In the world of college football recruiting, there are many people who can help a prospect close the deal on his choice of school. It could be a head coach or his assistant, a parent, a high school coach or someone else. But in the case of Derwin James, it may have been his tattoo artist.
James, out of Haines City [Fla.], is the nation's No. 16 overall prospect and the No. 1 safety. While he committed to Florida State more than two years ago, he can't sign his letter of intent until February. So two months ago, he made his commitment as official as he could at the time -- he had a FSU logo tattooed prominently on his left arm.
His FSU tatoo is just the latest in a needle-and-ink frenzy that has produced more than 30 tattoos in less than a year. He got his first tattoo in July of 2013 and has been getting inked ever since.
His tattoos, which span both arms, his chest, shoulders and back, display images of religion, Florida palm trees and now his college choice.
"It was a last-minute thing," said James, who is 17, of the FSU tattoo. "On my left arm, I had palm trees and the 863 area code, and the artist said we had to come up with something and make it the center of attention. She was like, 'are you sure you're going to Florida State?' and I said I'd been committed for two years now.
"She said, 'I might as well get it on you.' I went with the old logo because we weren't sure which one they were going to use."
Before getting his first tattoo, James needed the approval of his mother who has always been disapproving of tattoos. He took the creative route in achieving his goal by texting her one day to tell her he had just gotten a tattoo.
"I didn't really get it at the time, and she was like, 'Well that's on you -- you have to live with it,'" James said. "After she told me that, I went and got one for real. If she would have said that I was in trouble, I would have said, 'just playin.'"
After the first tatoo, James was in love.
"At first, I wondered why people like tattoos. But when it's finished, you're like, 'All right, I need some more.'"
James' mother, Shanita Russell, has been a good sport about her son's new found love for body art. While she'd prefer her son to have as many tattoos as she does -- zero -- she understands those who do have tattoos and that once they have one, they will likely get more.
And more. And more.
"That's why I didn't want him to get the first one," Russell said. "Everyone I know, that's the pattern."
While Russell is against the tattoos, she hasn't put her foot down on the issue because her son is growing older and is on the cusp of making more his own decisions. Aside from the ink, she's comfortable with those decisions he's making.
"One thing about it," said Russell, "is if it would have changed the person he is, I would have made a deal about it. But he's still the same humble person and his attitude hasn't changed. He still gives it his all."
Russell has even found positives in James getting tattoos now instead of later.
"I'd rather him get them before college, because once he's there, people could bribe him and offer to buy them, so I'd rather just get them for him," she said.
In all, James estimates he's spent 18 total hours in tattoo parlors and has spent $500-$600 on them. And of course, he's not done yet. But his mom might be most approving of his next choice.
"I might get something coming up my back attached to the rose [located on his back shoulder]," James said. "Then I'll have a bird with a string that they bite with my mom's name on it."
"I think that would be good," Russell said. "I wouldn't be mad at all."
As for the FSU tattoo, it's probably one that has Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher's approval, because it would be hard for James to back out of his verbal commitment after that. At the very least, it would be expensive to cover up.
In 2013, Reuben Foster got an Auburn tattoo but ended up signing with Alabama, but both James and Russell believe with absolute certainty he will be in a Seminole uniform in 2015. James was two years old when Russell began decorating his room in FSU garnet and gold. FSU is all he's ever known, and playing for the Seminoles has always been his childhood dream.
If ever there was an instance of a prospect following through on his school of choice, Derwin James appears to be the standard case.
"FSU is automatic," James said. "It's my dream school no matter what."
Adam Krohn is a Southeast Region football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.
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