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March 6, 2012
Trend toward early commits picking up steam
Chandler Kincade hasn't even finished his sophomore year at Beaver Falls (Pa.) Blackhawk High School, yet he already knows what college he plans to attend.
At least for now.
Kincade, a 6-foot-4 quarterback, committed to Pittsburgh last fall. He's one of four Class of 2014 football prospects who already have made verbal commitments at least two years before they'll actually sign with a school.
"The people at school were very surprised I did it, but they also were very excited for me," Kincade said. "It's Pitt. It's the hometown school and everything."
Kincade is part of a growing fraternity that also includes Gainesville (Ga. ) quarterback DeShaun Watson, Washington (D.C.) St. John's College High linebacker Devin Williams and Bethlehem (Ga.) George Walton Academy running back Stanley Williams.
And they're not even the youngest players to commit.
Auburndale (Fla.) athlete Derwin James is only a freshman in high school, yet he verbally committed to Florida State on Feb. 26. James reportedly is a second cousin of former Miami star Edgerrin James and current Miami running back Mike James.
The king of the early commitment is Bear (Del.) Red Lion Academy quarterback David Sills, a 2015 prospect who announced at the age of 13 that he would attend USC. Sills made his decision shortly after receiving a verbal offer from Lane Kiffin's staff.
The NCAA passed legislation two years ago preventing colleges from making written offers to prospects before Aug. 1 prior to their senior years - the previous starting date had been Sept. 1 of their junior years - but that hasn't stopped underclassmen from verbally committing earlier and earlier.
"Everything's going faster in recruiting than it ever has before, and until the NCAA steps in and does something to slow it down, it will only continue to speed up. And they can't figure out what to do," Rivals national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "They pushed back the written offers to a player's senior year and things continue to speed up, so that was a dismal failure.
"There's nothing that's stopping colleges from verbally offering recruits, and there's nothing stopping recruits from verbally committing."
It's easy to understand why prospects might want to decide on a college at such an early age. Committing early gives them the perceived peace of mind and sense of security, even though in reality it doesn't guarantee anything.
Just as a recruit is free to withdraw his commitment and rethink his decision, a school is free to pull any offer it's made to the prospect until that letter of intent is signed.
Kincade's family also figured that committing early would remove some pressure from him and allow him to go through the rest of his high school experience without as many distractions. Only it hasn't quite worked out that way.
"There's a lot of pressure on these kids," said Kincade's father, Tony Kincade. "We're going through the process still, and my fear is he wouldn't be able to perform because he's so worried about what's going on around him. We tried to ease that pressure on him, but verbally committing really hasn't eased it. It's increased it.
"We didn't expect this, as far as the visibility. People saw he was committed, and it brought attention to him. ... It did the reverse of what we thought it would do."
Anyone seeking evidence about how a commitment by an underclassman doesn't guarantee anything need only examine the case of 2012 Rivals100 wide receiver Jordan Payton.
Payton committed to USC as a sophomore at Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian, becoming the first 2012 prospect to pledge to the Trojans. He later would commit to California and Washington as well before finally signing with UCLA last month.
A look at the backgrounds of a couple of early 2014 commitments makes it seem less likely they would change their minds.
Kincade lives about 40 miles outside Pittsburgh and has grown up in a family full of Panthers fans. He is such an admirer of Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Pitt star Dan Marino that friends and family members used to refer to him as "Chan Marino."
Stanley Williams lives about 20-25 minutes from Georgia's campus and has attended numerous Bulldogs games over the years. He liked the idea of going to college close to home and decided to commit almost as soon as Georgia offered him.
"There were a lot of people telling me they thought I should wait and weigh all my options, but there were a lot of people telling me I should go ahead and commit," he said. "I really just listened to my family and the people I was closest with. We weighed all the options and thought it was the best opportunity for me to go ahead and commit."
Yet both players also are keeping their options open.
Kincade has plenty of reason to wonder about his choice. Just five weeks after he committed to Pittsburgh, Arizona State hired away former Panthers coach Todd Graham. Kincade is still getting to know Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst's staff.
"I think that as time comes along, I'll find out how comfortable I am with this staff," Kincade said. "And then I'll make my decision from there. But right now, yeah, I'm still committed until I can find out more. It might not change either way, but until then I'm not changing my commitment."
Stanley Williams also has continued hearing from other schools and is interested in discovering what they have to say. Williams is planning trips to Clemson and South Carolina, and he may visit some other schools as well.
"It's just going to be a great opportunity to visit these schools and see what they think about me committing to Georgia and seeing if they have a chance of getting me to decommit," he said.
What are the chances of that?
It's only natural to assume that players who commit as underclassmen might be more likely to second-guess their decisions. The earlier a guy commits, the more time he has to change his mind.
But that likely won't stop more people from committing to a college at roughly the same time they're earning their driver's licenses. Heck, maybe the next step is that more recruits follow Sills' lead and commit before they even have entered high school.
"We could have a fifth-grader commit in the next couple of years," Farrell said. "That wouldn't shock me. That's the trend of things.
"I got hit up by the father of a 10-year-old who wanted me to evaluate his film. This was a long serious e-mail. My response was there's no way I'm evaluating a 10-year-old, but in basketball that's normal. I hope football doesn't go that way, but this is not an anomaly. This is the way things are starting to trend."