What was once a simple game under the Friday night lights of small town middle America, for some, becomes less about what post-game meal might be served and more about showcasing your talents for the next level. As a sixteen year old young man you’ve already started worrying a little bit less about who you might take to homecoming and a little more about who watched your game tape, how their analysis of that specific performance went and who might be on the other end the next time the phone rings.
For those parents tasked with everything from taxi service to banker to uniform duty, it’s about making sure the high school years are still enjoyed as intended before we wish our days away. It’s about preparing your kids for what comes next in life while helping them through whatever may have happened the day before. It’s about the future of the young adult roaming around your house and exactly whose hands you’re willing to place him in once your address is no longer his address. The options can be plenty and the meetings and visits with different coaches and institutions show no two personalities – or intentions – are alike.
But in a situation where a four-star athlete, barely old enough to drive, is being courted by multiple Division-1 schools and coaches from all over the country, the athlete isn’t the only one doing homework.
These parents watch closely as their son manages his way through the process, speaking with different coaches who have different philosophies and visiting college campuses he’s more than a year from potentially calling his home. They’ve asked their share of questions, answered a few others and probably made more mental notes in the last six months than many of us may make in a year. After all, this is the biggest decision their son has had to make in his short life.
“The recruiting process is both fun and stressful,” said Dawn Elliott, mother of Ohio State class of 2013 commit Ezekiel Elliott. “It’s fun to meet new coaches, families, and other recruits and visit the different campuses and facilities. You develop relationships with these coaches, and really grow to like them and it’s stressful because you can only choose one program. This is a major decision for a 16 year old.”
Stacy Elliott, Ezekiel’s father, mirrored those thoughts. “The process has been difficult because we have visited a lot of great places and we’ve had to figure out which school was the best fit for Ezekiel academically and athletically.”
While every facet of Ezekiel’s life is evaluated by every head coach and recruiter he comes in contact with during the process – Dawn is evaluating every facet of the evaluator. That’s what moms do. I asked her who the most interesting coach she met was, outside of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, and her answer shined a quick light on the amount of detail a parent sees.
“A toss up between Coach Tim Beckman at Illinois and Coach David Yost at Mizzou. Coach Beckman reminds me of a spark plug…charged up, and keeps everyone around him charged. He was full of energy and hype throughout the entire visit at Illinois. But Coach Yost is the coolest coach that we met during the recruiting process, and he has awesome hair… I LOVE Coach Yost’s hair!!!”
Warning to all recruiters: Mom sees everything. For coach Yost, his golden locks happened to earn him a bonus point.
The amount of detail that goes into the evaluation process, from both sides, is astonishing. The coaching staff must make sure they’re selecting a quality student-athlete to represent the university – and one that ‘fits the system.’ The parents must make sure they’re handing their child off to trusted hands, and that simply isn’t an easy process. The recruit has to find the situation, and location, that fits him best.
The decision can’t be an easy one, especially while holding onto twenty-two scholarship offers, as Ezekiel did. Academics matter. Geographical location plays a part. So does the staff, the system and your future teammates. But Stacy has known this was coming for a while.
“I always knew Ezekiel could potentially be a Division-1 football player because Dawn and I were D-1 athletes. However, the reality sank in when he became a nationally ranked hurdler as a freshman in high school.”
This isn’t a one-day process.
THE SELECTION COMMITTEE
Ultimately the decision comes down to where the student-athlete feels most comfortable and feels he has the best opportunity to succeed on and off the field. If he’s not 100% comfortable with the choice made it can be a recipe for disaster. When push comes to shove we’re still talking about 16 year old kids making decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives, but it’s a decision that must be made.
Parents, while holding onto their own school rankings, are there to assist and guide their prized recruit through the process while leaving the final decision to the one who will have to live with the choice. Dawn and Stacy Elliott embraced that notion from the outset.
“My number-one choice, in alphabetical order, was a three-way tie between Mizzou, Notre Dame, and Ohio State,” said Dawn when asked where her heart rested during the process. “Ezekiel’s commitment to Ohio State was totally on his own though.”
On the surface, that’s an understatement once you realize how Ezekiel’s commitment actually went down…
“He pulled the trigger without even telling me,” Dawn said. “We had just returned to St. Louis from Columbus and we were discussing the visit to Columbus, as well as our visit to South Bend the prior weekend. I told Ezekiel that he had plenty of time to make a decision, and not to worry or stress about it. This discussion took place prior to one of my daughter’s lacrosse games. Between her games I took Ezekiel and Stacy home because they were tired. As I pulled back up at the lacrosse field (about 45 minutes after I dropped off Ezekiel and Stacy at home) I had a message from (Mark) Pantoni saying, ‘CONGRATS!!!!!’ Not certain what he meant by that, I called home. That’s when Stacy told me that Ezekiel had Coach Meyer on the phone and had made a verbal commitment to Ohio State.”
Don’t let her fool you. Ezekiel may have ‘pulled the trigger’ but a decision like that doesn’t happen without support. Sure, Ezekiel has worked his tail off to give himself choices and opportunity. He’s blazed a path that is beginning to pay off, but he undoubtedly senses the reaction from his parents to each coach, each visit and each conversation. He ultimately makes a decision that fits his needs best, but no decision – or opportunity – is created without the support of those closest to him. That still doesn’t make it an easy choice for the recruit or the parents.
Stacy, on his initial vision of Ezekiel’s college football career: “Being a former Mizzou football player I would have loved to see my son head to the University of Missouri. In fact, we thought the script was already written; Ezekiel was going to be a Tiger. I am extremely proud and excited to be a Buckeye father, but I will always be a Tiger for life!!!”
Unfortunately there’s more to it than alma maters, school colors and X’s and O’s.
The entire atmosphere of college football is turned upside down on an annual basis by the next controversy in the news. The Elliott family resides in St. Louis, Missouri so a lot of the information they receive on Ohio State – beyond any call, letter or pamphlet from the staff or university – comes through the media.
“I watch EVERYTHING!” said Dawn, when asked about Ohio State being in the national spotlight. “Even if I didn’t watch or if I missed something, friends and family forward articles that they read regarding Ohio State and Urban Meyer.”
As we all know, the media isn’t out to make friends. Dawn continued:
“The latest rash of news that mentioned my son’s name was a little disturbing at first, but that’s only because I misinterpreted what the writer was stating. However, as more stories were released regarding the same incident I noticed that some of the information reported was incorrect.”
Stacy has his eyes firmly planted on the constant scrutiny of Ohio State as well. “I watch very closely, but it does not worry me at all. When you have one of the best coaches in college football at one of the biggest programs in college football, being in the national spotlight comes with the territory.”
You have to feel for parents in situations like this. As fans, the media – and the NCAA – are messing with our team. We’re mostly about wins and losses and the mainstream media, coupled with the NCAA, are more often enemies than friends when it comes to on-field success. But situations like this aren’t about wins and losses for the parents. Reading the name ‘Ezekiel’ in an article a few weeks back that detailed 46 secondary violations self-reported by Ohio State has nothing to do with anything Scarlet, Gray or pigskin textured. Now it’s about their son.
But the Elliotts understand how this works. They also understand the man they’re handing their son off to, and how he’ll affect the next chapter Ezekiel writes in his life.
“I have met Coach Meyer,” said Stacy when asked about the two-time national champion head coach. “The first time I met Coach Meyer we were sitting in his office and the man was so humble I could not believe I was actually sitting in the same office with THE Urban Meyer. I was very impressed; Coach Meyer is a humble, personable, respectful and confident man. I love what he stands for.”
With everything we hear about Urban Meyer – some positive, some negative, and some bordering on absurd – the opinion of a mother who is about to pass her son on to his care is as valuable as you’ll find. Dawn, on Urban Meyer: “He is an extremely humble, charitable and caring man that absolutely adores his wife and children.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Ezekiel will be in good hands at The Ohio State University, but football coaches don’t just welcome recruits into their programs, they welcome families. Urban Meyer is getting a good one with the Elliotts.
I asked Dawn and Stacy the all-important question regarding Ohio State’s post-game tradition. They both acknowledged knowing of the tradition, but admitted they aren’t yet prepared to participate. Of course, can you blame them? Duties far more important than putting song lyrics to memory have consumed much of their time lately, so we’re here to lend a hand.