IOWA CITY, Iowa — Before John Waggoner woke up, his schedule was full.
On Dec. 5, he had school and Dowling Catholic (Iowa) basketball practice. Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck was stopping by during the day. Nebraska planned to visit, too.
All of this on the day he was finalizing his commitment to Iowa during a meeting with defensive line coach Reese Morgan.
Class of 2018 recruits such as Waggoner are dealing with a new early signing period. Those who waited to commit are finding out the days of slowly wading back into the December recruiting waters are over. The month became the most hectic in the recruiting calendar as prospects needed to move up their commitment timetable from past seasons with the signing period beginning on Wednesday.
“It is hard because I think none of us realized this is where it was really going,” Waggoner’s mom, Julie, said. “All this recruiting stuff started again and it took all of us by surprise.”
Waggoner, a 4-star defensive end, limited his recruitment during his senior football season. He talked with coaches, but didn’t make any visits.
After his season ended, Waggoner jumped back into the recruiting world in late November. A host of programs were waiting with college coaches running through his high school to visit him on a seemingly daily basis.
“A lot of schools that were recruiting me,” Waggoner said, “everyone was trying to get as many people signed by December as possible. I think it speeds things up a little bit.”
Waggoner’s decision to pause his recruitment was unique. His recruiting experience wasn’t.
December is the new January in recruiting. Programs press for face time with prospects, fight for official visits and look to lock down commitments.
Before, if a recruit didn’t visit in December, January was a viable — if not preferred — option. Now, the player may not be available after the holidays.
Teams are preferring to secure as much of their Class of 2018 as possible in the early signing period. Across the country, committed players who don’t sign stand in position to potentially lose their offer with teams viewing this as the main signing day.
Dowling Catholic football coach Wilson isn’t a fan of this recent change.
“For the high school program, I think it’s really hard,” Wilson said. “I think we get a little bit selfish and say let’s focus on our team right now. We know that recruiting is all of it, but the way it is now the officials start getting taken earlier, decisions are being made during the season or before the season, which is fine, but this [in the past] would be the time for officials and you would have until February to make a decision.”
As Florida 3-star wide receiver Calvin Lockett entered December, he wasn’t considering signing early. He planned to do it in February.
“I haven’t really talked to any of the other coaches about it,” Lockett told Land of 10 on Dec. 5. “I’m not sure if it will be a problem or not.”
Lockett visited Iowa on Dec. 8 and committed on Dec. 13. Now, like every other commit, he’ll officially become a Hawkeye this week.
Please respect my decision 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/cXgOnTFZT8
— Calvin Lockett (@CalvinJr018) December 14, 2017
The process was even taxing for those expecting to sign early and enroll early in January. California 4-star quarterback Spencer Petras re-opened his recruiting after an Oregon State coaching change. He visited Iowa on Dec. 9 and weighed flipping to the Hawkeyes or sticking with the Beavers.
Iowa, though, couldn’t put all of its hopes on filling a major need on Petras. The Hawkeyes set up an official visit with Utah 3-star quarterback Zachary Wilson for this past weekend.
Petras committed to Iowa on Thursday night and Wilson canceled his visit. Petras described the week before flipping as “hectic.”
Marin Catholic (Calif.) football coach Mazy Moayed knows Petras wanted to take his time. It’s a commodity that’s not always there in December and won’t be going forward.
“The recruiters do a pretty good job with it overall, but the process definitely isn’t perfect,” Marin Catholic (Calif.) coach Mazi Moayed said. “It’s a business where there are only so many chairs available and there are only so many guys capable of sitting in those chairs. No one wants to miss out on either side, and with social media and everything else it really speeds everything up now.”
Waggoner ultimately canceled his visit with Fleck. His coach told Nebraska to hold off. He wanted to meet with Morgan first on Dec. 5. The two chatted and his commitment to Iowa became official.
December jumped up on players, their families and coaches this year. No one knew how it was going to play out.
They didn’t realize how important December is now. Waggoner, his mom and coach believe players should put a bigger emphasis on visiting programs before their senior season.
“In the future we will try to get [players] to some places in the spring and really his family did that,” Wilson said. “They took him around on unofficials. He saw a lot of the places that offered him.”
He just needed time to mull over his decision. Like so many, he made his choice in December. The early signing period forced his hand. Waggoner is fine with it and it comes with one benefit he enjoys.
“No one is going to be asking questions of where I’m heading anymore,” Waggoner said.