Years ago, I made a tough call on National Signing Day

National Signing Day(s), you’ve come a long way, baby!

Like me, you’ve expanded in the past 31 years since we last got together. For you, you’ve added a day from your typical first Wednesday in February date. The NCAA saw fit to add an early signing day in December.

For me, well, my expansion has come — for the most part — in my midsection.

It seems that most colleges are trying to get their work done during the early signing period so they’re not as busy with recruiting during the holidays. It also allows coaching staffs to turn their attention to spring football — and recruiting the next class — sooner rather than later.

You’re a big deal now, National Signing Day.

You’ve always been special to those student-athletes who sign their National Letters of Intent, but now, there’s much more media coverage — local and national.

Back in February 1991, most signings took place in the home. That’s when I met you, at 845 Acklen Street when I signed my NLOI with Louisiana Tech. With me were friends, family and Tech receivers coach Pat Tilley, the equivalent of a closer who comes in the game in the last inning to collect the paperwork, eat the cake my mother had ordered from the Brookshire’s bakery, and seal the deal. No fax machine needed that night.

Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator John Thompson had been “the starter” and done the heavy lifting in my recruiting. Coach Thompson, or “JT” as he is known to his coaching friends and former players, was so confident in the job he’d done that he bet just-retired Northwestern State University President Dr. Chris Maggio, then an NSU track coach, a steak dinner I’d sign with the Bulldogs.

Sorry, Dr. Maggio.

And sorry to former NSU assistant coach Randy Huffstickler, who did an excellent job recruiting me and made it seem I was turning my back on the entire Byrd Family when I called him and informed him I would be going to Tech.

“Even though your dad graduated from Northwestern and was the editor of the school newspaper?” Huffstickler said. Forget sticks and stones, at that time in my life, those words hurt.

Coach Thompson and I had little interaction at Tech. He was on the defensive side of the ball and didn’t stay in Ruston very long. As an offensive lineman, I was on the other side of the ball. But, I do remember walking down the concrete ramp in Joe Aillet Stadium for my first Media Day. Coach Thompson was 10 yards in front of me, and I could hear him singing.

As I got closer to him, I made it out. Alan’s Jackson’s Real World.

But here in the real world, it’s not that easy at all. When hearts get broken, it’s real tears that fall…”

I digress.

Thirty years later, most signing days take place during the day at the school.

Some schools have you in packed gyms, Like Captain Shreve’s Kendrick Law Jr. did in December when he signed on the dotted line with Alabama.

Others like C.E. Byrd’s Sydney Moss, who’ll play golf for Memphis, sign in quainter settings — in this case, the school’s learning center.

The good thing about having it as the school is that more friends, teachers, and administrators are able to attend. Because it happens during the day, the media is better able to cover the signings as well.

One thing about it, National Signing Day. You’re about as good as it gets for the student-athlete. After the hoopla, there is real work to be done. Most student-athletes find that they go from being a big bass in a small country pond to being a little minnow in the ocean of the NCAA athletics.

Sure, some will go on to play professional sports, but most — like me — just go on to work. There certainly wasn’t any fanfare when I signed documents to begin my career as an educator in January of 1996. No cake from Brookshire’s. No reports asking me why I chose education over a career in journalism. No friends or family gathered ’round, although my parents were very excited to have me off their payroll.

I just walked into the HR department at Caddo Parish School Board, signed the documents, and left.

As I walked outside the office and down the concrete ramp, I couldn’t help but start humming a county song …

“Here in the real world, it’s not that easy at all…”

It seemed appropriate.