Marry Your School

Did you know Wednesday is a national holiday? That’s right. It’s a day when everything stops, ESPN forgets all about other sports (yes, even the NFL) and TV cameras are propped up at high school gyms across the country waiting to find out where The Next Big Thing will play college football. It’s National Signing Day.

If you’re one of the top recruits in the country set to make your decision, I know what you’re thinking when you’re looking at those hats lined up on the table in front of you. You’re thinking about the campus visits. You’re thinking about how you’re gonna look in each team’s colors, where you’ll have the best chance to play right away and which school is in the best position to win.

And the campus girls. You’re definitely thinking about the girls. But focus, man. You have an important decision to make.

Look, I’m not here to tell you which school to go to. I’m just gonna tell you my story and drop some advice that helped me make what turned out to be the best decision of my life.

First things first: consider yourself lucky. You’ve worked hard to put yourself in this position, but there are recruits all over the country who don’t have the options you have. As you prepare to announce your decision, be thankful you have options at all.

I was also one of those recruits fortunate enough to have options, but I didn’t have a big Signing Day press conference or all the “Where’s he gonna go?” drama. I’m not into that kind of hype anyway. I committed as a high school sophomore. Not many guys get the chance to commit as a sophomore, but I was a big boy, and colleges love big bodies. They’re like huge balls of coachable clay.

Every recruit’s situation is different, but mine was more unusual than most.

After my family , I went to three different high schools in three years — that’s three different teams and coaching staffs. I was a defensive tackle when I committed as a sophomore, but before my senior year (playing for my third team in three years), my coach thought it’d be best for me to move to offensive tackle, so I did. And it turned out to be a solid move. By the time I was ready for college, I was a 5-star recruit and ranked as the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle.

All the SEC schools were trying to lock me down, along with Oklahoma, Florida State, Clemson — even some teams out on the West Coast were trying to get me. Me and my boys would sit around in the locker room and they’d help me open my letters because I had so many. It was crazy.

The first scholarship offer I got was from Clemson. The offer letter was addressed to Danny Fluher. My first name really is Daniel, but I couldn’t give them a pass on F-L-U-H-E-R. As soon as I got that letter, I was like, “Fluher? Looks like I’m not going there.” And I tossed it. I didn’t want to go somewhere where they couldn’t even get my name right.

I may have tossed that letter out hastily, but I was also still a kid, and I’m lucky passing on Clemson didn’t come back to bite me. Again, be thankful you have the options you have.

But I wasn’t really picking a school based on letters anyhow. It was on my campus visits where I made my real decisions.

I took a visit to Mississippi State and I didn’t really like it. Too much cowbell for me, you know? It didn’t feel right. I visited Auburn, and it was really nice, but in the end I just didn’t think it was the place for me. Then I visited LSU — just an hour and a half drive from where I grew up — and it was pretty good. The recruiting coach did a great job, too. I got the whole 5-star treatment.

I grew up an LSU fan because I lived in New Orleans. It’s all-LSU everywhere in NOLA, so you don’t have much of a choice. I remember Nick Saban being at LSU in 2003 when they won the BCS National Championship. They had a great team, but when he left, they just weren’t the same. Even though Les Miles is a great coach (he won a BCS title at LSU, too), they didn’t have that same fire they had under Saban.

But the second I stepped on the campus at Alabama, I thought, “This might be my last stop.”

God’s honest truth: When I visited Alabama, I didn’t even know who Bear Bryant was. I didn’t really follow college football. LSU was all I really knew. So when I visited Alabama, there was all this talk about tradition, and I didn’t know anything about it.

Then they took me to the campus museum and I saw all these great players from Alabama — the Shaun Alexanders, the Ozzie Newsomes — and all that history just unraveling before my eyes. I’m thinking, “Man, I wanna be a part of that. I gotta play here.”

I went to a game in Tuscaloosa to experience what it would be like to be a part of that team and that history, and they did it up. I ran out of that tunnel with the team —against LSU, no less — and it was electrifying. Fans were screaming, my name was up on the jumbotron, it was crazy. I felt like I was a part of something bigger than a football team, like I made it to the NFL already. The whole stadium had an attitude about it. Everyone had a swagger. I felt like it was my time.

I knew right then that Alabama was the place for me. I even took one last trip to LSU to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, but after that, I was like, “I’m not taking any more visits. It’s a wrap.”

So I was a Louisiana boy who picked Alabama. And that just goes to show you, it’s not all about location. Heck, it’s not even all about football. It’s about finding the school that has a little bit of everything, no matter where it is. And Alabama was a perfect storm. It was like a dream come true.

Whether you’re a 5-star a 4-star or a no-star recruit, there’s an Alabama on your list. I don’t mean the Crimson Tide — I mean that school that has the right balance of everything you need, from team to classroom to opportunity. And there are three things to consider when deciding which school on your list is the one for you.

1. Make sure you make the decision for you and not anybody else.
Trust your gut.

I look at all these schools like girls. Do I want the prettiest girl? Do I want the most educated girl? Or do I want a girl who has both? I wanted to marry my school. I never got the feeling I could marry LSU. It wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do, I just never felt it. From the time I visited Alabama, I knew she was The One.

I committed my sophomore year, and I’ll be honest, I thought about breaking my commitment a few times. You’re still just a teenager and it’s a confusing time to decide something so big. I was still getting letters like crazy trying to get me to change my mind. Some just said straight up: “Do we even have a shot at getting you?!”

Ole Miss came to my house. So did Mississippi State, Florida State — Urban Meyer came to my front door. They all showed up, and I was like “Woah, these guys really want me…”

But I didn’t wanna go back on my word. If you commit to something, be committed to it, and that’s what I did.

There’s a lot of kids out there jumping ship these days — committing, de-committing, then committing somewhere else. And it’s because they’re picking schools for all the wrong reasons. If you’re going there because of the girls or because your homeboy is going there, that’s not a good reason. Go there for yourself. That’s what it’s really about. Go with your gut. Go where you feel at home and where the system works best for you.

2. Pray about it.
Get direction from wherever you can — for me, there’s no better way than prayer.

3. Be dedicated to the education.
I know what you’re thinking: “This dude didn’t even mention education when he was talking about why he chose Alabama.” But there’s a good reason for that.

The education only matters if you make the most of it.

If you choose a school with a great academic reputation, but you don’t go to class, it doesn’t matter. If your team has study hall, but you don’t know when it is or how often, what good is that? In the end, missing class is worse than missing practice and time spent in study hall is as important as playing time. Know what your potential schools offer. Ask about the entire process, from class selection to study hall.

I was an Academic All-American not because I was smarter than anybody else, but because I was dedicated. You don’t wanna spend a year at juco because you can’t make the grades and have to transfer. When I was getting recruited, the coaches guaranteed my parents I’d graduate, and that’s what made me work so hard.

Choose the school that’s for you, on and off the field.

You could say Alabama worked out pretty well for me. I won two SEC titles, three BCS Championships and was first-team All-SEC and first-team All-American, and my on-field accomplishments made me a first-round pick in the NFL Draft.

But most importantly, I stayed for four years and graduated. I married my school.

I’m thankful every day for the opportunities I’ve had, all the way back to having the luxury of choosing from the best of the best schools in the country.

So whether you’re that 5-star or that no-star recruit, keep praying, good luck, and enjoy your National Signing Day moment.

Just make sure you pick the right girl.