Alan Dell

Commentary | Guarantees are few on signing day

Players will sign their names on the dotted line, family and friends will rejoice, and dreams will be spawned.

Today is National Signing Day for high school football players, and in many towns across the country, it’s bigger than the Fourth of July, complete with fireworks.

Kids not old enough to vote will celebrate the biggest decision of their young lives, and some parents will dream about the dollar bills that might come their way when their son signs his first pro contract.

College coaches who get a top-five-rated recruiting class will be shouting from the rooftops to justify their multimillion-dollar contracts.

If only it was that simple. If only it was that easy.

So many things can happen from today until then. It’s why good high school football coaches remind their players that getting a college degree should be their priority.

Some will listen, some will slough it off, and some will learn the hard way.

This is risky business.

Top recruiting classes that don’t produce on the field can get a coach fired.

But the players take the real risk and don’t have million-dollar contracts to fall back on. Injuries, accidents and coaching staff changes can kill a dream at the blink of an eye not to mention academics.

Scholarships are renewable each year and as of now college coaches do not have to give a reason for telling a kid he no longer has one.

This should be a day to celebrate, but it should be done with eyes wide open and caution lights on.

The list of highly touted football players who signed letters of intent out of Manatee County contains a variety of stories. Some made it, some didn’t and then there were the “sleepers” who didn’t sign on signing day, but had successful college careers.

Here is a tip: If you are going to attend a signing day ceremony, keep your eyes on those guys in the back of the room who have nothing to sign. You might see an NFL sleeper.

One of the area’s most celebrated signing days involved the class of 2001 that included Southeast standouts Adrian McPherson, Jawarski Pollock and Fran Span along with Cardinal Mooney’s James Buchanan (son of Congressman Vern Buchanan).

McPherson was tossed off the team at FSU, Buchanan never got his career started at FSU because of an injury, and Span didn’t play for North Carolina State. The only successful one was Pollock, who set numerous receiving records at North Carolina.

A glimpse at others:

Class of 2009

This might me considered Manatee County’s tough-luck class.

n Damian Copeland (Palmetto): receiver still trying to crack lineup at Louisville.

n Kedric Johnson (Palmetto): defensive end fighting to get more playing time at Florida.

n Willie McNeal (Braden River): injured missed last season, had solid freshman year at Western Kentucky looking to get back into fold.

n Eric Williams (Manatee): receiver left Purdue and then Western Kentucky and is now at Division II Texas A&M Commerce.

n Ben Axon (Manatee): running back signed with South Carolina, attended Eastern Michigan, went to junior college, hoping to hook on at WKU.

n Josh Breitwieser (Saint Stephen’s): first NCAA I-A signee from Saint Stephens, went to West Point and left after two years.

Class of 2007

n Austin Jensen (Manatee): headed for solid career at Florida Atlantic until car accident ended playing days.

n Hunter Ovens (Cardinal Mooney): signed with Virginia Tech, things didn’t work and decided to pursue baseball.

Class of 2006

n David Fonua (Southeast): injuries ended career prematurely at South Florida.

n Terron Sanders (Southeast): productive career at Florida, but injuries prevented him from reaching potential.

The sleepers

Here are some players who had nothing to sign on signing day, but eventually made it through sheer hard work and resiliency.

n Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie (Lakewood Ranch, 2004) unwanted out of high school only scholarship offer was to Tennessee State because coach owed his dad a favor. The DB was first round pick of Arizona Cardinals in 2008.

n Mistral Raymond (Palmetto): unwanted out of high school, DB went to junior college and then walked on to USF; selected in sixth round of 2011 NFL draft, started at safety for Minnesota at end of season.

n Randy Kelly (Manatee ’02 grad): DB was unwanted out of high school went to junior college and then had solid career as a starter at Arkansas.

n Rod Harper (Southeast ’04): receiver went junior-college route and then to Murray State; was on New Orleans Saints Super Bowl winning team roster; has played with Green Bay and Philadelphia.

n Chad Lee (Southeast ’99): overlooked on signing day; an offensive lineman switched to defense in college and had solid career at Louisville.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be contacted at 745-2112.