DETROIT -- Misery, which set in shortly after a series of high fives and fist pumps, has intensified since December, 2009, when Bowling Green State University saw a top football prospect vanish from its recruiting board.
Running back Le'Veon Bell was committed to BG for two days before Michigan State swooped in and poached him, extinguishing a joyous moment for Dave Clawson and his assistants.
"There was a celebration, which turned into a funeral about 48 hours later," Clawson said recently.
Spend enough time coaching in the Mid-American Conference and inevitably you will be stricken by the anguish that comes from another's scholarship offer, one from a premier conference, trumping your dogged pursuit of a prospect. It has happened three times to the University of Toledo in this recruiting class, which still has six months to go, and it has nipped Clawson at least twice at BG since he became coach in late 2008.
Bell, a candidate for Big Ten offensive player of the year, has rushed for 1,553 yards and 21 touchdowns in two seasons at MSU. Discussion of an offense this season featuring Bell and Iowa receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley is no fun for Clawson.
Martin-Manley, a sophomore who caught 30 passes a year ago, is another one-time BG commit.
Of the coaches polled last month at MAC media day, none finds it acceptable for a player who is committed to his school to bolt for a more desirable situation. In fact, some of them, such as Central Michigan's Dan Enos and Buffalo's Jeff Quinn, dissuade players from committing to their team as a way to gauge their interest level.
"I say don't commit to us unless you're ready," Enos said. "If you want to go look at other schools, if you want to go to other camps, try out for other teams, then go. Don't commit to us."
Trying to block another program from pilfering recruits is an exercise in futility. The MAC might be at the bottom of the food chain, constantly trying to fend off attackers from above, but even the nation's elite teams are susceptible. Last month, Ohio State's class shrunk by one when Louisiana State wrested control of top defensive end prospect Lewis Neal.
Unable to sign a binding agreement until February, players are free to commit to a MAC team as a placeholder, assuring themselves of a spot on someone's roster until something they like better materializes. Unlike Michigan's Brady Hoke, who protects himself from players de-committing by vowing to withdraw his offer if they visit another school, MAC coaches, given the conference's relatively powerless position, have little recourse.
"We know it's not an easy battle," UT coach Matt Campbell said. "We understand that, but we also understand we've won some of those battles. We've won them every year, and I think we'll continue to win those battles."
Their record has taken a hit this summer. Defensive back Joshua Jones backed away from his pledge in June after Iowa extended an offer. He is committed to Illinois. A persistent courtship, which included sending him 58 letters in one day, landed the Rockets Pittsburgh-area receiver Zach Challingsworth. He was gone several days later when Pittsburgh relented to his wishes and extended him an offer. Like Challingsworth, the most recent prospect to sour on UT, Huber Heights Wayne's Javon Harrison, plans to stay close to his home. He is committed to Cincinnati. Speculation exists that UT recruit DeJuan Rogers, a defensive back, could get an offer from Wisconsin.
"Let's say we recruit a guy, and then he gets an offer from Iowa," Eastern Michigan's Ron English said. "Well, I don't begrudge him going to Iowa."
That situation English presented could become reality. Brogan Roback of St. John's Jesuit, a four-star quarterback who is the highest-ranked prospect EMU has ever picked up, could attract additional suitors with an impressive senior season.
According to Scout.com's Allen Trieu, the latest recruit to de-commit from a MAC team is one who actually made a lateral move. A week after Enos knocked on a wooden table, saying he has yet to lose a committed player in his three seasons at CMU, Detroit cornerback Desmond King backpedaled and landed at rival Ball State.
"I think right now a verbal commitment means you're in the lead and you're probably not going to lose that prospect to another conference school," Clawson said. "I think that in this league you're always at risk of the Big Ten or the Big East coming in late."
Moving up national signing day from February would, in theory, decrease the number of de-commitments. Clawson doesn't like that idea, as an earlier signing period -- say in December to go along with the junior college signing day -- would eliminate weekends used for players living several hours away to visit campus on an official visit. On the other hand, it would decrease spending, as coaches no longer would be visiting players who already signed.
As is, there's not much MAC coaches can do.
"To hold onto those commitments is a challenge," Buffalo's Quinn said.
UT nabs 11th recruit
Illinois defensive end Adam Kulon committed to the University of Toledo on Wednesday, becoming the 11th member of the class.
Kulon is a consensus two-star prospect from Jacobs High in Algonquin. He is 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.
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