When to sign a game in itself for college football recruits

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh and Mark Dantonio

To wait or not to wait. That’s the question facing high school football prospects who now have the option of signing early in December or waiting until the first Wednesday in February, which has traditionally been the kickoff of the national signing period.

Times are changing and for a number of reasons, the majority of high school seniors have opted to sign early. During the first early signing period in 2018, 65 percent of prospects signed, and that number increased to 77 percent during the December 2019 period, according data compiled by 247Sports.

“It definitely seems the first signing day is like THE signing day,” said Brandon Brown, recruiting analyst for TheWolverine.com. “It’s not the early signing day anymore. That’s the signing day. This second one is like the auxiliary one almost.”

Michigan was expected to sign two players today, but only Quinten Johnson, a defensive back from Washington, D.C., will make his letter of intent official. On Monday, Amauri Pesek-Hickson, a three-star athlete from Leawood, Kansas, announced via tweet he was decommitting from Michigan. Earlier Monday, however, Pesek-Hickson sent direct messages to several recruiting analysts and said Michigan “will not let me sign” and wanted him to attend prep school and then be part of the 2020 class.

Michigan State is also expected to sign one player, Tre’Von Morgan, a receiver from Massillon, Ohio.

With so many choosing to sign in December, are there good reasons to wait until February?

More: 'Physically imposing' WR Tre’Von Morgan set to join Michigan State class

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“The wait is a gamble,” said Allen Trieu, 247Sports Midwest recruiting analyst. “If you wait, you’re one of the few guys left, one of the remaining and the pool shrunk.”

Trieu said schools encourage players to sign early. Some high schools, however, like St. John’s College in D.C., where Johnson is a student, still preserves the February signing day and wants to celebrate all the signings that day.

“You would prefer to wrap all those kids up and not recruit them into January,” Trieu said. “The schools present to them, ‘You’re verbally committed, why wouldn’t you sign?’ The kids don’t get pressure, but they get nudged.”

It seems the message has been received by the high school recruits. They can get on with their high school lives unless they’ve decided to enroll early at their choice of university.

“There were so many kids that were ready to sign — when 70 percent of the country signs early, it tells you kids are ready to sign,” Trieu said. “That 70 percent of kids (if they didn’t sign) would still get recruited in January, and that’s a huge distraction.

“So let’s say you’re verbally committed to Michigan. In the past, those guys would still get pulled out of class in January, coaches would come by their school, they’d be calling their phone, they’d be trying to come to their house. Kids would be like, ‘I’m solidly committed yet I’m still dealing with all this stuff. It would be nice if I could sign a paper in December and erase all of that distraction.’ That’s a lot of the reasoning behind that.”

But waiting to sign in February can open more doors. Trieu used Alante Brown, a receiver from Chicago who had committed verbally to Michigan State, as an example.

Brown didn’t sign with Michigan State in December and picked up about eight offers in January.

“If you’re looking for a player at his position and there’s only 10 guys out there, he’s one of the guys left out there,” Trieu said. “He got offers from Florida State, Texas Tech and others.

“That doesn’t work that way for everybody. If you misread your situation or what the market is like for a player of your abilities or position and you don’t sign, it could backfire. ... Signing early eliminates a lot of stress, but it ends your recruiting. They have to decide, ‘Do I want to be done with recruiting in December?’”

Brandon Brown cited five-star receiver Bru McCoy as an example why waiting isn’t always a bad option. McCoy committed to USC on Jan. 5 and enrolled early. But when offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, hired in December after being fired as Texas Tech head coach, decided to leave to become the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach, McCoy decided to transfer to Texas.

“The biggest (issue) is the con that the coaches can change their minds after these kids already sign, and that sucks,” Brown said.

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There has definitely been growing interest in signing early for high school prospects, but Brown said there’s not a blanket response to what’s the right option.

“I feel like it’s so case-by-case,” Brown said. “Some of the big-timers would have a spot saved for them by every program in the country no matter what, so it’s a pro for them. They can get it over with and be done, then they’re not allowed to be talked to anymore by NCAA rule. They literally can’t be talked to anymore once they sign that letter. So for them, I think it’s a pretty big pro.

“For kids that have a no-brainer, (Michigan’s) Aidan Hutchinson always comes to mind from last year. It didn’t matter if the entire staff was fired and said they could never coach football again, that kid was coming to Michigan. For kids like him, it’s a pro. I’m going to Michigan, nothing’s going to change, let me sign and be done with it.”


Twitter: @chengelis