Column: The circus of signing day
I imagine sometimes what the likes of Bronko Nagurski, Bo Schembechler and all the old-school types -- around for football when the cure for a concussion was to take a few laps and a salt tablet -- must think of today's game.
They'd say we've gotten soft as they puff away on stogies – and they may be right.
They'd laugh hysterically at the idea that athletes be allowed to flood their every thought into the world and that fans would line up on Twitter to read what they have to say.
And every Feb. 4 (or there abouts), they'd ride in on horses exclaiming “WHAT IN THE WIDE, WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS IS GOING ON HERE?” when they caught a glimpse of the spectacle known today as national signing day: a day where it has been deemed socially acceptable for grown men to publicly live and die and gawk with which hat a 17-year old theatrically selects from a folding table set up in a high school gym as members of the media fan the flame.
From digital highlight reels that appear to have been produced by Orson Welles, to online scouting reports chalked full of super hero sounding buzzwords like gunslinger and ball hawk that rate young jocks (not the rapper) on a one to five star scale the same way a group of prepubescent boys gathered around a cafeteria table would girls, recruitment begins early and continues until a prospect has either been dropped from the process like a bad habit or picks a school to “continue his or her education.”
The most marquee athletes are fawned over and provided the best, from free gear to trips across the country to campus tours from the cheerleading team. The perks are many, but the display and the commitment transcends well beyond the gridiron. For many, life in a fish bowl extends well beyond signing a letter of intent. At Grand Valley State – a Division II program by choice – the recruits stream in every year with less national fanfare, but players are signed and choices are made. Take the Laker football class of 2015.
Coming off a fourth-place finish in the GLIAC after finishing 6-5 last season, GVSU looked to bolster its run game led by 889 yards and nine touchdowns from senior Chris Robinson that ranked seventh in the conference. Enter Bryce Young and Jacques Pougnet.
Young – a quarterback/running back/linebacker from Tennessee that moved back to Ann Arbor last season – rushed for 1,195 yards and 15 touchdowns during his only season at Pioneer. Jacques – younger brother of current GVSU safety Garrett Pougnet – rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns his senior season at Flint Powers Catholic to earn Flint Journal Dream Team and AP Division 5-6 first-team honors.
Both were offered standing scholarships to play football at GVSU, and both would likely develop into contributors behind the Lakers' consistently vaunted offensive line. Only one signed off.
As Young faxed over his paperwork to join on with the winningest program in Division II this morning, Jacques Pougnet – a blend of Lance Harbor and Derek Zoolander who as it turns out, signed up elsewhere years ago – respectfully practiced Blue Steel and Magnum in the mirror.
An employee of the Ford Model agency since the age of 15, Pougnet has traveled the country, has shot campaigns for clothes and fragrances, has appeared as extra in a country music videos and an episode of Empire, has participated in multiple fashion shows, has had his likeness splashed across websites and American Eagle stores and has done so without every missing a practice. He has a photoshoot with Nike scheduled for Thursday in Chicago, and plans to move to New York this summer to further his career.
Both Young and Pougnet had a choice to make, and both made them as they veered onto different forks in the road. Just as the New England Patriots chose to draft Tom Brady in the sixth round, the Seattle Seahawks chose to draft Russell Wilson in the third round and as Pete Carroll decided to pass the game away from the one in a 28-24 Seahawk loss to the Patriots on Super Bowl Sunday with destinies and legacies hanging in the balance.
Just as all of you reading this column choice to pick up a copy of the Lanthorn on your way into the Connection for lunch, and a head count of 25,094 students as of this fall chose to enroll at GVSU. Not all of us were offered football scholarships of modeling gigs, but we all chose to be Lakers.
From determining a major, to filling in the Scranton bubbles on that pop quiz you didn't study for, to picking between Ramen or Poptarts for lunch as we unwittingly consider if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, we choose.
There are no promises or guarantees in football or in life, not even on signing day – only choices. Choices that help define us as we define ourselves. And for better of worse, there are always alternatives. There are always tradeoffs, and the choices we make alter our paths through the world, as well as how we view it.
As any coach worth his whistle would say upon a recruit's final visit: choose wisely.