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Harlan on recruiting: Early signing period intrigues '18 recruits

Chris Harlan
| Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, 5:48 p.m.
Pine-Richland quarterback Phil Jurkovec carries for a second- quarter touchdown against Wayne on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pine-Richland quarterback Phil Jurkovec carries for a second- quarter touchdown against Wayne on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017.
Bethel Park's James Gmiter
Bethel Park's James Gmiter

Pine-Richland quarterback Phil Jurkovec made his biggest decision more than a year ago when he chose Notre Dame, but his senior class has another choice to make soon.

Sign early in December?

Or wait until February?

For the first time, this year's football recruits have the option to sign a national letter of intent about a month earlier than usual. The NCAA approved a 72-hour window from Dec. 20-22, leaving seniors just 11 more weeks to decide whether to sign early. The traditional signing period, which could lose some luster, arrives Feb. 7.

Jurkovec said he's leaning toward using the early period.

“Most likely,” he said. “I'm not 100 percent yet, though.”

That's an uncertainty many recruits are feeling.

Jurkovec remains committed to Notre Dame, but it feels much more official once you “put your name down on paper,” he said.

“I probably will do it,” Jurkovec said of signing in December. “I don't have much hesitation since I know where I'm going to go.”

Bethel Park lineman James Gmiter, who committed in January to West Virginia, said he's ready to take advantage of the new rule.

“I like that if you're committed and you already know where you're going to go, you don't have to waste that extra month getting talked to by the schools,” Gmiter said. “You can just make it a done deal.”

The early signing period earned approval this spring from the NCAA Division I Council and the Collegiate Commissioners Association, which runs the national letter of intent program. The move, which breaks from tradition, left recruits asking questions.

“When I first heard about it, I was kind of skeptical,” Gmiter said. “I didn't know what it would entail or what I'd have to do. But after they passed it and once the coaches explained it to me, I figured it was probably one of the best things they've passed in awhile.”

Basketball already has an early date in November that lets commits finish the recruiting process early.

“It's been long overdue,” said Joe Butler, Metro Index Scouting director. “I've been doing this a long time, and it's been up for discussion for a long time.”

There are pros and cons to the early period, and many of the benefits favor the colleges and coaches.

The early signing period will provide them a clearer view of where they stand on each recruit, said Butler, who considered it a good addition to the calendar. A marquee recruit who signs early could become a selling point for a coach trying to finalize a class for February.

Butler also considered the timing to be right, just after high school season and before the holidays. But the key drawback for recruits is that a number of teams switch coaches in December and January, so a recruit could sign early and then see his would-be coach leave.

“For the guys who commit solely for the coach, that would be big for them,” Jurkovec said. “That's why they would probably wait.”

When Jurkovec chose Notre Dame, he was interested in the school's academics and tradition as much as the coaches. But, coach Brian Kelly's staff was a reason he picked the Irish.

“I really like Coach Kelly,” Jurkovec said. “He's the one who recruited me. He's the one that gave me the offer. Coach Kelly is my coach.”

As one of the nation's top QB recruits, Jurkovec will have a scholarship waiting for him in December or February. But prospects with fewer stars next to their profile might feel more pressure from coaches to sign early.

“They'll try and convince the kid: ‘Hey, we want you, why don't you sign right now?' ” Butler said. “The scholarship may not be available on the first Wednesday in February.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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