By Chris Le
Strike while the iron is hot. Or do you strike when it’s young?
USC coach Lane Kiffin asks: What’s the difference?
As Kiffin wrapped up the top-rated recruiting class of 2010, he got a head start on 2015. Yes, 2015. That’s five years—half a decade!—from now.
On Thursday, 13-year-old David Sills was offered and accepted to play under Kiffin and the USC Trojans. It is the earliest commitment in school history.
The precocious quarterback has remarkably refined mechanics (see video), a supposedly keen ability to read the field (he studies NFL film like a mini-me Peyton Manning) and—already standing 6’0—is physically advanced.
But a lot can happen in five years. We could have a new (and more productive) president. Another Summer Olympics will come and go. One, maybe two more additions to the Fast and Furious franchise. Hell, Kiffin, with his nomadism and past failures, might not even be at USC (no guarantee the new coach reaffirms the offer). And Sills, by then with bass in his voice and descended testicles, could fade to oblivion, crumbling under the pressure of his early commitment to football’s premiere college program. Recruiting, more so even than drafting or playing the stock market, is a fool’s science. It’s hard enough evaluating an 18-year-old—and there have been innumerable busts—but who can honestly project the potential of a child? Sills, for all we know, could go down in flames in a needlessly public manner.
Steve Clarkson, famed quarterbacks coach-for-the-stars, will try to prevent just that. Clarkson, who introduced Kiffin to Sills, will put Sills through the same regimen as past mentees like Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart, Jimmy Clausen and current USC QB Matt Barkley.
Early recruitment isn’t revolutionary. It’s not even exclusive to football. Class of 2007 basketball phenom Taylor King committed to UCLA and coach Ben Howland before playing a single high school game. Fast-forward four years and by signing day, King switched his commitment from UCLA to Duke. King subsequently transferred to Villanova after one year—fickle isn’t he?
But that’s what kids are: capricious. They have the attention span of a hot dog. So Sills’ decision, I think, is far from solid and his recruitment isn’t done by a longshot.
Let’s not forget: Sills only has a verbal offer and commitment. Which, like a wedding proposal, means nothing until you walk down the aisle and then sign the marriage license—just ask Richard Jefferson. Colleges cannot send an official offer until a prospect’s junior season. Or in Sills’ case, four years from now.
As a USC fan, I’m disappointed. With the whole Reggie Bush and Joe McKnight ordeal, the NCAA is already checking under our fingernails. Controversy is already ruling the campus. Why bring more? Lane Kiffin is like a high school girl—he can’t avoid drama to save his life.
And it’s just dirty. It’s robbery in a sense. Robbery of a kid’s childhood and innocence in exchange for 15 minutes of bright lights and an uncertain future.
But early recruitment is a trend in waiting, as courtship becomes more competitive—being the first to offer scholarship goes a long way—and coaches try to one-up each other. As ludicrous as it is, we better get used to it.