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February 6, 2008

Signing day is one most players never forget

Before he ever began faking out college cornerbacks, Eddie Royal pulled a fast one on a coach.

When Royal finally decided where he wanted to play college football, he decided to play a practical joke on Lorenzo Ward, who was working as a Virginia Tech assistant at the time.

"I called him and told him I wasn't going to Virginia Tech, that I was going somewhere else," Royal recalled. "I knew he'd be pretty mad and pretty angry about it. I waited about five or 10 minutes and called him back and told him I was going to go there. I heard he threw his phone down and broke it."

Royal was only joking, but who could have blamed Ward for fearing the worst? If recent National Signing Day history has taught us anything, it's that everyone should always expect the unexpected.

That much became apparent recently when Rivals.com reporters asked Senior Bowl performers to discuss their memories of the recruiting process.

Penn State linebacker Dan Connor had reason to identify with Royal's story. No coaches threw their phones after talking to Connor, but plenty of recruiters hung up on him.

"People who didn't know I had committed would call," Connor said. "I'd say, 'I just committed to Penn State,' and you'd hear, 'Click.' I got a lot of clicks."

Connor treated his actual signing day with the same no-nonsense approach that helped make him Penn State's leading career tackler. He selected Penn State after visiting Notre Dame and Michigan, but he didn't put hats from all three schools in front of him to create some false sense of suspense. After all, Connor already had announced plans to attend Penn State well before his senior season. His signing day decision merely finalized a choice he'd made months beforehand.

"It was low-key," Connor said. "I wasn't into having all the hats around me. That's not my style."

Oklahoma State wide receiver Adarius Bowman, LSU linebacker Ali Highsmith and California wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins originally signed with other schools.

Bowman, from Chattanooga, Tenn., signed with North Carolina at a ceremony in his high school auditorium, which was decorated in light blue to mark the occasion.

"That's a memory I'll never forget," he said.

But most of the memorable moments in his college career didn't come in a North Carolina uniform. Bowman spent two seasons and caught 28 passes at UNC before following former Tar Heels receivers coach Gunter Brewer to Oklahoma State, where he enjoyed back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

"If I knew then what I knew now, I might have ended up in another place," Bowman said of his decision to sign with North Carolina. "But coming out of high school, I didn't know much about the college system. It was all new. Luckily it all worked out and I'm still playing."

Hawkins signed with LSU and spent the spring of 2004 with the Tigers before transferring to College of the Canyons and eventually starring at California. Highsmith signed with Miami and was unable to qualify academically; he went to LSU instead and closed his career by winning a national title.

Then there's the case of California tailback Justin Forsett, who didn't choose any school on signing day. Notre Dame decided late in the recruiting process not to offer the 5-foot-8 Forsett a scholarship, which left him without a school until California came calling.

"I didn't sign until way, way late," Forsett said. "It was well after signing day in the spring when I signed. I just remember being happy after all the trials I went through. Nobody was interested, so to land at a place like Cal and for them to give me a shot was my biggest memory."

Of course, not everyone has such an indirect path to glory.

Cornerback Simeon Castille always seemed destined to sign with Alabama, where his father and older brother also played. Simeon, the son of former NFL defensive back Jeremiah Castille, didn't surprise anyone when he signed with the Tide, and he eventually earned All-Southeastern Conference honors.

Jacob Hester's signing day memories and subsequent college career are the stuff of dreams. Hester signed with LSU alongside a few high school teammates who also were enrolling at Division I programs. One of the people on hand for the ceremony was Hester's girlfriend, who eventually became his wife. Hester capped his college career by winning a national title.

All the prospects signing letters-of-intent Wednesday would love to follow the Hester example, but the cases of Bowman, Forsett and so many others indicate that the events of National Signing Day don't necessarily indicate how a player's career is going to go.

That's why every recruit should listen to Hester's advice about the recruiting process.

"Slow down and think about every choice you're going to make," Hester said. "Make sure you make the right one."

(Sean Callahan of HuskersIllustrated.com and Adam Gorney of GatorBait.net contributed to this report).

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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