- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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The whirlwind journey of David Sills from a 13-year-old middle school quarterback to the most talked about college recruit in the nation continued late Friday night as he boarded a train with his mother, Denise, father, David Sills IV and his two older sisters, Emma, 17, and Abby, 14, from their home in Wilmington, Del. for an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America.
Less than 24 hours ago Sills, who is a seventh-grader at Red Lion Christian Academy in Bear, Del., verbally committed to play at USC despite not being able to officially sign his letter of intent until 2015.
It was a decision that set off a firestorm of opinion around the country and caused YouTube clips of the teenage signal caller to air on ESPN. It all came as a surprise to Sills when he awoke Friday morning and turned on the television.
"I felt like I was in a dream today," Sills said. "It was so amazing to see my highlights on TV. It was on in the restaurants and sports bars and everywhere. I saw myself a lot on TV today."
News of Sills' commitment spread quickly after his father informed Red Lion Christian Academy coach Eric Day, who called The News Journal in Delaware. Soon after Sills' father was forced to turn off his phone, which was being inundated with calls when the story was picked up nationally.
"I was very surprised at how big this got," Sills said. "My dad told me it was going to be big but I didn't think it was going to be this big."
Sills actually didn't think his commitment was that big of a deal.
"USC has always been my dream school," Sills said. "If it was any other college I probably wouldn't have said yes but all it is really is a verbal commitment so I can get out of it if I wanted to."
The backlash following Sills' commitment has been severe. Most of the criticism has been directed at USC coach Lane Kiffin for offering a scholarship to a 13-year-old, Sills' father for pushing his son into the limelight and personal quarterback coach Steve Clarkson, who has pipelined many of his star pupils from Matt Leinart to Matt Barkley to USC over the years.
"I really don't care what people say about me," Sills said. "When people say something negative about me I just take it and work harder because it makes me want to push harder and train harder and work harder and prove them wrong. I just take whatever they say negative and turn it into a positive."
Sills' father wasn't surprised by the reaction, admitting the whole situation seemed odd to him at first glance.
"Even when I sit back and reflect on it, it's shocking, weird, bizarre, you name it," said Sills' father. "Quite frankly I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The rules are the rules and as long as you abide by the rules then you abide by the rules. If people don't like this they don't need to get mad about it and bash the dad and bash the coach and bash the kid, they should call up the NCAA and tell them that they don't like the rules. I'm a guy that follows the rules. Whatever the rules are, let's play by the rules. It's very difficult as a father to say my son shouldn't be getting recruited at 13 so I'm not going to let him have this opportunity."
Sills' recruitment had little to do with his father and everything to do with Clarkson and his relationship with Kiffin. Clarkson was the one who called Kiffin and told him about Sills.
"Steve called me and I didn't even take the call because I was at a job site," said Sills' father, who is a commercial developer and contractor. "So I called him back and he said, 'You're never going to believe it.' He was talking to Lane about some junior quarterbacks and potential recruits who were juniors and he said, 'Look, I gave you Matt Leinart, I gave you Matt Barkley, you trust me and we've known each other for a long time and if you really want to look at a kid you need to look at this kid from Delaware.' So Lane looked at the video, called Steve back and said, 'I'll offer that kid a scholarship right now.' Steve told us that he couldn't call us so we had to call him and gave us his number."
Sills sat down with his parents and discussed the offer before calling Kiffin. But it didn't long for them to decide that USC was the right school. It wasn't a surprise considering Clarkson, who has USC memorabilia throughout his office, had taken Sills to USC games, introduced him to Pete Carroll after watching spring practices and brought in Leinart and Barkley to work with him.
"He has more of a relationship with USC for all these weird reasons than any other school. If any other school had asked him to do this I would have told him to say no," Sills' father said. "He decided if he was a senior he'd pick USC, if he was a junior he'd pick USC, if he was a sophomore he'd pick USC, if he was a freshman he'd pick USC. So why not just pick USC now? You think about a recruiting process taking two years and this recruiting process took three hours."
While Sills' father said he wasn't surprised by the backlash, he believes people would have a different point of view if they were the father of a child being recruited by one of the most storied college football programs in the country.
"For the people that don't like kids getting recruited early, if it was their kid, what would they do? Would they hold them back?" Sills' father asked. "I understand people's opinions and I respect that everybody is allowed to have an opinion but I don't really have a problem with people young, old or in between getting recruited. I don't think it's a big deal. People talk about pressure and expectations but that's not who David is. He doesn't feel a lot of pressure. He loves football and he likes to have fun. I told him if it ever gets to a point where he's not having fun to stop and we'll play golf."
Sills' father believes the reaction would have been different if Sills were a prodigy pianist offered a spot in the Philharmonic Orchestra.
"The way I look at it is if David was a phenomenal mathematician and I held him back, wouldn't that be wrong? If he was a great piano player or a gifted child actor and I held him back, wouldn't that be wrong?" Sills' father asked. "There are a lot of things that people don't put a negative stigmatism to because they're considered prodigies and all I'm doing is saying David has been recognized as a decent athlete and I'm allowing him to fulfill whatever opportunities that he can. It's as simple as that. There's no pressure, there's gentle encouragement. He's the one that always says dad let's go to the gym and let's throw. It's what he enjoys doing. If he ever got to a point where he doesn't love what he does I told him to stop."
As Sills sat next to his dad on the train to New York for the first of what could be a series of interviews (Clarkson's publicist is working on getting him on a variety of national shows), he said he was as nervous as he was last night when he talked to Kiffin, shaking as he talked to him on the phone. Sills' father was also nervous for a different reason. He was still hoping their decision and the publicity that has come with it would be worth it for his son and his family.
"I'm just trying to give him every opportunity that I can," Sills' father said. "There are people who support the decision and people who don't support the decision and I'm just hoping that I'm making the best decision for my child and I hope he's making the right decision for himself."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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