Cameron Wire plans to give his mother, Kecia, a special Christmas gift this year.
It is a letter — a national letter of intent to attend LSU.
“It’s a big deal,” said Wire, the East Ascension High offensive tackle. “She doesn’t have to drive too far to see me play. We stay 25 minutes away from LSU.”
Wire joins thousands of high school seniors Wednesday in making their commitments binding deals in the inaugural early national signing period.
Six days before Christmas, prospects will carry out an act normally reserved for the first Wednesday in February. A good many coaches, meanwhile, will monitor the action while between bowl practices and team meetings. Throughout the nation, high schools will conduct signing ceremonies, and colleges will hold signing news conferences. At LSU, the program plans a four-hour signing show streaming live online.
In so many ways, Wednesday will look and feel like the same old signing days of years past, with the fax machines churning out signed letters.
However, the early date — and the fact there are two signing periods — is all new for college football.
“That’s what makes this so interesting. So many unknown variables,” said Tom Luginbill, a recruiting reporter and college football sideline analyst for ESPN.
“Right now, 70 percent of the ESPN 300 is verbally committed to a school. Do all 70 percent sign?” he continued. “How do you account for silent commits? How do you account for kids that are verbally committed but are still taking visits? Do they sign? So many different ways for things to go. Nobody knows how it’s going to play out.”
Donte Jackson’s phone is always active, just like most 22-year-olds in this digital-savvy world.
Prospects have a 72-hour period to sign, starting at midnight Dec. 20 and ending at midnight of Dec. 23. Players are still allowed to sign during the traditional national signing day, this year on Feb. 7.
This has led to the unpredictability of it all — sign or wait?
Most recruiting experts expect commitments to sign with the schools in which they’ve verbally pledged, leaving the last six weeks of the recruiting calendar as a fight for a handful of highly-touted players. LSU and coach Ed Orgeron are expecting to have most, if not all, of their 20 commitments sign early.
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Those who don’t sign early may miss their chance, some believe.
“Every coach I talk to, they’re telling kids point blank: ‘If you’re committed to us and taking other visits, we’re not assuming you’re going to sign with us,’ ” Luginbill said.
Orgeron and his staff have addressed this issue with their commitments.
“We are telling them the pros and cons. It’s their choice,” Orgeron said. “We feel like many of our guys will sign. Signing Day is going to come, and I’m sure there will be some surprises.”
Shea Dixon, a recruiting reporter for 247Sports.com, describes LSU’s current class as being “tight” with numbers. Schools are strictly mandated to a limit of 25 signees per class. The Tigers are within five of that mark in mid-December and may add to it next week.
Two uncommitted, highly-recruited prospects plan to announce and sign during the 72-hour early signing period. Parkway High’s Terrace Marshall, the top-ranked receiver in the nation, will choose between Texas, LSU, Texas A&M and Florida State on Dec. 22. Houston cornerback Anthony Cook is picking among Texas, Ohio State and LSU on Dec. 20.
Conceivably, LSU could head into the final stretch before the traditional signing day with 22 signees. More realistic might be 18-20, Dixon said.
Having 70-80 percent of a class signed before Christmas sets up a clearer picture for coaches.
“It opens up the window to see how many scholarships you have left, what positions you need to fill,” Orgeron said. “The last part of recruiting is going to be more junior recruiting (2019 prospects) for us and targeting the big-time guys who haven’t signed yet.”
KJ Malone isn't healthy enough to play this week if LSU had a game, he said, but he’s hoping to be ready in three weeks.
For guys like Evangel Christian Academy coach Byron Dawson, the early signing period means planning ceremonies in a half-empty school. Dec. 20 is Evangel’s final school day before Christmas break. School lets out at noon.
“February was always a good time. That’s the staple,” Dawson said. “You always know February as national signing day. It’s going to take some getting used to.”
It is not completely unlike ceremonies for mid-year enrollees. Two of Dawson’s three 2018 LSU commitments plan to enroll in school in January, he said: inside linebacker Micah Baskerville and defensive tackle Davin Cotton.
The school would have normally held ceremonies to celebrate their departures. Evangel safety ArDarius Washington, not enrolling at the mid-year, will now be included, as he plans to sign with LSU early, Dawson said.
An unwelcomed surprise could await some of these signees, said Luginbill: assistant coaching changes.
It is no secret that many head coaches wait to make significant staff moves after February’s signing day. That happened in Baton Rouge last year. Running backs coach Jabbar Juluke and receivers coach Dameyune Craig were dismissed from the staff a day after the 2017 signing day.
Next weekend could bring a slew of staff shuffling.
“Don’t be surprised if you see a bunch of staff changes after the kids already sign,” Luginbill said. “I’m interested to see how kids respond now that it’s real. The kids have been holding all the cards, and now coaches are putting their feet to the fire. That coaching staff is going to tell that kid, ‘If you aren’t signing, we’re replacing you.’”
Already the early signing period is having an obvious impact on the coaching carousel. Head coaching searches over the past three weeks have been swifter than normal, and the same goes for assistants. At LSU, for instance, the Tigers found a replacement for offensive line coach Jeff Grimes on the same day in which news of his exit emerged.
“The coaching carousel is going to spin a lot faster,” Dixon said. “About 60-80 percent of prospects will have been signed by Dec. 22.”
One of those will be Wire, a top 30 tackle nationally who committed over the summer. He has no doubts he’ll sign on the dotted line next week. After all, why wait?
“I feel like I made the right move committing to the Tigers,” he said. “It’s the right step to take. Why not shut it down and be a Tiger on Dec. 20?”
LSU commitments (20)
Nat. position rank^
DE Jarell Cherry
ILB Micah Baskerville #
OT Badara Traore #
Hyde Park, Maryland (ASA College-N.Y.)
DT Chasen Hines
Marshall, Texas (Marshall)
DT Davin Cotton
WR Kenan Jones
RB Chris Curry
Lehigh Acres, Florida (Leehigh)
ILB Damone Clark
Baton Rouge (Southern Lab)
WR Jaray Jenkins
DE Travez Moore
Bastrop (Copiah-Lincoln CC-Miss.)
DT Dare Rosenthal
OT Cameron Wire
Gonzales (East Ascension)
OC Cole Smith #
Pontotoc, Mississippi (Pontotoc)
DT Dominic Livingston
Houston (Aldine Davis)
TE Zach Sheffer #
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida (Nease)
DT Nelson Jenkins
ATH Tae Provens #
Gurley, Alabama (MadisonCounty)
S ArDarius Washington
ATH Dantrieze Scott
OG Damien Lewis
Canton, Mississippi (NW Miss. CC-Miss.)