Commentary

With everything happening so fast, Pryor slows it down

Terrelle Pryor's choice on signing day was unique. He decided not to make a choice just yet, writes Christopher Lawlor.

Originally Published: February 6, 2008
By Christopher Lawlor | ESPN.com

JEANNETTE, Pa. -- Terrelle Pryor appeared apprehensive while sitting on the dais. On a day when thousands of high school football players made decisions, so did Pryor.

He chose not to decide.

Instead, Pryor reopened his college recruitment process, one that has caused a firestorm on Internet chat boards and conjured countless speculative stories in electronic and print media.

Pryor, No. 4 in the ESPN 150, told a horde of media Wednesday afternoon in the Jeannette High gymnasium that Oregon and Penn State will join Michigan and Ohio State as his primary suitors.

"I didn't get enough time to get involved in the recruiting process," Pryor said. "I needed to take more time to be fair to the coaches."

Pryor's senior season was highlighted by Jeannette's first football state championship. The Jayhawks went 16-0, capped by a 49-21 thumping of Dunmore in the Class AA final in December.

A day after the state championship, he traded in his cleats for a pair of basketball sneakers, leaving him little time to devote to recruiting. He did officially visit Michigan and Ohio State in the fall and has been to the Penn State campus in State College. Oregon, which features a spread offense, has crept into the picture only recently. Its commitment to football facilities might be unmatched and tantalizing.

"He just wanted to make an intelligent, informed decision. This is where he'll be spending the next four years of his life," Jeannette coach Ray Reitz said. "This will give him time to focus on the universities."

Pryor's recruiting process now enters a "dead period" during which colleges can contact him once a week, while he is free to call the coaches anytime. He spoke with Penn State's Joe Paterno on Tuesday night, informing the coach that he had not made a final decision.

Charlie Batch, a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers who runs a local youth basketball league, has known Pryor for six years. Batch is serving as a mentor during Pryor's recruiting process and attended Wednesday's news conference.

"I'll present a different angle," Batch said. "I'll gather information like Terrelle and point out things he might not see, but ultimately, it's his decision. Terrelle has to do what's best for his family, and his decision will be based on where he can be developed for the next level."

Batch will accompany Pryor on visits to Penn State and Oregon. Pryor has not indicated if he will visit Michigan or Ohio State again.

Last week, Pryor said chances were "50-50" that he would sign his national letter of intent on national signing day. With Jeannette's involvement in the upcoming state basketball playoffs, he will try to squeeze in his visits on a "free weekend."

"The last week and a half, Terrelle's felt the pressure to make an official decision," Reitz said. "So much is going on. This is a lot for an 18-year-old athlete. It's confusing, and with all the media, it's muddied the waters.

"Charlie has [brought] some normalcy to the [recruiting] process," he said.

Jeannette, located about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, is a typical football-crazy town in the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania. The town once was home to a booming glass industry, but that business dried up. Only the decaying factories remind locals of good times. Pryor, a 6-6, 230-pound athlete, has restored local pride.

"He's the favorite son," said Reitz, who graduated from Jeannette High in 1974. "Seventy percent of this town has already adopted him."

A year ago, Pryor helped the Jayhawks reach the championship games in football and basketball. This past fall, he sealed the deal, bringing home the football program's first title in 101 years.

Pryor's numbers were eye-popping, considering he played in only "five full games," according to Reitz.

He rushed for 1,901 yards and 33 touchdowns on 142 carries, averaging 13.4 yards. He completed 85 of 124 passes for 1,790 yards and 21 touchdowns, and he had one scoring reception as the Jayhawks annexed their second straight WPIAL AA crown.

In the PIAA Class AA final, he ran for 209 yards and three touchdowns, completed three of four passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, and caught a 28-yard scoring strike against Dunmore.

Pryor was named the player of the year by several outlets and twice tabbed as Pennsylvania's top player. And even though he averages 22 points and 10 rebounds for a Jayhawks basketball team that is among the best in the state, Pryor admits his days a two-sport star are numbered.

"Basketball isn't in my future," Pryor said. "I'm attending college on a football scholarship and need time to improve my techniques, study game film, and to do that, I need to concentrate on one sport."

When Reitz inherited the program in 2005, he immediately converted Pryor from a wide receiver to quarterback. Pryor's star started rising during the 2006 postseason as he guided the Jayhawks to their first WPIAL championship in nearly a quarter-century and to the AA final.

"Everyone says he's a can't-miss player," Reitz said. "Not too many 6-foot-6 athletes can run a sub-4.3 40. Quarterbacks are a premium, and he's so competitive he'll compete for a starting job right away."

With the college choices doubling overnight, Reitz sized up the schools and how Pryor would fit in.

Ohio State: "They're an I [formation] team, tailback-oriented. But with Terrelle's escapability, he'll be able to thrown downfield."

Penn State: "Similar to Ohio State, they like to run the ball. They've spread the field more with Michael Robinson [in recent years], and (quarterbacks) coach Jay Paterno says he'll change to an offense more suited for Terrelle's abilities."

Michigan: "The offense enhances all the athleticism he brings. It'll get him into space and afford him the opportunity to run and pass. He excels in the open field."

Oregon: "It's a great offense they run -- they spread the field but throw more. Terrelle would find the offense challenging, especially when throwing downfield."

Last Saturday, Michigan's newly hired coach, Rich Rodriguez, made a trip to Jeannette to see Pryor play basketball. So did Ohio State's Jim Tressel and his entire coaching staff.

"Terrelle is a good-hearted kid," Reitz said. "The day he looks me in the eyes and tells me where he's attending college will be great. I just want him to be happy with his decision."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.