Drew Weatherford had no agonizing decision to make.
Long before he, his eldest brother Will and mother Cathy pulled out of the driveway and headed for Tallahassee on Jan. 23, he knew he would sign a national letter of intent with Florida State a couple of weeks later.
"But I was still excited to go up there," the highly touted quarterback from Land O'Lakes High said. "I wanted to get a closer look at all the facilities, get better acquainted with all the coaches and see what life was like outside of football."
He had fewer than 48 hours to absorb it all.
FSU had fewer than 48 hours to make sure it demonstrated all the athletic, academic and social opportunities awaiting him.
"You're doing something pretty much at all times," he said. "But it's a heck of a time."
After a four-hour drive, the Weatherfords checked in at the Radisson Hotel by 4:30 that Friday.
A social started at 5 for all nine recruits, their families, the FSU football players who would serve as hosts, the assistant coaches and the Garnet and Gold Girls, the athletic department hostesses who greet prospects and help conduct campus tours.
For about 15 minutes during the reception, the coaches slipped out of the banquet room, allowing their players to comfortably answer any delicate questions a recruit or parent might pose.
"He was very interested in mat drills as any kid is because they hear of the infamous mat drills," said sophomore tight end Matt Henshaw, Weatherford's student-athlete host for the weekend.
The group, 54 in all, had dinner at the Silver Slipper, one of Tallahassee's nicer restaurants. Weatherford said he had a steak and a lobster tail. In accordance with NCAA rules, the school could pay for Weatherford and his mother, but not his brother Will. All of Will's expenses for the weekend came out of the Weatherfords' pockets, and he said FSU officials were "very strict" about that.
After a leisurely meal, the group went to Bobby and Ann Bowden's house for dessert.
"The specialty was banana pudding," Weatherford said. "It was unbelievable."
Ann Bowden does make a memorable banana pudding, but for such gatherings, she relies on others to do the cooking. She concentrates on making the guests feel at home. There are family pictures everywhere. She turns on the gas logs in the fireplace for a cozy ambience. There are sweets and coffee. There's lively banter around the always popular pool table.
"We feel that's a real highlight, and it's important for the boys to get into the head coach's home in an informal setting," she said. "The kids really do seem to enjoy themselves. Sometimes, you have to shove them out the door."
By about 10, Weatherford and Henshaw and the other prospects and their host students left to sample the nightlife.
It's the only unstructured block of time in the day, but that doesn't mean it's not planned. John Lilly, the recruiting coordinator, and Henshaw asked Weatherford the night before what he might be interested in doing.
Weatherford said he didn't need anything special, that Henshaw's ordinary Friday would be fine. That meant hanging out for a while, hitting a couple of clubs, including campus hot spot Big Daddy's, and then a quick food run for subs on the way back to the hotel by 1 a.m. The NCAA allows a school to give a host $30 to spend on himself and a prospect on entertainment per day.
FSU compliance officials and coaches require hosts to sign a form that lists five don'ts before an official visit.
"Coach Lilly told me, "You don't have to worry about the players trying to influence you; they won't do that,' " said Weatherford, a nondrinker. "And I knew that already."
After breakfast at the hotel Saturday, Weatherford and his fellow prospects had a whirlwind tour of the new state-of-the-art training facilities, individual meetings with position coaches and a 15-minute sitdown with Bowden. There also was a stop in the opulent locker room where Weatherford, and every recruit, found a jersey with his name hanging in a stall.
"That was breathtaking," Weatherford said.
Sandwiched between a buffet lunch at the Varsity Club, Weatherford also had a 90-minute one-on-one with the director of academic support, Mark Meleney. Before a recruit shows up on campus, Meleney has reviewed his transcript and test scores so he can talk specifically about his needs.
"Drew's such a solid student, our presentation to him was all about academic honors and awards he could pursue," Meleney said.
After the academic session, Weatherford assumed the day's frenetic schedule had ended. He was mistaken, pleasantly so. The bus pulled into the team entrance at Doak Campbell Stadium, and the prospects had the chance to run onto the field to the yells of the FSU cheerleaders.
Earlier in the day, Weatherford was asking wide receiver Kenny O'Neal about his touchdown celebration. A Garnet and Gold Girl overheard him and chimed in:
"Let's see your dance."
"Nah, I only do it in the end zone," O'Neal said.
The Garnet and Gold Girl flipped a football to Weatherford.
"We were out on the 50, and Kenny lined up, and I threw him a pass in the end zone, and he did his little dance," Weatherford said. "Everybody was laughing. It was fun, and that was really cool _ my first pass on Doak Campbell field. That was getting off on the right foot."
There was time to rest, not nap as he would have liked, before going to the football team's annual awards banquet at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center that evening.
Afterward, Weatherford and Henshaw again went out for the evening, this time until about 2. Back at the hotel, he and his fellow recruits huddled in the lobby and rehashed the weekend.
Sunday breakfast didn't start until 9:30 and, after a quick stop at Burt Reynolds Hall, the dorms across from the stadium, Weatherford and his family hit the road.
"It finally set in," Weatherford said, smiling. "I was going there."