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February 7, 2007

Signing Day can press all kinds of buttons

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National Signing Day doesn't necessarily end the suspense of recruiting season.

Sometimes it only heightens the drama.

This is the day when coaches pace by the fax machine in hopes of receiving a letter of intent from each of their verbal commitments. It's the day when many of the nation's top prospects end a yearlong soap opera by announcing where they're headed.

Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron knows the routine as well as anyone.

Orgeron was working as the defensive line coach at Southern California in 2000 when he received a frightening phone call from highly touted defensive end Kenechi Udeze around midnight on the eve of National Signing Day.

"Coach, I have to talk to you,'' Orgeron recalled Udeze telling him. "I'm going to UCLA.''

"Kenechi, WHAT!!'' Orgeron responded.

That led to a heated discussion that even involved Orgeron's spouse.

"My wife was talking to him, and she was getting upset," Orgeron said. "She said, 'Kenechi, what are you doing?' He said, 'Coach, I'm just joking with you.' I said, 'OK, that was your shot. Just wait until I start coaching you.' ''

Udeze went on to tie for the NCAA lead with 16-1/2 sacks in 2003 before getting drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings.

Orgeron's recollection of Udeze's prank call indicates just how crazy recruiting season can get as it heads into its final hours. We've provided a list of some of the wackiest National Signing Day stories to unfold over the last dozen years.

These examples prove that sometimes even the arrival of a letter of intent doesn't end the mystery of who's going where.

The college selection process of offensive lineman Jonathan Colon of Miami Central High in 2000 sparked one of the most perplexing recruiting debates in recent memory.

When a guy signs a letter of intent with two different schools, which letter takes precedence?

Colon sent signed letters of intent to both Miami and Florida, causing the two schools to wrestle over where this 6-foot-7, 300-pound prospect belonged. Colon announced at a news conference on National Signing Day that he'd signed with the Gators, but Miami coach Butch Davis indicated he already had received a signed letter from him.

As it turned out, Colon didn't have to pay for his apparent change of heart.

Miami appeared to have the upper hand in this dispute because the first signed letter of intent is usually binding in these cases. But the Hurricanes gave up their pursuit of Colon after linebacker/running back D.J. Williams an even more highly touted prospect signed with Miami.

Colon didn't qualify academically and spent one year at Bridgton Academy in Maine before going on to earn four letters at Florida.

Mike Anderson should have been one of the most heartwarming stories of his recruiting season.

He didn't even play organized football in high school and instead was a drummer in the marching band. But he rushed for more than 3,000 yards in two years at Mt. San Jacinto Junior College and appeared on his way to earning a scholarship from Missouri.

That's when fate intervened.

The letter of intent Anderson received from Missouri had someone else's name on it. That convinced Anderson to look elsewhere.

"Anybody who has ever been in that situation, you already know the answer," Anderson told The (Columbia, S.C.) State years later, when he was playing for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. "You want me to come play for you? I don't think so."

Anderson instead signed with Utah and rushed for 2,400 yards in two years with the Utes before moving on to the NFL, where he has spent the last seven seasons with the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens. He earned 1999 Las Vegas Bowl MVP honors after gaining 254 yards in a 17-16 victory over Fresno State.

Ohio State coaches believed they'd just won a major recruiting battle in 1996 when running back Durell Price's letter of intent came through the fax machine.

There was just one problem.

Not all of Price's paperwork had arrived.

"He faxed the cover letter and the basic scholarship information and all that stuff," said Bill Conley, the Ohio State recruiting coordinator at the time. "But when it came time for the signed paper, that never showed up."

Price's signature eventually showed up in another football office thousands of miles away from Michigan.

The hangup with the fax machine gave Price time to reconsider his decision. The native of Pasadena, Calif., changed his mind and sent a letter of intent to UCLA.

This time, the signed paper made it through the fax machine without any problem.

"What we assume happened is his mom convinced him to stay on the West Coast," Conley said. "She wasn't really in favor of him going that far away."

If that's the case, it certainly wouldn't be the only time a parent caused a recruit's last-minute change of opinion.

The problem with Vidal Hazelton's letter of intent last year wasn't a faulty fax machine. Rivals.com's second-ranked receiver in the 2006 recruiting class instead had trouble getting the required parental signature.

Hazelton planned to sign with Southern California, but his father refused to sign the letter of intent. Dexter Hazelton wanted his son to reconsider Penn State, which would have been much closer to their home in Staten Island, N.Y.

The drawn-out process didn't end until Hazelton finally submitted a signed letter of intent to Southern California on Feb. 23 three weeks after National Signing Day.

"Vidal wanted to go there," Dexter Hazelton told Rivals.com that day. "And I could tell from his visit to Penn State that he'd be happier at Southern Cal."

During that interview, the elder Hazelton also explained the reason why he hadn't signed the letter earlier in the month.

"I just felt Vidal wasn't sure," Dexter Hazelton said. "He had changed his mind so much throughout the process and even in the days leading up, so I wanted him to prove to me that he wanted to go there. To his credit, he was patient and dealt with it all well, but it was clear that USC was his favorite."

Hazelton caught just one pass as a freshman, but the Trojans are counting on him next season to help the receiving corps offset the losses of Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.

The Hazelton case brought back memories of a similar recruiting story that occurred five years earlier.

Wide receiver Chavez Donnings of Butler County Community College submitted a letter of intent to Kansas State that reportedly didn't include a parent's signature. He later signed with South Carolina and ended up playing for the Gamecocks.

Quarterback C.J. Leak's decision to sign with Wake Forest instead of Notre Dame several years ago surprised many recruiting gurus.

It turns out his decision also surprised officials at his own high school.

Jeremy Crabtree, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, remembers how the events of that National Signing Day decision led to a major swing of emotion for Notre Dame fans.

"We made a telephone call that morning to the athletic director of his high school and the athletic secretary," Crabtree said. "They both said he'd signed a letter of intent with Notre Dame that morning.''

A couple of hours later, reports circulated that Leak instead had signed with Wake Forest. Leak later officially announced his plans to play at Wake Forest, where he ran into injury problems before eventually transferring to Tennessee.

"It's one of those things that caught everybody off guard and out of left field,'' Crabtree said. "You had not just one but two people in his high school telling you he'd signed with Notre Dame. That to me goes down as one of the craziest ones."

It soon got even crazier.

Shortly after C.J. announced he would play at Wake Forest, his younger brother also verbally committed to the Deacons as an eighth-grader.

Of course, Chris Leak later changed his mind and went on to spend the last four years as Florida's starting quarterback.

The story of Chris Leak should help coaches and fans keep their emotions under control as they sweat out National Signing Day.

Sure, Leak helped lead the Gators to a national title.

But Wake Forest didn't exactly struggle without him.

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