Less than a week ago, most people were praising Lane Kiffin’s recruiting tactics after, according to Rivals.com, he signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. That praise may have been a bit premature.
It was reported Thursday that the new USC football coach spoke to 13-year-old star quarterback David Sills, a seventh-grade student at Red Lion Christian Academy in Bear, Del., about coming to Southern California to play college football in 2015. Kiffin offered Sills a scholarship, and the young teenager, a lifelong USC fan, verbally committed to sign with the Trojans after his high school graduation in five years.
Nobody can blame Sills for committing. It has been his dream to play for the Trojans in the Coliseum since he was a little boy — a littler boy, that is. But Kiffin seems to have stepped outside his recruiting boundaries by reaching down to a middle school student-athlete, who should be more concerned with conquering Guitar Hero than committing to a college football program.
Kiffin first heard about the young phenom through his Southern California buddy Steve Clarkson. The quarterback guru, who was instrumental in developing big-time talent such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Barkley, told Kiffin that Sills was extremely special for his age.
“I first saw it with Jimmy Clausen. If there was a LeBron James in football, Jimmy Clausen would be the one. Then Matt Barkley was sort of second,” Clarkson said. “[Sills] is so unique. I thought he was the Tiger Woods of his position.”
Now, I don’t know how confident I would be in someone who compares Clausen to LeBron James (I also don’t think Tiger Woods references are the best ones to throw around these days). But Kiffin took Clarkson’s word and was impressed after watching footage of the seventh grader. The agreement took place when Sills called Kiffin Thursday evening.
On paper, it all looks great. Sills is projected to be 6-foot-5 with a strong build and currently possesses a power arm with precision accuracy. He’s got great footwork in the pocket, and apparently he’s already breaking down NFL defensive schemes — everything a coach could want in a seventh grader. And Kiffin played by the rules. All he did was offer a scholarship to a young kid at his dream school and ensure an early start on USC’s 2015 recruiting class.
But recruiting a kid that young does leave a sour taste in my mouth, and I hope this doesn’t start a nationwide trend among college football programs.
First of all, I think it’s impossible to project how a 13-year-old quarterback will play when he is 18, but that’s beside my point. Kids that young shouldn’t have to worry about the pressures of being approached by college recruiters or dealing with media coverage like that which has followed Sills since Thursday. They shouldn’t have to make a decision on where they want to play college football five years down the road or deal with the hype that is sure to follow Sills throughout his high school playing days and into college, whether he attends USC or not.
They also shouldn’t have to deal with the expectations that will be placed on a player like Sills in every football game he plays from here forward. If he throws an interception or makes a bad read, scrutiny is sure to follow.
USC hecklers resound nationwide.
Kids that young should only worry about one thing: being kids. Choosing a college destination is an adult decision. I had no idea where I wanted to attend college when I was 13 years old. In fact, I wasn’t even sure where I wanted to attend high school. I was more concerned about trying to get into an R-rated movie or finding a ride to my friend’s house. No life-changing decisions there. And that’s the way it should be.
My biggest fear is that Kiffin’s early-recruiting method might trickle down even further. Coaches are encouraged to track prospects beginning their junior year of high school. If Kiffin has reached all the way down to seventh grade however, who’s to say how young is too young? Are 12-year-olds too young to recruit? What about 10-year-olds? That tall 8-year-old looks promising.
Recruiting should be kept at the high school level not because it benefits the programs but because it benefits the kids. Young people should be able to enjoy an easygoing — carefree lifestyle as long as they can before it starts to slowly disappear as each year passes and responsibilities pile on.
If approached by a college recruiter, of course a 13-year-old teenager would be excited and want to commit, and coaches know that.
But a teenager should never be put in that situation. A 13-year-old boy or girl should be able to go out and have fun playing sports before being an athlete becomes a job.
Who knows what will happen in five years? Maybe Sills will officially sign with USC. Maybe he won’t. Maybe Lane Kiffin will still be coaching at USC. Maybe he won’t. And maybe football recruiters will understand they should leave kids alone. Then again, maybe they won’t.
“Soft Hands” runs on Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.