Tom Lemming has worked as a college football recruiting analyst since the late 1970s.
During that time, he has interviewed three eighth-graders, with all three interviews occurring within the past decade and two of them within the past three years.
“Something like that would not have happened 30 years ago,” Lemming said.
It’s happening now.
Kids are being recruited at a much earlier age, and as a result, many are committing to schools at a younger age.
However, one of the problems with early commitments is that they don’t always last.
Iowa fans have seen that firsthand recently with Ross Pierschbacher.
The heralded offensive lineman from Cedar Falls committed to Iowa in January midway through his junior year, but switched his commitment this summer to two-time defending national champion Alabama.
Pierschbacher’s commitment won’t be official until he signs a national letter of intent in February.
“There wasn’t that many (decommitments) back in the old days when I started,” said Lemming, who lives near Chicago. “Every now and then you’d have a player decommit.
“But here’s the reason why: most of the kids didn’t commit until near signing day.”
The 2013 Iowa football team has at least 13 players on scholarship who were previously committed to other schools. That includes starting senior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who first committed to Illinois, starting left guard Conor Boffeli, who switched from Iowa State and all three of the true freshmen running backs: LeShun Daniels, Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley..
“I don’t really know why that trend is increasing, to be honest with you,” Boffeli said. “It might be that kids aren’t really taking the time to get to know a school or the coaches. I really don’t why that would be.”
Allen Trieu frequently reports on decommitments with his job as the Midwest Recruiting Manager for Scout.com. He blamed the current state of recruiting for causing more decommitments.
“I think everything moves at a faster pace now,” Trieu said. “Kids get offered earlier and kids commit earlier. And that leads to I think some rushed decisions. A few years ago, you never heard kids commit for the reason of, ‘Well, I didn’t want to lose my spot.’ And all the time you hear kids say, ‘Well, they told me they only had this many scholarships left.’ So kids are committing more and more from fear of losing their scholarship more so than they feel that’s the right fit. And I think that that’s contributed to the decommitments. And also the coaching changes contribute quite a bit to that as well.”
Many factors cause recruits to decommit, with coaching changes and the state of a program two of the biggest factors.
Boffeli switched from Iowa State after the Cyclones had a head coaching change, while Fiedorowicz signed with Iowa in February 2010, one month after the Hawkeyes defeated Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl to finish 11-2. Illinois, on the other hand, finished 3-9 in 2009.
“I think it’s hard because at the time I was a 17-year-old senior and I had made a decision and there was a coaching change there,” said Boffeli, who graduated from West Des Moines Valley. “As a kid, you really don’t know what to do or what’s going on. So I just kind of reached out to my high school coach. I reached out to family members trying to get as many opinions as I could, what they thought would be the best course of action.”
Boffeli wasn’t aware that he had at least nine Iowa teammates who also had decommitted from other schools.
“It’s not something that’s ever discussed,” Boffeli said.
Lemming has worked as a recruiting analyst long enough to remember when early commitments were rare. Most of the players back in the 1980s and 1990s, according to Lemming, waited until their senior year of high school to pick a college.
But now some kids, including Louisiana native Dylan Moses, are making verbal commitments barely after entering high school. Moses, a running back and linebacker from Shreveport, La., committed to LSU last month shortly after entering the ninth grade. He also reportedly had scholarship offers as an eighth-grader from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Auburn and Texas.
“It’s silly, it’s bad for recruiting,” Lemming said of eighth-graders being offered football scholarships. “It’s bad for evaluation purposes because you can’t tell if an eighth-grader is going to be great or not. But because one school does it, the rest have to do it.”
Lemming said former Penn State coach Joe Paterno was one of the first coaches to speed up the recruiting clock by offering scholarships to high school underclassmen, a trend that started about 20 years.
“When he started offering guys early, nobody had really done it before, and now they’re offering eighth-graders,” Lemming said.
There is no official data to verify the rise in decommitments, but Lemming estimated that it’s risen about 90 percent since he started evaluating prospects in the late 1970s.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has been around the college game for most of the past three decades, including serving as the Iowa offensive line coach from 1981-89. He believes that college football should follow the example of college basketball by having an early signing period.
Basketball has an early signing period in November followed by a spring signing period in April, whilefootball only has one signing period that traditionally starts on the first Wednesday in February.
“Where it really gets tricky … let’s say a quarterback would commit to you and you are not 100 percent sure he is totally committed. … It gets tricky to try to recruit other ones,” Ferentz said. “It’s a new dimension that has been added to the game. It is interesting. Things can happen. Teams have bad seasons, a guy might jump off the ship. Coaches change jobs frequently and guys might jump off the boat then.
“It will be a fluid process, but that is a good reason for an early signing period. Everyone in our conference is totally in favor of that.”
Lemming also supports an early signing period, with Sept. 1 as his preferred date.
“I think college coaches would, too, because it’ll cut out a lot of their work,” Lemming said. “I think it would also cut down on the early commitments because a lot of kids won’t want to do it. And then you wouldn’t have to worry about decommitments and coaches all getting confused about who they actually have.”
Decommitments during recruiting
Current Iowa players who were committed to other schools:
Tanner, Miller, DB, Sr., Northern Iowa
Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR, Jr., Bowling Green
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Sr., Illinois
Conor Boffeli, OL, Sr., Iowa State
C.J. Beathard, QB, Fr., Mississippi
LeShun Daniels, RB, Fr., Boston College
Quinton Alston, LB, Jr., Pittsburgh
Jordan Canzeri, RB, Soph., Villanova
Barkley Hill, RB, Fr., Iowa State
Desmond King, CB, Fr., Ball State, Central Michigan
Anjeus Jones, WR, Fr., Colorado State
Akrum Wadley, RB, Fr., Temple
Jonathan Parker, RB, Fr., Tulsa
Some former Iowa players who were previously committed to other schools:
Riley Reiff, OL, 2009-11, Nebraska
Christian Ballard, DL, 2007-10, Kansas
Drew Tate, QB, 2003-06, Texas A&M
Albert Young, RB, 2005-07, Wisconsin
Brandon Myers, TE, 2005-08, Northern Iowa
Some current college players who committed to Iowa before signing with other schools:
Melvin Gordon, RB, Soph., Wisconsin
Delano Hill, DB, Fr, Michigan
David Kenney, DE, Fr., Indiana
Matt Hoch, DL, Jr., Missouri
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football