TAMPA —Sickles running back Ray Ray McCloud III told a television audience Monday night that he would be attending Clemson for college, seemingly ending a long process that saw him evolve from a defensive back prospect too small to play running back to a highly coveted offensive weapon.
But it wasn't as easy as it looked.
McCloud, the No. 1 player in the Tampa Bay Times' HomeTeam 100 and one of the top recruits in the country, knew where he wanted to go to college two weeks ago when he announced he would be making his decision on a live television special.
But things changed. He sneaked in a couple of extra visits. The phone calls didn't stop. Come here, come here, come here.
When the big day rolled around, the college McCloud had planned to announce he would be attending was no longer in the picture.
Florida, Clemson, USF and UCLA were. He spent the day fielding calls from each of them.
But as he crossed the Howard Frankland Bridge on his way to the Bright House Sports Network studio Monday, his decision was unclear.
Usually engaging and verbose, McCloud muddled through some answers to a reporter, his mind elsewhere. The phone conversation had interrupted the debate he was having with his father, Ray Ray II, and his mother, Lisa, and the Sickles star sounded lost.
Brothers Jordan and Kobe rode over in another car, so the secret would be safe.
McCloud finally picked the Tigers from a list of just about every major BCS school, including Alabama, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC.
They all loved the same thing about McCloud.
"He's just a playmaker," Sickles coach Brian Turner said. "He can make plays on both sides of the ball, and he can score from anywhere when you get him the ball in open space. He's just a good football player. I don't know how to put it in words, there's just something about him."
McCloud led Tampa Bay in rushing last season as a junior, amassing 2,316 yards on 300 carries, for 7.7 yards a rush.
He scored 26 touchdowns on the ground and had more than 100 yards and at least one touchdown in 12 straight games before a region final playoff loss to Osceola.
"I was surprised he wasn't getting more offers on the offensive side," Turner said. "I think it was Ohio State that offered him on offense and so did everybody else."
McCloud's ability to make tacklers miss might be his greatest trait. His shiftiness and vision, combined with great quickness and excellent top-end speed, made him a hot commodity on the recruiting trail.
He excelled in the offseason catching passes in the 7-on-7 circuit, proving there was very little he couldn't do.
That probably made the decision even harder.
"He's been on the phone all day," his father said. "He just wants to play football."