“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.
In the cut-throat business of college football recruiting, timing is everything. The process of evaluating, offering and signing high school prospects is a calculated science, and a poorly timed injury can easily end a college football dream.
A trio of local high school athletes had their football lives put on hold this past year when an injury left them in recruiting limbo. While each is a clear-cut Division I football prospect, when full-ride scholarships are on the line, nothing is guaranteed — not even to the most talented players.
On National Signing Day, Feb. 5, uncertainty for the three will finally come to an end.
Pope John Paul II wide receiver William Jeanlys vividly remembers the day he tore his ACL and the meniscus in his right knee. During a spring practice before his senior season, one wrong turn during a drill brought a loud pop and months of uncertainty.
Jeanlys had heard the horror stories of colleges pulling scholarships after recruits sustained serious injuries, and with offers from SMU and Tulane on the table, his concern wasn't only on his recovery, but also his future.
"When I found out it was my knee and my meniscus, it killed me," Jeanlys said.
Cypress Bay wide receiver Kadeem Goulbourne faced a similar situation three weeks into his senior season.
Goulbourne had offers from Boston College, Kentucky and Ole Miss, but when he broke his foot during a routine play in practice, those unwritten promises quickly turned into outdated bids.
His phone, which once ringing constantly, went silent, and the attention Goulbourne had once received shifted to his teammates.
"Not a lot of colleges came by after my injury because they thought that I wasn't improving," Goulbourne said. "They didn't want to take a chance on me."
Cardinal Gibbons quarterback Peyton Bender committed to Washington State the spring before his senior year, seeing himself as a perfect fit for the Cougars' Air Raid offense, but when he broke the clavicle in his throwing arm late in the season, anxiety overcame him.
Bender worried that the Cougars coaching staff wouldn't want to take a gamble on a quarterback that just injured his throwing arm. Most teams only sign one quarterback in a recruiting class — surely a Pac-12 school such as Washington State could find a replacement for the injured quarterback who lived 3,000 miles away.
Matt Dillon has been coaching for 33 years, and he can only recall a few occasions when a college honored a scholarship after a major injury. So when Jeanlys was told he needed season-ending surgery in late spring, the Pope John Paul II coach knew the odds weren't in his favor.
"Those offers are just verbal commitments," Dillon said. "A lot of schools just say thanks, and move on."
Luckily, Bender, Jeanlys and Goulbourne didn't join those ranks. Washington State coach Mike Leach reached out to Bender after his injury and provided needed assurance.
"I was worried," Bender says. "[When] the coaches told me it was going to be OK. ... It was a relief."
And while other schools shied away from recruiting Jeanlys and Goulbourne after the injuries, one school saw an opportunity to land two top-level players. SMU reached out to both players following their respective injuries and inquired about their services, seeing potential in the injured duo.
Jeanlys committed to SMU two months after surgery and will sign with the program on National Signing Day. Goulbourne pledged his services to the Mustangs in December and like Jeanlys, he will attend SMU next year on a full scholarship.
Until the players sign National Letters of Intent, we won't be able to find out why SMU took a chance on the receivers — SMU coaches cannot comment on an unsigned prospect, per NCAA rules.
While things worked out for Bender, Jeanlys and Goulbourne, others haven't been as lucky. Knowing how their lives could have changed, all three have pledged to make the most of their opportunities — as their success could help to dispel the stigma of an injured prospect.
"If you're willing to take a chance on the athlete, then you will," Goulbourne says. "It's the will of the coach to take a chance on you regardless of what happens."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun