The nation’s long-running National Signing Day nightmare is finally over, but it is leaving at least a slim possibility that the entire ordeal could pop up again.
Four-star linebacker prospect Roquan Smith, a star at Macon County High in Georgia, has officially signed financial aid paperwork with the University of Georgia that binds UGA to Smith as a student athlete, but still allows Smith to go somewhere else if the situation at Georgia changed. That’s a different paradigm than signing a National Letter of Intent (LOI), which binds a student athlete to a school once it is signed, regardless of changes in personnel at the school. Smith famously committed to UCLA on national television only to refuse to fax in a National Letter of Intent after rumors circulated that Georgia’s defensive coordinator, Jeff Ulbrich was leaving to take a position with the Atlanta Falcons, rumors that proved to be true days later.
The news was first reported by UGASports.com reporter Jake Reuse.
Smith’s tentative decision to attend Georgia is perhaps no surprise; the in-state Bulldogs were long perceived to be the main competition to UCLA for his signature. What is surprising is his decision to buck the traditional Letter of Intent system, a process that will be finalized on April 1, when the LOI period closes.
According to Smith’s coach at Macon County, Larry Harold, the linebacker is eschewing the LOI process because of what unfolded with UCLA last week, not to serve as a major trendsetter. At the same time, there’s little question that Smith’s decision could have wide reverberations in the college football landscape should other top athletes take notice.
“He’s not going to sign a letter of intent,” Harold told the Journal-Constitution’s Michael Carvell. “The reason why is because what he went through last week. This just gives us flexibility in case something else unexpectedly happens again.
“I guess you’ll really be able to tell if a coach or college really wants a kid if they’ll agree to do this – letting a kid come to their campus this summer without signing an LOI. Again, we’re doing it this way after what happened last week. I don’t know where this is all going to go. I guess God put Roquan in this position for a reason. Maybe it was meant to help educate other kids about these types of situations.”
Before anyone anoints Smith as the Jackie Robinson of college football recruiting, it should be noted that he isn’t the first to go down this path. Kentucky basketball recruit Brendon Knight refused to sign a LOI with the Wildcats because of fears that coach John Calipari would return to the NBA. Like Smith, he had Kentucky sign a binding financial aid agreement, then waited out the summer and officially became a Wildcat on the first day of classes the following fall.
Of course, that was in basketball, where coaching changes after the NCAA tournament occasionally lead to late-Spring shifting stakes and players asking for — and typically being granted — a release to attend a new school. Football is different, which is what makes Smith’s stance so unique, provided he sticks to his guns and waits until summer training to show up in Athens.