as they cover signings at local high schools throughout the day.
See the Friday print edition for a complete wrap-up of all the Signing Day festivities from around Clayton and Henry counties.
It wanted answers. The Zips wanted to know what went wrong to cause Vaughn to switch his commitment to Wofford on Jan. 11, less than one month from National Signing Day.
“I knew it would better myself,” Vaughn said. “Hard decisions have to be made.”
So he flipped.
It’s common vernacular in high school football recruiting by now, but it engenders all sorts of debate about loyalty — whether players show enough of it, as their vascillations are documented across media outlets, or college coaches deserve it as they recruit for one school then bolt for another.
This recruiting season has seen a rise in Southern Crescent big-time prospects thinking twice about their first choice. ELCA running back Keyante Green switched from UCLA to Purdue. Lovejoy had a pair of flippers in tight end Arshad Jackson (Auburn to Florida State or Ole Miss) and wide receiver JuMichael Ramos (Georgia Tech to N.C. State). Dutchtown’s Donovahn Jones flipped from Missouri to Minnesota on Tuesday so he could flip his future position from wide receiver to quarterback.
The concept is a flop to some local coaches.
Said Dutchtown coach Jason Galt: “I’m not a big fan of it. I was brought up when you give somebody your word, you do that.”
And Jonesboro coach Tim Floyd: “I tell each one of them to make sure that that’s what they want to do before they commit. I don’t believe in flip flopping.”
Or Lovejoy coach Al Hughes: “I don’t encourage them to do that at all. I think I’m just an old-school guy.”
Count Burgdorf among the old-school.
“I’m not a big proponent,” Burgdorf said. “I don’t like the precedent.”
But they’re not naive either. With an avalanche of outside pressure from college coaches, media, fans and friends, 17- and 18-year-olds are bound to second guess. With so many factors to consider in their college choice, seemingly anything could sway recruits after making a commitment.
“Kids feel the pressure to commit earlier and earlier,” said Keith Neibuhr, recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com. “They get these non-stop phone calls. Sometimes they get out of the limelight and want to check out some more schools. The coaching carousal starts up after the season and coaches are switching schools.
“When a kid decommits, it is them that catch all the heat.”
Jones had committed to Missouri on Sept. 11 soon after visiting Columbia, Mo., to watch the Tigers play their first ever SEC game against Georgia. He enjoyed the atmopshere, liked what he saw from Missouri’s spread offense and would get to play only a few hours away from his mother who lives in Rockford, Ill.
But Jones’ commitment didn’t stop Minnesota from recruiting the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder. Indeed, the Gophers simply worked harder.
Spearheaded by running backs coach Brian Anderson — whose brother played college football with Jones’ father — Minnesota brought head coach Jerry Kill, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski to Dutchtown. They spent two hours with Jones at school. Then another three hours at Jones’ home the next night.
Except during dead periods when college coaches aren’t allowed to visit recruits, Minnesota visited Dutchtown at least once a week. They’ve stopped by Jones’ basketball practices and games. On Jones’ unofficial visit over the summer, Kill spent six hours with the Bulldogs quarterback giving him a personal tour of the campus.
“They just really made the point that they wanted Donovahn to be there,” Dutchtown defensive coordinator and associated head coach Terry Herrod said, “and that he was their No. 1 priority of all their recruits.”
Add the offer to play quarterback at the next level and Jones was convinced. He flipped his commitment Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before Dutchtown’s signing day ceremony at 9:15 a.m.
“These are tough decisions for kids,” Herrod said. “It’s tough to say no to one of the schools. I’m just happy for Donovahn to play BCS football and get a legitimate chance to play quarterback. That’s what he wants to do.”
Jones had an array of factors he considered. Hughes tells his players to do the same.
“That decision needs to based on what if — What if that coach isn’t there?” Hughes said. “If you’re putting all your eggs in one basket and just going for a coach, you’re probably going to get burned somewhere along the way. ... We tell our kids to ask the question, If I weren’t playing football would I still want to go to this school and get an education.”
Back to Vaughn. Part of his motivation was education-related. The 6-foot-1, 280-pound defensive lineman wants to major in physical education. He felt Wofford’s physical education program had Akron beat there. Not to mention the Terriers have emerged as an FCS national contender while Akron went 1-11 last season and 0-8 in the Mid-American Conference.
As Vaughn saw it, a better opportunity came along and he took it.
And as hard as it was, he has no regrets.
“It’s not really a good thing or a bad thing,” Vaughn said. “It’s just what’s in the best interest of the player and their future.”
Sports editor Derrick Mahone and sports writer Gabriel Stovall contributed to this story.