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Opinion: #NSD2014

Signing day is a weird, creepy, wonderful cesspool

Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 6, 2014 00:02

National Signing Day is the second-creepiest holiday celebrated in America. The creepiest is Columbus Day, and it’s not even close. It’s 2014 and this country still celebrates the guy who tortured and killed natives. That’s weird, America. Time to bump that one from the calendar.

Don’t misunderstand me as equating colonial genocide with angry tweets directed at 17 and 18 year olds. But on the hierarchy of oddest things to celebrate, the day high school kids decide the school at which they want to play football sits near the top of the list. It’s hard not to write about the messy side of recruiting, the under-the-surface stuff people don’t like to talk about, but if I do that I also have to address my hypocrisy.

With sports, I tend to take the road most pessimistic. (That’s the title of a poem, probably.) This pessimism stems from a childhood spent watching the lost generation of athletes. The baseball players on my bedroom posters: dopers. The cyclists I watched every July in the Tour de France: juicers. When dollars and bodies are peddled in large quantities, things get gross and fans get burned. Those of you who believe in a nation of squeaky-clean college football programs think I’m crazy. You might be right. But so much money hinges on these high schoolers that it’s naive to think Cam Newton is the only high-profile athlete in the last few years to play for pay. It’s a symptom of crowbarring years of the most marketable (and perishable) skills from these athletes and making them do it for free.

But here’s the bottom line: If America gets to celebrate a guy like Christopher Columbus for 100-plus years, I get to revel in signing day with a guilt-free conscience. It’s much more fun this way. To decry football recruiting would be to imply that I don’t get swept up in every “yessir!” tweet, that I don’t squint at the poor video quality of some student’s broadcasted college announcement. That would be untrue.

When Kevin Sumlin filched a pair of defensive playmakers — tackle Zaycoven Henderson and linebacker Otaro Alaka — from the heir to the Iron Throne in Austin, Charlie Strong, I lost my mind.

When receiver Speedy Noil, a consensus top-10 national talent from New Orleans, passed up Les “Mad Hatter” Miles to be a part of Sumlin’s offensive engine, I literally beat my chest. I was alone in my room. Recruiting does that to people.

My friend said a week or so ago, “Is it bad if I’m not impressed anymore?”

He wasn’t speaking in reference to this recruiting class. No one could. There’s no more than a blemish or two in this crop of signees. Sumlin would have loved another linebacker, another safety. He might have been happier had Dylan Sumner-Gardner and Varshaun Nixon not flipped their commitments. But anyone who complains about this class probably complains when the hero in an action movie shoots too many times without reloading.

He wasn’t speaking in reference to any specific signee. Noil, quarterback Kyle Allen, defensive end Myles Garrett, defensive back Nick Harvey — the group speaks for itself.

No, his comment came at the news that Sumlin’s swag-and-bag system (my door is open, Texas A&M, if you want to talk trademarks) snared another recruit, a consensus four-star for 2016. And he wasn’t impressed. Four-star recruits are mundane in this iteration of Texas A&M.

The recruiting riches in the Sumlin saga’s second act makes desensitization inevitable. The flip to the SEC brought about the narrative that the only SEC school in the hotbed of Texas talent should be a recruiting giant. Whether the conference, location or media coverage actually makes athletes more draft-ready matters not at all. So many fans, players, media and coaches have agreed College Station is a football-friendly place, and that establishes collective meaning. It went like this: Sumlin said A&M is cool; football players decided Sumlin is cool; A&M is cool.

Don’t think about it too hard or it’ll topple over. It’s okay to say Santa Sumlin brought Christmas early on signing day. But don’t tweet at recruits. Eighteen-year-old, hyper-talented athletes don’t care what you have to say and you’re probably being a jerk. Don’t be one of those message board people. You’ll make it less fun for all of us.

Recruiting is creepy, signing day slightly less so, and as long as you recognize it’s weird that you have the heights and weights of high school football players memorized, it’s perfectly acceptable to love that you have to scroll to the late teens in signing class rankings to find our friends in Austin.

 

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