National Signing Day used to be like Christmas morning for me.
For the better part of a decade that spans back to 2004, I covered high school and college athletics, and the first Wednesday in February meant a day for — primarily — high school football players to officially make their decisions on what college to play at.
It was a special day.
Those athletes would be put on center stage in their high school auditorium, or at home quietly signing a piece of paper that was faxed off. Fans far and wide would wait for word on who was going where.
Here in Kern County over recent years, standouts like Asauni Rufus, Anthony Mariscal, Lawrence White, Kurtis Brown and Chris Coleman did just that.
They signed on the dotted line and we in the media rushed to their signing ceremonies to tell stories of these fortunate few that got an opportunity to further their education and athletic talents on the next level.
But on Wednesday, it’ll be quiet on the football front.
In fact, only one Kern County football player — Liberty senior lineman Michael Bray — is officially signing a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, according to athletic directors from throughout the county. Bray will sign with Dixie State in Utah, an NCAA Division II program.
There would have been two more, but Bakersfield High seniors Caden Ochoa and Justin McGill took advantage of the new early signing period in December. In turn, as high school senior football players they were allowed to officially ink their names to college programs two months earlier than in previous years.
The rule was instituted to allow the athletes and coaches to end the recruiting process, which can be long and drawn out.
But it also brings me back to about how one of my favorite days has lost some luster. I'm not saying that it's a good thing or bad thing. It's just different, and the pros and cons depend on who you talk to.
On the positive side, major college football programs get the advantage of solidifying marquee players from around the country early without the worry of a late change of heart.
We’ve seen that here in Kern County: A player makes a verbal commitment to a college but it's not binding. Then, like many teenagers are apt to do, that player changes their mind, commits to another school, and everyone is shocked.
Mid-major programs like Fresno State could also easily benefit because programs such as UCLA and USC now may fill up their recruiting boards early. That leaves recruits who are still undecided in December to head to a team like the Bulldogs on Signing Day.
But, on the flip side of the argument, the numbers are nowhere near where they once were. That’s going to take some getting used to.
Another oddity this year is that no county high school football players will sign with an FBS college program. Ochoa is headed to Cal Poly and McGill signed with Sacramento State — both of which reside in the FCS, formerly referred to as Division I-AA.
In a county rich with football history, to have a year where no one is headed to a program that can play in a FBS bowl game is a shocker and most likely an anomaly.
But make no mistake sports fans — there is still plenty to celebrate on Wednesday.
The Californian has confirmed 13 local athletes that will sign. That list includes seven girls soccer players — highlighted by Highland’s Sadie Armijo headed to Cal State Northridge, and Liberty’s Bryanna Bartlett going to San Jose State.
It’s a day to celebrate those student-athletes that performed well in the classroom first, and then on the playing field. Getting a college scholarship is difficult and not guaranteed. When someone does have the opportunity to further their education and competitive playing days, it should be honored.