The Nasty Side of Recruiting

Matt Colburn is a senior in high school, and would fit most people’s definitions of a young adult.

But apparently not Bobby Petrino’s.  Actually, Petrino might have forgotten Colburn was a human being.

Petrino, the head coach at the University of Louisville, pulled Colburn’s scholarship offer on Monday, just 48 hours before national signing day for fall athletes, eight months after Colburn had verbally committed to the Cardinals in June of 2014.

Colburn, who attends Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, SC, is a three-star running back recruit, who has run for 5,637 career yards and 91 touchdowns.  He was named South Carolina’s Mr. Football for the 2014 season after 27 rushing touchdowns, although his best season in both yards and touchdowns came as a junior, when he ran for 2,289 yards and 36 touchdowns.

It was after that junior season that Colburn verbally committed to Louisville, essentially closing his recruitment eight months early, saying he did so so he “didn’t have to worry about it anymore”, according to reports.

He was considered a strong commitment to the university until Monday, when the Cardinals pulled his scholarship offer, instead requesting that Colburn grayshirt.

Grayshirting is a relatively new practice in the game of college football where the university and the student-athlete come to the agreement that the athlete will not enroll on the campus until the following January, so their eligibility clock of four years, or five in the event of a redshirt, doesn’t start until the following fall.  So, in this case, Louisville wanted Colburn to delay his enrollment until the spring semester of 2016, allowing them to use their allotted scholarships on other players.

In this case, according to a Louisville Courier-Journal report, due to the loss of their starting secondary, with two players graduating, and two more, Gerod Holliman and Charles Gaines, leaving early to turn pro, Louisville felt that their allotted scholarships would be better spent on defensive backs, so they asked Colburn to grayshirt.

Unfortunately, however, the decision was not made by the Louisville coaching staff until the last minute, just two days before National Signing Day.

The possibility of grayshirting had never been mentioned to Colburn at any time, not even when he made an official visit to Louisville’s campus two weeks ago, when he says he was well received by the coaching staff.  He says he had been told consistently that he would be in the rotation for playing time in the fall.

With Louisville wanting to delay his career a year, even after his long-standing commitment, Colburn had no interest in grayshirting, and suddenly had to re-open his recruiting process.

The timing was made even worse by the fact Monday was the first day of the 48-hour recruiting dead period just before signing day, meaning schools could not reach out to recruits.  Since recruits are allowed to initiate dialogue, however, Colburn was able to call coaches at schools which had shown interest in him earlier in his high school career to see if they were still interested.

Among these schools are Wake Forest, Marshall, and Georgia Southern.  According to a The State report, Colburn will not consider any offers that have come in this week just because of the situation, instead considering the schools he had talked to before last June.

In addition to that, Colburn’s high school coach, Tom Knotts, says he will not allow Petrino or his coaching staff to recruit any more players from Dutch Fork, and he expects the possibility of other high school coaches following his lead, according to multiple reports.

Many are stunned by Petrino’s betrayal of a young man who had committed to play for him so long ago.  Then again, this is a coach who once lost a job at Arkansas after crashing his motorcycle on which his mistress was riding with him, then lying to cover it up.  And that really wasn’t that long ago, in 2012.

As for Colburn, he did not sign anywhere on National Signing Day on Wednesday, opting to take some time to process what has happened and make his next decision.  As a current college student, my college decision wasn’t at all easy, and did not involve playing a sport at all.

That being said, Colburn says he hopes to sign a national letter of intent next Wednesday, listing Wake Forest, Marshall, and Georgia Southern as the finalists.

He told WLTX he plans to visit Wake Forest and Georgia Southern this week, having already visited Marshall very early in the recruiting process, as the Thundering Herd gave Colburn his first offer.

Each of the three schools would have its advantages if Colburn decided to attend.  Marshall and Georgia Southern are both coming off of conference championships in 2014, in Conference-USA and the Sun Belt, respectively, with Marshall nearly qualifying for the “New Year’s Six” bowl games.  Two of Colburn’s high school teammates signed letters of intent to play for Georgia Southern on Wednesday, so he could continue playing with them at the next level if he becomes an Eagle.

While Wake Forest hasn’t had the recent success of the other two schools, the Demon Deacons are in the ACC, one of the Power Five conferences, which as of last August have autonomy and are allowed to give certain perks to student-athletes that others outside the Power Five can’t give.  Also, the competition in the ACC includes the likes of Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Clemson, a team in Colburn’s home state.

That competition would also include Louisville.  Wake Forest and Louisville, in fact, are in the same division, so they play in football every year.  When asked by WLTX about the possibility of playing Louisville, Colburn added that Marshall also plays the Cardinals next year, but playing them every year and potentially competing against them for conference championships could be too good to pass up, particularly if Colburn is one for revenge.

In the recruiting class that signed on Wednesday, Wake Forest is ranked highest out of these three, at 53rd, according to 247sports.com, which is also the highest class ranking in school history.  Marshall’s class ranks 74th, while Georgia Southern is 95th.

The Crystal Ball feature on 247sports.com predicts the landing spot for recruits, as various contributors to the site vote on where they believe the player will commit.  Both writers who voted on Colburn predicted him to pick Wake Forest.

This story has fascinated me over the last few days, although not in a good way.  Louisville treating a student-athlete like this regarding the biggest decision of his life so far is absolutely mind-boggling, and is a hard story to watch.  Colburn was quoted by The State as saying “I felt lost and hopeless” after Louisville notified him of their decision, and rightfully so.

The entry of Wake Forest (a team I happen to pull for) into Colburn’s recruitment also piqued my interest, although getting a recruit to come play for my team, should he commit to Wake, would only be the personal silver lining for a horrible situation I will still wish had never happened.  I also have some level of interest in stories involving Dutch Fork, as I have a couple of friends who graduated from the school, including one who vaguely knows Colburn, and called him a “nice guy”.

Recruiting in college football is an extremely competitive business, as coaches understand a good recruiting job makes winning much easier, as getting better players to attend your school generally makes your team better.

That being said, there are sometimes crooked things that happen in recruiting, as schools violate NCAA rules, hoping not to get caught, or even do everything within the rules but bend the truth to make their school or program sound better than it really is.

Here, the case of a horribly timed recruiting decision by a perennially competitive program, which unexpectedly changed the course of a young man’s life, both on and off the football field, was more than crooked.

This case shows recruiting can be much worse than crooked.  Here, it was just nasty.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, February 11, Colburn signed with Wake Forest.

Editor’s Note: Keith Olbermann is one of the more polarizing figures at ESPN, and the SportsCenter anchor turned MSNBC political analyst turned ESPN2 talk show host has a segment on his show known as “World’s Worst Person in Sports” where he names someone who has, in his mind, acted negatively in the sports world.  For Thursday’s segment, he chose Bobby Petrino, based on his treatment of Colburn.  Here is the video, with the part about Petrino starting at about 1:50 (although the first part of the video is somewhat humorous regarding other topics).

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5 thoughts on “The Nasty Side of Recruiting

  1. Hey man. Another great article. Thanks for sharing. I hadn’t heard about it. Hope you are doing well.

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. It seems like the NCAA should not allow something like this to happen. Aren’t they about protecting the students?

  3. Pingback: Stiles on Sports’ Best of 2015 | Stiles On Sports

  4. Pingback: Column: “WakeyLeaks” Is Disgusting–And Far From Over | Stiles On Sports

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