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Robert Nkemdiche shocked the recruiting world when he committed to Clemson on June 14. Yet few were surprised with the nation’s No. 1 player in the class of 2013 changed his mind and turned from the Tigers on Nov. 8.
Matt Rolin picked South Carolina as expected on May 25. Then the linebacker from Virginia caught everyone off-guard Dec. 9 when he flipped his pledge to Florida.
Welcome to the increasingly unpredictable world of recruiting.
The Gamecocks and Tigers will close the books Wednesday on top 25 signing classes, but the journey didn’t come without a few more twists and turns than usual.
A high school football player and a college going separate ways is nothing new. In today’s world, however, a decommitment gets amplified attention with the rise in social media and an increased interest in recruiting news.
A combination of earlier scholarship offers from schools and faster pledges by players is mostly to blame for the breakups, coaches and recruiting analysts say.
“You are going to get more people who are going to decommit because they’re not 100 percent on their decision,” USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “You have kids that are making a decision after their junior year and then they go through their season and see all the attention everybody else is giving them. It’s going to spark their interest. It is the nature of the beast in recruiting right now and the way things have escalated with early commitments.”
Clemson had six decommitments and South Carolina four in this cycle, each for various reasons and with varying levels of drama. One or two broken pledges a year is normal for the state’s two football powerhouses.
Though no one tracks them nationally, analysts agreed that this year’s breakups were more plentiful and publicized than ever.
Nkemdiche’s flirtation with Clemson lasted about five months, and most believe he will sign with Ole Miss today. Fort Valley, Ga., receiver Demarcus Robinson flipped back and forth between Clemson and Florida, committing to the Tigers twice before finally picking the Gators and enrolling there in January.
Rolin, who has a number of family ties to South Carolina, was considered by most to be a lock for the Gamecocks. He changed his commitment to Florida about three weeks after Marietta, Ga., defensive back Brendan Langley flipped from USC to Georgia.
“Going back on my word is something I never imagined myself doing, and it hurts me to do it, but in the end I have to do what’s best for me,” Rolin said via Twitter after his decision to pick the Gators.
The decommitment bug bites everyone, according to national experts, and is likely to be worse next year with NCAA rule changes allowing earlier and unlimited contact with recruits.
“Nobody is immune to it,” said Rivals analyst Mike Farrell. “In the SEC and ACC, you’re never going to be immune to it because it’s so cut-throat. The sooner you get to kids, the sooner you can convince them to make a commitment.”
Tennessee and Auburn each lost a half-dozen or more commitments after coaching changes. Florida had six players depart from its 2013 class. Georgia lost five.
Georgia Tech lost three players in the last week alone.
Alabama and Notre Dame also had decommitments. The Tide lost four players this cycle, including a four-star defensive lineman who changed his pledge to Florida State the same day Alabama beat the Irish for the national championship.
A change of heart can be good news for the home team as well.
Hoschton, Ga., defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin is the highest rated prospect in South Carolina’s recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite index. Griffin originally picked the home-state Georgia Bulldogs.
All five players the Gamecocks pursued the last few weeks are current or one-time commitments to other schools. Daphne, Ala., linebacker Jonathan Walton, who is expected to sign with USC on Wednesday, was once a Penn State pledge.
Fort Myers, Fla., athlete Jayron Kearse and Snellville, Ga., receiver Kyrin Priester each committed to two different schools before eventually picking and sticking with Clemson.
Players nowadays often commit early to secure a spot in a school’s class, and most stick with their pledges. That doesn’t stop athletes – or coaches – from continuing to explore their options.
“When you commit, there isn’t an honor code,” Ward said. “Everybody is going to go after them. If they are visiting, they have a chance to change their mind.”
In the end, schools like South Carolina and Clemson had time to recover from broken pledges. The losses of Nkemdiche, Rolin and others won’t be remembered unless one of them makes a game-changing play against the Gamecocks or Tigers, analysts said.
South Carolina, like most schools, already has its share of verbal offers to players just coming off their freshman, sophomore and junior seasons in high school.
Still, coaches never lost focus on completing the 2013 class even as it was considered all but full before last summer ended, Ward said.
“You know you are going to lose some of them. That’s why you always have to keep recruiting,” Ward said. “We understand as coaches, once a kid is committed, you still have to recruit him until signing day because he’s never yours until you get that fax across that fax machine. That’s everywhere in the country. It’s always been that way.”
GOING SEPARATE WAYS
Player departures were not uncommon at any SEC or ACC school for their 2013 recruiting classes. Commitments are broken for various reasons, including changes of heart, academics or decisions by the schools.
Brendan Langley, DB; Marietta, Ga.
Changed his pledge to home-state Georgia on Nov. 20 after longtime interest in Bulldogs.
Matt Rolin, LB; Ashburn, Va.
Was committed to USC for more than six months before flipping to Florida in December and enrolling there in January.
Kight Dallas, LB; Lithonia, Ga.
USC withdrew a scholarship offer, with reports that it was a performance-based decision. Dallas has since committed to Georgia State.
Alfy Hill, DE; Los Angeles Valley College
Academics derailed the former Alabama signee’s plan to join USC. Hill instead enrolled at UNC-Pembroke near his hometown.
Robert Nkemdiche, DE; Loganville, Ga.
Broke a nearly five-month verbal commitment to Clemson in November. Expected by most to sign with Ole Miss.
Demarcus Robinson, WR; Fort Valley, Ga.
Committed to Tigers twice before finally picking Florida and enrolling there in January.
Elijah Daniel, DE; Avon, Ind.
Reports said Clemson cut ties with him after he took visits to other schools. Committed to Ole Miss.
Ryan Jenkins, WR; Alpharetta, Ga.
Decommitted from Clemson in favor of Tennessee, where his father played.
David Kamara, CB; Loganville, Ga.
Decommitted a few days after teammate Nkemdiche; expected to follow him to same college.
Isaac McDonald, DE; Hialeah, Fla.
Reports said Clemson cut ties with him after he took visits to other schools.
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