On the surface, spreading one of the most exciting days on the high school football calendar into two segments has created twice the fun.

Previously referred to simply as national signing day and held the first Wednesday in February, the NCAA essentially turned what already was a long process for college recruits into two days of announcements spread over a little less than two months.


While the media frenzy typically associated with the traditional signing day moved up to Dec. 20, and fans of many programs received a holiday present as numerous top recruits made their commitments official, some players also saw benefits.

Adding an early signing period, beginning with the 2018 class, gave players such as Pickerington Central tight end Trenton Gillison the ability to put his name on the dotted line earlier and finalize a decision that actually had taken place long ago.

Gillison, who originally committed to Michigan State in late January 2017 and typically couldn't have signed until Feb. 7, was one of nearly two dozen players from central Ohio to sign ahead of the traditional signing day.

The early signing period was held Dec. 20-22 and traditionally will start the third Wednesday in December.

"(The) early signing day gives athletes who have decided their school to focus on the rest of their high school career, or they can be enrolled early to college," Gillison said. "I think it's good for college football to have the extra period because the coaches and the players don't have to stress and worry about who's committing. They can have the stress off their shoulders."

Reaction, however, remains mixed on the details of the additional signing period, and its effect on prep athletes and recruiters might take some time to decipher.

For those like Gillison, the addition of the early signing period was nothing more than a date change.

"It's great that they added an early signing day because players who are really committed to a certain program can, in a way, get it over with," said Reynoldsburg offensive lineman Joe Boggs, who signed in December with Ball State. "Overall for me, an early signing day was very beneficial because now I know who all my brothers are and I don't have to wait until February to sign."

Early impressions

The most obvious effect of adding an early signing period has to do with who is no longer available.

Of the 23 players from central Ohio who signed in December, many were three- or four-star recruits such as Gillison and Pickerington Central teammate Xavier Henderson, who also signed with Michigan State.

Westerville South running back Jaelen Gill was one of the most highly sought area players in the 2018 class. He verbally committed 11 months ago to Ohio State and became one of 21 players to sign with the Buckeyes on Dec. 20.

DeSales linebacker Brian Asamoah waited until September to commit to Oklahoma but ultimately signed with the Sooners in December.

Two athletes who waited until just before the December signing period to make up their minds were Hilliard Bradley wide receiver Kory Taylor and Pickerington North defensive lineman Alex Williams.

Taylor, whose recruitment picked up steam throughout the season, didn't announce he was verbally committed to Purdue until Dec. 16.

An even later decision was made by Williams, who had been committed for several months to West Virginia before flipping to Ohio State on Dec. 20.

"The early signing period is good, particularly for the young men and the school that knows that they are making the commitment," Hartley coach Brad Burchfield said. "It saves a ton of time and effort on everyone's part."

Burchfield witnessed that firsthand with offensive lineman Patrick Gilliland, who signed with Ohio University in December.

In addition to recruits who committed to schools from the Power 5 conferences -- the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC -- programs from mid-major conferences such as Ohio also got their signing lists started.

In addition to Boggs signing with Ball State and Gilliland, Gahanna wide receiver Jerome Buckner and Olentangy Orange linebacker Bryce Houston signing with Ohio, Toledo from the Mid-American Conference, Air Force and Colorado State from the Mountain West and Army also locked up area players.

Even Youngstown State, which has a history of success in the Football Championship Subdivision, got an early signee in Dublin Coffman linebacker Griffin Hoak.

Another positive, according to Pickerington Central coach Jay Sharrett, other players in the 2018 class got noticed earlier.

"I thought it provided extra exposure for our seniors that were still looking for a place to continue their educational and athletic career by eliminating players that had multiple offers," Sharrett said. "(That), in turn, opened up offers that multiple-offer players would have tied up until the February signing day."

Is there a better way?

The December signing period for football was the second scholarship celebration during the 2017-18 school year for prep athletes.

Those in numerous other sports, including boys and girls basketball, signed in early November.

That means those two sports have a signing period before their season starts, which is not available for football.

The NCAA voted in April 2017 to add an early signing period for football that would take place in December as opposed to one that might have taken place in early August before the football season started.

"I like an early signing period, but not like the one that is in place," Walnut Ridge coach Byron Mattox said. "If there is an early signing period, it should be before the regular season. This signing period works for the college coaches but does not help many of the players. Many (coaching changes take place) in December or in January after the national convention. (It's) fair for the coaches, not for many of the players that signed partly because of the coach or coaches that recruited them."

Mattox also saw an increase in the pressure to commit and sign during the early period rather than waiting for the February signing day.

"It did change the way players are being recruited," he said. "Long story short, I have a player that had his scholarship pulled because he wanted to sign in February after his official visit in January. Ultimately, the head coach left for another job and the new head coach didn't retain the position coach and coordinator that recruited my player. The main effect it will have on February is that there will be a lot fewer guys signing."

Boggs said the pressure is now more firmly placed on college coaches considering it's the same time frame that their teams often are preparing for bowl games.

Brian Haffele, who has coached several FBS recruits during his 13 seasons leading Marion-Franklin, believes an earlier signing day than December would be more beneficial for prep athletes.

"The early signing period was a little too close to the normal day in February," he said. "I think it should be more like basketball, maybe late August. This would allow players who are at the highest level to commit before their senior year, (so there would be) less stress on the high school players. Furthermore, this would allow high school players to focus on the universities who are really recruiting them."

Sprinting to the finish

A year ago, Pickerington Central running back Morgan Ellison de-committed from Ohio in January, received an offer from Indiana two days later and ultimately announced his decision to play for the Hoosiers on signing day.

Since the new early signing period in December, Gahanna wide receiver David Miller has been among the numerous players from central Ohio to announce their decisions, committing to Navy on Jan. 27.

Pickerington Central senior defensive back Jeremiah Wood, who has about a dozen offers from FBS schools, also was expected to sign Feb. 7.

With schools across the country still filling out their 2018 recruiting classes after the early signing period, the last several weeks have been active for all parties.

"It made the month of January very busy at our school," Sharrett said.

Haffele used the phrase "watered down" to describe how the February signing day felt because so many of central Ohio's top recruits already signed weeks ago.

The last few days before the February signing day typically are reserved for those who must choose among offers from smaller FBS programs as well as FCS, Division II or NAIA programs, and that's likely to continue under the new format.

The extra signing period could bring other benefits as well for current and future classes, according to Burchfield.

"I've seen an abundance of non-Division I scholarship schools come in more than ever before, and I'd have to guess some of that is an after effect of many kids being off the market and their recruiting ended, opening it up for more players," Burchfield said. "It has been good for the February signing period as colleges have been able to more actively recruit the next year's class of players. They've been able to more fully evaluate them and get to know them, build stronger relationships. I think this makes a lot of sense."



At a glance

Below is a list of central Ohio football players who signed in December:

Name (High School), College

Brian Asamoah (DeSales), Oklahoma

Sam Backenstoe (Hilliard Davidson), Army

Jeslord Boateng (Dublin Coffman), Michigan State

Joe Boggs (Reynoldsburg), Ball State

Jerome Buckner (Gahanna), Ohio

Brandon Derrow (DeSales), Colorado State

Jaelen Gill (Westerville South), Ohio State

Patrick Gilliland (Hartley), Ohio

Trenton Gillison (Pickerington Central), Michigan State

Xavier Henderson (Pickerington Central), Michigan State

Griffin Hoak (Dublin Coffman), Youngstown State

Bryce Houston (Olentangy Orange), Ohio

James Lachey (Grandview), Bowling Green

Alex Morgan (Pickerington Central), Toledo

Isaiah Mullens (Harvest Prep), Wisconsin

Tyler Potts (Pickerington North), Ball State

Jacob Slade (Olentangy), Michigan State

Zach Slade (Olentangy), Michigan State

Antonio Smith (Westerville South), Air Force

Kory Taylor (Hilliard Bradley), Purdue

Ty Van Fossen (DeSales), Cincinnati

Edward Warinner (Olentangy Liberty), Michigan State

Alex Williams (Pickerington North), Ohio State