Gorman: Foster follows his heart to Alabama
Robert Foster sat between his mother and father, holding their hands tightly, then paused in mid-sentence and bowed his head to compose himself.
The Central Valley All-America receiver's decision to choose a college appeared to be an agonizing one. His revelation was simply stunning, and not for any sense of showmanship.
He did not resort to any type of publicity stunt. He did not play the hat game. He did not lift his shirt to show his school colors.
Foster just followed his heart.
“It's going to be hard, but I've got to do what's best for me,” Foster said. “I felt Alabama was best, so I'm going there.”
That it was with defending BCS national champion Alabama and not hometown favorite Pitt likely left Panthers fans heartbroken.
They should be disappointed. Foster is a difference maker, an explosive 6-foot-3, 195-pounder who could have made an immediate impact at a position of need for Pitt. Foster averaged 12.1 yards per touch on offense and scored his 24 touchdowns this season by run and reception and on kick, punt and interception returns.
“Anytime he touched the ball,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said, “he was a threat to go the distance.”
Foster could have gone anywhere he wanted. Rated among the nation's top receiver prospects by recruiting services, he has been selected to play in the Under Armour All-America Game.
Even so, Foster seriously contemplated staying home. He even told his mother, Sherrice Clements, as much when he sent her a text message Wednesday, explaining why he was picking Pitt.
When he changed his mind, even his own mother was shocked.
“I would have preferred Pitt,” said Clements, dressed in blue and gold, “but it's his life and I'm happy with his decision.”
She didn't look happy. Neither did her son, who appeared more relieved than anything that his recruitment was finally over.
As late as Thursday night, when he went out for dinner with Lyons, Foster was still undecided.
“It was going to be what was in his heart whenever he woke up,” Lyons said.
On Friday morning, Foster said he awoke, got down on his knees and prayed to God for an answer.
Finally, he found some clarity.
“I felt in my heart they are the best in the country. For me to be the best player, I have to play for the best,” Foster said of the Crimson Tide. “I want to go to Alabama and change, to be forced to work and not just have it given to me.”
That's small consolation for the runners-up. The inevitable message-board meltdowns saw Pitt fans go from anxiously awaiting for Foster to pick the Panthers to wishing for him to fail at Alabama.
Seriously, if you subtract the hometown angle, can anyone blame Foster for his decision?
Alabama has won two of the past three national championships and will play Notre Dame in the BCS final next month. Pitt is playing in its third consecutive Compass Bowl in Birmingham.
Alabama has college football's best coach in Nick Saban. Paul Chryst is finishing his first season at Pitt, his first as a head coach.
Alabama has produced 11 first-round picks in the past four NFL Drafts, compared to Pitt's four first-rounders since 2004.
Not to mention that Lyons said Alabama did the best job recruiting Foster and his family.
“They were the most — I don't know if persistent is the right word — but the most loyal,” Lyons said. “He got a sense that they care about him as a person, not just a football player.”
In fairness, Chryst has done a remarkable job recruiting the WPIAL. The Panthers beat 'Bama for Rushel Shell last year and went down to a photo finish for Foster.
That's why this doesn't feel like it's over yet, especially with rumors swirling about Saban taking over the Cleveland Browns.
Foster admitted that his decision disappointed hometown fans.
“I apologize,” Foster said, “but I want to do things for myself.”
Not everyone in Foster's family agrees with his choice, but brother Desmon Clements is supportive.
“Robert has always been a people pleaser,” Clements said, “but, at the end of the day, it's about you. You have to go to that school, no one else.”
Foster has 47 days until Signing Day to make sure his head is ready to follow his heart to Alabama. And Pitt has the same amount of time to convince him otherwise.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-527-4848.