Hello, Dontae Aycock.
Hey there, Orson Charles.
What's happening, Mike Marry?
In a little more than a week, you and about 60 football buddies throughout Tampa Bay will sign scholarship papers with the colleges of your choice.
How cool is that?
It will be an exciting time.
Maybe even the greatest moment of your life.
So revel in it. Enjoy it. High-five everyone you pass in the hallways.
Oh, and good luck.
• • •
The numbers are sobering. The odds, no matter how fast you run or how far you throw a football, are against you.
In a look at bay area players who have taken part in national signing day since 2004, fewer than half are still at the schools they originally chose.
Some flunked out. Others quit. Many transferred. More than a handful have been kicked out and arrested.
"I tell my kids, 'This is just the beginning,' '' Hillsborough High coach Earl Garcia said. "You haven't accomplished anything yet.''
Aycock (Chamberlain High), Charles (Plant) and Marry (Largo) are all kids I'd pick for success.
But that signature guarantees them nothing more than their first steps on campus.
They will get lonely, miss home and girlfriends. They may be asked to change positions. They will wonder if they made the right choice.
One in every four kids that took part in signing day in 2004 and '05 stopped playing football after one or two years.
"It's a battle,'' Countryside coach John Davis said. "You have to dig down deep. I always tell them, 'If you don't come home the first three times you really want to quit and come home, you're going to make it.' ''
• • •
The big BCS schools will swoop in and grab the most touted players like the aforementioned trio, but for those willing to accept reality, great opportunities are out there.
"Everyone thinks their son is good enough to play for the Gators,'' laments Chamberlain assistant Brian Turner, who usually has to spread the bad news that, say, West Virginia Wesleyan is the only school offering.
But it's true.
And not so bad.
Berkeley Prep's Derek Hatcher went to Richmond, which won a Division I-AA national championship this past season.
Clearwater Central Catholic's Chip Brinkman is going to get a degree from Wake Forest.
Chamberlain's Doug Williams was captain at Akron this past season.
Riverview's Jason Harmon made the Lombardi Award watchlist at Florida Atlantic.
Brandon's Antonio Brown was all-conference at Bethel College,
In 2004 and '05, about 122 kids took part in signing day.
These guys are just five of the 50 who managed to stick it out with the team they signed with.
• • •
There is a misconception that the bigger the school, the bigger the star, the greater likelihood of success.
Not even close.
The top five rated recruits from 2004: Land O'Lakes' Drew Weatherford, Armwood's Jarriett Buie, Tampa Bay Tech's Maurice Crum, Pasco's Johnny Peyton and Countryside's Jermain Filer.
The guy who has made it to the NFL?
Alonso's Leger Douzable.
The Alonso defensive lineman wasn't on anyone's top 25 recruiting list when he signed with Central Florida.
This past season, he was with the New York Giants, activated for the final month of the season.
In 2005, Middleton's O.J. Murdock topped the list of area recruits. He never showed up at Marshall, his third school, this fall.
Countryside's Harrison Beck? On his second school.
Armwood's Kalvin Bailey? Three schools after signing with Iowa, it's possible he is done.
And 2006: Hillsborough's Jarred Fayson and Jefferson's Daron Rose were 1-2 in the rankings; both have already transferred.
No. 23 Javier Arenas? The Robinson grad and Alabama star is looking like a potential 2010 NFL draft pick.
• • •
So, guys, wonder where you'll be four or five years from now?
Will it be the NFL?
Tough to say, since only Douzable, Lakewood's Louis Murphy (Florida) and Riverview's Tyrone McKenzie (USF) are expected to be there next year.
In fact, your chances are just as good you end up in the Arena League, should it ever return. Lakewood/USF lineman Theo Watson was last seen on the Orlando Predators roster.
Or how about the Canadian Football League? Jefferson's Prechae Rodriguez signed with Auburn in 2005 after a year of junior college ball and tore it up north of the border this year. He was the East Division's rookie of the year and signed a contract extension with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday.
Just have a backup plan.
• • •
National signing day is Your Big Chance Day.
It's an opportunity that can yield great rewards, or great heartbreak.
Filer caught five passes at Marshall before a hip injury ended his playing days, but he stuck around and should graduate this year.
Alonso's John Forbes won the Guy Toph award in 2004, but a knee injury kept him from playing at Navy. He's working toward becoming a trainer.
Robinson's Darrell Stevens left Kentucky after one season of watching with torn ligaments in his ankle.
Jesuit's A.J. Smith has had an injury-filled career at Georgia Tech.
Yeah, that backup plan is a good idea.
"It's not a four-year decision, it's a 50-year decision,'' Countryside's Davis said. "Most of the time football is not going to work. You get hurt, they change coaches, things don't work out. So you have to pick a school where it works even if the football doesn't.''
Just something to think about, Dontae, when you sign that paper on Feb. 4.
And Orson, when you choose which hat to put on at the ceremony, choose wisely.
And Mike, don't forget that once the ink is dry, it's on you.
Revel in it. Enjoy it. High-five everyone you pass in the hallways.
John C. Cotey can be reached at [email protected]