“The Journey” is an eight-part, eight-day series that takes you behind the scenes of the college football recruiting process as South Florida's best make the biggest decisions of their lives. To read other installments of "The Journey" visit SunSentinel.com/Journey.
Cardinal Gibbons wide receiver George Rushing is still waiting for Charlie Strong to "man up" and call him.
Rushing wants to hear the former Louisville, now Texas, coach tell him that he's accepted the Longhorns job — he wants to hear Strong say that last time the two talked, Strong misled not only Rushing, but his entire family.
But Rushing doesn't expect that phone call to ever come.
College football is big business, and high school prospects are frequently collateral damage in the wheelings and dealings of coaches and athletic departments. Verbal commitments are non-binding, and that goes both ways.
So whether it's a coaching change or prospect favoritism by a staff, players, through no fault of their own, can be left with their college futures in limbo.
Rushing didn't think anything like that would happen to him when he committed to Louisville in May. Perfect matches are rare in college football recruiting, but Rushing thought he had found one.
Rushing liked the offense the Cardinals ran. He liked the fact that they were an up-and-coming program. He liked the academics, the uniforms, the guys on the team, and the early playing time he was sure to get — but most of all, he liked Strong.
Rushing had his school, so he shut down his recruitment process and had a standout senior campaign.
Around Christmas, the rumors started, but they were only low, unsubstantiated murmurs when Rushing went to Orlando to cheer on the Cardinals in the Russell Athletic Bowl. By New Years Day, there was smoke to the fire, and on Jan. 3, the first reports came out that Strong had accepted the Texas job for $5 million a year.
Rushing monitored it all through Twitter — he wasn't hearing anything meaningful back from the Louisville staff — and as Strong's switch appeared more and more imminent, he began to panic.
"I hit up players, coaches — everyone thought he was staying," Rushing said.
When Strong finally returned Rushing's calls and texts, the receiver's family gathered around the phone.
"He told me 'I haven't talked to Texas. I'm not going anywhere. Don't worry about it,' '' Rushing said. "The next day I wake up, and I see he's taken the Texas job."
Coaches from Wisconsin and TCU called Rushing before Strong was formally announced, pouncing on the fresh meat like lions.
Without much of a relationship with either staff, he set up visits to both schools and decommitted from Louisville.
While Rushing looked for other options, the new Cardinals staff made in-roads with Rushing. On Monday, he'll decide between Wisconsin or Louisville.
"I get it," Rushing said of the Strong situation. "He's got to do what he's got to do, but I still think it's shady."
Flanagan cornerback Chrispin Lee can relate. He committed to Western Michigan in December and shut down his recruitment. But on Jan. 17, the coach who accepted Lee's commitment told the senior that he didn't have room for him in the Broncos' signing class.
NCAA rules mandate that programs can only sign 25 players on National Signing Day, which is Wednesday. Schools work around the rules by enrolling players early or using a "grayshirt" and having them enroll a year later. But Western Michigan has 27 commitments and Lee was afforded neither option.
Flanagan coach Devin Bush called the coach looking for an explanation, and was told that Lee never committed — but the cornerback's text messages, and the return messages from the coaching staff tell a different story. Bush, feeling his player was wronged, told Western Michigan that they're no longer welcome at Flanagan.
While Rushing received big-league interest following his decommitment, Lee hasn't had any suitors.
"We'll have to wait until after signing day," Bush, a seven-year NFL veteran and former FSU Seminole, said. "He's scared. It's screwed up."
Bush, a first-year head coach, and Rushing both learned the same lesson from their respective experiences — whether you are committed or not, don't shut down the recruitment process until you sign a national letter-of-intent.
"Always have a plan B," Rushing said. "This recruitment process is a business, and if you don't have a Plan B, you can get burned."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun