Adjustable commitments

Marvin WestFeature, westwords

Commitment means different things to different folks.

Sarah and I made one 64 years ago. We thought of it as a permanent pledge. So it seems.


Commitment has evolved into a more flexible word. Now and then it still means rock-solid, count on it, steadfast and secure, or it may mean only an incidental step in a decision-making process. The interpretation is increasingly difficult to decipher – OK for today and perhaps tomorrow or subject to change with or without a moment’s notice.

High school athletes and college coaches have kicked the word around like a football. Many “commitments” include caveats.

Player: “I am committed but I intend to take my other official visits, just to compare.”

Coach: “We all celebrated the commitment but we must continue recruiting until signing day. We have learned that young men sometimes change their mind.”

Unspoken 1: If my dream school offers, I’m gone.

Unspoken 2: We might find a better player at his position.

Actual example: Ramel Keyton, four-star receiver from Marietta, Ga., says he wants to play at Tennessee. He is committed. Count me in for 2019.

“I just feel really comfortable up there.”

Ramel said he thinks the Vols are trending upward, that things are going to be like they used to be.

“I really like the way Coach Pruitt carries himself.”

Ramel said he hasn’t ruled out taking official (paid) visits to other schools. Oh no, he doesn’t expect to change his mind about the Vols – even if he decides to continue exploring other options.

“If I do an official, it’s not going to be to switch my commitment. It’s probably just going to be to go out of state and just see something. I’ll probably just go to, like, Ohio State and Penn State – something like that.”

Example 2: Lakia Henry of Vidalia, Ga., and Dodge City Community College, outstanding linebacker who delivers a thump, picked Tennessee from an assortment of scholarship offers. He announced his commitment.

Lakia said facilities and the opportunity to play early were not decisive. He said he chose the Vols because of relationships. That sounded warm and fuzzy – until he added a warning.

“I’m still going to take more visits and stuff, just to make sure I’m comfortable with it – just to make sure Tennessee don’t get too comfortable…

“I’m going to go to Alabama. I’m probably going to take an official visit to Iowa State, Texas A&M, Texas – all those schools. I just want to get around and get a feel for other schools. But I’m still going to be committed to Tennessee.”

Henry says you have to give the Tide a chance.

“It’s a really good football program. It’s something you really have to consider once they offer you. Alabama is a winning program. They’re real high on academics and all that stuff. I just haven’t had a chance to see the place. I want to get a feel for the place and all that good stuff.”

If you are assembling a depth chart for the future, pencil in Lakia Henry, great talent, potential starter. You can ink over it if he arrives on campus.

Commitment talk would be incomplete without recollections of two famous quarterbacks who came completely uncommitted.

In 1999, Chris Simms, prized son of former NFL quarterback Phil Simms, pledged to Tennessee. Big Orange Country had a party. The band played Rocky Top over and over again.

A few weeks later, Texas coach Mack Brown swooped in and snatched up Simms. The music stopped. Sadness settled over the land.

It was not a kidnapping. Chris went willingly. One fan summed it up: Some guys just don’t do what they say.

Fast forward to 2013. After an eight-month commitment to Arizona State, Joshua Dobbs, a deep thinker, changed his mind just in time for signing day. He made a much-improved decision. Geography was relevant. Tennessee has a great engineering school. The Butch Jones offense fit Dobbs’ skill set.

What a difference he made. He helped the Vols become relevant for a few minutes. He did some other stuff – community service, youth motivation, visits with the sick and afflicted. He devoted extra time to children with alopecia, a condition that causes early hair loss, one of Dobbs’ few problems.

Adjustable commitments giveth and taketh away. No doubt Simms made a great impact on Texas. Alas, I don’t recall.

Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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