December 26, 2008
Over-the-top, high-dollar recruiting tales are so heavy on rumor and conspiracy theory that they seem more like something out of a clichéd movie, The Program or Caligula Goes to Studio 54 or something. But in the last half-decade alone, you need look no further than either of the major books published on the subject (Michael Lewis' Blindside and Bruce Feldman's Meat Market), Willie Williams' long lost recruiting diary for the Miami Herald or anything written about Colorado recruiting under Gary Barnett to realize that, even after the excesses of the eighties, wild rumor is closer to reality than today's hyper-regulated process leads us to believe.
To that genre, add the testimony of five-star defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland of Lufkin, Texas, whose midnight commitment to Oklahoma was broken Thursday by The New York Times, of all places, nominally ending one of the most accusation-ridden courtship displays of the year. For months, the Times had access to Jamarkus, his mother and their evolving relationship with coaches from Oklahoma, Texas, LSU and Southern Cal -- including an array of under-the-table perks ranging from the relatively benign (LSU's recruiting hostesses sit on prospects' laps) to the somewhat suspicious (USC players take Jamarkus to a party in a stretch Hummer limo after their win over Notre Dame) to the hilariously flagrant (McFarland's mother, in addition to more straightforward bribes from third parties, says a former classmate called her and said she'd been promised any kind of loan she wanted if she could persuade Jamarcus' mother to push him toward Texas).
But the true piéce de résistance in a generally outstanding piece is an excerpt from an English paper McFarland wrote about an unhinged party with Texas fans in a Dallas hotel following the Longhorns' win in the Red River Shootout in October:
"I will never forget the excitement amongst all participants," McFarland wrote. "Alcohol was all you can drink, money was not an option. Girls were acting wild by taking off their tops, and pulling down their pants. Girls were also romancing each other. Some guys loved every minute of the freakiness some girls demonstrated. I have never attended a party of this magnitude."
He continued: "The attitude of the people at the party was that everyone should drink or not come to the party. Drugs were prevalent with no price attached."
He compared that with a house party hosted by a sorority at Oklahoma.
"Drinks were plentiful, but not to the extent they were" at the Dallas party, he wrote. "Some people were tipsy, but in control of themselves."
He described the atmosphere as pleasant and added: "Some people who attend the University of Oklahoma seem to represent different values than some people who attend the University of Texas."
Has this kid ever heard of Barry Switzer, by any chance?
Oklahoma fans, of course, will frame this piece next to their autographed copy of "Billy Sims chants 'Boomer Sooner'" and love it forever. Not only did the Sooners beat Texas for the dream recruit while the Paper of Record portrayed UT as opulent, arrogant, disorganized, debauched, pushy and, in the case of boosters, not all that concerned with the formalities of the NCAA's recruiting regulations, but they had to pull off a steep sales job: Very early in the process, McFarland's mother told OU defensive line coach Jackie Shipp she was "never setting foot in Norman, Oklahoma, again” after an unofficial visit in April. Shipp and Bob Stoops won her -- and, eventually, Jamarkus, who "initially had his heart set on Texas," for obvious reasons -- over by being "persistent," "no-nonsense" and gracious during home visits (Stoops offers to set the dinner table and "chuckles" during the movie Beauty Shop, while Mack Brown has the family over and asks them to compare the luxuries of his house, including two flat screen TVs outside, to Stoops' and Les Miles').
Texas fans, I suspect, will declare "stage mom" and await McFarland's inevitable flameout/fallout in Norman, where he never wanted to be in the first place. And anyway, no commitment is official until Feb. 4. There's time to work that Longhorn "magic," yet.