Herzog covers high school sports as a writer and columnist. His primary area of coverage is football,
For the biggest decision of their young lives, three of Long Island's best football players endured months of indecision:
Football or lacrosse.
North or South.
FBS or FCS.
For Dalton Crossan, Devante McFarlane and Stacey Bedell, Wednesday's national signing day was the culmination of an arduous recruiting process that in some ways mirrored their running styles. The three Newsday first-team All-Long Island players changed directions before reaching their goal. Crossan signed with New Hampshire, McFarlane with Syracuse and Bedell with Massachusetts.
"It was very tough. There was so much pressure. A lot of stress," said McFarlane, who accounted for 1,952 yards and 27 touchdowns for Half Hollow Hills West. His problem surfaced when, after verbally committing to Syracuse before the season, he was recruited hard by Vanderbilt, which had an assistant in the stands for several games. "Vanderbilt came after me. Then they disappeared. Then they came back. Syracuse, though, was always there," he said.
Crossan was an early target of Michigan, which offered a rare full scholarship for lacrosse, as the Wolverines wanted to make the Sachem North star their poster boy for a move into Division I in the fast-rising sport. "If I liked lacrosse even close to how much I like football, I clearly would have picked Michigan," said Crossan, who shared the Hansen Award with Bedell and ran for 2,216 yards and 38 touchdowns. "But when I decided on football, New Hampshire was the right place for me."
Bedell was confused. He verbally committed early to Villanova -- "too early" he admitted in late summer -- before de-committing. James Madison had pursued him heavily, and continued the chase even after Bedell's verbal. JMU eventually wore the Floyd star down, and he declared for the Harrisonburg, Va., school.
But Bedell, who ran for 2,592 yards and scored 39 touchdowns, has always had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. "I like to prove people wrong," he said. That includes those who thought he was too small to play Division I (FBS). So after two commitments to Division I (FCS) schools, Bedell finally chose UMass, which becomes an FBS school next season. He also had an offer from Boston College. Another problem.
"No doubt, was because Stacey always felt he could play Division I-A," Floyd coach Paul Longo said, referring to the old designation for the NCAA's large-school category. "When BC and UMass offered, that's what he wanted. He turned down BC because they wanted him to play defense. UMass told him he could start on offense. When the opportunity to play at the higher level came along, he grabbed it."
All three had multiple opportunities, but to some degree, that just made things more difficult. In McFarlane's case, it created a frenetic, almost comical fall afternoon when assistant coaches for both Syracuse and Vanderbilt showed up at Hills West -- . on the same day. It wasn't planned and it forced McFarlane and school officials to hastily arrange for the interviews to be held at different times in different rooms. "That was a crazy day," said McFarlane, who admitted he prefers warm weather but insisted he's comfortable with his Snow Belt selection.
Michigan, even after suffering a recruiting defeat, was magnanimous, telling Crossan that it would keep him in mind if he changed his mind (and his sport). That made it easier for him to settle on New Hampshire, which set an FCS record last fall with its eighth consecutive playoff appearance and has indicated it will redshirt its entire freshman class.
"Towards the end of the season, I made my mind up to play football in college," said Crossan, who will play lacrosse this spring and is Sachem North's top returning scorer. "On my visit, I loved everything about the campus and the coaches. The whole experience was awesome."
The same can't be said for the decision-making process. For all three, that was more stress test than joy ride.