TAMPA — They were interested, then they weren't.
Impressed, but not enough.
Ready to offer, and never did.
Alonso High's C.J. Bennett had the stats, the pedigree and the arm.
All he needed, apparently, were platform shoes.
"Pretty much it was from every school: If you were 3 inches taller, you'd have an offer," said Bennett, who stands 5 feet 11.
The recruiting game is a numbers game. It's a lot of different combinations. It's feet and inches, yards and touchdowns, and 121 starting positions in Division I-A. And everyone is using a different mathematical formula in determining who is worthy.
Bennett's dream of playing major college football is withering, but he says his spirit isn't.
Bennett will sign to play college football somewhere on Feb. 3, his reward for throwing for nearly 6,000 yards and 63 touchdowns in his high school career.
With his parents standing behind him, he will scribble his name on a scholarship, throw on a hat and smile.
"I'm going to be happy wherever I go," he said.
But mostly, he will be relieved.
Relieved that this process, which has taken Bennett from state to state, from peak to valley and finally from high school to college, is over.
It has been an interesting journey.
• • •
There have been high points, like the time Bennett was offered on the spot by Wyoming after an impressive performance at a camp.
At the time, he thought the Cowboys were opening the door to other offers. The first Division I-A offer usually attracts others, but that wasn't the case this time.
When they offered, he accepted, "to hold my spot."
He was excited, for a time, but soon fell out of love with the idea, sometime in September while watching the Cowboys play in 12-degree weather as it snowed, and decommitted in the fall.
There have been valleys, like the time UConn came to visit and was impressed enough to invite Bennett to a one-day tryout. He tore it up.
"Best I think I've ever thrown the ball," Bennett said.
The trip turned out to be a waste of money.
"He stole the show," said Chip Bennett, C.J.'s dad and a local quarterback coach. "Afterwards one of their coaches told us, 'He throws better than our starting quarterback right now … but he is a little small.'
"Are you freaking kidding me? You saw us at the (Alonso school) portable (and practice) and made us drive 1,200 miles and now you're telling us?"
Bennett appeared in a reality show, Fox Sports Net's The Ride, which offered the winner a roster spot in a prestigious national all-star game and the chance to play his way into some exposure, but he finished second.
He has had recruiting "gurus" and other coaches tell him he was one of the best quarterbacks in the state.
Kansas was interested, twice. The second time, after his transcripts had been requested but before the courtship could bloom, coach Mark Mangino was fired.
And on Jan. 4, Bennett was visited by USF assistant Mike Canales, who promised to get back to the family in a few days to schedule an official visit.
"That was about as good as I've felt," Bennett said, as USF had become his most desired destination. He thought an offer was coming.
Friday, sitting on his bed at home getting ready for his South Alabama visit and hoping Canales might call, Bennett saw the news on ESPN: USF coach Jim Leavitt had been fired.
• • •
Bennett started playing football when he was 4. He had follow his dad out to football practices, learning toss sweeps and three-step drops. He dreamed of playing for the University of Florida.
He did everything he could: the camps and combines, the big stats, a 3.8 weighted grade point average.
There were just some things he couldn't do.
"I'm only 17; maybe I've got a few inches in me still," Bennett said, chuckling.
He may have found a fit in Mobile, where South Alabama's new football program is embarking on its own journey into Division I-A. It seems fitting that Bennett would land there, with the chance to guide it to a place he has always felt he belonged.
It has been an interesting journey, with good days and bad ones, with raised hopes and dashed ones, with big dreams and now, smaller ones.
But C.J. Bennett will sign to play college football somewhere on Feb. 3.
With his parents proudly standing behind him, he will scribble his name on a scholarship and throw on a hat.
And he will smile.
John C. Cotey can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.