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August 22, 2021

The Broken Promise from College Coaches

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Written 4/2/2021

Edited by Jaime Evers

Recruiting is about choices – where a student-athlete wants to spend the next four years going through strenuous workouts and practices, navigating demanding coursework, and rising to meet and exceed lofty expectations. However, unfortunately for Ronnie, it was about ultimatums, deceit, and false leverage.

Success in High School

Ronnie was a standout high school football player in Washington, DC. He played at two high schools during his four years, the second of which being the Maret School, a small, private school with an enrollment of less than 700 students. Neither of Ronnie’s schools had very large football teams, but that did not stop him from excelling on the field and putting himself in position to play at the Division I level.

Coming from a rough area in DC, Ronnie wanted more than anything to leave his hometown to play college football. His first high school, where he spent his freshman and sophomore years, had less than desirable facilities. It had no football field – Ronnie and his teammates had to travel for practice – and no library or computer lab.

Being Noticed by Colleges

Despite these limitations, Ronnie still landed an unofficial visit to Wagner College, his first Division I visit, at the end of his freshman year. He was starting to get noticed, and his recruiting letters from Division I schools began to increase even more during his sophomore year.

Recruiting slowed down a little once he transferred to Maret, his second high school, but not for long. During his junior season, Ronnie averaged three coaches a day coming to see his talent for themselves, the first of which was from the University of Virginia.

“They requested my transcript,” Ronnie said. “Basically, it’s kind of a soft offer, which was…if everything checks out, then I’ll get the offer that weekend or whatever.”

Related school ratings: Wagner College, University of Virginia

Not Offered Due to Size

Ronnie’s size at the time worked against him with the coaches from Virginia, and they ultimately ended up not offering him due to his size. With a year left to play high school football, though, Ronnie was confident that he would grow bigger, become even more skilled, and earn even more Division I offers.

That’s exactly what he did.

By the end of his junior season, Ronnie had amassed four Division I offers from Old Dominion, Navy, Elon, and Hampton, and he had caught the eyes of coaches at his eventual alma mater as well.

Related school ratings: Old Dominion, Navy, Elon, Hampton

Dreams to Play in College

If there was anything that Ronnie knew he wanted, it was to play defensive lineman in college. He had been a starter on both sides of the football field in high school due to necessity and talent, but he knew that he wanted to spend the next four years of his athletic career pressuring quarterbacks and dominating the line of scrimmage.

After an impressive performance at Navy’s football camp, Ronnie had earned a scholarship offer on the spot. His recruiting coach, however, was an offensive coach, so he earned offers from Navy as both an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman. Other schools made similar offers, and some offered him scholarships at just one of the two positions, but Ronnie was adamant and upfront with his desire to play defensive line in college.

After doing some research about his now-alma mater, which offered him a scholarship early in his senior season, Ronnie decided to take an official visit—his only one of his entire recruiting process. He went into the weekend away from home under the impression that he was being recruited to be a defensive lineman. He was never shy about communicating that with his coaches, and he thought that the men recruiting him understood that.

The Official Visit

Expecting an official visit weekend similar to Jesus Shuttlesworth’s in He Got Game, Ronnie was a bit let down, but still had a good time touring campus, seeing facilities, meeting players, and, of course, talking with coaches alongside his parents. At the end of the weekend, though, things escalated quickly.

When the end of the official visit weekend came, the coaches brought every recruit in for one last meeting. Suddenly, Ronnie and his fellow recruits heard the first bomb drop.

“If you’ve committed already, you can get up and leave the room.”

After that, roughly ten young men remained in the room. The coaches expressed their hopes that the recruits had enjoyed themselves and that they knew that the players had important decisions to make. Before long, the next bomb came.

“If you guys don’t commit, then we’re gonna have to open up your scholarship offers to someone else.”

The Pressure to Commit

With his parents, Ronnie went into a smaller meeting with the head coach and with his position coach. He had had doubts about the school being so far away from home, and he had also been in contact with the University of Pittsburgh coaches. Being an ACC-level defensive lineman sounded like a dream to him, and so he did not want to go all in so quickly.

That’s when the coaches pulled out all the stops.

“If you go FBS, then you’ll be a number,” they said.

“You’ve already been to smaller schools.”

“You don’t want to be a little fish in a big pond, you want to be a big fish in a little pond.”

The words were flying all over the place trying to convince Ronnie that the best thing for him was to stay in a smaller school environment where he’d be able to have more personal relationships with the people he was working with. For him, though, he envisioned something different.

Something Was Off

Having gone to school with players like Trevon Diggs, current cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys, Ronnie had always envisioned that lifestyle. He wanted the big school experience, the trash bags full of gear for his family to wear, the glitz and the glamour. He didn’t see that here; he felt like something was off.

Once again, he was direct with the coaches and told them that he wanted to play defensive lineman in college. They told Ronnie that they understood, that they knew that he could play defensive lineman at the Division I level based on his senior year tape.

The Deal

So they made him a deal.

The terms were simple: Ronnie would be brought in as a defensive lineman, and he would spend the first full week of training camp working with that position and that set of coaches. If things worked out, he would be kept there. If not, he would be an offensive lineman as consolation.

That sounded good to Ronnie. He was confident in his ability to rise to the occasion, he knew his talent, and he was ready to realize his dreams.

But he didn’t commit right then.

The coaches shook hands with Ronnie and his parents and walked them to the door of the building. When they reached the door and Ronnie had not committed yet, the ultimatum came.

The Ultimatum

“Once you step outside this door,” they told him, “we’re gonna open your offer to someone else. And if they take it, they take it.”

Ronnie took a moment with his parents to talk things over. Ronnie was uncertain about committing to the school, and it seemed the coaches shared that sentiment. After all, it was far from home, he wasn’t 100% sold on the school, and he was still waiting to hear back from Pittsburgh.

His parents ended up talking him into committing as a safety net. If everything went according to plan, he’d be offered by Pittsburgh, decommit, and play defensive lineman at the ACC level. It was foolproof, a sure plan to create a win-win scenario.

He committed verbally that day, but made sure not to post anything on Twitter to keep his options open.

Related coach rating: Josh Conklin, Wofford

In an Instant, It All Changed

The next weekend, Ronnie was supposed to take an official visit to Hampton. He knew that he wanted to take an HBCU official visit no matter what, but when he was in the airport, he got a text. It was the coach from Hampton.

Hampton’s coach had seen that Ronnie committed to Wofford—the only issue was that it was never Ronnie who announced his commitment.

“I didn’t know coaches talk,” Ronnie said, “I didn’t know that… I didn’t know that once you commit somewhere, like, it’s going to be freaking message boards going up.”

In the blink of an eye, the offer from Hampton was off the table. All of a sudden, his recruitment was out of his hands.

He went the next few days seeing and overhearing people discussing his commitment to Wofford, and so he ended up tweeting his commitment to Wofford, locking up his recruitment and taking a gamble.

Related school rating: Wofford

All Downhill from There

Ronnie arrived at his eventual alma mater for camp expecting to have his deal with the coaches be honored and to spend a week with the defensive linemen.

He didn’t.

From the very beginning of camp, Ronnie spent every moment working with the offensive linemen. The defensive line coach that he had made a deal with stopped talking to him entirely, and on top of that, Ronnie was completely unaware that it was a supposed tradition for every freshman offensive lineman to redshirt their first year.

Not only had Ronnie been lied to and given ultimatums during his recruiting process, now he knew that he was not going to play despite all of the talk about his talent.

Ronnie had to play scout team defense during his freshman year, but he didn’t give it his all. His lack of complete effort was noticed by the head coach, who pulled him to the side and said the last thing that Ronnie wanted to hear.

“I know you can play defensive line as well as any of our starters,” the coach said. “I’ve seen your film, you could have gone to play defensive line in college.”

Nothing Can Bring Him to Give up His Goals

Ronnie was trapped, and he would go on to play out his time at his alma mater as best he could. He was sidelined multiple times due to injury and concussions, things that he had never experienced during his high school career.

Though Ronnie’s time at the next level was discouraging at times and filled with deception, if he learned nothing else, he learned that nothing, no matter how severe, can bring him to the point of giving up or quitting on his goals.

YOUR JOURNEY STARTS HERE