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Football Signing Day: How The Internet Has Heavily Impacted Recruiting

2:20 PM, Feb 7, 2013   |    comments
E.J. Levenberry (left) and Yannick Ngakoue (right) waited until the last minute to announce their college choice -- a growing trend.
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WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- There were two prized gems left uncommitted in the Washington, D.C. area heading into Wednesday's National Signing Day.

Yannick Ngakoue chose the Maryland Terrapins and E.J. Levenberry chose the Florida State Seminoles.

Both are ferocious linebackers. Both received dozens of scholarship offers. Both, if coached properly on the next level, have NFL potential.

The pair come from opposite parts of town. Ngakoue attends Friendship Collegiate, a charter school in NE D.C. with an enrollment hovering right above 1,000 students. Levenberry calls Hylton High School -- a bustling campus 30 miles south of D.C. in Woodbridge, Va. -- his home.

But their most notable connection has to do with a growing trend in the college football recruiting landscape. Ngakoue and Levenberry verbally committed to their respective schools months ago, yet still took official visits from other flirtatious universities, before ultimately making their college decision at the very last moment. 

Why has prolonging the recruiting process become a growing trend in recent years? Because you and I give 17-year-old kids the platform on the Internet, making them feel like stars. 

Ngakoue, who was one of 20 Friendship players to receive a football scholarship, said he knew months ago he was going to be a Terp on his unofficial visit. If he revealed his choice earlier, it would have significantly lessened the hype he received today all over Twitter and the blogosphere. It was an effective marketing strategy.  

"I kept everyone's heart racing to see where I was going to go," explained Ngakoue, who added South Carolina and Florida State to his list after verbally committing to Maryland in June. "I got a lot of mentions on Twitter, saying please come to Gamecock Nation, or Nole Nation. They were showing me a lot of love."

"I just love the attention. I like all eyes on me and stuff like that," continued a smiling Ngakoue minutes after he made his announcement in the Friendship gymnasium.

The more modest Levenberry admits to getting 50-60 messages on Facebook from Tennessee fans, begging the burly linebacker to reconsider their school. The online stalking from the fans didn't ultimately sway his decision. Neither did the text messages, emails and visits from a healthy portion of the Tennessee coaching staff.

"My heart was always at Florida State. I found out it's a war, recruiting. Schools won't stop until you sign that dotted line."

Let me be clear: neither Yannick nor E.J. are at fault for wanting to unnecessarily drag out their recruiting process, weighing scholarship offers they were never really going to accept. Both seem like fine young gentlemen, with vast potential. But five-ten years ago, this charade of wasting resources, time and money, all at the expense of creating more hype for the recruit and school, barely existed. Now, it's become mainstream. And it all seems like an act.

Though recruiting has always been cutthroat, Levenberry's head coach Tony Lilly concurred that the Internet has been a strategic tool for universities trying to swoop in and steal recruits and for players to build their profile. 

"The process has changed quite a bit," recalled Lilly, who played defensive back at the University of Florida and for the Denver Broncos in the mid-1980s. "The technology and communication has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities, for players and the schools. Everybody can talk to everybody now. The kids have so much exposure now."

DeMatha stud Cyrus Kouandijo flip-flopped between Auburn and Alabama multiple times in 2011. Reuben Foster who tattooed Auburn on his body, uncommitted from the Tigers, and signed with Alabama. It's understandable for young kids to have a change of heart, but the unlimited reach of the Internet has made flip-flopping out of control. 

Media platforms like Rivals.com, Scout.com, MaxPreps.com, ESPNU etc. are just as much to blame for this snafu in the recruiting process as coaching staffs are. Signing Day has become the spectacle it is today largely due to these "last minute decisions" from teenagers. Hundreds of thousands of college football fans can't get enough of the gossipy information. 

College football programs want to be listed as high as possible on all of those media recruiting rankings. So they willingly go after players that are already committed just to gain buzz around their school.

Someone has to try and stop the charade, right? Well, it's far too late for that. If the NCAA has stuck with the flawed BCS system for this long, there's zero chance they are going to alter the way schools are allowed to pitch verbal commits. In fact, the needless back and forth relationships between schools and recruits are only going to get worse with the continued expansion of social media.

Obviously, most of all, the kids are the ones being hurt. Because they've decided to remain a soft verbal commit, coaching staffs guarantee promises they can't keep, just so the recruit will stay on board.

I wish I could tell you the less attention we pay to Signing Day, the cleaner the process will be. To me, the system is forever broken and lying to recruits is only going to spread.  

As exciting as college football is on Saturday's in the fall, it can unnoticeably be a cruel, cruel world. 

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