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January 30, 2012

Numbers game hurts propsects on the fringe

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Accepting a college scholarship to play football is not only the celebration of an athlete's talent but the culmination of an often years-long process where the high school hot shot figures out which school is best for him.

But for the hundreds of kids who pick up a hats to declare their choice for one school over the others, there are a few who make a selection only to find out a scholarship to that school is no longer available.

It's part of a numbers game that is played every year around National Signing Day, the day high school football players can officially sign Letters of Intent to a particular school.

This weekend, Tevin Shaw of Piscataway (N.J.) High learned the hard truth, just a few days before his big moment.

He had finally decided on Iowa - a school that offered him a scholarship months ago. But when he let the school know, they let him know all of their scholarships were gone, an answer that left Shaw and his coach, Dan Higgins, in shock.

"I am exasperated by the situation," Higgins said. "He had a better season as a senior than he did as a junior. He isn't hurt. He doesn't have any character issues."

He just didn't make up his mind soon enough.

While major colleges will wait for an answer on the top-level, five-star kids, three-star recruits such as Shaw can get lost in the shuffle.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, who has covered the recruiting game for more than a decade, knows it's part of the process.

"Schools run out of room, it happens all the time," he said. "You can't just offer 25 kids to get 25, you have to offer many more and, at times, it's first-come, first-served. There is, of course, a pecking order."

Higgins is no stranger to the scholarship game. He has sent dozens of kids to major colleges, including three who have become first-round NFL draft picks.

"This was a paper offer," Higgins said. "This is a first-team all-state player. This is a kid who could go on and be a Division I wrestler if he wanted to. Now he is left scrambling."

And while he knows schools have a limited number of scholarships, Higgins thought the fact Iowa invited Shaw to take an official visit (all expenses paid by the school) earlier this month meant he was someone for whom they were holding a scholarship.

Especially after the visit.

Shaw took his official visit to the Big Ten school on January 20 and loved it.

"It was better than I expected," Shaw told HawkeyeReport.com following his visit. "I really liked it out there."

Shaw left Iowa feeling great about the time he spent there.

"They just said they need help at running back right now, so it's possible that I could play early," he said. "They said they would love to have me."

That love was short lived as Shaw was told this weekend that his offer was no longer committable.

Higgins was stunned.

"Coach (Darrell) Wilson told us when Tevin got back from his visit that they had seven spots out there for nine players, but that Tevin was in a good spot with them," Higgins said. "I haven't paid too much attention, but I don't think they got seven commitments since Tevin came back."

Iowa has accepted two commitments since Shaw's visit - one at running back from Barkley Hill, an in-state player from Cedar Falls (Iowa) High; and another from Nate Meier, a linebacker from Tabor (Iowa) Fremont Falls.

Higgins understands that this is not a situation exclusive to Shaw, but it's one that he thinks illustrates a larger problem.

"It has become empty promises," he said. "We tell our kids to be men of their word and if you commit you commit and are done. I wish that it was the same way with the schools."

Higgins has coached at Piscataway for 21 years. He has sent many kids to Division I programs, and Piscataway is one of only four high schools to have two players selected in the first round of the same NFL Draft. It's also one of only eight schools to have players selected in the first round of consecutive NFL Drafts.

He also has been on the flip side of this situation, and said he feels equally terrible when kids do not stick to their word.

"When [current NFL lineman] Anthony Davis switched from Ohio State to Rutgers, I was embarrassed," he said. "The coaches at Ohio State have always treated us well, and I didn't like that he changed schools. I don't like that Iowa is now doing that to my guy either."

Farrell said the decision shouldn't be a reflection of Shaw's talent.

"I don't think his offer was pulled by Iowa per se, I just think they ran out of numbers," he said. "(Tevin) wasn't at the top of their priority list."

Higgins and Farrell agree that Shaw is a talented player who is likely to land on his feet.

"He's a D-1 kid, so hopefully someone jumps on board for him," Farrell said. "He is a big, powerful runner who is a one-cut guy with good acceleration and balance. He needs to be in a pro-style offense as he's not a burner, but he's a guy who gets stronger running the ball as the game wears on."

But where?

This episode is just the latest twist in an unusual recruiting process.

Shaw entered his senior year with five offers. The number pushed toward double-digits before it was trimmed to a final few schools. He rushed for 1,596 yards and 24 touchdowns leading his team to its second straight state title. He finished his career with 2,848 yards and 45 touchdowns, setting a new all-time marks at his school.

Higgins called Shaw the best running back he has had at the school but said that the process was narrowing fast for Shaw and that a lot of unfortunate situations had hurt his player.

"He had offers from Akron and UMass, but both schools had coaching changes and the new staff didn't stay on him for some reason," Higgins said. "Temple was high on him early, but they got a lot of commitments early and backed off of him, but at least they were honest and up front about it. This is all a surprise."

Higgins said that this new trend in over-offering is souring him on the process.

"It has become too much of a business," he said. "If (the schools) can offer and keep looking at kids maybe the kids should start to verbal and keep looking around.

"It is a sad state when your word isn't your bond and there is no integrity out there."

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