By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
I can't remember when exactly Signing Day became a parade of ugliness, but at some point, 17-year-old children thought to themselves it would be a good idea to bring all their siblings, parents, cousins and guardians to a cheap-looking high-school podium and use their poor verbal skills to proudly announce which team they would most likely ride the bench for the following fall.
You know the expression, "Act like you've been there before?" While it's usually spoken by uptight, older white men, a teen can't act like he's been there before because announcing his college decision is a once-in-a-lifetime event. So he wants to make it memorable and special, but is there no way to do it other than to schedule a look-at-me-as-I-put-on-this-new-hat moment in front of a few cameras?
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Sure a handful of these youngsters will make immediate contributions at their new schools next season, but for the most part, these high school superstars will be taking their skills to a level they're entirely unfamiliar with and largely unprepared for. They're off to the SEC, the Big 10 or the Big 12 to not only become better football players, but also in the hopes of their new coaches -- and their families -- to become better people.
Each of these is a tall order by itself, but trying to simultaneously fill both will be the most difficult thing this teenager will have been asked to do so far in his young and increasingly complicated life. And he'll take on that task without the support group that coddled him throughout high school when he was scoring touchdowns, breaking records and choosing which cheerleader he felt entitled to have sex with after yet another Friday night victory under the lights. (this article continues below.)
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Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told OGS Tuesday that "all these recruiting gurus will disappear when they sign," and by next week, the post-circus hoopla will have passed and many of these athletes will start to miss all the attention they've grown used to the last few years. The burden of deciding now behind them, the only pressure left is the pressure to perform for the next four or five years at an elite level. Good luck with that.
Who do we blame for setting these youngsters up for failure? Our sports-obsessed culture? ESPN? The business of the sport of college football? I'm sure all are partly to blame, and there are no doubt other factors. Assigning blame is one of the most American habits of our culture; we love to point the finger. But unfortunately, out-of-whack perspective is another staple. Far too many of these kids have already made their biggest plays in athletics, and college will prove to be difficult for them. But they'll keep at it because football is what they're best at. Football is what brought them this attention in the first place. And of course, all those pretty cheerleaders.
Just because you haven't been there before doesn't mean you can't act like it. Learn some humility, choose your school, and save the celebration for the championships you plan to help your new team win.