Harlan on recruiting: Early-signing period takes buzz away from signing day

Thursday, February 1, 2018 | 9:06 PM

This week is traditionally a busy time for college football assistants who hurry to as many high schools as possible before signing day arrives on the first Wednesday in February.

But this year has a much different vibe.

The recruiters are still bouncing around Western Pennsylvania from town to town; that hasn't changed. But most of the top FBS recruits for 2018 took advantage of the new early-signing period in December. So rather than lining up senior verbal commitments, the coaches are asking questions about juniors and sophomores.

“We've got a lot of traffic and guys stopping in,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker said, “but it's for 2019 and 2020 guys. It's crazy how it moves now.”

The addition of an early-signing period to the recruiting calendar drained much, if not all, of the WPIAL buzz from the traditional date.

Across the state, only four of Pennsylvania's top 35 recruits are unsigned, according to Rivals.com rankings. And that list includes Imhotep Charter safety Isheem Young, a former Penn State commit from Philadelphia charged with robbery in December.

The three others unsigned are Harrisburg wideout/cornerback Shaquon Anderson-Butts, Neumann-Goretti lineman Justin Johnson and Pine-Richland cornerback Kenny White. That trio is ranked at Nos. 22, 24 and 26, respectively.

Anderson-Butts verbally committed to Penn State and Johnson committed to Oregon. White, who announced offers from Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Kentucky, Iowa State and Kent State, remains uncommitted and could wait to decide his future.

Come early Wednesday morning, there will be little suspense around the WPIAL.

“If you talk to most (FBS college coaches), the majority of them signed all of their guys in December,” Walker said. “They may have a guy here or there that they've yet to sign or a spot open, but they're mostly done and they're moving on.”

A “dead” period runs from Feb. 5-8, a four-day period where college coaches can't visit recruits or their high schools. The current “contact” period on the recruiting calendar continues through Saturday.

“It used to be that (college) guys were coming in (this week) to make sure they were getting their commits,” Walker said. “Like, hey, are we all set to sign next week? Everything's set, right? Everything's ready to roll? Ninety percent of the time (the recruit said): ‘Yeah coach, everything's good.' But now we've signed everybody.”

Nationally, there's still a little suspense.

Among the Rivals 250, there are 69 recruits unsigned. The top players available are five-star Mater Dei teammates Amon-Ra St. Brown and JT Daniels, who verbally committed to Southern Cal. They're ranked third and fourth nationally.

The top uncommitted recruit is five-star cornerback Patrick Surtain (6-2, 183) of Plantation, Fla. Surtain, ranked eighth, has offers from LSU, Alabama, Clemson and many others.

But around the WPIAL, the elite recruits were locked up weeks ago. So as coaches visited North Allegheny in recent days, they asked about junior cornerback Joey Porter Jr., who added a Syracuse offer last week.

“At this time (in years past), Virginia would have been in to see Derek Devine and make sure Derek was all set,” Walker said. “But Derek signed in December. When Pitt and West Virginia and Penn State are coming in, and other places like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern and Maryland and Cincinnati, it's 2019 and 2020 guys (they ask about) because they're done (with 2018).

“They've got everybody.”

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

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