DECATUR — Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you all that much about Jadon Haselwood, at least not a lot beyond what one learns from a quick Google search.
I did know, however, when I followed DawgNation’s recruiting reporter Jeff Sentell to Cedar Grove High and Buck Godfrey Stadium last week, that Haselwood is one of the top wide receiver prospects in the country for the Class of 2019. And when I say “top,” I mean like ranked among the best two or three nationwide. That’s according to 247Sports and pretty much everybody else who is in the business of ranking high school sophomores. And they all do now.
But there’s more to the phenomenon that is Haselwood beyond the fact that he is 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, fast, has good hands and has been hotly pursued by colleges even though just a 10th-grader. First, he’s one among a rapidly growing number of high school underclassmen who make their college decisions before they can legally drive. He’s 15, hasn’t taken the SAT and hasn’t even qualified for the Junior-Senior Prom yet.
Also, Haselwood is among a growing subset of prospects who go to great lengths to make these commitment announcements public. Remember when National Signing Day represented the big reveal? Well, that’s not usually the case anymore. Increasingly, these prospects are going to a great deal of trouble and expense just to say where they’re probably going to go. You know, as long as there aren’t any coaching changes or unforeseen NCAA infractions. Or, like, they change their minds over the next two years.
And it’s not limited to Georgia and our little neck of the woods. Prospects are producing commitment videos where they’re jumping out of planes and pretending to be kidnapped in vans by other marauding recruits. It’s a full-blown trend now.
Which, again, brings us to why I stood on the sideline of a football field inside a stadium freezing my buttons off in March while a film crew desperately tried to capture just the right shot of an English bulldog running across the gridiron. It was all part of an elaborate production that was Haselwood’s commitment video.
But actually, Haselwood has known that for a while. Never mind his trip to Ohio State this past weekend and all those social media pics he posted of him with Urban Meyer. Haselwood has actually known he was heading to UGA long enough to have discussed it with Sentell and to have planned in great detail the slickly produced commitment video that melted the Internet on Thursday (or at the least portions of the Web that are devoted to football recruiting, which are considerable).
Haselwood’s video, appropriately titled “Jadon Haselwood: The Commitment,” was shot on March 2 and edited and mixed over the last week before posting on DawgNation on Thursday afternoon. You may recall a similarly produced video DawgNation did last year for Malik Herring and Jeremiah Holloman called “The Christmas Commitments.” It was a big hit and starred two elite prospects who had previously committed to UGA in Jake Fromm and Richard LeCounte. In all, DawgNation and SEC Country produced six such videos before National Signing Day on Feb. 1.
Haselwood’s video also included a couple of high-profile UGA signees. Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer are members of Georgia’s 2017 recruiting class and also happen to have been Haselwood’s teammates on Cedar Grove’s 2016 Class AAA state championship team.
Each played prominent roles in Haselwood’s commitment video. It was something they thoroughly enjoyed doing but never dreamed of undertaking when they were making their own college decisions.
“Mine was boring,” Johnson, a 4-star-rated recruit, said of his commitment to Georgia in April of 2016. “I just committed.”
Said Shaffer, a 3-star prospect: “It’s all hype. It’s up to the individual. I mean, it’s more work. I just typed in some words and posted it on Twitter. But I like the videos because they make them fun. It’s not boring. It’s an attention grabber. It makes everybody want to look at it.”
Of course, they were both flipping their commitments when they chose Georgia, Shaffer from Louisville and Johnson from Alabama.
And a lot DOES go into these productions. Full disclosure: DawgNation and SEC Country have a lot to do with it. We’re the ones who hire and pay for the professional production teams that plan, film and edit these videos. The costs run in the thousands, depending on the size of the project.
And while it’s nothing compared to a Hollywood production, these things are not entered into haphazardly. Sentell writes the scripts and hires the crew, which I guess makes him kind of like an executive producer for SEC Country Studios, which is the umbrella under which we undertake these projects. There also is a producer (Shawn Clark) and a director (Roger Okamoto), a director of photography, audio engineers, gaffers, grips, etc. There are also detailed shoot schedules and call sheets and, of course, “talent.” You’ll find Haselwood, Johnson, Shaffer and Cedar Grove coach Jimmy Smith under that heading, with “main star” next to Haselwood’s name.
Of course, despite all the planning, there are always the unexpected challenges. Like on the Thursday afternoon that they were shooting Haselwood’s video. Much of it was done at Atlanta’s Buck Godfrey Stadium, and there weren’t supposed to be any athletic events at the venue that day. Turns out, nobody mentioned that to the girls varsity soccer teams from Columbia and Lakeside that showed up for a 5:30 p.m. tilt.
But that proved no problem for the nimble film crew. They simply finished shooting on the field while the teams warmed up, then moved into an area behind the field when the soccer game commenced for some “B roll.” There was a brief discussion of relocating elsewhere, but they couldn’t risk losing the fast-receding sunlight. The whistles and shouts from the soccer game did force a few re-takes, however.
The highlight was when Rookie arrived on the set. He’s a 7-month-old bulldog who belongs to Haselwood’s uncle, John Curry. Rookie was not a trained dog actor, by the way, so getting his scenes shot required some prodding and coaxing by his master. But, in the end, the crew got the shots it needed, and all was well.
As for Haselwood, the teenage sensation said he simply “thought it’d be fun” and wanted to make as big of a splash as he could with his commitment. He said he feels strongly enough about his decision to go to Georgia that he doesn’t think it’s any sort of risk to do a video. And for the Bulldogs, perhaps the permanent digital record will make it less likely for their prized recruit to change his mind, which happens so often these days.
Coach Smith advised his young phenom to be very certain of his intentions if he was going down this road.
“I told him a lot of things can change in two years,” Smith said. “You know, coaches leave and things happen. But I also told him you still have to do what’s best for you. Whether you make a video or not, you still have to make sure you make the right decision.”
For now, Haselwood appears to have some chops for acting. At some point, though, he will have to demonstrate whether he can perform on the next level in football. It appears that’ll be at Georgia.
“He can play,” Shaffer assured. “Body-wise he’s got a lot to work on, but eventually he’ll be ready.”