Sanders cautions commits

AUSTIN, Texas -- Mario Edwards Jr. is verbally committed to Florida State. For now.

What he'll do on Feb. 1 when national signing day arrives is anyone's guess. Texas fans are buzzing that they still have a chance. LSU thinks it's now a dark-horse candidate. And Florida State's coaches are holding on for dear life.

That's about how much commitments are worth these days. Look at Gunner Kiel, whose plans to become LSU's next quarterback lasted 20 days. Suddenly he's now a freshman at Notre Dame.

All par for the course, right? Some will say that these high school kids with lots of gold stars and expectations need to stop being so flaky, pick a school and stick to their word.

Kendall Sanders (Athens, Texas/Athens) knows these misconceptions well. The Texas receiver commit understands where they come from. He's not exactly proud of the fact he decommitted from Oklahoma State in November.

"We'd built up a real close relationship. We trusted each other, and I broke that," he said solemnly. "It was hard. But you have to do what you have to do."

Sanders' story is a rather common one for big-time recruits. He got an offer from OSU. His parents told him not to jump too early. They urged him to keep looking around. He didn't listen and gave his pledge last February.

The other recruiters didn't back down, and eventually Sanders starting having regrets. He tried to do the honorable thing by formally decommitting from the Cowboys, instead of reopening his recruitment behind their coaches' backs.

"I wasn't really talking to other schools when I was committed to Oklahoma State," he said. "I had told them I was going to make sure this was the right school for me. When I started looking around at the other options I had, I knew I wanted to stay in Texas and needed to go to school in Texas."

The OSU coaches weren't happy. Sanders hated to disappoint them. His parents raised him on three fundamental values: Stay hungry, honest and humble. He took very seriously the meaning of backing out of his pledge.

When Texas finally offered him a scholarship in November during an official visit, he had a lot of thinking to do.

Sanders dug deep. He prayed. He listened to his parents. His coach gave advice he still hasn't forgotten: "You can make your bed with nails or with feathers, but you're gonna have to sleep in it."

Other schools were frantically pursuing him too. Sanders got offers or serious interest from Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor. Friends had advice. Friends' parents did, too. And the fan bases? They let him know how they felt on Facebook and Twitter -- especially the spurned ones from Stillwater.

So Sanders can sympathize with Edwards' dilemma. Being the most highly sought recruit in the country might not seem like a bad thing, but it's undoubtedly stressful. Sanders doesn't blame assistant coaches for their aggressive pursuit of committed kids, either.

"If you really love that kid, I think you should go after him hard," he said. "Just because he's committed doesn't mean he's made his mind up already, or he would've told you that. Us teenagers, we're 17 and 18. We really don't make good decisions all the time on the first try."

Mesquite Horn coach Rodney Webb was reminded of that last week. Even he was surprised when Horn four-star cornerback De'Vante Harris announced on Twitter that he'd decommitted from Oklahoma and then picked Texas A&M on Monday.

"This is an almost annual deal that we have," Webb said. "It's not my favorite part of my job, I'll put it to you that way."

But as much as he doesn't like to see his kids go back on their word, Webb doesn't think it's fair to assign all the blame to the teenagers.

"It's one of the ugly sides of college football," he said. "I think there are a lot of people to blame for the setup being the way it is right now. I don't know that there's any kid who's really equipped emotionally to handle the pressure that gets put on them by college coaches.

"And I totally understand college coaches have to do it, but again, it's just kind of a dirty deal. They have a lot of pressure and stress put on them. They're getting tugged in different directions."

The coaches are pressured to snag the best recruits before their rivals do. The kids are pressured to commit as early as possible. Many coaches play games or put expiration dates on offers to force quick decisions.

And the kids who do pick a school before their senior year have a lot of time to wonder if they've made the right choice.

"It's a love-fest now, this recruiting game," Webb said. "It's handshakes and pats on the back and people telling you how good you are, how important you are to them and how bad they want you. You take those recruiting visits and you get treated like a king. For those kids who are early commits, they miss out on all that stuff."

Edwards certainly hasn't. He's taken many visits and soon will get visits from coaches from Florida State, Texas and LSU, who will come to his home to make their final pitches. But Edwards also is quick to point out that he has never decommitted, and despite it all, his word is still good.

Sanders spent time with Edwards during UT's banquet weekend. Hung around him a lot, actually. He thinks he knows what the No. 1 defensive end in the nation will do when he reaches the finish line.

"I think he'll stay with his school," Sanders said. "He loved Texas. We had a good time up there on his visit. But I think he'll probably stay with his school."

And though he'd love to play with him, Sanders wouldn't blame Edwards. Forget the scorn, the critics, the recruiters. These days, a recruit has to do what a recruit has to do.

"And it don't really mean nothing," Sanders said. "Until you sign on the dotted line."

Max Olson covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation.
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