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February 1, 2005This is a first-person account of the difficulties, stress and fun that an average recruit goes through as they approach signing day. A special thanks goes out to Jason Gwaltney of Long Island (N.Y.) North Babylon for taking us throughout the recruiting process and some of the highs and lows that he experienced on the way to making a final decision which is scheduled for later today on ESPNews.
I guess you could say that my recruitment started officially on Sept. 1 of my junior year. That's when I got my first offer, from West Virginia, and it was the first day that colleges could offer juniors in writing. That offer was followed by a written offer from Boston College, and by the end of my junior season, I had a ton of options already.
Originally, I wanted to get the process over with early because I had heard how crazy it can be. I took a visit with my brother, Scooter (Berry), down to West Virginia in mid-February and we both loved it down there. The coaches were great and the atmosphere was good for football. I liked the way they talked about using me at running back and the fact that Scooter would be in the same backfield with me. I committed and so did he.
When the first Rivals.com rankings came out, I thought I was very much underrated. It bothered me, but I didn't pout about it. I decided to work even harder and show everyone that I belonged at the top of any list. That's the main reason I went to the NIKE Camp at Penn State, because I was already committed and really didn't need any other offers, I just wanted to show what I could do. It changed my ranking a little bit, but I still wasn't near where I wanted to be. It just inspired me more to work harder.
During the summer, I started to wonder if I made the right decision to commit so early to West Virginia. It wasn't anything against West Virginia, but I started to feel like I should compare some things. I officially reopened my recruiting a bit in August and started to schedule some visits during the season. My senior season went well. I think the highlight was probably my 56-carry game, which showed I could carry the football all day long and wear people down. Everyone thinks I'm most proud of my nine-touchdown game, but I think carrying the ball that many times in a game is what sticks out more.
During my senior season, I ran out of the I-Formation a lot more than ever and I liked it. I was also able to show people that I could run out of a pro formation and not just out of a Wing-T. This is when I started to look at the West Virginia offense a little more and started to question how I'd fit in.
I took my first visit to Ohio State, and I really liked it there. The running back situation was good for me and the type of offense they run was a good fit. I waited until after the season to take any others. I visited Central Florida more as a favor to one of my coaches, but one thing coach (George) O'Leary told me down there stuck with me. He said if I was good enough, it didn't matter where I played - the NFL would find me. That still sticks in my head.
After UCF was an official visit to Southern Cal, and I was blown away. I loved it out there. There were a lot of rumors that I committed, and there were even some newspaper reports that I was one of four guys who committed on my visit. I came really close to committing, it was that good. After that visit, I pretty much learned about the "visit high" they talk about. The first couple of days after the visit I was all about USC, but that faded a bit as the week went on. I can see why some recruits commit the day after or during a visit, you get so hyped up. I wanted to play for the Trojans then and there. I did de-commit from West Virginia after the USC visit though, I didn't really consider myself committed to anyone and was pretty confused.
Michigan State was a good visit but not for me and I finished with a visit to West Virginia. West Virginia was a good visit and they were right near the top as always.
The original plan was to announce my decision the week after the All-American Bowl, but I still wasn't sure where I wanted to go coming out of there. I worked even harder after the football season to be ready for the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, so I could prove to everyone that I was a top-100 player. I didn't get as many carries as I would have liked, but I still think I showed what I can do.
I spoke to a lot of recruits down there and got to meet a bunch of new people, and you kind of get caught up in it. You have some kids telling you to go to USC, others to Ohio State and then a new school came into the mix. I called the Boston College coaches down there after I spoke with my roommate, Brian Cushing, about them. They seemed to make sense.
Coaches came to my school and house from Ohio State, USC, West Virginia, Boston College, Penn State and other places. Finally, I narrowed it down to USC and Ohio State and eliminated all the others. It was tough telling West Virginia that I wasn't going there anymore, but they didn't quit. I spoke with Quincy Wilson and coach Rod (Rich Rodriguez) a few days later and I was reminded of all the things I liked about West Virginia. They were back in the mix.
Last week, I had in-home visits with Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel and also spoke to Herb Hand and a few other coaches from West Virginia. I've spent the last few days just trying to figure things out. An article ran on the New York Newsday website saying I was committing to West Virginia and all these things started going through my head. My coach got a call from coach Tressel and I didn't want to have to tell West Virginia it wasn't true just as much as I didn't want to explain to Ohio State and USC that I hadn't committed. I learned a lesson though. The media can really do what they want and not worry about the consequences it seems. I found it hard to know who to trust after that.
So today is the big day, and I'm excited about it. I've enjoyed the process, but it has also been long and stressful. I'm happy to get it over with and I know one group of fans will be excited while others will be disappointed. I think all the schools that recruited me did a great job, but there's only one place for me to go.