Gorman: Blame 'recruiting process,' not Clairton's Boyd
Something told Tonya Payne not to ask questions up front. That was the first thing every college football recruiter asked Clairton star Tyler Boyd's mother:
So, what questions do you have?
“In the beginning, I didn't know what questions to ask,” said Payne, a single mother of two young men. “As time went on, it was like, ‘Don't ask anything, and let them present themselves.' That way, you can see what type of person they are and what their pitch is.”
When Payne finally was ready, she directed a two-part question to Tony Gibson, the West Virginia secondary coach attempting to convince Boyd to renege on his commitment to Pitt: Are you a man of your word? If so, is that something you're going to teach my son?
“His answer was, ‘Of course,' ” Payne said. “I said, ‘Well, that's not something you're teaching him. You're teaching him to go back on his word.' He said, ‘It's just the recruiting process.' ”
It's just business, even if it's a dirty business. The pressure placed on Boyd is a prime example of everything that's wrong with college football recruiting.
Boyd deserves his share of the blame. He announced his verbal commitment to Pitt before a national television audience at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl — with the caveat that he still planned to visit other schools — and then took official visits to WVU and Tennessee.
“If you weren't ready, don't announce your decision on television,” 247 Sports recruiting analyst Bob Lichtenfels said. “It's one of the hardest decisions a man has to make, other than picking your wife. Then again, if you want an early-signing period, you have to put in a safety net to protect the kids. Coaches can leave. It's the kids who suffer.”
Yet they suffer the venom and vitriol of fans, who can be fanatical about recruiting.
For them, it's like fantasy football. They track prospects, celebrate when they commit to their favorite team and, sometimes, take their frustrations out on those who don't through social media.
Their anger is misplaced. Don't blast teenagers for being indecisive and caving to pressure. What about the adults who refuse to take “no” for an answer? What lessons are they teaching these kids?
It wasn't long ago that colleges abided by a gentleman's agreement that prospects who had pledged a commitment were regarded as off limits. Now everyone is fair game until signing day, when players sign letters of intent that bind them to a school.
Recruiting has become the Barnum & Bailey of the sports world.
Andrew Johnson dealt with the circus at North Hills in 2004, when the touted tailback backed out of a commitment to Pitt soon after running backs coach Dino Babers left for UCLA. Amid furor for abandoning the hometown school, Johnson signed with Miami.
“It's tough because you build a good relationship with your position coach through recruiting. When they get up and leave, it throws you off a little bit,” Johnson said. “But they never get talked about for ‘decommitting' from the program; it's always the kid that gets talked about.”
Where Pitt was dealing with Walt Harris on the hot seat and a depleted Big East after Miami and Virginia Tech left for the Atlantic Coast Conference when Johnson jumped ship, the Panthers are better braced for Boyd. This is Paul Chryst's first full recruiting class and Pitt joins the ACC this fall.
Johnson allowed that the hometown school has a greater allegiance to WPIAL prospects, along with more accountability. So he can sympathize with Boyd, who told the Trib that he's “confused.”
“I can only imagine what he's going through because he seems like the type of kid who wants to make everyone around him happy and make himself happy, and obviously it's not working out for him right now,” said Johnson, who now owns beauty supplies stores.
“The best thing for him to do is to think about himself. Some decisions have to be selfish. The best thing for him to do is definitely just turn his phone off, think about what he really wants, what school he really likes and go with it, then deal with the backlash that comes with it. If he's a big-time player, he'll deal with it in college and in the NFL. He might as well get used to it now.”
Before Boyd decides, he's going to have to answer that same question: Are you a man of your word? We'll find out whether a single mother can teach her youngest son a value that college coaches haven't, or if Boyd will become another blemish in the dirty business known as the recruiting process.