Jamree Kromah sees the new college football early signing period that starts Wednesday as presenting a calculated risk — one he doesn't want to take.
Early on, Kromah, an uncommitted senior defensive end from C.H. Flowers High in Prince George's County, Md., had considered using the early signing period to his advantage — as the NCAA had intended. Signing a letter-of-intent in December would stop the late-night phone calls from coaches, visits from staffers at his school and constant pressure of deciding which school to choose. It would most likely mean relief.
But as the early signing period got closer, Kromah decided that binding himself to a school without exploring other — and in some cases, better — options that could arise between now and the still-intact traditional National Signing Day in February was the greater risk he was not willing to gamble on.
"Yes, I want to wait it out," said Kromah, who decommitted from Old Dominion on Dec. 10 in hopes of getting more offers before February. "It is rolling the dice."
By waiting to sign until February, there is a looming possibility that players' current offers could be pulled — a threat that Kromah and other players have said they have heard as part of their recruiting processes — or other colleges won't come through with the late offers that prospects are hoping for. Kromah said that while he understands the risk, as of now, waiting is what he wants to do.
"It's nerve-racking," Kromah said. "I don't know if any other schools would offer me or not. I'm just hoping."
In May, the NCAA authorized a 72-hour window from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22 allowing high school football players in the class of 2018 to sign a letter-of-intent. The traditional signing period still runs from the first Wednesday in February through April 1.
The early signing period does not affect players who decide to enroll early to college, which has been a common practice in past years. If players sign their letter-of-intent during the early signing period, they do not have to enroll early, and vice versa.
Kromah, who also has offers from Rutgers and Connecticut, originally wanted to give himself as many options as possible before the early signing period arrived. Despite making the decision to wait until February, the pressure is still on.
"That is information we are going to have to gather," said Susan Peal, the NCAA director of the National Letter of Intent. "Did the prospective student-athletes feel more pressure or not? We have been talking about an early signing for years now, but until we do it and see the data and get the feedback, it is still the unknown."
Some high school players say they are happy with the early option. Both Damascus offensive lineman Michael Jurgens, who is committed to Wake Forest, and Gonzaga offensive lineman Aidan Rafferty, who is committed to Indiana, are planning to sign early and expressed relief that their recruitments will finally be over.
Rivals.com national recruiting director Mike Farrell said he expects 60 to 65 percent of the prospects who have already verbally committed to sign in December. Well over half of all recruits being seriously considered for scholarships have given some form of verbal commitment.
"I know for us we think it is a good thing," California Coach Justin Wilcox said of the early signing period. "There are a lot of factors that go into that, but we think it is a good thing. We have a majority of the class signing Wednesday, and [we] think everybody has the information they need on both sides."
Maryland Coach DJ Durkin, who said the plan is for all of Maryland's verbal commits to sign early, emphasized the stress that would be taken off players who sign in December, plus the benefits of schools being able to narrow their focus come January.
Instead of trying to spend an entire month constantly checking in on recruits and spending resources on kids who have already made up their mind, colleges will have a full-picture layout of who is serious about them and who is not.
"There may be some schools that have kids committed and may end up at the end of the day not wanting to sign them," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. "Then, that prospect gets to find out in December and not the day before signing day in February. For us, we would love for all the guys to fill up our class in December if everyone is ready."
But according to some high school players who are not defined as "blue-chip prospects," who for the most part have the luxury of waiting until February to make their college decisions, there are some colleges that have told them they view not signing early as a decommitment from the program.
"What schools are saying, especially the non-Power Five schools, is that if you don't sign during this early signing period, then you are really not committed to us," said Rodney Webb, the coach at Rockwall High in Texas. "So that kid that has that one offer from the Sun Belt school and would love to wait until signing day to make his decision, if he doesn't sign to that Sun Belt school in the early signing period, then they are going to drop him and move on."
Barclay Ford, a senior tight end at North Forney High in Forney, Tex., decided to take advantage of the early signing period to lock down a spot at the college of his choice. Ford said he will be signing with Stephen F. Austin of the Football Championship Subdivision on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. in his school's auditorium. But the process to get to that decision wasn't simple.
"Looking on it, I do wish I had more time, because I feel like certain athletes are feeling pressured about where they want to go," Ford said. "And I'm not saying I'm feeling pressured now, because [SFA] is where I want to go, but others, yes, they are feeling pressured."
Ford, a two-star recruit who had offers from seven FCS schools, could have taken the same gamble as Kromah. But in addition to deciding Stephen F. Austin was the school for him, he said, he realized that the risk of waiting and not finding a place to land was too great.
"You don't want to try to wait and turn around and end up with nothing before February, and you try to run back to SFA and they say, 'Well, sorry, we already filled your spot out,' and then you are stuck and at a loss for words with nowhere to go,' " Ford said.
There are potential benefits that could arise for players who wait until the traditional signing period. High school seniors who wouldn't normally get an offer could be picked up from a school that didn't see December shake out how it anticipated.
And Howard Coach Mike London said the "trickle down" might benefit a lot of FCS schools, which can continue to offer kids who get passed over by Football Bowl Subdivision schools. That's critical, he said, in a sport so reliant on acquiring the right players.
"For the kids that don't say yes early and want to see what happens, we could end up getting him," London said. "Really, I like to say, it's about the Jimmy and the Joes and not the X's and the O's."
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