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."
Then there's Cassanova McKinzy, who will forever be known as the Chick-fil-A recruit.
McKinzy, a linebacker out of Birmingham (Ala.) Woodlawn in the Class of 2012, revealed he signed with Auburn over Clemson partly because of its proximity to the fast food restaurant.
"[It was] kind of the environment and plus [Clemson] had no Chick-fil-A on campus," McKinzy told reporters on singing day. "You had to go like, probably like 15 minutes off campus to go to like a real restaurant. Their café was kind of small."
McKinzy has been a hit for the Tigers defense, racking up 56 tackles, 8.5 of them for loss, during his first two seasons.
In another signing day first, South Plantation (Fla.) High four-star running back Alex Collins turned signing day upside down last February when his mother, Andrea McDonald, refused to sign his letter with Arkansas.
There have been countless situations in which parents or the players themselves have gotten cold feet on signing day and reversed course. But in Collins' case, two sources told ESPN.com McDonald ran away with her son's letter of intent and went missing for hours.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who was interviewed on ESPNU after the Collins news broke, snickered when asked if he'd ever experienced something like that before.
"I don't know if I've heard of anyone running away with the papers," Johnson said. "But certainly there are some funny stories with recruiting and it's getting nuttier and nuttier as we go each year."
Nearly 24 hours later, Collins finally signed with Arkansas with his father, aunt and grandmother at his side. His mother wanted him to stay close to home and sign with Miami, a school he had made an earlier commitment to, but Collins wanted to do his own thing.
"She just wanted to make sure I was making the right decision," said Collins, who rushed for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman this season. "She was concerned about me being so far away from home and how I could handle it."
These situations serve as reminders to coaches to prepare for the unexpected. After all the letters, calls, talks with parents and visits to campus, you can never truly predict what might happen on signing day. That's why one Big 12 assistant said making sure every little step is taken care of is important to try to "eliminate the surprises."
"You have to make sure to dot I's and cross T's," he said. "You can't just assume the recruit or his family is going to have everything taken care of and are going to do it the right way. You have to make sure they have the letter of intent in advance, talk to them about where on the form they have to actually sign it at, make sure they get it to a fax machine. You also better know what time they're going to sign it. It's also good to have everybody's phone numbers, including the secretary that will be sending the fax in. If you miss any step along the way, it can lead to panic. And even if you don't and you get it all perfectly done, panic might still set in."
Just ask Arkansas State assistant coach Trooper Taylor.
When he was at Auburn, Taylor thought he had landed No. 1 offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio as part of the 2011 class. Kouandjio, the No. 3 player overall, announced he was signing with the Tigers on ESPNU. It led to a celebration in Auburn's war room that included high-fives, a lot of yelling and even some chest bumps.
Hours later, the fax still had not come through and celebration turned to fear. Fear that was warranted.
Kouandjio waited four days before signing with Auburn's biggest rival, Alabama.
"That was a big shock, and I very seldom had shocks," Taylor said. "I knew, after recruiting a kid for so long, what would happen. When guys are shocked, it's because you probably didn't do a great job of recruiting that kid. Cyrus was like that because we got in the process so late. It was a family thing, and I understood it, because his brother was at Alabama. But I'd never had that happen to me before, where, on TV, he said it was a done deal.
"It taught me a lesson: Until that fax comes through, there are no guarantees."