It's one of those frenzied scenes right out of American history, a gold rush, an Oklahoma land grab, coaches waiting in a bread line for a plate full of 300-pound tackle.
Every year the sport of college football gets a little crazier around the commitment decisions of talented 17-year-olds.
"Winning!" If Mark Helfrich is still smiling at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow, chances are it's a good day for Duck fans (Jaime Valdez, USA Today Sports Images).
College football dynasties can't survive without fresh talent, and the first-Wednesday-in-February acceptance of scholarship offers determine destiny for programs, fan bases and a new generation of elite athletes from small towns and high school football factories across the country.
It's a corrupt system with many abuses. The kids, many of them from underprivileged backgrounds in ravaged environments, are lured with all sorts of promises and come-ons, and a few gifted young football stars become celebrities shortly after they're old enough to drive.
Sadly, many of the same will be maimed and forgotten by the time they are 22.
An entire industry has grown up around recruiting, websites predicting the movements and musings of top players. Camps, clinics and all-star games give them an opportunity to feature their ability, many with lucrative sponsorships and television deals attached. The frenzy grows, and the risks the athletes take to get noticed and land the coveted offer grow with it: Oregonian reporter Tyson Alger wrote today that Oregon commit Tony James suffered a broken ankle, cracked femur and torn tendons in the Under Armour All-Star game a few weeks ago. He's currently wearing a cast with two screws in his ankle.
Two years ago Jake Rodrigues broke his leg in his last high school game, and he still runs with a slight hitch, never the same athlete after the injury.
James retains his Oregon offer, but who knows how much long-term effect the injury will have on his 4.3 speed? The players assume all the risk. Some have dreams that die early. It was heartening to see that Oregon and coach Gary Campbell are still honoring his scholarship offer.
Here's hoping that James and Rodrigues are able to work toward full recoveries, make the most of their opportunities, including following in the footsteps of recent Ducks like Josh Huff and Brian Jackson, leaving school with their degrees.
Meanwhile, Duck fans who follow recruiting are anxiously awaiting tomorrow's announcements, particularly for 5-star wide receiver/safety John "Juju" Smith, who'll hold a hat ceremony at 1:00 p.m. Pacific. Coveted defensive tackle prospect Trey Lealaimatafao decides on live television at 6:30 a.m., between LSU and Oregon.
Right now Oregon has 18 verbal commitments, all promising, talented players with great attitudes. But Smith's and Lealaimatafao's decisions, if favorable, would put the Ducks into the Top 20 of the recruiting rankings for the fifth season in a row.
An abstract of the news of the day on college football's Christmas Eve:
Updates from Twitter:
Ryan Thorburn @rgduckfootball 59s
Mark Helfrich's signing day presser will begin at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
Andy McNamara @McNamaraUO 2h
Bama, AU, UF, FSU, UGA, LSU, ND, tOSU, OU, @WinTheDay & UT only teams poised for top 20 classes for 5th straight yr (@247Sports composite)
Hroniss Heisman @Hroniss4Heisman Jan 30
Welcome to Hroniss's House of Pancakes. We only serve Pancakes & Touchdowns. #H4H #GoDucks
Bruce Feldman @BFeldmanCBS 8m
For 1st time #UCLA is offering FB recruits the ability to sign LOIs electronically via computer or mobile device.
By Ryan Thorburn Eugene Register Guard:
“He said he was playing and looking at some stuff right now, but he doesn’t have anything concrete,” Swain said of Pellum’s plan of attack. “He doesn’t want to tell me anything to work on because he doesn’t know exactly what they’re going to be doing yet.”
An observation from Jared Light of Addicted to Quack:
When you look at the defensive lines over the last few years, while we’ve all wanted the big guys up front, where Bair and Clark really that ineffective? They used their agility to make up for their lack of size. That’s not really a bad thing. They made a lot of big plays. Bair had 16 TFLs in 2010 and Clark had 9.5. Hart had 6 this year and Wade had 5.
There are going to be some disadvantages with losing some size up front, but it creates other advantages. It could be a bit problematic if Stanford does what they did this year, but it’s not like our huge d-lines did anything about that this year.
By STEVE ALMOND NY Times Magazine "Is it immoral to watch the Super Bowl?"
In the summer of 1978, during a preseason game, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots named Darryl Stingley lunged for a pass just out of his reach. Before he could regain his balance, he was hit by Jack Tatum, an Oakland Raiders defensive back. It was clear at once that Stingley was, in gridiron parlance, “shaken up on the play.” Team doctors rushed to his side…
Just so we’re clear on this: I still love football. I love the grace and the poise of the athletes. I love the tension between the ornate structure of the game and its improvisatory chaos, and I love the way great players find opportunity, even a mystical kind of order, in the midst of that chaos..
Don’t we turn to football precisely to escape such ethical complexities, to experience the joy of watching bodies at play, to pretend, however briefly, that life is just a fearless game? After all, I, too, recognize the desperate ardor that Frederick Exley captures in his novel “A Fan’s Notes”: “Whatever it was, I gave myself up to the Giants utterly. The recompense I gained was the feeling of being alive.”
Jeremy Fowler, cbs.com. "Oregon's Gary Campbell and the richest recruiting story ever told"
Gary Campbell has spent more than three decades driving rental cars and working living rooms in the service of Oregon's next great recruiting class.
He's bound to have a good story or two.
“This is the strangest recruiting night I've ever had,” the Ducks running backs coach said.
That night was Jan. 15, 2003. Campbell was never the same after it.
A simple trip to and from a recruit's house, a three-hour snapshot from a long and stable career, took bizarre turns that left Campbell both rich and confused. His dreams grew, only to be suppressed because of the career headache of a looming NCAA investigation.
Of course, Campbell didn't know about that problem when wife Alola made him nearly swerve his rental car off a North Carolina highway. She was calling from Seven Feathers Casino in Oregon, fresh off the Wheel of Fortune slots.
Honey, we just won $2.695 million.
“I couldn't believe it,” said Gary.