MIAMI – Florida Atlantic University football coach Lane Kiffin recently got a verbal commitment from a player who could be the Owls’ quarterback of the future.
But it’s also highly possible that this union between a job-hopping coach and an extremely young player could have all the longevity of one of the side characters on Game of Thrones.
The commitment came from 15-year-old quarterback Brandon “Moody” McDuffey, a 5-11, 165-pound freshman who has yet to throw a pass for Miami’s Columbus High School.
Reading between the lines of a recent interview with USA TODAY High School Sports, McDuffey doesn’t seem 100 percent committed, which is fine since verbal declarations are non-binding.
“I just felt (FAU) was the best place for me to commit to as of right now,” said McDuffey, who won’t be able to sign a letter of intent until February 2020. “I visited the school, and I like the facilities and the campus a lot.
“Coach Kiffin, coming from Alabama and winning championships as the offensive coordinator, I feel like he’s a great coach.”
Pressed about the permanence of his commitment to a coach who has had five jobs in the past 10 years and may or may not be at FAU by 2020, McDuffey said an eventual change “is a possibility, but, as of right now, I am committed to FAU.”
How good is McDuffey?
It’s hard to say, but he played at Miami’s Westminster Christian last season, coming off the bench in his first game and throwing for 270 yards in the second half.
However, he injured his right wrist while being hit in a subsequent game and missed most of the season. He then transferred to Columbus in January, seeking a bigger school and a stiffer challenge.
“He’s related to James McDuffey, who played for me previously,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said when asked about his new quarterback. “Beyond that, brother, I wish I could help you, but I haven’t even seen him spin the ball yet.”
That should happen in the last week of April, when Columbus begins spring practices.
Merritt, who graduated his starting quarterback from a Columbus team that reached last year’s Class 8A regional semifinals, isn’t fond of players committing to colleges early.
But the trend is hardly new.
It’s been happening for decades, gaining notoriety in the mid-1980s when basketball star Damon Bailey – who was a 14-year-old at the time – committed to Indiana University as an eighth-grader.
Kiffin has done this sort of thing before. He got a commitment from a 13-year-old quarterback, David Sills, when he was a seventh-grader in 2010. Kiffin coached Southern Cal at the time, but he was fired in 2013.
Given the coaching change, Sills never signed with USC and is no longer a quarterback. He ended up at West Virginia, but the Mountaineers switched him to wide receiver, where he has caught a total of just seven passes the past two years.
“This whole game of recruiting has gotten ridiculous,” Merritt said. “I have about 40 of my former players playing college football, and none of the guys who committed before their senior year ever stuck with his original commitment.
“There are a lot of things that can change (when a player commits early). Look, I’m excited for (McDuffey). I want to see him move around. … But he’s just a puppy.”
McDuffey, who is from Richmond Heights in the southern half of Miami Dade County, said he was recruited by new FAU assistant Kevin Smith, a Miami native who played running back in the NFL for five years, scoring 17 touchdowns for the Detroit Lions.
Coaches are not allowed as per NCAA rules to comment on recruits until they sign as seniors, but perhaps the FAU staff sees McDuffey as a dual-threat QB along the lines of Quinton Flowers, a Miami native who has had a highly productive career at the University of South Florida.
McDuffey, though, describes himself as a “pass-first quarterback” who can run when needed. He first played quarterback at age three, when he started up with the Richmond Perrine Giants in Pop Warner ball.
“I’m a pocket passer,” McDuffey said. “I just need to work more on my footwork and gaining muscle strength.”
McDuffey’s father, Brandon Sr., is 6-foot-3, so perhaps FAU sees growth potential in its recruit. Brandon Sr. played cornerback at a local high school, Miami Killian, but he never got a college scholarship offer.
His son already has him beat in that regard as FAU was the first college to make an offer.
“I was shocked when I got it because I’m so young,” McDuffey said. “It felt like a big accomplishment for me. It was amazing.”
McDuffey Sr. said he “jumped for joy” when his son got the offer but has cautioned him to stay away from distractions.
When McDuffey Sr. was a high school senior, he fathered two children – including Brandon Jr. – with two different women. McDuffey Sr. also said his best friend was stabbed to death in a nightclub.
“I wish I could do (my football career) all over again,” said McDuffey Sr., a 34-year-old father of four who works 68 hours a week at two jobs, Walmart and Home Depot, to support his family.
“Our motto with my son is: ‘Stay focused, stay humble and stay hungry’.”