A decision appears imminent from Westchester linebacker Jordan Hicks, the consensus top linebacker in the country and second-ranked player by ESPN.
National recruitments extending to National Signing Day or the weeks prior are filled with tension and fan expectations, dreams and fantasies of the player wearing those beautiful school colors -- even Okie lite fans love their Halloween orange.
The final days are also filled with rumors, innuendo, speculation, and rampant speculation. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that rumors have been flying about the Interwebs concerning Hicks and his eventual destination. Over the last several days, he's been rumored to be a lock for Austin, headed to Florida, and set to commit to Ohio State -- and that was Tuesday alone. Given the nature of message boards and the way that information spreads in our world today, it's extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction, speculation from rampant speculation and to determine how much credit to assign to each particular rumor of the moment.
With that in mind, let's break down what's really going on with Hicks -- what is known and what isn't.
The Longhorns had the last word with the Lakota West star linebacker, as Will Muschamp met with Hicks for a reported three hours on Saturday at his home. Hicks hasn't gone into any detail about what was discussed during that visit and it's doubtful that much information about their conversation will really ever emerge. However, it's interesting that Muschamp spent so much time with Hicks and his family -- in terms of scheme and how Hicks would fit into the Texas defense, there doesn't seem like a great deal to discuss.
Hicks is such a talented player and the Texas scheme so similar to that run at his high school that learning the defense shouldn't be a problem if Hicks chooses Texas, particularly if he does decide to enroll early. However, to enroll early at Texas he would need to make a decision within the next several days, as the spring semester begins on January 19th, now less than one week away.
Whether or not Hicks could acclimate quickly enough to the Texas system to contribute in the fall could have been a major topic of conversation -- participation on special teams would certainly be a given, but how Muschamp plans to use linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, as well as the progress of players like Dustin Earnest, Ryan Roberson, and Tariq Allen, as well as Dravannti Johnson, who is probably best considered as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, was probably more important to Hicks. Following that line of speculation, in terms of how Hicks weighs his feeings for Texas, the depth chart and potential for early playing time is likely a bigger concern than any potential adjustments in scheme, which would be minimal.
For Muschamp, this is his first major national recruitment not only as the Texas defensive coordinator, but also as the head-coach-in-waiting. As such, it will represent the first deep insight into his ability as a recruiter and, more importantly, as the "closer" on the defensive side of the ball. In many ways, Hicks is the
One other factor that works strongly in favor of the Longhorns is not exactly news at this point but bears repeating -- Hicks' mother, Kelly Justice, worked with Texas strength and conditioning coach Jeff Madden at Colorado, giving her a familiarity and possibly even a friendship with the man who would be responsible for maximizing the physical gifts of her son.
Larry Cox, who coaches football at Lakota West, is of the opinion that Justice will certainly be a part of the decision-making process ($), but almost certainly will not play as dominant a role in the decision-making process as, say, the infamous Kashemeyia Adams, mother of Jamarkus McFarland:
I think she's of the opinion of having Jordan do what he wants to do. Obviously, there was an existing relationship with (Texas strength and conditioning coach) Jeff Madden and she's obviously comfortable with that. But at the same time, she's like any other parent, she wants him to be happy and do what makes him happy. She's going to support him wherever he goes. As a parent, how can you be mad if the last three choices for your kid were to go on a football scholarship to Texas, Florida or Ohio State? (emphasis mine)
Okay, so maybe disregard the bolded section as wishful thinking on the part of Cox, but his point stands -- all indications are that this one will be on Hicks and not Justice. Still, the prior relationship between Justice and Mad Dog weighs heavily in the 'Horns' favor -- that much is far from the realm of rampant speculation.
Hicks also got to participate in the Under Armour All-American game on the same team as Texas commits Adrian White, Aaron Benson, Taylor Bible, Ashton Dorsey, Mike Davis, and Darius White, who announced during the game, giving him a familiarity with the bond that some of the current commitments share. Unlike D-Money, who reportedly spent most of the lead up to the game with his future teammates, there were no stories about Hicks eating lunch or spending so much time with the Texas commits to be remarkable and his actions during the game provided no insight into his feelings -- perhaps calculatedly so -- but his work with potential teammate Benson at linebacker and what must have been the obvious camaraderie and genuine support and pride demonstrated within that group must have made some type of impact, even if it cannot be quantified at this time.
As for Florida, the major storyline with the Gators is now not only the loss of defensive coordinator Charlie Strong or the strange resignation turned unresignation turned whatever by Urban Meyer, but also the odd and somewhat inexplicable absence of Meyer during the in-home visit by other Florida coaches, a group that included kinda sorta head coach (or whatever he is) Steve Adazzio, Hicks' primary recruiter Scot Loeffler and the new Florida linebackers coach.
Its unclear at this point how exactly Meyer is involved with the Florida program at the moment and his role in the future is certainly still up in the air, but if Meyer does indeed intend on coaching the Gators at some point in the future, then why wouldn't he still heavily invest himself in recruiting, the aspect of involvement that would pay the most long-term dividends? He may not be able to give assurances about the future, but shouldn't he at least make his considerable presence felt?
Florida hasn't had any problems securing recruits announcing at the two major high school All-Star games, but there are rumors circulating that Hicks was at the least irked by Meyer not making the trip, but the Florida depth chart could be a major attraction, as the top three tacklers at linebacker are all graduating -- Brandon Spikes, Ryan Stamper, and Dustin Doe. Texas can't say the same, as assuming that Jared Norton receives his sixth year of eligibility -- a virtual lock -- then the only graduating linebacker is Roddrick Muckelroy, who could conceivably apply for his own sixth year after losing his redshirt freshman season to an injury after playing only three games.
If the depth chart works in favor of the Gators, the fact that the spring semester has already started in Gainesville could perhaps work against Florida, though it's hard to say at this point how much value Hicks places on enrolling early.
Ohio State is something of an unknown at this point -- there just hasn't been a lot of information coming out concerning the Buckeyes. The home-state pressure will clearly play a major factor and could influence Hicks in holding out on making a decision if he decides to go out of state to avoid the repercussions of what would surely be an unpopular move in his community. Hicks seems to have a strong relationship with Jim Tressel, but hasn't spoke as glowingly about the Ohio State head coach as he has about Muschamp.
In addition, Hicks doesn't seem to have overly strong ties to the area and his mother does not plan on staying in Ohio if Hicks decides to leave the state and attend either Texas or Florida. As a kid who has handled the difficult process as well as possible, he doesn't seem like the type of kid who could be pressured into making a decision like staying in state against his own desires.
In terms of early enrollment, staying in Ohio may be the most attractive possibility, as Ohio State operates on the quarter system and could enroll there in March, giving him time to complete his senior season of basketball. In the past, he has acknowledged that playing hoops was his first love -- his love of football grew as he came to realize that it represented his best opportunity at a professional future in athletics.
It's extremely difficult to handicap the process at this point considering the aforementioned rumors swirling about an imminent commitment to each of his three finalists and Hicks has not clarified the muddied picture with any official declarations of a leader at any point in the process, much less recently. However, the story that has emerged in bits and pieces from those associated with the Texas program is that Hicks is far from a lock for the Longhorns, but the feelings are extremely positive about where the Longhorns stand. Hicks is known for wearing Texas gear arond his high school campus and has been a fan of the program for some time, feelings that were deep enough for him to pay his own way to attend a Texas summer camp before his junior season.
With the process coming down to the wire, Hicks plans on sitting down ($) on Wednesday with one of his coaches, Carlton Gray, before trying to finalize his decision with his mother:
I'm going to sit down with Coach (Carlton) Gray I think tomorrow. He has been through everything with the process and knows what is good and what is bad. He is going to give me some input, and I am going to tell him what I see.
Then I am going to sit down with my mom and talk about everything I discussed with him, and she is going to give her input, and I will give mine, and then hopefully we can come to a conclusion.
According to his high school football coach, Larry Cox, part of the reason Hicks hasn't made a decision yet is that he would like to gain some distance from last weekend's in-home visits:
He's smart because he realizes after each one of those home visits, there's what I call the honeymoon period. I always tell him, take 24 or 48 hours after the visits are over and then digest everything you heard. Never make a decision based on emotion. Make a decision based on the fact that this is what's going to be best for me. He's been really good about that. The Florida visit was great, the Ohio State visit was great and the visit with coach Muschamp was great. It's one of those things you just take in stride. This dead period is at a great time because it gives him some time to reflect, maybe help him make that decision.
And whatever that decision is and based on the way he has handled himself throughout his recruitment, there will be no questions about the integrity of his decision, no hard feelings, and little question about the inevitability of his future success. No hard feelings, Jordan, but the only thing more beautiful than seeing you in burnt orange would be seeing you throw your Horns up. No hard feelings, but remember that, considering the remarkable late recruiting momentum of Texas, you're either with us or against us. So don't let yourself be forced to watch Texas hoisting the crystal football some time in the next four years, hoist it yourself.