13-year-old quarterback commits to USC
David Sills says it’s always been his dream to play football at USC, and good for him that new coach Lane Kiffin is fulfilling it by offering him a scholarship. The catch is that Sills can’t use it for another five years, what with him only being in the seventh grade.
I mean, you hear of kids graduating early so they can go to spring practice before their freshmen year, but I’m not sure Sills can finish his high school courses before the end of junior high.
Sills is a 6-foot, 145-pound seventh-grader who is, presumably, talented, and also well-known within the youth sports-industrial complex. Kiffin heard of the Delaware native when he got a tape from Steve Clarkson, a quarterback guru who students have included current USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who started last season as a freshman (slacker). From the Los Angeles Times:
Clarkson said he phoned Kiffin on Thursday to inform him that one of his pupils, Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Max Wittek, had received a scholarship offer from Florida.
“While we were talking, I said, ‘I’m going to give you the scoop on a kid,’ ” Clarkson said.
Clarkson told Kiffin that the 6-foot, 145-pound Sills might be better than Clausen or Barkley, who started 12 games for USC in 2009. Then he instructed Kiffin to watch a video of Sills on his website.
“He calls back . . . after going through all the NCAA stuff, and says, ‘I’m prepared to offer this a kid a scholarship right now. Will he commit?’ ” Clarkson said.
I don’t know if this is THE highlight tape Clarkson sent Kiffin, but Clarkson did put together this Sills highlight video.
By the way, this is not the first time Lane Kiffin’s name has been linked to a barely-into-puberty commitment. In his one year at Tennessee, Kiffin offered a scholarship to 13-year-old quarterback/safety Evan Berry, whose father and brother had also played at the school. While he was an assistant at USC, Kiffin made an offer to a then freshman-in-high-school-quarterback — Barkley, who by happenstance will be Kiffin’s starting quarterback now that he’s back at USC.
Current Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, while head coach at Wake Forest, offered a scholarship to quarterback Chris Leak when he was in the eighth grade. And it’s not just football. In 2008, Kentucky’s then-head basketball coach, Billy Gillespie, made waves by offering a full ride to California eighth-grader Michael Avery.
As ridiculous as recruiting pint-sized prospects sounds, I understand how it happens. For the school, it gets an early lock on an elite athlete, well before anyone else even thinks of recruiting him. For the athlete, the offer amounts to a sure thing that, in theory, will keep other coaches at bay and let them develop in less of a recruiting hothouse.
Of course, nothing ever really goes as planned. Leak decommitted from Wake Forest after his older brother, recruited in a naked attempt to get Leak himself, transferred. (Leak ended up at Florida.) When Gillespie was fired after the 2008-09 season, Avery decommitted, enrolled in a private high school in Florida, joined an AAU team in Indiana, and put himself back on the open market. (No word yet on whether Berry changed his mind after Kiffin left Tennessee for USC.)
There’s always the risk, too, that the athlete doesn’t develop as expected, or gets hurt. Leak was a star at Florida, but he topped out at six feet — not an elite size for a quarterback. Sills’ highlight tape looks great, but until a letter of intent is offered and signed, Kiffin can pull his offer at any time if Sills doesn’t grow much more, or breaks his arm, or develops a drug habit, or whatever peril can happen in the next five years.
But these early, early commitment go a long way toward explaining why you can find lists of the best fourth-grade basketball players in the nation. For competitive reasons, coaches are compelled to scout, and project, younger and younger players.
By the way, the NCAA followed Avery’s early commitment by, in early 2009, declaring seventh- and eighth-graders male basketball players “prospective athletes,” meaning schools could not recruit them. There is no indication yet that the same clamps will be put on football coaches.