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Column: National Signing Day (sadly) will never be same

Wednesday’s National Signing Day is going to be a day of mourning for me, as the Grinch stole my football version of Christmas. I’m going to look like that kid who is sitting in the middle of a pile of gift wrap looking around in hopes of finding one more present. You see Florida State is expected to sign only one high school player on Wednesday.

One!

You and I are old enough to remember the good old days when the recruiting hype mounted all the way up to the first Wednesday in February, the National Signing Day, when every college in the country signed up to 25 prospects, and sometimes more.

You couldn’t wait to see what you got. 

And then you couldn’t wait to see what the kids down the block got.

National Signing Day used to be a huge celebration, with schools streaming the release of their signees across the nation. There will be no gathering of fans on Wednesday.

Instead, FSU is expected to announce one high school offensive linemen – Antavious Woody – a three-star player who has been committed for months.

No offense to the lineman FSU will sign, or the handful of signees Florida or Miami pick up, but we need to come up with a less compelling name for this February signing day as it is far from the national signing day.

Back in the day

When we started the Osceola back in 1982, FSU didn’t have a signing day party so the Osceola created an event called Recruiting Roundup, which was an instant hit. The first few events were held at the Western Sizzler on North Monroe. A steak, a salad, sweet tea, Bobby Bowden, the coaching staff and narrated highlights on each of the 25 signees, all for $10. We grew that event into larger, and more interesting, facilities. 

One year the coaches talked us into hosting the event at the Moore Athletic Center in a room that doubled as a basketball court. Yes, it would accommodate a bigger crowd but what they didn’t tell me is the room was being used that day for “Mat Drills”, the demanding offseason conditioning program. When I arrived to set up, the players were just leaving and the fresh stench of their lunch emanated from the trash cans that line the walls.

A line of fans, hoping to get the best seats, began to form as we hustled with mops to freshen the room and the air. These events drew 200 avid Seminoles and would have drawn more if there was a larger banquet space in Tallahassee than that basketball court.

No one complained. What Recruiting Roundup lacked in ambiance it made up for in enthusiasm and candor. Sportswriters who attended were told to leave their tape recorders outside. Bowden was Bowden but he shared the biggest part of the stage with his assistants, who reveled in telling tales about their signees and of recruiting foes vanquished. Some of what was said was true. All of it was entertaining.

Eventually, Florida State decided to host the show themselves. I was working for Seminole Boosters by this point and the Signing Day Event was a natural for our fundraising efforts. DeVoe Moore had built the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum, which had a banquet facility for 400, and we easily sold out each year. So popular was the event that we attempted to livestream it to Booster Club meetings across the nation. Attempted was the operant word that first year as our ambition exceeded our technology.

There were so many spectacular events, so many No. 1 ranked classes, and too many crazy recruiting stories to repeat in this space. But those of you who were there know what it was and will suffer Wednesday with me. You can comfort me and your fellow Seminoles by sharing your favorite signing day stories on our message board.

Victim of own success

I choose to blame the early signing day as the Grinch that stole National Signing Day but it is the transfer portal that drove the final nail in the coffin. Having said that, the fact FSU is signing only one high school player is what you call a happy problem.

Why? Because FSU coaches were successful in signing 15 high school players in the early signing period and added 10 more transfers through the portal who enrolled in January. Twenty-one of those 25 entered in January and will compete for playing time this spring.

Adding the one high school signee will push the total number of players on scholarship up to the NCAA limit of 85. 

Even though Wednesday will be quiet, I’d much rather have 21 signees competing this spring than 25 February signees.

So the Seminoles are done for the year, right?

Not necessarily. 

After spring practice, some players won’t like their chances of seeing the playing field in the fall and you will see yet another wave of transfers. Some will want out of Florida State, which would allow the Seminoles to bring in more transfers for the summer semester. According to NCAA rules they could sign up to seven transfers if seven scholarship players leave, just as long as they stay at or below the 85 cap.

A sweet memory

On Sunday, January 30, friends of Bill Buchalter gathered in Winter Park for a celebration of the life of the longtime Orlando Sentinel sportswriter who for decades was the source of recruiting news. The timing of this celebration of a life well lived was ironic, as the Sunday before National Signing Day was the weekend Bill scheduled to spend in Tallahassee, gathering what information he could from the coaching staff as they entered the “silent period” and collaborating with the Osceola staff. Bill would schedule a meeting with locals in Tallahassee, Gainesville and Panama City to share his thoughts with groups of what we called “recruiting gluts,” fans who hung on every word Buchalter uttered, hoping upon hope that this year would be the year there would be a pony under the Christmas tree.

If there’s ever a silver lining in a friend’s passing, I’d say it is that God spared Bill from having to see what’s become of our beloved first Wednesday of February.