TAMPA — Phillip Ely had seen his share of college commitment ceremonies at Plant, at least a handful of these no-holds-barred, gold-and-black balloon-decorated, camera flash-filled moments that often serve as the crowning moment in a player’s career.
“But I’m used to being on this side of it,” Ely said Wednesday evening, his palms sweaty just minutes before making his announcement, stationed behind five rows of seats in the back of the Plant media center. “Not on the other.”
The star quarterbacks before him, All-Americans Aaron Murray and Robert Marve, also announced their college choices to much fanfare, but Ely might have outdone them — by performing a perfectly executed quarterback sneak.
Ely, ranked the No. 5 quarterback prospect in the nation by Rivals.com, selected defending national champion Alabama, which made him an offer secretly just three weeks ago.
Plant offensive tackle Tony Posada also made his decision. The 6-foot-6, 320-pounder selected offensive lineman factory Michigan over USF. Both players were key contributors on the Panthers’ 2008
Class 4A state champion team and starters for last year’s Class 5A state titlists.
In an era where few recruiting news stones are left unturned, Ely surprised everyone when he unbuttoned his suit jacket to reveal an Alabama logo on his tie. Ely selected the Crimson Tide over offers from LSU, Arizona State, Clemson, Ole Miss and Wake Forest.
“It was hard,” said Ely, who said he committed two weeks ago. “It was just bursting inside of me and wanted to come out. I’ve been thinking about it a long time now and I never thought an opportunity like this would come my way. I definitely had a strong feeling about it when I went there. And when I knew I had the offer, it made it a lot easier.”
Ely, the most recent in a long line of relatives to play at Plant, said it was a dream come true when he first put on a Plant jersey before his first JV game as a freshman. Since then, he hasn’t lost a game as a starter, posting a 19-0 record as a varsity starter.
He overcame a career-threatening back injury early last season. Still, it took putting on 25 pounds since the beginning of last season for major Division I schools to take notice. And after two visits to Alabama, the 6-1, 190-pounder knew if the Crimson Tide offered, it would be difficult to say no.
Plant coach Robert Weiner, who said he has received an average of 30 recruiting-related text messages a day the past two weeks, said Alabama asked them to keep the offer a secret initially.
“He was their No. 1 guy,” Weiner said. “If they were going to take a quarterback, it was going to be Phillip.”
Posada’s decision wasn’t as much of a surprise. Since the Wolverines offered in February, Michigan was his favorite.
Leaving the state was a major factor, Posada said, as was Michigan’s reputation of producing offensive linemen. Two weeks ago, Posada said his mind was “99 percent” made up.
“That day I walked outside and it felt like it was 100 degrees out and I told myself, ‘I want to go to the snow,’ ” Posada said. “And when you go to Michigan and they ask what did you play and you say offensive tackle, people say, ‘Man, you must be good to play tackle at Michigan.’ ”