Many of the stories college football coaches tell about the drama surrounding national signing day seem too good to be true. But when dealing with 17- and 18-year-old high school football players, they often are. It's why signing day has become one of the biggest spectacles in college athletics. Fans love every second of it, but coaches have learned to expect the unexpected.
"You don't sleep the night before," former Colorado head coach Gary Barnett said. "You show up about 6 in the morning, and you just stare at this fax machine. Everybody comes in and just stares at it. You'll get a fax and everybody is hooting and hollering. But it's the ones that don't come through that makes signing day one of the most difficult days ever to be a football coach. You just have to prepare yourself to know that anything that could go wrong often does."
Nothing exemplifies that statement more than the Jonathan Colon recruiting saga that unfolded on Feb. 2, 2000. Before that, recruiting wasn't as mainstream as it is today. There weren't websites dedicated to the topic and limitless information on social media. But Colon's story stoked national interest when he took Florida and Miami fans on a wild ride for two weeks.
The heralded 6-foot-7, 300-pound offensive tackle prospect from Miami Central had committed to Miami on two separate occasions and also pledged to Florida twice prior to signing day. When it came time to sign his letter of intent, Colon signed with both the Hurricanes and the Gators.
The NCAA permits a prospect to sign just one LOI, and in the unique event two are signed, the earlier one is binding. Colon signed Miami's first and then later signed Florida's during a news conference.
So he was a Hurricane, right? Case closed.
Things took a bizarre twist when Colon's mother, Neida, told the Miami Herald that a woman who called herself "Coach Squeak" and who she assumed represented Miami came to their house the night before with scholarship papers. Neida was nervous her son might lose his chance at a scholarship if she didn't sign the papers, so she did, not realizing it was a letter of intent.
It was later revealed that Erica Baker, a coach at Miami Central, brought the papers to the Colon house and faxed them to Miami early on signing day. NCAA rules state a school can only deliver letters of intent by mail. After then-Florida coach Steve Spurrier appealed to the NCAA, the letter to Miami was voided and Colon officially joined the Gators' 2000 class.
Pac-12 fans still talk about the roller-coaster ride former four-star receiver Jordan Payton of Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian took them on during the 2012 recruiting cycle.
Payton gave an early verbal commitment to USC, then switched to Cal, then switched to Washington, then signed with UCLA on signing day. Payton really liked Washington, but after a phone call with UCLA coach Jim Mora that lasted until 1 a.m. on signing day morning he picked the Bruins.
His high school coach, Bill Redell, told the Los Angeles Times he was upset with the decision.
"There is no such thing as your word anymore," Redell said of Payton, who had 38 receptions for 440 yards as a sophomore for the Bruins this season. "... He shares some of the blame, but it's not 100 percent on his shoulders."