Commentary

Keeping recruiting secrets isn't easy

Originally Published: February 2, 2010
By Ian R. Rapoport | Special to ESPN.com

As a young child, Shaun Lewis often found himself hanging out with the older kids in the neighborhood. And when they would venture over to the dark side, when they would dabble in mischief their parents might be better off not knowing, they never minded if Lewis tagged along.

[+] EnlargeDominique Easley
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI It was easy for Dominique Easley to keep his commitment a secret -- he only decided hours before his announcement.

The reason was obvious.

"They already knew that they could count on me for not telling," said Lewis, a four-star outside linebacker from Missouri City, Texas. "So I'm that dude. I'm good at keeping secrets."

Lewis didn't know it then, but the skills he honed as an impressionable youngster have become a serious asset in recruiting.

Lewis is ESPNU's No. 4-rated outside linebacker. An Oklahoma State commit, he has been fielding question after question for months about every facet of recruiting. And the Hightower High star knew just what to say during the months and weeks before he made his choice known on Aug. 13, 2009.

"Nothing," said the 6-foot, 187-pound Lewis. "Just don't open my mouth to anybody. I really kept it a secret from everybody -- closest friends, people at school. It wasn't that hard."

Maybe not for Lewis. But in the high-stakes game of recruiting, knowledge is currency. Secrets evaporate faster than a five-star athlete running a 40-yard dash. A prospect's business becomes message-board fodder within the click of a text message.

Lewis had one idea, and it worked. He was able to call Cowboys coach Mike Gundy and tell him, "You got a linebacker from Hightower," without his future coach knowing it was coming.

For others, it takes a little more work and plenty of humor before Feb. 3, national signing day.

Dominique Easley, a five-star defensive end from Staten Island, said he couldn't even count the number of times he was asked about his commitment. The Curtis High star and No. 3 overall player nationally had it easy: He didn't know that he would pledge to attend Florida prior to the Under Armour All-America game.

"I decided that morning," said Easley, who announced on Jan. 2, eschewing Oregon. "I wanted to do it at the game, but I didn't know exactly where I was picking until that morning. I just woke up and it just felt like that was the right place."

Simple. No fibbing, no espionage, no anxiety.

Everyone's process wasn't so uncomplicated.

Defensive tackle Taylor Bible has been getting questioned since he received his first offer from Baylor at the beginning of his junior season. Now, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Texas commit can laugh at it.

But the Denton, Texas, native battled with some of the pressure.

"It was ridiculous," said Bible, the nation's No. 14 player. "I kept telling them, 'I don't know.' 'I'll think about it.' 'Maybe.' 'I'm not sure.' Those kinds of things. I just told myself to relax -- don't pressure yourself and don't let anybody else pressure you."

He didn't lie to his family, Bible said, and he didn't lie to his friends. Perhaps the best news during this ordeal before he committed to coach Mack Brown was that Bible found that those close to him didn't pry or meddle.

Part of the process was learning who to trust.

"I didn't have to lie to anyone, because everyone really close to me, they didn't ask me questions like that," Bible said. "My friends who were really close to me, they just knew that I was going to do what I was going to do. There was no question about where I was going to make my decision."

Sometimes, it's a matter of who to spill your guts to and for whom to break out the little white lies.

Brandon Coleman is still deciding between Rutgers, Maryland and Syracuse. He said he's leaning toward one school, but didn't want to say which.

The 6-foot-6, 200-pound wide receiver from Bishop McNamara is still talking to coaches. So he doesn't want to say too much too soon.

Yet Coleman is as honest as they come with coaches. Telling the truth is the easiest, "and why not make it easy for me?" he said. "I let everyone know what's going on."

Well, not everyone. Coleman has a support group around him, one that consists of his high school coaches and his family. And before each bit of information is allowed out, they discuss it.

Taking a visit? Public. Which way he's leaning? Not public.

[+] EnlargeDemarco Cobbs
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIDemarco Cobbs intended to keep his commitment quiet, but couldn't resist the urge to tell people.

"Well, sometimes [I] don't tell the whole thing [to reporters]," Coleman said. "You don't always want everything out there just yet. So I tell it to my family, tell to my high school coach what can go out and what needs to stay inside the family."

So the idea for prospects is to have a strong grip on the information that is made public. Yet sometimes, you just can't help yourself.

For a while, Demarco Cobbs did well. The No. 18 overall player, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound athlete from Tulsa had plenty of news to sort through. He committed to USC, opened back up and committed to Tennessee, then bolted from the Vols when the NCAA came knocking about hostesses.

Finally, he committed to Texas, though he said he still didn't tell the competing coaches, many of whom he'd built relationships with.

"They might say something that just might change your mind," Cobbs said.

And the entire time, the goal was to keep news about his commitment on the down low until signing day. For two months, it worked. He didn't even tell his family, and if you knew his family, you'd understand.

Cobbs has 11 siblings, and he had an idea what would happen if he confided in one.

"You know how family is," Cobbs said. "They might tell one cousin and the other. So I just kept my mouth shut. I told my head coach, and he knew what was going on. But nobody else knew."

Just one problem.

"Yeah … I couldn't keep it a secret," Cobbs said. "I just wanted to get it over with, with the recruiting services and everything. Phone calls every night."

Cobbs went public, becoming a rare top-notch Oklahoma athlete to head to Texas. He dealt with the reaction from Sooners fans, and that's since died down.

Now, he cruises toward signing day with his news out there.

Yet for so many, their secrets are safe.

"Who doesn't like a little suspense?" Lewis said.

Ian R. Rapoport also covers the New England Patriots for The Boston Herald. Read his blog or e-mail him at irapoport@bostonherald.com.