The Askew Slant

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

A few months ago, I found out that my childhood friend and neighbor had just committed to Alabama to play as a linebacker. I knew he had a great high school career and was being courted by some of the nation’s top football programs, but I couldn’t help but be surprised.

My reaction had nothing to do with a lack of respect. I knew my old neighbor had worked hard to earn the scholarship and I was happy for him. But to me, Jennings Hester was not some superhuman machine like the other athletes I admired growing up. Still, there he was on Wednesday, signing a piece of paper validating him as one of those unreal physical specimens I’d always looked up to.

You see, we used to play sports together all the time. Football, basketball, baseball, ping pong-even made-up games nobody’s ever heard of. As a fifth grader, I never looked at him as any better than me at any of the sports (except for baseball). We were equals. So when he committed to ‘Bama, all I could think of was: “Why him and not me?”

Then I remembered he grew up to be 6’3″ and 228 pounds of pure muscle. That might have something to do with it.

This recruiting season has been a little different for me because I realized that many of the recruits out there are the Jennings Hesters of the world. They were my peers, and they’re still teenagers just like me.

This also marks the first time I have been older than the people signing letters of intent, yet for some reason I can’t grasp this point. How could I possibly be older, wiser, more experienced than Joe McKnight, the USC prospect who was on the front page of ESPN.com on national signing day?

I still study these high school students obsessively, imagining what they can do for my team. I feel joy when a four-star player commits to Northwestern. I feel heartache when some guy I’ll never meet from Harvey, Ill., commits to the Illini.

The first thing I did Wednesday morning was check who committed to NU and to Georgia, my hometown team, even though I already knew exactly who committed. How national signing day remains to be such a huge deal to so many, including me, even though nearly all the recruiting is done by New Year’s is simply amazing. It doesn’t even begin to make sense-it’s the equivalent of spending months anticipating the Super Bowl postgame show.

While I may be a little more obsessive than the average college football fan, I know that I am not the only one who pays close attention to the recruiting scene. Why else would recruiting be on the front page of ESPN.com, SportsIllustrated.com, SportingNews.com, and virtually every other sports page on the Internet?

Maybe we obsess like this because we miss college football so much. Deep down we all know that the five-stars can turn into bums and the unknowns can become superstars. We know that it will take most of the players who signed letters of intent many years to become starters – that is if they are ever fortunate enough to start in the first place. The only evidence we need that recruiting can be almost irrelevant is the career of master recruiter and Illinois coach Ron Zook.

But for those of us who find it impossible to go nine months without a whiff of college football, national signing day is a necessity. We have these small indulgences-signing day, spring practices and the much-anticipated season-preview magazines-that carry us up to the opening kickoff.

Signing day is a day of unparalleled hope. Each recruit could be the next great player, the next All-American or the catalyst for a championship season. Like opening day in baseball, we start anew and hope for the best.

So even though I may not be in awe of the latest commitments like I once was, I still devour the rankings and scouting reports. I know it’s silly, really I do. Just don’t take it away from me. Nine months is a long time to go without thinking about college football.

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]