On National Signing Day, Football Recruits Discover a New Tactic: Patience


After that early signing period, the pool of top pro-style quarterbacks narrowed considerably, and top teams gained more precise senses of who comprised their future freshman classes — and what they still needed. And suddenly, Purdy was getting calls from bigger programs. By January, Purdy had received offers from Central Florida, which finished last season ranked sixth nationally; Illinois; Iowa State; Texas A&M; and Alabama.

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The introduction of an early signing day in December allowed top programs like Clemson to lock in commitments from top recruits and then turn their attention to needs and players they might have overlooked before February.

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Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times

“He never wavered,” Shawn Purdy said. “And his patience has paid off.”

Football’s new early signing period, announced a year ago, was created mainly to simplify the recruiting process for colleges and prospects who were sure about one another. In such cases, each side could lock in the certainty of a binding commitment several weeks before the annual madness of signing day, a period increasingly filled with disappearing offers, wavering players and hard feelings.

“It serves as an opportunity for students who made a commitment to a school to kind of call the question, and same thing for the school,” said Jon Steinbrecher, the Mid-American Conference commissioner, who helped formulate the policy as a member of Division I’s football oversight committee.

But a striking consequence of the new early signing period has been the unlikely power it has given players who wait it out.

“The players are holding a lot of the leverage,” said Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor for 247Sports.

Cornerback Olaijah Griffin and wide receiver Chris Olave, to take two examples, both supplemented the enviable lists of suitors chasing them before the early period with several more who came in after it, including Clemson, Florida State, Oregon State, Nebraska and Tennessee.

“It gives the schools an opportunity to evaluate kids who might have been overlooked,” said Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn coach who is now an ESPN analyst.

Before this cycle, a team with, say, 20 scholarships to hand out to next year’s class had to wait until signing day to know for sure how many players it had signed. This year, that same team might have wrapped up commitments from 14 of its first-choice players in December; that allowed it to enter January and February knowing exactly how many spaces it has left, and which positions it most urgently needs to fill.

“It’s given everyone an opportunity to recalibrate and reset their board,” Huffman said.

Julius Irvin, a safety from Anaheim, Calif., was recruited throughout the past year, with official offers not only from Pacific-12 teams but also from Notre Dame and Michigan. He had hoped to make a decision by the December period and sign then, said his high school coach, Scott Meyer, but his mother fell ill and he postponed his plans.

After the December period, new offers came in from Florida, Penn State and Alabama. The Crimson Tide, the defending national champion, made a late move for Irvin after learning for certain following January’s national championship game that they would be losing two top junior safeties to the N.F.L.

The gambit doesn’t always pan out; last week, Irvin revealed that he planned to sign with Washington. But the option was there.

“For some of those big schools playing in those big bowl games after the December signing period, it pays to hold off,” Meyer said.

The new early signing period also gives new coaches, typically not hired until late November or later, time to adjust their programs’ recruiting priorities. Many of the active teams recently — Central Florida, Florida, Florida State, Nebraska, Tennessee — have new head coaches. Even Alabama, where Nick Saban is entering his 12th season, had turnover in the past month at both offensive and defensive coordinator.

But another consequence of the rule change could be the continuation of an old college football theme: the rich getting richer. As top teams receive a second window to focus on fewer roster spots, they can bore down on prospects who fit their positional needs, giving themselves a shot at sniffing out diamonds in the rough they otherwise would have missed.

As a result, said Huffman, “now you’re seeing more recruitment of lower-level kids, because they’re the best available.”

There were teams, he added, “that thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to be able to sneak this kid by,’ and thought they would get their targets avoided because they weren’t as high-profile.”

Some of that wishful thinking will combust Wednesday. For instance, not one of the teams that sought out Purdy early is likely to end up with him — not even Boise State. A recent report has his list narrowed to Iowa State and Texas A&M, two major-conference teams.

Future prospects are doubtlessly watching closely. Like, say, Purdy’s backup quarterback at Perry High: his younger brother, Chubba.

Chubba Purdy is taller than Brock, and he and his father are already thinking about his own recruitment.

Said Shawn Purdy, “We know what to do now.”





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