Go ahead and laugh, but this time, Lane Kiffin may have outfoxed us.
Kiffin’s scholarship offer to a 13-year-old seventh grader has turned into a national joke, right down to the obligatory Chris Hansen/DatelineNBC references. It’s positively hilarious that Kiffin — whose just-spell-my-name-right style of attention-grabbing recruiting has earned him a reputation bigger than his 7-6 record as a college head coach — would promise a scholarship in the class of 2015 to a player who might not shave for three more years.
I’ll admit it. I chuckled, too. Until I searched for David Sills on YouTube. Then everything made sense.
The description of the clip touts the Bear, Del., quarterback prodigy as “the best young phenom since Tiger Woods.” (Get your minds out of the gutter, sickos.) The clip itself is a 117-second commercial for DreamMaker, the newest project for quarterback guru Steve Clarkson, whose past students include Matt Leinart, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Barkley.
Let’s not discount the fact that Sills is a promising young quarterback who, at 11, was profiled on this site. But even if Sills stops growing and remains stuck at 6-feet, even if he never throws a football one mile per hour faster, Kiffin has accomplished his mission. He has done a huge favor for Clarkson, whose DreamMaker project is a made-for-TV event, an American Idol for quarterbacks. We all know how rich Simon Cowell is, so if I’m Clarkson, I’m eternally grateful to Kiffin, whose scholarship offer to Sills made the ESPN crawl and sent college football fans scrambling to the Web to find video of the kid. Those searches led directly to Clarkson’s commercial.
Now, if Clarkson happens to give Kiffin the first crack at his best students, all the better for Kiffin.
Remember, Kiffin has done this before. Last year, he offered a scholarship to 13-year-old Evan Berry, the younger brother of star Tennessee safety Eric Berry. The Berrys’ father, James, played at Tennessee, and Evan has a twin brother named Elliot.
Kiffin got ripped for that scholarship offer, too, but it’s difficult to understand why. The son of a former college star, whose older brother was an All-America, might someday join your team. And he might bring his fraternal twin brother with him. Any geneticist will tell you it’s best to fish in a stocked gene pool, so why not get in on the brothers as early as possible?
In the more recent case, Kiffin had three other good reasons to offer Sills.
David Sills, now 13, was being touted as a future five-star stud at the age of 10.
Courtesy of MaxPreps
1) The kid might really be great.
Sills might grow into a five-star stud. Clarkson doesn’t toss around such praise lightly, but in 2007 he told SI.com: “I know he’s young, but there’s always an exception. He’s the exception. By no means would I recommend this for 10-year olds, but he’s a special case.”
In 2000, I was a recent college grad covering Tennessee sports. The father of one Volunteer told me the player had a younger brother who might be truly special under center. The Tennessee player was quarterback Casey Clausen. At the time, his brother Jimmy was 13. We all know how that turned out. It’s no guarantee that Sills will follow in Jimmy Clausen’s cleatmarks, but it might be worth a bet.
Kiffin also has fallen in love with a young quarterback before. In 2005 while he was a USC assistant, Kiffin thought the Trojans should offer a high school freshman from Santa Ana, Calif. That quarterback’s name was Matt Barkley.
As for the length of the commitment and the mercurial nature of college football recruiting, it’s safe to assume both parties went into this with eyes open. Sills’ father, also named David, is a successful general contractor. He’s not dumb. He certainly understands Kiffin may not even be coaching at USC in 2015. He may have moved on, or he may not have won enough games to keep the job. But at the moment, USC is his son’s dream school. That could change, but neither Sills nor USC has to walk down the aisle until February 2015.
2) Maybe Kiffin finally has a handle on the NCAA rulebook.
At Tennessee, Kiffin earned the nickname “Lane Violations” because of a nasty habit of breaking the NCAA’s more persnickety rules — often in public. By recruiting a seventh-grader, he can avoid breaking those rules, most of which don’t apply to Sills.
The NCAA doesn’t consider a player a “prospective student-athlete” until he enters ninth grade. Until then, coaches can call as many times as they want. So Kiffin is in the clear.
3) If we’re talking about this, we’re not talking about the elephant in the room.
Or maybe we should call him the 6-8, 330-pound offensive tackle in the room. The details of star lineman Seantrel Henderson‘s commitment to USC on Wednesday only serve to underscore the fact that the NCAA has yet to dish out punishment from its investigation into the accusations that former Trojan Reggie Bush and his family received a small fortune in improper benefits while Bush played for USC.
Henderson, ranked the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect by Rivals.com, will not sign until after the Trojans meet with the NCAA’s committee on infractions later this month. If USC receives bad news, it’s a safe bet Henderson will sign elsewhere. If the NCAA really drops the hammer, it could affect the Trojans’ recruiting for a long time — maybe even until 2015.
Fortunately, USC already has locked up the kid who could be the best quarterback in that class. Of course, a lot can change between now and then. As the singer of the way-too-literal soundtrack to the Sills YouTube clip/Clarkson commercial croons, Sills has got “all kinds of time.”