Feb 06

The dark side of recruiting

The spectacle is over, and now we’ll wait another year for packed gymnasiums, cameras, and teenage boys finding creative ways to prolong the suspense and decide their futures. Our television captures those celebratory visions, but when the cameras fade to black, what we don’t often see is the less attractive aftermath.

Robbie Toma isn’t one of those household recruiting names. Standing just 5’9 and 190 pounds, the receiver caught plenty of high school passes, but not the attention of most major programs. But even so, in October he gave a verbal commitment to Rick Neuheisel and the UCLA Bruins. Now with Signing Day come and gone, Toma is without a college home. From a distance he appears as just another undecided and unsigned prospect, but a closer view shows a probable pawn in the recruiting game.

The name “Toma” won’t jump out at anyone, but his neighbor and high school teammate is easily identified across the college landscape. He’s from Punahou School in Hawaii, the same as his childhood friend, Manti Te’o.  And as the smoke clears from Wednesday’s signing madness,  the assumption is that UCLA’s scholarship offer was  more a package deal than any appreciation of his talent. According to reports from the Honolulu Advisor, Te’o phoned the Bruins on Tuesday night to alert them that their program didn’t make the final cut, and the decision would come down to USC and Notre Dame. By Wednesday afternoon, he was signing and faxing his letter of intent to the Irish. When it was finally Toma’s turn, he chose no one, after reportedly having an unpleasant phone conversation with a member of the UCLA staff.

“When I sat down, I didn’t feel like signing,” said Toma, who lives in La’ie nearby Punahou linebacker and close friend Manti Te’o, the nation’s top linebacker prospect who signed with Notre Dame. “I didn’t fax it (to UCLA).”

Toma recently received a scholarship offer from Notre Dame, the school that just reeled in his best friend, who happened to be one of the biggest catches of the recruiting season. In a matter of months, he went from power programs showing no interest, to one of the most powerful programs finding him most interesting. He dangled as bait to lure the bigger fish. And being too small of a catch, he’s now thrown back into the water.

The Bruins received a letter of intent from Randall Carroll, one of the nation’s top receivers, who de-committed from USC. Does Toma still end up in Westwood? Does UCLA still want him, now that the package is severely lightened? The Notre Dame offer is also still standing, and his native Hawaii has also extended a scholarship. Let’s just hope he chooses the school that appreciates what he can bring to the program, and not the one most excited over “who” he brings.

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