TAMPA — For every smiling face on signing day, for every mark of pen to paper today that seals a teenager's dream of playing big-time college football, there's another story of a prospect whose gamble with the recruiting waiting game hasn't paid off.
For all the scholarships that will be signed today, there are just as many left behind. Which begs the question: For those prospects who aren't five-star recruits, is it worth the wait?
Palm Harbor University quarterback Sean Shelton figured the scholarship offers would start coming after he led his program to its first winning season. But there was interest from only one Division I-A school, Florida Atlantic. Shelton was supposed to visit the Owls last weekend and planned to commit on the spot if the school offered. But on Jan. 16, Shelton said FAU called to say there would be no offer.
"The coaches said they had too many commitments from running backs and there were no scholarships left," he said. "They said I was welcome to walk on. It's just really disappointing because I was counting on FAU."
Shelton's only offer is from Division III Benedictine, a 3,600-student school outside Chicago. Next weekend, he plans to barnstorm the Midwest — stopping at Kansas Wesleyan, Highland and Missouri's Truman State, hoping for a bite. Shelton said he has received interest from two I-AA schools, Furman in South Carolina and Sacred Heart in Connecticut, but has not scheduled a visit with either.
"The whole recruiting process has been really frustrating,'' Shelton said. "It's just a game, but it's a business at the same time. I'll just be happy when it's all over."
Even prospects who have been highly recruited — and have no eligibility or performance dropoff issues — have struggled to keep their offers. Chamberlain receiver Anthony Williams had offers from Georgia and Ole Miss in September, but come January, he was making official visits to Troy, Rutgers and Toledo.
Before transferring to Alonso from Chamberlain midway through the season, receiver Ed Williams had offers from Southern Miss and Marshall, but those schools stopped calling, and he committed to Toledo over the weekend.
"He apparently just fell off their radar," Alonso coach Mike Heldt said. "I don't know whether it had to do with his transfer or what, but they just stopped calling."
Hillsborough linebacker Jared Brisbon received a scholarship offer from Iowa State late in the summer. Brisbon held steady, but when Cyclones coach Gene Chizik left to take the head-coaching job at Auburn, the phone stopped ringing.
Today he will sign with Florida A&M.
"In that situation, it was the case of a coaching change," Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said. "I try to make a kid know that their verbal commitment to a school is nonbinding just as a scholarship offer from a college is nonbinding. That's their prerogative."
Jamie Newberg, Rivals.com's national recruiting analyst, said recruiting is being affected by coaching changes this year more than most.
"Every year is crazy, but this year is so ridiculous with the coaching changes," he said. "You look at USF (changing offensive coordinators). Florida has a new offensive coordinator. Miami changed coordinators. It's crazy.
"Recruiting is about one thing — relationships. A lot of times a kid will pick a school for the coaches more than the program. And the volatility in college football definitely affects these kids. You feel bad for the kids, but for the coaches this is their livelihood. Their jobs hinge on the players they sign."
Next season, Tampa Bay Tech running back Maurice Hagens will be one of the top recruited players in the bay area. As a junior, he has received offers from LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina and Wake Forest. Titans coach C.C. Culpepper will help guide Hagens through the recruiting process.
"I think it all depends on the kid," said Culpepper, who will have two players signing with non-Division I schools today. "Some kids you really need to take your time and help them through it and make sure that they make the right choice and pick a school that will be the right fit academically first and then athletically. A guy like Maurice, I don't worry too much about because I know he's going to make an informed decision."
Times staff writer Bob Putnam contributed to this report.