High School Football

NATIONAL SIGNING DAY, WAITING THEIR TURN: Blackshear, Pinckney up next

sports@islandpacket.com, sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 5, 2014 

Every day was starting to feel the same for Shameik Blackshear.

The prized defensive end from Bluffton High School seemingly spent each afternoon repeating the tired routine. One by one, college coaches lined up for their chance to chat, another chance to sway the junior one way or another.

Round and round the carousel went.

"Now that was annoying, because it was like schools that I didn't even care for," he said. "They would just come. They would tell me the same stuff that I heard from the last coach the day before, and the day before and the day before."

Blackshear and Nyles Pinckney, a sophomore defensive lineman at Whale Branch Early College High School, are among the Lowcountry's most recent wunderkinds, drawing Division-I offers based on physical attributes before their high school years had progressed even two seasons.

The early attention presents a conundrum for those in the process. On one hand, there is the security of a player knowing their immediate future after high school is probably set.

Where to place that future becomes the issue and draws players into a world where college coaches play their best friends, friends and family members nudge with their biases, and college football fans can connect directly to express their wishes with recruits on Twitter.

Throughout it all, reporters who cover recruiting send texts to gauge the latest mood swings and to chart when and where a player visits.

Blackshear's mind had been made up for some time. He was growing weary of the recruiting process and was ready to announce. So he tweeted his intentions one May afternoon.

"Verball (sic) commit to SOUTH CAROLINA," he tweeted.

"I already knew where I wanted to go for a long time," he said. "Why sit around, wait and answer all these questions, 'Where do you want to go? Where do you want to go?' I knew where I wanted to go, so I let it be known."

Pinckney has offers from Clemson, Georgia Tech and North Carolina so far. He plans to take his time before making a decision.

North Carolina linebackers coach Ron West stopped at Whale Branch last week. Duke defensive line coach Rick Petri has also been by in recent weeks.

Coaches can't talk to Pinckney unless he is on their campus, but they speak to Warriors coach Jerry Hatcher and are sure their presence is known.

Pinckney planned to attend Junior Day at Clemson this past weekend and go to a basketball game.

Hatcher said he cautions players against committing early, tells them to make sure they are certain and not just enamored with a coach who may not be there when the player enrolls.

"You've got to want to be at that school," Hatcher said. "You've got to want to live there the next four years."

Other coaches, such as Hilton Head Island High School's B.J. Payne, favor committing early in the process, so the focus remains on their high school team and to help ensure a player's future. In case of injury, Payne said, coaches would be reluctant to back out on an offer.

Blackshear experienced an injury-riddled junior season. He played only a handful of snaps in the season-opener against Whale Branch before suffering a shoulder injury, then missed out on more playing time with a dislocated shoulder.

He fought through pain to get on the field and took snaps at linebacker to lessen his chances at greater injury. It was all part of a disappointing year, he said, that failed to equal the sophomore campaign which boosted his initial stock.

"It's hard," Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said. "He was frustrated last spring. I tried to warn him. ... The pressure on him was heavy."

Pinckney often receives texts from recruiting reporters asking his next move or how a visit went. He maintains contact with coaches, favoring the schools who have offered scholarships.

Pinckney declined a combine invite at the beginning of the year while dealing with an injury but plans to visit a combine in Oregon this summer and also camps at Clemson, South Carolina and N.C. State.

He works with a personal trainer, Arlan Johnson, who is also an assistant coach at Beaufort High. Johnson works Pinckney on his agility, 40-yard dash time and similar qualifiers.

Pinckney said he has heard from some friends and family with opinions on where he should attend college, but that the chorus has not grown too loud.

"I feel a little bit from certain people -- friends who say you should commit now, so you will be set as you go, or certain family members saying you should go to this school now because they're doing good in athletics and academically," he said. "As of right now, I'm just waiting to see my options."

Blackshear's high rankings -- he is rated a five-star prospect by recruiting websites 247sports and Rivals -- do not bring him added pressure, he said. He welcomes the criticism at combines and camps, viewing it merely as another chance to prove detractors wrong.

"I actually like it because with my ability, people would underestimate me a lot," he said. "I don't even know why. They just think I'm a lot of hype. But that's not the case, I can perform when I need to."

He hopes to build off a junior season that tested his fortitude, getting one more shot to prove not only recruiting analysts of his abilities but also his own fans.

"People expected big things out of me," he said. "But you look down at the injuries and there's nothing you can do but help yourself get better."

WHAT IT TAKES

National Signing Day is Wednesday. The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette take a look inside the people and processes leading up to a football player signing his National Letter of Intent and how all is not lost if a player doesn't sign on the big day.

Monday -- The Hustle: The blue-chippers are the easy ones, their recruitment is in motion long before February of their senior year. For the others, though some high school football coaches work tirelessly creating video packages, contacting recruiters and working their circles for a spot to place players they believe in.

Tuesday -- From the Bottom Up: How Beaufort High's Ron Parker crafted a path from the bottom of the depth chart at a Missouri junior college to starting in the NFL

Wednesday -- Waiting Their Turn: Heralded recruits Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton and Nyles Pinckney of Whale Branch won't sign for a while, leaving each with time to deal with what can be an overwhelming process of combines, recruiting-site rankings, calls and texts from college coaches and feedback from fans.

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