Long Reach senior Justin Pruitt thought he had done the right things to earn a college football scholarship.
The 6-foot-6, 291-pound tackle started attending exposure camps even before he entered high school. Last summer, he flew to colleges around the country to work out for coaches. Even after a hamstring injury last summer, he had a successful enough season to be named all-state, all-county and second-team All-Met after his senior season.
He went to spring practice at the University of Virginia and to William and Mary for an unofficial visit. He was invited to a camp for prospective recruits at Boston College and made it to a spring practice at Maryland.
He dined with Penn State Coach Joe Paterno as a junior and attended two games as a guest of the Nittany Lions.
On the first day coaches could call recruits, July 1, a coach from Boston College called at 8 a.m., Pruitt said. Dozens more called over the next few weeks.
Penn State showed particular interest, Pruitt thought.
"I thought they were going to offer me a scholarship, but there was no letter of commitment in the mail," Pruitt said. "They kept calling me and said they would like to offer me, just come up [to Penn State], and we will give your head coach a call."
"They kept saying, 'It's not you, it's us. Be patient,' " Pruitt said.
But last week, on national letter-of-intent signing day, Penn State announced its 11 signees, and Pruitt was not among them. Indeed, as hundreds of football, field hockey and soccer players across the country declared their intent to play at various colleges, Pruitt didn't pick up a pen.
Only two Howard County football players signed letters-of-intent. Colin Quinn of Wilde Lake received a partial scholarship to Division I-AA Towson, while Glenelg's Kevin Ganascioli announced his intentions to play at Division I-AA Lafayette, which does not offer athletic scholarships.
For Pruitt, no offers came.
"I try to tell parents and kids that just because you put on a uniform doesn't mean you are going to get a scholarship," Long Reach Coach Pete Hughes said. "With Justin's case it's a little different. When you are 6-6, strong, 295 pounds, and can move reasonably well, you would think someone like that would be able to earn a scholarship."
Penn State coaches are not allowed to comment on recruits who have not signed letters-of-intent, and Hughes said some may have thought Pruitt was not fast enough or aggressive enough.
Recruiting expert Tom Lemming says Pruitt was likely the victim of numbers.
"If they are not offered [a scholarship] at the [summer] camp, the chances are they are not going to be offered, but they are still going to string you along in case they lose a lot of guys in front of you," said Lemming, editor of Prep Football Report magazine. "You've got to nail it down early because these college coaches could string 100 guys along, and sometimes they do, and then they offer 20."
That practice is part of the recruiting game, and coaches are adept at it, Lemming said. Parents and players are not.
Even before Pruitt entered high school, colleges began to show interest in him. Before his freshman year in high school, he attended an exposure camp at Maryland, and before his sophomore season, he went to Michigan, where he and a dozen other players met with coaches in Bo Schembechler Hall.
Pruitt's mother, Marsha, said her family didn't pay for camps or other football expenses just to get Justin a scholarship, but there was always that hope.
"The lesson you see here is this is truly a business," she said. "The colleges need to do what it takes to win. When you think about it that way, we understand that better now. It definitely put an impact on your time, and financially, I don't think I even want to add up what we have spent."
Pruitt has been lifting weights and trying to stay in shape while waiting for the phone to ring. He said he may try to walk on at the University of Delaware, where his brother is a biotechnology major, or at Maryland. If he makes one of those teams, there's a chance of a scholarship eventually, he said. But he knows now that there are no guarantees.
"The feeling is just pretty much pure frustration," Pruitt said. "I worked so hard, and I got pretty much nothing."