Early-signing period offers unique opportunity for recruits

Wednesday, December 20, 2017 | 2:56 PM

As a high school senior, Bill Cherpak took a Christmas ski vacation to Colorado while deciding where he'd play college football.

There in the snow-capped Rockies, the phone rang.

“Somehow, coaches found out the phone number of the condominium where we were staying,” said Cherpak, now the Thomas Jefferson coach, who ultimately chose Pitt. “There were no cell phones back then. It was just crazy. Recruiting is so out of control, even when I was recruited.”

This year, though, the holidays could be a calmer time for many recruits. For the first time, there's an early signing period for football that starts Wednesday.

Many of the WPIAL's top recruits, including Pine-Richland quarterback Phil Jurkovec, East Allegheny tight end T.J. Banks and Aliquippa safety Kwantel Raines, have said they'll take advantage of the 72-hour window and sign early.

The traditional signing period starts Feb. 7.

“For a lot of kids, they'll say thank God it's over,” Cherpak said. “I can sign now, and I don't have to worry about coaches badgering me all the way to February.”

Cherpak has two defensive linemen committed to Pitt — Devin Danielson and Noah Palmer. Both will sign Wednesday.

Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Analyst for Rivals.com, predicts the large majority of senior FBS commits will sign this week.

The top Rivals recruit in the country, five-star quarterback Trevor Lawrence of Cartersville, Ga., is expected to sign early with Clemson. The top-ranked player in Pennsylvania, Harrisburg defensive end Micah Parsons, has said he'll announce his commitment Wednesday.

The early commitments will surely steal some luster from February.

“You're going to have between 60 and 80 percent of any given team's recruiting class signing in the early period,” Friedman said. “But there's still going to be some heavy-hitters who wait to sign in February. That's when schools are really going to know how their recruiting class actually turned out.”

The early period likely favors the schools more than the players, giving coaches a head start and a clearer picture of their incoming recruiting class. But it also provides assurance to recruits that their scholarship offers won't vanish.

The early signing period earned approval this spring from the NCAA Division I Council and the Collegiate Commissioners Association, which runs the national letter of intent program. Other sports, including basketball, already have an early period.

“I think it could be good for the correct student-athlete,” said Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz, whose quarterback will sign Wednesday with Notre Dame. “For somebody like Phil, I think it's perfect. He's known he's wanted to go there. No factors are going to sway his decision.”

But there are concerns.

“There are certain kids who might not be as sold or maybe they're signing because of a coach and a coach leaves,” Kasperowicz said. “That's where some kids could get into a jam. Unless it's a slam dunk, home run like Phil's situation, I'm not sure it's the best.”

And it's not just head coaches. In the seven weeks between now and Feb. 7, a number position coaches could switch staffs.

“That's a big fear from the people who are watching this from the outside in,” Friedman said. “It doesn't seem like it's incredibly fair to players who want to play for a specific coach. There's that saying: Commit to the school, not the coach. But the coaches there and the staff there are the ones that develop them and get them prepared for the future.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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