Someway, somehow, Oregon has found itself involved in two of the more bizarre recruiting situations in recent memory.
The first was the sad saga of Kevin Hart, the Nevada lineman who fooled everyone into thinking he was choosing between California and Oregon in 2008.
A news conference was called at his school, where -- with his teammates, teachers, friends and family looking on -- he “chose” to play his football at Cal over the Ducks.
Except neither school had offered … or had even recruited him.
Three years later, one of the most stealth official visits in the history of recruiting, especially in this day and age of Twitter and Facebook, took place in Eugene.
DeAnthony Thomas, the top player in the West in the class of 2011, took an official trip to Oregon. But no one knew about it.
Jake Fisher, a four-star offensive tackle from Michigan, was also in Eugene that weekend on his own official visit. When Scout.com asked him how the trip went, he replied simply: “Visited. Have not committed, and I was the only one there.”
Fisher was in on Thomas’ secret visit.
Were it not for a sighting of Thomas -- the player named the “Black Mamba” by folks in Los Angeles -- at the Los Angeles International Airport, the message boards, Twitter and the recruiting universe would have never known he was in Eugene.
Thomas was close to making it through the visit unseen by anyone who would know.
Instead, in the three days following, all the recruiting world was abuzz about the potential that the Mamba would switch his longtime verbal from USC to Oregon.
Eventually on Signing Day -- long after the fax machines were unplugged in athletic departments across the country, hours after Oregon head coach Chip Kelly had his Signing Day news conference -- Thomas emerged in the auditorium at Crenshaw High covered head-to-toe in Oregon gear. He would announce what many Trojan fans feared and what many Duck fans hoped -- that he had signed with Oregon.
On one hand, one player no one knew about made a decision everyone got to know about. On the other hand, the player EVERYONE knew about made a decision nearly no one got to know.
Thomas’ decision was just one of many great storylines from the 2011 class. Cyrus Kouandjio, who was ranked one spot ahead of Thomas in the final Scout.com Rankings for 2011 -- at No. 2 nationally -- announced on national television on Signing Day that he would be signing with Auburn.
Newly crowned national champion Gene Chizik waited for Kouandjio’s faxed letter-of-intent to come through. And waited. And waited.
A few days later, the letter-of-intent ended up in Alabama … Tuscaloosa, though, not Auburn. Nick Saban, who had signed Kouandjio’s brother a year before, ultimately received the letter -- and the services -- of the five-star tackle.
Torian White was a longtime commit to UCLA. On Signing Day in 2011, he stunned everyone by picking a USC hat on Fox Sports West. The reaction of White’s younger brother was one of shock. Driving home from the studio, White had a change of heart and called then-UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel and told him he’d be signing with UCLA after all.
Dipping back into time, Eric Dickerson, who had a star-crossed
career off the field but a productive one on it at SMU, chose the Mustangs on Signing Day in 1979
over Texas A&M, where he was seemingly a lock. Controversy followed his decision after his dramatic change, but the Mustangs stole a stone-cold-lock from the Aggies.
Ricky Williams spurned John Robinson and USC, fresh off a win at the
Cotton Bowl, by picking John Mackovic and Texas in 1995. Williams thought he'd see
the field earlier and often in Austin than he would at USC. His decision paid
off. While USC would win a Rose Bowl in Williams' four years, they would
also miss a bowl in two of them. Williams, on the other hand, would win
the 1998 Heisman Trophy for the Longhorns under first-year head coach Mack Brown.
What kinds of surprises can we expect in 2012?
So far, prior to Signing Day, we saw the commitment, decommitment, commitment, no-show and enrollment of the nation’s No. 1 quarterback, Gunner Kiel.
Who can forget the reaction of Landon Collins’ mom when the nation’s No. 2 safety chose Alabama during the UnderArmour All-America Game? His announcement was much to the chagrin of his mother, who wanted her son to stay in his home state of Louisiana and play for LSU (and no doubt, the BCS Championship Game made it even more awkward around the house).
If the past is an indicator of the future, Wednesday should be full of plenty of intriguing, and surprising, storylines that recruitniks will be talking about for years.