By Sheryl McAlister, a freelance writer based in South Carolina.
National Signing Day for high school athletes is always fun to witness. Grownups falling over themselves to have an 18-year-old say he or she will come play ball with them for the next 4 years – if they’re lucky. At least a couple years, if they’re not.
It’s fun watching the kids, surrounded by parents, coaches and loved ones. They’re all smiles, dreaming about all the great things they plan to do with their lives. I always hope they’ll get at least an undergraduate degree out of the deal. Maybe an early start to a graduate degree if they’ve redshirted.
Let me back up. For those uninitiated in the recruiting of high school athletes, and more specifically, football players in this football-crazed country, this is the day high school seniors sign a letter of intent to play college ball at one school.
The recruiting process for most high school stars lasts for years. And recruiting in the months leading up to National Signing Day is fueled by a competitive frenzy unparalleled in amateur sports. Heady stuff for anybody, being wooed so aggressively and so openly. Potentially overwhelming for a kid sometimes not even old enough to vote or drive after dark.
In all the hype this year, one story stood out for me. You see, there’s a part of the process that can occur prior to the actual day players sign a letter of intent. It’s called a verbal commitment. An agreement, if you will, with an old-fashioned handshake.
And this one, it seems, left one deserving kid empty-handed.
Early last summer, Dutch Fork High School football player Matt Colburn had made a verbal commitment to the University of Louisville. Now, keep in mind that an early verbal commitment essentially takes an athlete off the market.
Monday, just 2 days before the National Signing Day, Louisville called to inform Colburn and his coach, Tom Knotts, that it would not honor that commitment this year. Oh, they still wanted him, according to the reports. Just not this season.
Even in the sometimes unscrupulous world of college athletics, it’s hard to believe a university would do something like that. I was heartbroken for the kid, who was selected South Carolina’s best high school football player in 2014. And then I heard his high school coach’s comments, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
Knotts was quoted in news reports as saying that given what Louisville had done to his player, Louisville and its coaches would never be allowed back in his school — never again allowed to recruit one of his players.
It really goes without saying that a college education can make a difference in a person’s life, and a college scholarship is sometimes the only way a high school graduate can further his or her education. For poor kids, it might be the only way out of poverty.
I don’t know anything about Colburn’s life or socioeconomic status. But it makes no difference. For a university to intentionally mess with a kid’s future is untenable, in any scenario. To do so with a good, talented kid who presumably had plenty of other options is unforgiveable.
Colburn’s selection as the best in South Carolina high school football has him in good company. For instance, the 2010 winner was Jadeveon Clowney, who played college ball at the University of South Carolina and was the No. 1 pick in the most recent NFL draft. So, yeah, this boy had options.
Both Colburn and Knotts sound like stand-up guys. Good guys. I’m guessing when the dust settles on the chaos that is this week, coach and player will together find the place where both talent and character can thrive equally. A place where a young man’s word off the field means as much as his performance on the field.
I suspect a new legion of fans will be watching. And cheering them both on.
Copyright © 2015 Sheryl McAlister.