The wildest National Signing Day stories, from Willie Williams to Davonte Neal

Ronald Martinez

Was Davonte Neal's 2012 announcement the most absurd scene in recruiting history? No. Spencer Hall, Andrew Sharp, Bill Connelly, Bud Elliott, and Jason Kirk share a batch of legendary stories that make the Neal episode look mundane. [Updated from 2012 for 2014!]

Every year, we get to enjoy at least one recruiting story that sends columnists over the THIS IS WHAT'S WRONG WITH COLLEGE SPORTS edge. In 2012, it was Davonte Neal, who skipped his Feb. 21 announcement at an elementary school, only to return hours later to apologize to the kids who'd missed class time and sign with Notre Dame.

It was a silly signing. The school's principal was nearly reduced to breaking out hand puppets to entertain the assembled children, the xylophone band had to play an extra set, and Fox Sports Arizona's reporters were all but breaking things in rage on air. So was Davonte Neal's signing the silliest ever? Oh, far from it.

Neal wasn't even the first to delay his announcement until after his scheduled announcement. Greg Little and Terrelle Pryor did that, too, although those two at least showed up to their pressers. And at least Neal's announcement actually counted. The year before, Cyrus Kouandjio announced on national TV he'd sign with Auburn before minutes later waffling and settling on Alabama.

Here we have a list of recruiting stories that surpass Neal's.

Kevin Hart, by Spencer Hall

Kevin Hart was the first football prospect from Fernley, NV, to ever receive a D-I football scholarship offer. He offered it to himself in a high school gym filled with his peers, choosing a Cal hat over an Oregon cap and thanking the students, staff and most importantly his family. There were cameras and microphones and a victory walk waving to the crowd. There's footage and everything.

Kevin Hart did not thank himself, and he should have. Without Kevin Hart, there would have been no scholarship offers to Kevin Hart.

He received no offers from any Division I school, not even from local favorites Nevada. Cal didn't offer him, something the Bears verified after seeing Kevin Hart's name pop up on Signing Day commit lists. Oregon did not offer, either, something the Ducks were happy to clarify once the press began to investigate the unheralded O-line prospect. It unraveled, he apologized, and it faded into the Internet's long history of Signing Day oddity.

That's almost not fair to Hart, who for his grand lie did have at least one perfect day of football glory. There were cheers, and a moment of triumph, and for a second he got to be precisely what he wanted to be: a hometown hero on his way to better things. He's got his knees and his brain intact and the memory of that day. He's also not a football player, but he probably didn't want that anyway.

He wanted a moment at the microphone. He got it with flashbulbs and icing and applause. Well done, Kevin. I can't even complain about you wasting our time, because in the end this was totally worth the story. Entertainment always is.

Willie Williams, by Andrew Sharp

Ah, Willie Williams. Growing up, you hear stories about recruiting, and you see movies like He Got Game where the assistant coaches are porn stars, but you never really know that recruiting is completely out of control until you hear real stories from a real person. For me at least, Willie Williams was the first guy to pull the curtain back on the wild and wonderful shitshow that is big-time college football recruiting.

It all started with a recruiting diary for the Miami Herald, where Willie agreed to document the recruiting process. AND OH DID HE DOCUMENT IT. The actual recruiting diaries are buried in the Miami Herald subscription-only archives, but you can Google around to find snippets, and you still find articles like this, from the New York Times, where his Herald editor says, "Willie -- he has a mouth on him. These are things we've always heard about: the girls waiting for guys when they come off the plane, the booze, the food. Willie was more than happy to talk about it."

For instance:

''Dinner was tight. The lobster tail was like $49.99. I couldn't believe something so little could cost so much. The steak didn't even have a price. The menu said something about market value. I was kind of embarrassed so I didn't order a lot. But then I saw what the other guys were ordering, I was like, 'Forget this.' I called the waiter back and told him to bring me four lobster tails, two steaks and a shrimp scampi.''

Willie Williams was the first person who made me CERTAIN that being a superstar athlete would be the funniest, awesomest life on earth. As Rivals once noted, "One legacy of his recruitment is that the NCAA has since enacted reforms on what perks colleges can provide their schools." Those include: No underage drinking, no sex, no gambling, no private planes, no personalized jerseys, and no five-star restaurants.


[/winks again, just to make sure you got the message]

There was also his Auburn visit, where he talked about meeting "farmers girls," and when presented with spinach dip, told his hosts, "I ain't no animal. And I ain't going to eat no plant." THE BEST. Finally, if you remove all context, this line kinda makes it sound like Bobby Bowden let him have sex with his wife:

''Coach Bowden was cool,'' Mr. Williams said in his diary. ''But Ms. Bowden was the bomb.''

That didn't happen. But as the years pass, the legend of Willie Williams only grows.

Markish Jones, by Bud Elliott

Sometimes the parent fouls things up. Other times, it is the kid. Such was the case with Markish Jones in 2007.

The star receiver for Spartanburg (S.C.) Gettys D. Broome High School was heavily recruited all over the Southeast and was given a four-star rating by the recruiting services. Jones was committed to Clemson for a while before backing out, likely due to academics. The decision came down to two finalists: Clemson and Florida State.

Making matters more interesting was that each program was coached by a Bowden -- Tommy at Clemson and Bobby at Florida State. Jones signed the letter of intent to attend Clemson, as did his mom. That was a mistake, as Jones was not ready to make a decision. He did not fax the LOI to Clemson, and instead, after receiving a call from Florida State's coaches, signed the FSU LOI and faxed it to Tallahassee. Clemson persuaded Jones to send the LOI to them, just so that they can have it, perhaps as a memento (hint: not really). Clemson appealed to the ACC and the National Letter of Intent folks, showing them Jones' Clemson LOI.

Quick, 1Ls reading this instead of paying attention in class! Think back to contract law. What controls: the signature or the fax?

The ruling, which didn't make much sense when one considers that the rule had always been the kid is officially bound to a school when the school received his fax, was that Jones must go to Clemson. He wasn't happy about it, but put on a good face and didn't raise a big stink. Jones would then end up in a junior college before committing to Cal and not making it in.

Antonio Logan-El, by Bill Connelly

Sometimes the most famous stories are still the best. Antonio Logan-El's announcement remains the Tale of Two Cities of football recruiting. Logan-El, from Forestville, Md., (between Washington, DC, and Baltimore), twice gave Ralph Friedgen and the Maryland Terrapins an oral commitment, and when it was time to choose a location for his signing ceremony, he picked Baltimore's ESPN Zone. The place was packed with Maryland fans, including Friedgen's wife Gloria. All signs pointed to Logan-El becoming a fighting turtle.

Unfortunately, video of his ceremony does not exist on YouTube. His use of hats became the standard by which all future Hat CeremoniesTM would be judged. He pulled out a Florida hat, talked about why the Gators were a finalist for his services, then cast the hat aside. He pulled out a Tennessee hat and did the same. Next came a Maryland hat ... and he put it down as well. Amid some cheers and quite a few boos, Logan-El donned a Penn State cap. Mrs. Friedgen famously asked for her check and charged out of the restaurant. Maryland fans yelled "Traitor!" at him.

Recruiting can lead otherwise solid kids to make some awful decisions. In fairness, Logan-El still has no regrets about his decision, even though he quickly flamed out at Happy Valley and ended up graduating from Towson University. His high school coach, however, was rather embarrassed by the spectacle. But hey, why take others' interests into account on your big day?

Floyd Raven, by Bud Elliott

Peter G. Aiken, USA Today

What happens when a kid is undecided between Texas A&M and Ole Miss? In the case of four-star Louisiana cornerback Floyd Raven, his mother forged his signature on the National Letter Of Intent and faxed it to Ole Miss.

Ole Miss couldn't read it and asked Raven to send confirmation, which didn't happen, of course, because he did not send the original. The letter was ultimately voided, and Raven ended up at Texas A&M after faxing a real letter of intent to the Aggies later in the day . Raven defended his mother, saying both that she thought she was doing the right thing, and that she didn't know signing the papers was serious.

For his part, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt handled the situation pretty well:

"His mom. Mom really wanted him here, David," UM coach Houston Nutt said, smiling, to Associated Press reporter David Brandt during today's news conference. "Mom wanted him here in the worst way. And so, (UM compliance director) David (Wells is) our expert on that, so the bottom line is when they told us that we said 'Hey, look, I want you to be here because you really want to be here.' And [Raven] was so torn. It's really hard, it's a hard hard decision, but when mom told me that, [I said] 'Hey, look, I want you to do what's in your heart.' And I think at the time he wanted to go elsewhere and look, I want them to want to be here." [...]

"Bottom line is, hey, we did get a signature, we did get a letter, but I want people that want to be here," Nutt said. "I want people that really truly want to be here. I'd rather just talk about the ones that we have."

Bryce Brown, by Jason Kirk

If you pay $10 a month for July recruiting news about your team, you have a problem. But what if you pay $10 for recruiting news about a single player, all provided pretty much by the player himself?

Wichita running back Bryce Brown, the nation's top 2009 recruit, was assisted during the process by trainer and mentor Brian Butler. Butler was a former felon, but let's not dwell on that. Butler published updates on Brown's status to a single-player pay website, charging $9.99 a month for recruiting news, including one about Brown skipping college to play in the Canadian Football League and probably one about him starting up his own college (that part is not true). Brown committed to Miami, but didn't sign his LOI on Signing Day. He waited so long, in fact, that the offer expired.

Brown's recruitment never really ended, as he ended up signing with Tennessee (but not without a hat stunt, of course), transferring to Kansas State, and then leaving early to declare for the NFL Draft despite playing in only 15 games in his entire college career. He somehow ended up being a significant contributor for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Just after Signing Day, Brown told Sports Illustrated he'd like to put on "seminars" to help other recruits through the process. Not even trying to make a joke here -- I'd seriously love to attend that.

The Super Secret Double Double Cross, by Bud Elliott

A five-star defensive end was committed to an in-state school for over a year. He loved the school, but became concerned when a writer for a recruiting site covering a rival school planted the idea in his head that the school to which he was committed actually had a secret commitment from another defensive end and wasn't telling him, because the school didn't want to give the impression that the position was too crowded.

The recruiting writer convinced him to get revenge on the school to which he was committed. They concocted a plan in which the player kept telling the school he was still committed, all the while planning to switch his commitment to the rival on Signing Day.

On Signing Day, the player noticed the other guy was committing after himself. This bolstered his belief that the school was prepared to sign them both. So the long-time commitment decided to go through with the plan and faxed his letter to the in-state rival, burning the team to which he had been committed.

Of course, the recruiting writer who hatched the plan was lying. The "secret commitment" was never committed in-state and signed with a school out West.

April Justin, by Jason Kirk

Kevin C. Cox, Getty

Five-star Louisiana safety Landon Collins committed to Alabama on air, during the Under Armour All-America Game. His mother, seated beside him in purple and shaking her head, wasn't happy.

"I feel LSU is a better place for him to be," April Justin said as her son grimaced. "LSU Tigers, No. 1. Go Tigers."

She later blamed Nick Saban:

Landon included his mom when it came time to finalize his decision. That's how, with Collins leaning toward Alabama this fall, Saban came to visit Justin. She says the coach offended her during his stay by promising that her son would be a high NFL draft pick and receive a multimillion-dollar contract. "I think he stereotyped me," Justin says. In her mind, Saban had told her what he thought she wanted to hear, when her real concerns were about academics and how a program would take care of her son.

Two years later Collins' brother, four-star defensive lineman Gerald Willis, would choose Florida over LSU, putting Justin again on national television during a moment of disappointment for her Tigers. The same thing happened, but not quite as awkwardly.

"It is what it is. Florida Gators, that's where we'll be," she said, holding Willis' bag of Florida gear for him. "LSU's still No. 1."

Nick Saban was nowhere in sight.

Honorable mentions

More from SB Nation college football:

28 National Signing Day predictions

CFB players forming a union: Why this just might work

Grading this year’s 20 FBS coaching hires

National Signing Day FAQ for casual recruiting fans

College football news | Auburn might claim three old titles

Long CFB reads | The death of a college football player

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