TAMPA — Tony Posada had his mind made up in August, way before he played the first down of his final high school football season.
The Plant High senior offensive tackle had weeded through about 30 Division I-A scholarship offers and was sold on Michigan after a three-day summer trip to Ann Arbor in which he soaked in the program’s tradition, met the coaches and even memorized the street names.
He committed to the Wolverines, who had offered him as a junior, nearly six months before Wednesday’s national signing day, the first day recruits can sign binding agreements with colleges.
Then came the new year, and everything changed. After Michigan’s New Year’s Day Gator Bowl loss, the school fired coach Rich Rodriguez, leaving Posada in limbo.
“I was worried,” Posada said. “Signing day was right around the corner, and you don’t know who the head coach is going to be. It’s a big decision, choosing where you’re going to be for the next four years.”
Posada is one of many bay area athletes who believed committing early would help them focus better during their senior seasons and lock up their dream schools, but a bevy of coaching changes left many of the top prospects in a recruiting whirlwind.
Alonso defensive end Anthony Chickillo committed to Miami, where he would be the ’Canes first third-generation player, in September. But when Randy Shannon was fired in November, Chickillo decided to look around. He warmed on Florida, but before he knew it coach Urban Meyer was out.
“It seems like every time I like a school, the coach leaves,” he said at the time.
After getting to know new Miami coach Al Golden, Chickillo reaffirmed his commitment to the ’Canes.
Nature Coast athlete Ja’Juan Story committed to Florida early, but after the Gators’ coaching shuffle, he reopened his recruiting and took trips to Oregon and Ohio State. Now that Stan Drayton, the former UF coach who recruited Story for the Gators, was just hired to be the Buckeyes receivers coach, Story’s signing day decision is especially intriguing.
Chickillo’s Alonso teammate, defensive back Tyree Clark, committed to UConn — his only D-I offer at the time — in October. But when Huskies coach Randy Edsall left to coach Maryland, Clark wondered if he still had a scholarship. Meanwhile, coaches from other schools — Ball State, Eastern Michigan, North Texas and Hawaii — swooped in with sudden interest.
Clark didn’t hear from UConn for four days, but Huskies defensive backs coach Darrell Perkins, who had been his recruiting coach, told Clark he’d remain on new coach Paul Pasqualoni’s staff.
“We had that relationship with each other,” Clark said. “He’s my position coach, too, so knowing he was back made me feel better about it. But if we didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be sure what would happen.”
• • •
Over the past month, Hillsborough High coach Earl Garcia has seen a who’s who of major Division I-A coaches — including Auburn coach Gene Chizik, Georgia coach Mark Richt, USF coach Skip Holtz and USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin — stop in to see defensive lineman Earl Moore, who is just a junior.
“It makes it a long, tiresome process for everyone,” Garcia said. “The coaches who come in don’t smile as much as they used to. The kids all think it’s fun until they really get involved in it. The recruiting landscape has changed dramatically. It’s gotten to the point where coaches offer a ninth-grader before he even knows where the parking lot is.”
ESPN recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said most BCS programs have made 50 to 75 percent of their offers by June 1 for a class entering its senior year.
“It’s all because schools are evaluating earlier and making offers earlier,” said Newberg, a St. Petersburg resident. “I think it’s become too accelerated. There’s a great effect on the recruits because there’s so much volatility in the coaching industry that it throws them a curveball.”
The notion of an early signing period, similar to those in other college sports, has been tossed around, but Newberg said it’s not necessarily a solution given the annual college coaching changes.
• • •
The elite prospects can sign whenever, knowing the top colleges will make room for them. But for lesser-known recruits, sometimes that spot is filled fast.
Garcia said that Tennessee State pulled an offer letter from Andre Gunn, regarded as one of the county’s top linemen since he was a sophomore. Gunn now will likely commit to D-II Fort Hays State.
“That doesn’t say much for Tennessee State and it doesn’t say much for the entire process,” Garcia said. “It becomes a war of attrition. I think a verbal commitment should be binding and an offer should be binding.”
Spoto cornerback Nick Addison gave Division I-AA Bethune-Cookman his oral pledge in the fall, but told coaches there that he’d still be looking around for a D-I offer. Last month, New Mexico offered him. But he apparently waited too long to commit. When he went on an official visit two weekends ago, his spot had been filled.
“I know it’s a business,” said Addison, who re-affirmed his commitment to B-CU this past weekend. “It’s not their fault. I didn’t commit early. I had plans to commit there but it just didn’t work out.”
Asked if he’d do the same thing all over, Addison said he would.
“I would just tell kids to take time and think hard,” he said. “You’re going to be there for four years. You can’t make a bad decision with that. You’ve got to take your time with your decision.”
• • •
Posada, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound lineman, didn’t hear from Michigan immediately after Brady Hoke was hired as the new coach. Though he heard the school would honor all early commits, Plant coach Robert Weiner convinced him to look around.
So Posada took an official visit to Mississippi State, which beat Michigan in the Gator Bowl. While on his trip to Starkville, Posada said he received six calls from Michigan coaches. New offensive line coach Darrell Funk abruptly took a cross-state drive from Jacksonville at 4:30 a.m. to visit Posada three days later.
When Posada made his official visit to Ann Arbor the next weekend, he met star quarterback Denard Robinson and Hoke reaffirmed his interest. But Michigan also told Posada that if he took another trip, they’d drop his offer.
“I understood that,” said Posada, who has re-affirmed his commitment to the Wolverines. “The thing is, the NFL and college, it’s all a business. They had to do what was best for them and I have to do what’s best for me. They didn’t want to be left in the dust, but I didn’t want to be left hanging either.
“In the end, I stuck with what made me happy.”