In middle school, I came home one evening in the midst of a chronic shoe phase, when, for strange, stupid reasons, most adolescent boys become enamored with $150 Nike sneakers.
It was wintertime, and an EastBay catalogue had been delivered in that day’s mail, packaged between utility bills and awkward postcards from relatives whose names still escape me.
I flashed the catalogue in my mom’s direction, but almost immediately, she continued with her normal routine after casting me a quick glance at me that couldn’t have amounted to more than a spare second.
I never got those hightops.
You see, the shoes were supposed to make me fast. They were supposed to give me the speed needed to become a coveted three-sport letterman in high school, who all college programs would subsequently drool over.
It didn’t work out that way. I’m still scouring for the right pair.
National Signing Day proved to be a sobering reminder as to what I missed out on.
While I was dozing off in lecture, 17-and 18-year-old high school football players were faxing letters of intent to college programs nationwide; some even making highly publicized and, in some cases, televised announcements of what school they would attend.
Again, if I had the shoes, I would have been one of Rivals.com’s prized five-star recruits. Still, everybody else seems to be getting the attention these days.
Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandijo from Hyattsville, Maryland, received hundreds of Facebook notifications from Alabama and Auburn fans attempting to sway him to sign with their schools of choice. One day, the girl from my English class posted on my wall, wishing me a happy birthday.
Last week, Kouandijo also received 2,500 text message in a span of 24 hours — likely from Alabama and Auburn fans, as well. Usually, my mom sends me texts; they often read: “how r u?”
Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall recruit according to Rivals, is predicted to be “all-conference multiple times.” I’m still trying to think of anyone who has ever predicted me to be “all-anything.”
When once-USC-commit De’Anthony Thomas visited Oregon on a recruiting trip, he spoke with multiple University of Oregon and Nike officials. When I shop at a Foot Locker, I’m lucky if I can find a guy in a referee t-shirt.
Georgia running back prospect Isaiah Crowell announced his decision to sign with Georgia live on ESPNU, while holding a bulldog puppy. Of course, I’ve always longed to commit to a college football team (say USC), with the school’s mascot (say Traveler) by my side.
And remember, no matter what school any of these players commits to, he’ll be greeted by hundreds of fans and passersby, who say either “Roll Tide,” “Hook ‘em” or “Fight on.” Sometimes, I get a head nod from a freckle-faced engineering kid outside the library.
But you know, maybe all the attention isn’t a good thing. Just maybe, the bright lights, constant praise and total disregard for privacy are the culmination of a process that has not only become an over the top, self-promotional celebration for high school players but also, potentially even more damaging, has become an event that brings out the worst in fans.
When Thomas spurned USC for Oregon after eight months of being committed to the Trojans, he quickly became the subject of multiple message boards posts suggesting the Los Angeles native was lured north because of Nike’s sphere of influence. In other words, fans speculated that the Ducks had bought the Crenshaw tailback, and in turn, he had turned his back upon his friends, family, and of course, USC.
Thomas offered a simpler explanation at a press conference announcing his signing:
“I felt comfortable in Eugene,” he said.
For better or for worse, Thomas, much like Kouandijo and others, has become so highly sought-after these days that he has become a mini-celebrity, driving fans to the point of madness.
For perspective, Kouandijo is a 17-year-old high school senior, and in the days centering around his decision to pick a university to attend, thousands of people living thousands of miles away sent him messages in an attempt to sway him to a certain school. He’s never met any of them.
It’s only fair to wonder whether such attention is particularly healthy to begin with. A majority of the messages received weren’t exactly welcoming either.
In the moments after faxing his letter of intent to Alabama on Saturday, hundreds of fans took to Kouandijo’s Facebook wall, to vent their frustration over the offensive lineman’s decision to turn down a scholarship offer from reigning BCS national champion Auburn. One post read “Boys need people to make decisions for them. Men know how to make their own decisions. You, my friend are a boy.” Another put it more plainly: “Go Die.”
Maybe it was best that I never got those shoes.
“The 19th Hole” runs Mondays. To comment on this article e-mail Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.