Joe Davidson

Wednesday’s national signing day may change for better

Alex Cook, Sheldon football, talks about signing national letter of intent with Washington

Sheldon High School receiver Alex Cook talks about signing his national letter of intent with Washington and playing for coach Chris Petersen and with Huskies quarterback Jake Browning, and also why character matters.
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Sheldon High School receiver Alex Cook talks about signing his national letter of intent with Washington and playing for coach Chris Petersen and with Huskies quarterback Jake Browning, and also why character matters.

The spectacle that is national signing day happens Wednesday.

It’s when high school football recruits can formally declare their choice of college to play on scholarship by signing binding letters of intent, ending what often becomes something of a circus for prospects nationwide.

This includes athletes from the greater Sacramento region. For decades the area has been a hotbed for college recruiters, and this year is no different. At least 30 local players will sign with Football Bowl Subdivision or Football Championship Subdivision schools Wednesday.

While there are many reasons to celebrate signing a letter of intent – less than 2 percent of student-athletes receive scholarships – the experience sometimes can be overwhelming. Many college recruits are often not old enough to vote. Some don’t even have a driver’s license, yet they’re tasked with making a decision that can shape their future.

The December early signing period is a good thing. I think a lot of players are ready to commit at that point and put all of the drama behind them.

Chris Nixon, Elk Grove football coach, on a proposal for an earlier signing period for high school players

Because college football’s popularity continues to soar, athletes often feel pressured from college alums and boosters via social media while mulling over their choices. And what should be a formality on signing day sometimes has athletes flip-flopping until the last minute and switching college baseball hats in front of packed school gymnasiums.

But change is looming. Wednesday may be the last time national signing day is in February. The momentum is building for earlier signing dates, thus ending as much as six weeks of drama.

“I hope so,” Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher told The Associated Press. He has been part of two groups that have been working for three years on reforming football recruiting.

Proposals for change include a 72-hour signing period in December. The NCAA could approve that in April. This plan would allow recruits to take earlier official visits to college campuses, leading to earlier decisions.

Under the current format, prospects often are torn on decisions through the holidays and January. Every college looks appealing, with recruits given the VIP treatment during visits. Recruiting websites draw considerable interest because college football is that big, especially in the past 10 years or so as more freshmen start for powerhouse programs.

There is also discussion about a June signing period.

I needed all the time I could get to decide. If it was an earlier signing, I don’t know if I sign with OSU.

Trajon Cotton, Inderkum defensive back, on signing with Oregon State

“The December early signing period is a good thing,” Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon said. “I think a lot of players are ready to commit at that point and put all of the drama behind them.

“I’m not in favor of a June early signing period. Seventeen-year-olds have trouble committing to the clothes they are going to wear that day. They’re teenagers. It’s their right to commit-decommit-commit. To ask them to lock in schools over a year before they get there, when the coaching staff or circumstances change in the meantime, is unfair.”

Inderkum’s Trajon Cotton, a Sacramento Bee All-Metro defensive back, agonized over Colorado and Oregon State, finally picking OSU. Would his anxiety have been eased by an earlier signing period?

“I needed all the time I could get to decide,” Cotton said. “If it was an earlier signing, I don’t know if I sign with OSU.”

Folsom coach Kris Richardson has experienced the recruiting bonanza up close – the stress, the build-up of signing day, the excitement and the relief. The Bulldogs have sent scores of players to the college ranks and will have more sign Wednesday. Richardson was the offensive-line coach for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio in early January, when the topic of Jonah Williams came up. Williams, a five-star recruit at Folsom, started as a freshman at right tackle for Alabama in 2016.

He committed early to Alabama, as Folsom quarterback Jake Browning did with Washington. Both told The Bee they would have made the same decisions with an earlier signing period because they didn’t want any part of the late signing drama.

“I used Jonah as an example on how to do this,” Richardson said. “Jonah tweeted once his senior year with us – when he announced he was going to Alabama. That’s it. I can understand the excitement of signing, but sometimes it gets to be too much.”

Coaches agree an early signing period won’t eliminate the recruiting circus. College coaches rely on recruits to produce competitive teams. Wins and losses are tied to their livelihood.

“I think (an early signing period) is going to slow recruiting down big time,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told CBS Sports. “You’re going to see some of these early offers slow down because if a guy is committed, you’re going to expect them to sign, so you better be sure you’re offering someone you want.”

Elk Grove High School tight end Gavin Reinwald, smiled and discussed his future after signing his letter of intent to attend Cal on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Along with being a fine football talent, Reinwald carries a 4.0 grade-point average.

Pleasant Grove High School defensive back Dawson Weber shares his excitement in signing a letter of intent with North Dakota State. He is proof that recruiters look beyond an 0-10 season.

Inderkum High School football star Josh Falo signed a letter of intent with USC as the No. 1 tight end prospect in the country. He talks of the pride and relief of signing and what his family means to him, and what looms at USC.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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