Ron Darby was in awe as he walked around the Notre Dame campus last spring. The Potomac (Md.) High standout football player toured the athletic facilities and academic buildings and met some of the Fighting Irish coaches’ families. He felt like a star when younger children asked for an autograph.
Everything felt right. Before he left South Bend, during a meeting in a conference room, Darby told a pair of Notre Dame assistant coaches he would accept a scholarship offer to play for one of college football’s biggest brand names.
The Post's Josh Barr and host B.J. Koubaroulis preview National Signing day with a look at where the DMV's top football stars are expected to sign. (Jan. 31)
(Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST) - Eddie Goldman, wearing a Florida State hat, announces his college pick Wednesday at a ceremony at Friendship Collegiate Academy charter school. Nineteen athletes signed scholarship papers at the school.
Not long ago, that would have marked the end of Darby’s recruitment. The process wouldn’t officially come to a close until the first Wednesday in February, known as national signing day, the first day high school seniors can formally accept scholarship offers by signing a binding National Letter-of-Intent. But an oral commitment such as the one Darby made to Notre Dame was a signal to other schools that a decision had been made and that their recruiting pitches were better directed elsewhere.
These days, however, oral commitments don’t carry the same weight — for rival colleges or for the recruits themselves. As Darby discovered after his commitment, the barrage of letters and phone calls from college coaches, while slowing a little, never stopped. And Darby himself had a wandering eye, taking official campus visits — paid for by the hosting college — not only to Notre Dame, but also to Maryland and Auburn.
By January, word spread that Darby was no longer committed to Notre Dame, even though he was still considering the school.
Darby is by no means an exception; at least four other top area players changed their college choices after making “unofficial” commitments during the offseason following the junior season. Nationally, a recent Sports Illustrated report showed over the past five years 14.6 percent of the top 100 players decommitted at some point during the recruiting process.
“It’s the nature of the beast right now in recruiting,” said Penn State assistant coach Larry Johnson, who has landed more than his share of prospects from the Washington area, the latest being DeMatha second-team All-Met tight end-defensive end Brent Wilkerson. “You have 17- and 16-year-old kids making decisions at such an early stage. Like everything else, they have the right to change their minds because it’s not binding. . . . That’s not a bad thing. I’d rather have that than a kid go somewhere and make the wrong decision.”
In the Washington area, a handful of other players have already flipped their college commitments: Friendship Collegiate running back Albert Reid went from West Virginia to Maryland, H.D. Woodson cornerback Kenny Crawley and defensive end De’Jon Wilson went from Tennessee and Kansas, respectively, to Colorado. All of the players made their initial commitments before the season.
And who can forget last year’s signing period drama when DeMatha’s highly coveted tackle Cyrus Kouandjio announced he would sign with Auburn, but never sent his signed letter-of-intent. Three days later, he signed with rival Alabama.