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Unforgettable college football commitment announcements: ‘Wow. That is something else’

Deontay Anderson didn’t tell his mom until the day of. Dad knew the plan all along. But Anderson, the nation’s No. 52 prospect and No. 2 safety in the Class of 2016, figured he’d wait until about 15 minutes before the big moment to reveal all to his mother.

Less time for her to freak out.

He would be skydiving. Yes, jumping out of an airplane, to announce his commitment to Ole Miss on national signing day.

“We had to tell her we were going somewhere because the skydiving place was by my high school at the time. So we had to kind of lie, say, ‘We’re going somewhere by the high school real quick, we’ve got to do something, some recruiting stuff,’” Anderson recalled.

“So she got into the car, and then we pulled up to the place and she saw airplanes and then was like, ‘What is this? What is this?’ And then we just went and told her right then and there.”

Anderson originally planned to announce on ESPN, but Bleacher Report approached him about collaborating on a commitment video. If he was going to make one, he wanted it to be something that would “blow up the internet.”

Recruiting has a way of doing just that.

Anderson is far from the only top prospect over the years with a memorable college football commitment story. The Athletic took a look back at some of the drama-filled announcements — involving upset mothers, a confusing hoax and live animals.

“There’s craziness out there, and it’s a lot of fun,” said David Bailiff, Rice’s former coach and the current coach at Texas A&M-Commerce.

“You love recruiting.”

Anderson’s video showed him skydiving through his superimposed options, including LSU and Texas. He committed to the Rebels upon landing, unzipping his skydiving suit to reveal a shirt reading, “Hotty Toddy.”

Anderson would eventually transfer home to Houston, but he’ll always have his Ole Miss leap.

“I was excited,” he said. “I love heights.”

‘That was the weirdest’

Dari Nowkhah, the ESPN broadcaster, is the first to admit he doesn’t follow recruiting closely. He thinks it can often be overblown. So when the network assigned him the Under Armour All-America Game in January of 2012, he only loosely had an idea of what to expect.

Then he handled the infamous Landon Collins commitment-turned-family fiasco.

“It was probably the strangest on-air experience I’ve ever had,” Nowkhah said. “It introduced me pretty well to big-time recruiting.”

Collins’ announcement had been long anticipated, given the five-star prospect’s status as the nation’s No. 7 recruit and No. 2 safety. He was down to Alabama and LSU, which just days earlier met in the BCS national title game.

The YouTube video of the increasingly awkward announcement now has more than 1 million views.

In hindsight, Nowkhah remembers that minutes before cameras went live, things had already started to take a turn behind the scenes.

“Right off the bat, there was tension with who was going to sit where,” Nowkhah said. “We’re navigating this, and I’ve got a producer in my ear saying, ‘All right, we’re on in like, two minutes.’”

Nowkhah asked Collins how difficult his decision was. He mentioned that Collins, of Geismar, La., grew up in LSU territory. When Collins announced for Alabama — “Roll Tide Roll,” he said — April Justin, Collins’ mother, shook her head and glanced down.

As a producer cut into Nowkhah’s earpiece to confirm that Nowkah recognized mom’s reaction, Nowkhah knew he needed to ask Justin about it. To buy himself time to collect his thoughts, he asked Collins a throwaway question about what sealed the decision. Then he turned to Justin: “Might I ask you your reaction?” he said. “And I’m only doing that because there was not a lot of joy here. Can I ask why?”

Justin told Nowkhah she felt LSU was the better place for Collins, held up a No. 1 with her finger, and said, “LSU Tigers, No. 1. Go Tigers.” She even held up a pair of LSU gloves while Collins flashed his Alabama gloves to the crowd.

Less than a minute later, it was over.

“And everybody gets up, and there’s immediate tension between Landon and his mom,” Nowkhah said.

Nowkhah said he wished Collins luck as he was leaving, but didn’t say anything to Justin. A decade later, Nowkhah still gets tweets each year around signing day about Collins, a second-round NFL Draft pick in 2015.

Collins joked about the moment on social media in 2020 and Justin shared her side in a Bleacher Report article in 2015, indicating at the time their relationship was still strained.

“At LSU, I was convinced he could play immediately, wind up a Freshman All-American and build the momentum to be a first-rounder after his junior season,” she wrote in a draft diary. “At ‘Bama, I was worried he’d be buried on Nick Saban’s notoriously deep depth charts.”

Justin echoed Nowkhah’s sentiment that things were already tense before the announcement and said an argument with Collins’ girlfriend’s family “put me in a terrible state of mind” just before the announcement. She knew Collins would be committing to Alabama, as he had called to tell her the night before, and she said her reaction was misinterpreted.

“It was one of the most memorable (commitments) of all time,” Nowkhah said. “In terms of what I’ve been directly involved with, that was the weirdest.”

‘I’ve never heard of this guy before’

Drama aside, at least Collins had a legitimate recruitment.

The same couldn’t be said for Kevin Hart, an offensive lineman in the Class of 2008 who is still infamous as the architect one of the biggest hoaxes in modern recruiting history. Hart, who shares a name with the famous comedian, held a signing day ceremony in his school’s gymnasium. He had hats on a table from two programs: Oregon and Cal. He committed to Cal in front of a packed crowd, citing his relationship with Cal coach Jeff Tedford as the difference-maker.

 

The only problem?

“I had never talked to the kid ever in my life,” said Tedford, now coach at Fresno State. “It was like, ‘Wow. That is something else.’”

Tedford said he found out about the hoax when a local reporter called to chat about Cal’s newest signees and noted that Tedford didn’t mention an offensive lineman from Fernley, Nev.

“He was like, ‘You’re holding out on me,’” Tedford said. “I’m like, ‘I promise you I’ve never heard of this guy before.’”

From there, Tedford called his offensive line coach. He didn’t know about him either.

“But then I kind of heard this whole story about what happened and he said he committed to us because of our relationship and so on and so forth, and I had never talked to the kid ever in my life,” Tedford said. “We were tracking it because all of a sudden, it became a big deal.”

Cal officials swiftly made it known that Tedford had never met Hart. About a month later, Hart’s high school coach, Mark Hodges, resigned.

Tedford said he still doesn’t know why Hart chose Cal and Oregon to serve as fake finalists. Nor does he know about Hart’s motivation. He remembers wondering how Hart imagined everything would end, once the hoax came to light.

“Only Kevin could truly answer that question,”said Tom Simi, who would coach Hart, who couldn’t be reached for this story, at Feather River Community College in California.

“It’s such a crazy thing that it’s really hard to project what exactly his full-fledged end game was. And truthfully, I don’t think he had one. I think he was just a confused kid that got caught up in the attention and obviously craved it and kind of started living a little bit of a fantasy and lost track of reality for a while. And it caught up to him, obviously.”

Hart ultimately earned first-team all-conference and all-region honors in 2011. Simi, now the offensive tackles/tight ends coach at The Citadel, said he always enjoyed his interactions with Hart and had no issues with him related to the Cal incident. Hart later transferred to Division II Missouri Western State.

Tedford, now 60, says it’s still among the strangest recruiting moments he’s experienced.

“There’s a lot of recruiting stories — whether it be home visits or whatever. But as far as the finality of signing, I think this was no question the most bizarre signing story ever — that I’ve ever been associated with,” he said.

Then he chuckled.

“Or not associated with. However you want to put it.”

A ‘mind-boggling’ signing day

Larry Blustein has covered recruiting for various outlets in Florida, including The Miami Herald and South Florida Sun-Sentinel, for 50 years. Two moments stand out.

The first came in 2000, when Jonathan Colon, an All-American offensive lineman from Miami Central, put on a Miami hat, only to sign with Florida.

“That was confusing for everybody,” Blustein said.

The second came in 2013, when Alex Collins, of South Plantation High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., signed with Arkansas after a whirlwind of drama.

“Alex’s signing day was mind-boggling. That’s when I said parents shouldn’t get involved,” Blustein said. “I was there, and it caught me off guard. I was really surprised.”

Collins’ mother, Andrea McDonald, made national headlines when she took off with his national letter of intent, refusing to give her signature so Collins could sign with Arkansas. McDonald reportedly preferred the hometown Miami Hurricanes. Collins’ father, Johnny, signed the letter the next day.

That same day, lawyer Jack Paris of the Cochran Firm announced that McDonald had hired him for “assistance in clearing up any false or inaccurate statements in the press.” McDonald wanted Collins to make “a clean choice that is free of any outside influences” and hired Paris to represent “the family’s interests while she contemplates” Collins’ future.

“I knew (the family) because they lived in Hallandale, Fla. So I used to see the mom all the time,” Blustein said. “But that was bizarre. It was really bizarre.”

Collins enrolled at Arkansas and became just the third player in SEC history to open his career with three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He is currently a free agent in the NFL, having played for the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks.

“I thought she was kidding around at first,” Blustein said. “But then all of a sudden, it became real.”

Chris Young, a former four-star Vanderbilt wide receiver, can understand what it’s like to be under pressure from varying influences. Young, the No. 2 player in Mississippi in the Class of 2000, originally committed to Alabama, then flipped to Ole Miss a few weeks before signing day in the heat of a pressure-packed moment. He grew up about 20 minutes from the Ole Miss campus and committed to the Rebels in his school’s library, packed with Ole Miss fans.

He instantly regretted it and switched to Vanderbilt shortly thereafter, following in the footsteps of his older brother.

“I can understand it very intimately. It was a very emotional time for me,” he said. “I was a people pleaser, and that was, at that particular point in time, my personality flaw. And I’ve had a lot of time to think about this and kind of ponder it.”

When in doubt, ask the cat?

Live animals and signing day announcements have gone hand in hand for years.

Former five-star Georgia and Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell initially committed to the Bulldogs in 2011 by pulling on a Georgia hat, then had a bulldog puppy handed to him moments later. Former four-star Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield had two friends bring in bulldogs on leashes to help him commit to Georgia in 2015. And George Brown, of Cincinnati, originally committed to Florida in the Class of 2015 with help from a dwarf caiman, a reptile in the alligator family. Ohio law prohibited possession of an actual alligator.

But what about using animals to woo recruits? That’s what Rice chose to do when the Owls were recruiting quarterback JT Granato in the Class of 2015. Granato is from Houston and grew up about eight miles from Rice. Offensive coordinator Billy Lynch figured writing a recruiting letter to Granato’s family cat — White Socks — might help Rice’s chances.

“They sent JT a letter I swear every day. A different coach: ‘Hey, we want you here,’” Granato’s father, John said. “And one day, it’s here for White Socks.

“I don’t remember exactly what they said, but (something to the effect of), ‘He’ll be close to home, he’ll be close to you. Can you please tell JT to come to Rice in his home city?”’

Bailiff, the former Rice coach, laughed this week, recalling how Lynch read the letter aloud at a staff meeting. He said Rice coaches even put a cat paw on the letter to get an edge. Granato later transferred to Missouri State, but committed to Rice with some help from White Socks.

Never dull, often ridiculous, who knows where commitment announcements will go next?

“I had a bunch of coaches on the road tell me how hilarious they thought it was and that they were probably gonna try that angle again,” Bailiff said this week, laughing.

“I think that’s probably the first time in history we asked a cat for help.”

The Athletic’s Manny Navarro contributed to this report.

(Photo courtesy of Deontay Anderson, center)

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