football Edit

UA All-America Game: Players discuss early signing period

Keondre Coburn

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The word “pressure” never takes long to find itself into any retrospective conversation about the early signing period. The word lurks around the corner of every phrase. When it’s not explicitly spoken, it’s implied.

Prospects, both signed and unsigned, use it routinely. The word shoots to the surface when the subject is broached at Under Armour All-America Game registration day. Four-star defensive tackle Keondre Coburn is quick to deploy it and doesn’t mind going deeper with his explanation after doing so.

Coburn, a Texas commit that remains unsigned by choice, speaks from personal experience.

“They would just call or text every day and be like, ‘Man, what’s up with you,” Coburn said. “But, at the end of the day, I made a decision to sign in February and I wasn’t going to change it for anybody. But I get it. They were just coaches being coaches trying to keep their player.

“If a school doesn’t take me then they don’t take me. There’s other places I can go.”

Coburn’s words ring true for a sought-after player like himself. He holds offers from a long list of national programs and will have plenty of options regardless of when he decides to put pen to paper. But not everyone is like Coburn.

For three-star running back Justin Hall, who signed with Northern Illinois during the early window, the stakes were higher. Had he declined to sign with the Huskies, the gamble he took would make high-limit blackjack players blush.

“People with recruiting processes like mine don’t like it because, like, I have a bunch of MAC schools talking to me, but I know I can play at a higher level. Then, I get invited to something like [The UA All-America Game] and what if I play well and ball out here? Now I’m already signed. So no matter what I do, I won’t be able to get those other offers I would normally get. So that kind of holds you back. With me, though, it worked out because I really like NIU. It would be extremely hard to pull me away anyway.”

For better or worse, capitalism is alive and well in the recruiting world. And coaches certainly aren’t above using the leverage of supply and demand to press their agendas. Wanna lock up a prospect in the December signing period? Hint that it may well be now or never.

The tactic is as effective as it is widespread. That become apparent when four-star defensive end Nikolas Bonitto sits behind a table and walks a group of surrounding reporters down memory lane.

“Certain school I won’t name really put the pressure on me to sign in December because they told me there wouldn’t be enough spots in February,” Bonitto said.

Of course the follow up was obvious. Asked if the schools that threatened such a thing still had spots and continued to recruit him after the period ended, Bonitto laughed.

“Yup. Of course,” he said.

“I won’t say they were full of it,” he added. “They were just doing their job.”

Nikolas Bonnito

Reviews obviously aren’t all bad. Here at UA All-America media day, it takes less than 20 paces in any direction to find a player willing to speak out in support of the early signing period. Most of the players participating in the event decided to take advantage of it.

Miami signee Al Blades calls it “great” and points out that many of his peers overthink their decisions down the stretch because of last-minute pressure from desperate coaching staffs. Ole Miss-bound receiver Elijah Moore says it shouldn’t bother anyone who “commits to a school instead of a coach.”

That’s all to say that, in some ways, the jury of prospects is split. Then, as Coburn points out, the situation is simply a matter of perspective. According to him, the benefactors are obvious.

“I feel like it’s dumb, but colleges probably think it’s smart,” Coburn said. “Everyone just has to look out for themselves. I get that.”