College Sports

High school football players can sign early starting Wednesday. How does it all work?

Mark Pope, a five-star receiver out of Miami Southridge, chooses Miami

Southridge wide receiver Mark Pope chooses the Miami Hurricanes during the early signing period on Wed., Dec. 20, 2017.
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Southridge wide receiver Mark Pope chooses the Miami Hurricanes during the early signing period on Wed., Dec. 20, 2017.

So you’re a highly-coveted college football prospect. It’s been that way for a few years now and it’s winding down as your senior season of high school football just finished.

But instead of waiting until February’s traditional Signing Day, you have the chance to expedite your transition to college as early as Wednesday.

That’s the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period for football players.

Now in its second year, the early signing period allows recruits to sign a national letter of intent and end their recruitment. The first Wednesday in February was also used as National Signing Day equipped with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding it. That’s no longer the case as the early signing period, held for three days starting Wednesday, has replaced it for the focal point of college football fans.

About 80 percent of committed college football prospects signed during the inaugural early period in 2017, according to 247 Sports.

There are several reasons for signing early and also to wait until February. Inking the national letter of intent during December’s window alleviates the constant hassling recruits receive to commit, if uncommitted, or flip, if committed, to a whichever schools are recruiting that prospect.

Once the NLI is signed, the recruitment is over. There’s nothing other colleges can do to sway that player. He’s officially going to whichever university he signs with.

Also, a player might want to assure themselves a spot in their school’s recruiting class. Football programs don’t have unlimited scholarships and roster spots.

Waiting until February has its benefits, too. Recruits might want to see if there are any staff changes as players often choose the school based on who is coaching them. The amount of decommitments from the University of Miami following defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s departure to take the Temple head coaching job is an example of that.

Plus, high school players don’t have all this free time to take official visits during the fall, which is the football season. Deep playoff runs go into December, so some might want to weigh all their options with additional visits in January when they’re not busy with their high school football season.

The thing to keep an eye on is whether or not the athlete signs because any verbal commitment made prior to signing a national letter of intent doesn’t legally bind the athlete to the school or vice/versa.

So when Wednesday happens, a good majority of each college’s 2019 recruiting class will lock in and that means college coaches can focus on rounding out the classes following their seasons in January.

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Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.