Most college football fans have two dates marked on their calendar each year: the national championship and national signing day.
On national signing day, normally the first Wednesday of February, NCAA teams get a glimpse at what the next couple of seasons will hold as the top high school recruits sign letters of intent to play at the next level.
As the sport has evolved, so has the manner in which athletes announce their selection. A familiar strategy for football and basketball players is to hold a press conference surrounded by hats from the player’s favorite few schools. Each year ESPN shows footage of high school pep rallies as players ceremoniously wait for the right moment to pick up the hat of the school where he or she plans to spend their college career.
Loyola High School cornerback David Long took a similar approach, minus the pep rally, and just had one Michigan Wolverines hat to put on when he appeared on ESPN’s “Recruiting Nation” in January.
“For the next four years, I will be attending the University of Michigan,” he said.
When he officially signed his letter of intent on Wednesday morning, there wasn’t as much fanfare as the announcements that played on ESPN all day.
“Just signing it and heading to class,” Long said.
Although signing his name on a piece of paper seems simple, the process to get there was much more complicated, and started last fall.
“It was crazy,” Long said, to be recruited by Michigan Head Coach and prominent football figure Jim Harbaugh. After a successful visit to Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor, rumors and hints of Long’s commitment to the school swirled before his official announcement on television.
It started when Jay Harbaugh, Jim’s son, tweeted, “LONG flight this morning- important business out west!” on Jan. 18.
Harbaugh and his coaching staff visited Long and his family in Pasadena. Long found his siblings outside playing catch with the famous coach before his younger sister asked Harbaugh if he could climb a tree.
Long described the scene of a competitive Harbaugh attempting to climb different trees and walking down the block saying one was too big and another was too small. Long reflected on how surreal the moment was.
“It seems like yesterday I was watching him coach in [Super Bowl XLVII] and now he’s at my house climbing a tree,” Long said. “I was thinking neighbors [who didn’t know it was Harbaugh] might call the police.”
He took a photo of the coach trying to climb the tree, and it went viral and made national headlines. As the rest of the college football world questions Harbaugh’s recruiting tactics – which also include stories of a shirtless Harbaugh playing flag football with high school students and videos of the latest dance moves – they certainly weren’t lost on Long.
“He’s the kind of person you want to be coached by,” the cornerback said. “It’s not all about football with him. You can tell he cares about the players.”
Harbaugh never scaled a tree, but he did help Long’s younger brother up into a tree and called it a success. Shortly after, Long posted a video of Harbaugh and the coaching staff inside his house and he asked them, “How’s business?”
“Business is good,” Harbaugh said.
Michigan’s football program and prolific coach certainly played a role, but Long said he was drawn to Michigan because of the education opportunities he will have if his life takes him away from football. Since coaches in the NFL and NCAA often come and go, Long said he would still be happy with his decision if Harbaugh were to leave in the next four years.
ESPN ranks Michigan as one of the top five teams entering next season. Long said the team will be a contender for the national championship “immediately.”
Although his mother isn’t thrilled at the aspect of Long leaving the West Coast, he said his family is happy and supportive of his decision, especially relatives who live in Detroit and will get to see him play. But leaving home will be “bittersweet.”
“The biggest change will be the weather,” he said. “It’d be crazy to say it will all be an easy adjustment.”
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