By Dave Glenn and Staff
February 7, 2006
Even the most jaded followers of football recruiting sometimes shake their heads at some of the shenanigans that go on these days.
Internet coverage has made superstars out of high school seniors who in years past would have been virtually anonymous. Reporters from school-specific websites call prospects daily and produce in-depth stories that get fans drooling over 17- and 18-year-olds they only rarely would have read about back in 1990.
"Kids are reading about themselves on the internet these days, and that naturally feeds the ego. Some of these players have an inflated opinion of themselves," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Some of these kids' egos and perceptions of themselves goes beyond anything you've seen before."
Of course, the media focus and the fans' fawning is nothing compared to the rabid pursuit of Division I-A recruiters. Some assistant coaches have taken to text-messaging recruits almost non-stop, making every phone call allowable under NCAA rules, and sending daily, hand-written letters.
Most high school recruits these days want to be "shown the love," and woe is the recruiter who doesn't kiss butt as adroitly, creatively and persistently as his competition.
This backdrop served as the setting for the bizarre scene that unfolded at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore on Jan. 25. Antonio Logan-El, a highly rated offensive lineman at Forestville High in Maryland, announced his collegiate destination live on ESPNews, and the ruckus that followed was both outrageous and disturbing.
First, though, some background information is necessary. Logan-El first popped up on the ACC radar screen in the spring of 2004, when he gave a very early commitment to Maryland. The youngster was swept off his feet during a junior academic day event, and he stated his desire to play for the Terrapins following a presentation by Friedgen.
"I raised my hand, stood up and said, Coach, can I commit right now?'" Logan-El said when asked what happened in the Gossett Team House auditorium that day.
With that statement, Logan-El became the first member of Maryland's projected 2006 recruiting class, and a fascinating two-year courtship commenced. The Terps continued to recruit Logan-El as they would any other promising prospect, and they formally offered him a scholarship that summer.
Logan-El later recounted the conversation that took place in Friedgen's office, during one afternoon of Maryland's schoolboy camp.
"Coach Friedgen said, Antonio, you are just the type of kid I'm looking for -- big, strong, tough and physical. What I like even more is that you really, really want to be a Terp,'" Logan-El said. "I accepted the scholarship on the spot. We shook hands and it was done."
Logan-El held firm to his commitment for an entire year, despite receiving more than two dozen other I-A scholarship offers, from schools such as Ohio State, Florida, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
"Antonio has stayed solid on Maryland, although that hasn't stopped a ton of other schools from calling," Forestville coach Charlie Harley said. "He's a good kid who comes from good stock. He's not the type to go back on his word."
The first sign of trouble came in May 2005, when Logan-El announced that he would re-open his recruitment and take several official visits to other schools. However, the 6-4, 315-pound behemoth said there was nothing for Maryland fans to worry about.
"It's really not a big deal because, like I said, I'm a Maryland fan and right now I'm a Terp. They have been my No. 1 forever and they still are," Logan-El told the Terrapin Times. "But I've got 21 offers, and it would be nice to check out some other schools and put a closer on this thing. I have a list of one, and it's Maryland. But I have to just make sure."
Maryland fans grew more concerned in early October, when Logan-El attended the Penn State-Ohio State football game. He was photographed standing on the sideline wearing a Nike-issued Penn State jacket, and he later told Blue & White Illustrated that the Nittany Lions were his new leader.
"I will say it does move Penn State up. But as far as Maryland and Penn State, they're still very close. If I had to make my decision today or tomorrow, it would be between Maryland and Penn State at this point," Logan-El told B&W. "I would say (PSU) is my No. 1 school at this point, but it's not like a large margin. It's very thin. I guess with my values and everything, they're very close on a scale of one another."
Logan-El attended the Maryland-Virginia game the following Saturday, and he denied ever saying that PSU had moved ahead of the hometown team. He said the only change was that he now would take an official visit to College Park.
"Maryland is still at the top of the list," Logan-El said. "The ironic part is, Maryland is actually recruiting me even harder. I hear from Coach (Dave) Sollazzo and Coach (Tom) Brattan all the time, and they're always text-messaging me. Coach Bo (Bryan Bossard) calls me up to see how I'm doing and all, also."
It went back and forth that way for the next few months, with Logan-El also taking official visits to Tennessee, Virginia and Florida. While the massive tackle praised those schools, too, he consistently stated that Maryland and Penn State were the leaders.
Of course, Maryland's coaches were growing increasingly worried that Logan-El was going to renege on his commitment. Those concerns were alleviated somewhat in mid-January, when Logan-El attended a basketball game at the Comcast Center. He wore a Maryland jersey, sang the school fight song and again told Friedgen to "hold a scholarship" for him.
Fast forward to that fateful afternoon at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore. Logan-El had developed a relationship with ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland graduate and an unabashed fan of the Terps. At the player's request, Van Pelt had helped facilitate getting Logan-El's announcement onto national television. A horde of Maryland fans showed up wearing red and white in support of Logan-El, who arrived wearing a black suit and a Maryland-red necktie. (He later called his attire an unfortunate oversight.) Less conspicuous in the audience were about two dozen Penn State fans.
With the ESPN cameras rolling, Logan-El began a big tease -- holding up, then discarding, the hats of his four finalists. First came Florida, then Tennessee, then Maryland and Penn State. Having built the suspense to the point where he could have heard a pin drop, Logan-El held up a picture of himself with coach Joe Paterno and announced that he would sign with the Nittany Lions.
That's when all hell broke loose.
A Maryland fan yelled "traitor," and a member of Logan-El's crowd screamed back "hater." Logan-El's family, friends and supporters -- about 30 people -- then whooped it up in celebration. Some PSU fans began back-and-forth "We Are ... Penn State" chants. Some in the Logan-El group yelled "PSU, PSU, PSU," and at least one screamed "F--- Maryland" at anyone wearing red and white.
"It was absolutely disgraceful," a neutral observer later told the Sports Journal. "I've never seen anything so low-class in my life."
Perhaps no one was more angry and insulted than Gloria Friedgen, who had been asked by her husband to attend the event. Ralph Friedgen had been invited by the prospect but could not attend, and Gloria kept him abreast of the proceedings via cell phone. According to eyewitnesses, Gloria went up to the Maryland fan who had yelled "traitor" and said, "We'll win with him or without him."
NCAA rules do not allow college coaches to be present during the announcement, but they can show up afterward. That's exactly what happened, as PSU assistants Larry Johnson and Dick Anderson suddenly arrived. Johnson, the Nittany Lions' lead recruiter in Maryland, gave Logan-El a bear hug and actually lifted him off the ground.
All in all, it was a surreal scene, one that led many in attendance to marvel that it was all the result of the adulation heaped upon a high school football player. And that was not the end of it.
In the aftermath, Logan-El was accused of purposely trying to embarrass the Maryland football program, and the fall-out was enormous.
Internet message boards, especially the one operated by the Terrapin Times, savaged Logan-El for his handling of the announcement. Rick Maese of the Baltimore Sun criticized the episode in a column titled, "Nothing Respectable In Signing Day Spectacle."
There were rumors that the Penn State staff, which includes former Maryland head coach Ron Vanderlinden, orchestrated the entire charade -- even encouraging Logan-El to string the Terps along until the end. In-state defensive lineman Phil Taylor, a prep All-American from Gwynn Park High, lent some credence to the rumors when he stated that he and Logan-El decided jointly in early January to play for the Nittany Lions.
ESPN officials had advised Logan-El not to make the announcement in a public environment if Maryland was not the school of choice, because of the potential backlash. An embarrassed Van Pelt posted a message on the Terrapin Times website, expressing regret for his involvement with Logan-El and saying he was "played" during the process.
"If I had the chance to do it over, I would call the coaches and tell them where I'm going, so a lot of this ruckus wouldn't have happened," Logan-El told the Washington Post. "I still feel fine with my decision. But as far as making my (announcement), I would change things. I thought I was having fun and enjoying what they call the life of the recruit."
Sources said there was no limit to the anger felt by Friedgen, who had built a personal relationship with Logan-El and trusted the youngster. The coach held a scholarship for him until the last minute, and it ultimately was wasted. One Maryland assistant said his "faith in today's young people" had been shaken by the situation, as well as some other disheartening experiences on the recruiting trail in recent years.
Friedgen, who entered the college coaching ranks in 1969, said he never felt more betrayed by a recruit. He said the NCAA may want to address its current rules, which essentially allow recruits to hold schools in limbo for extended periods.
"The way I'd like to do it is this: If a kid commits, he signs. Otherwise, why commit?" Friedgen said. "It's to a point where a handshake is irrelevant. It doesn't mean anything. I don't know if that's a statement on our society or what.
"I know this: Last year and this year, I had two players that committed to me -- Emani Lee (from the 2006 class) for one -- that got hurt and didn't play all year, and I honored my commitment to them."
Brought to you by: