Larry Harold had a front-row seat last year when Roquan Smith did something that many thought would set a trend: The highly-touted linebacker declined to sign a letter-of-intent, instead keeping it at a financial aid agreement in order to protect himself from the constraints of the LOI.
A year later, it doesn’t appear many, if any, followed suit. If anybody did “pull a Roquan,” to coin a term, it hasn’t gotten much publicity.
Harold, reached Thursday, chuckled when asked if he was surprised.
“I think I am a little,” said Harold, who coached Smith at Macon High School. “But I just think that was a unique situation that Roquan had last year. I guess people forget all the stuff that happened, and then it gets back to business as usual.”
And it was business as usual, apparently, for another off-field issue that was much-discussed last year: Cost-of-attendance (COA).
Remember how it would supposedly sway recruits to schools that offered a huge amount, and away from those that didn’t? That didn’t get much attention on signing day either, and not much in the lead-up to it behind the scenes.
Here’s a brief look at why neither issue has gotten any traction yet:
1. Foregoing the LOI
Smith’s reasoning for not signing sprung from what happened on last year’s signing day: Minutes after announcing for UCLA, he found out his main recruiter there (defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich) was leaving for the NFL. It was an injustice, critics thought and Smith agreed, that a coach could up and leave while Smith would be bound to the school, or at least under certain restrictions, if he signed the LOI. (Having to sit out a year perhaps being one.)
So Smith merely signed a financial aid agreement with Georgia, and held to that until enrolling in the summer. He played in 12 games last year, recording 20 tackles.
Some thought Smith’s very public stand would lead to more recruits doing the same. But Rusty Mansell, the recruiting analyst for Dawgs247.com, who has deep ties to the talent-rich state of Georgia, said he couldn’t recall a single prospect or parent talking about it.
“These kids are like us: They want to get this over with,” Mansell said.
That was echoed by Jeff Sentell, who covers recruiting for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and DawgNation.
“Not only did it not happen, I can’t conceive of any single recruit who was torn with his decision who even toyed with it,” Sentell said. “A lot of them are just ready to get there. Signing day is just the deadline.”
2. Cost Attendance
Harold has since moved on to Brunswick High School. He has at least two players who will be highly-recruited in the 2017 class.
“I don’t think (cost-of-attendance) is getting out as much as I thought it would. But there are some discussions,” Harold said. “It’s not a big, big deal right now. But I’ve heard, not so much from the coaching side, but other student-athletes, preparing a contrast like that. I really haven’t heard coaches using it as recruiting tools yet.”
Georgia was one of the football teams that initially was very worried about a potential COA disparity. But last summer, then-head coach Mark Richt said the school had taken “creative” steps to bring its COA a bit more in line with other schools.
Yes, Auburn – which has a higher COA to offer – did beat out Georgia for five-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown. But the subject didn’t come up, either with him or many other prospects, according to the analysts.
“It was definitely a buzz the class before, because people didn’t know what it was going to be, and it was new. But this class I didn’t have any parents ask me about that. It was kind of surprising,” Mansell said. “I’m sure that was talked about schools in in-home visit, as in this is what we can offer. But I didn’t hear any of that as a determining factor.”
Sentell asked about COA a few times, and the general feeling he got was the difference – around $2,000 here or there – wasn’t a big deal.
“(Many recruits think) ‘I’ll make that up in the (NFL) if I make the right choice,’” Sentell said. “A lot of these kids care more about the type of gear they’ll get, and who they’ll play with, more than the cost-of-attendance factor.”
That doesn’t mean it won’t be a factor in the next recruiting cycle. Another Roquan Smith situation might pop up too. But for now, those were two stories that didn’t have much leg.