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son's flip puts depaul coach dave leitao on 'uncomfortable' side of recruiting

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son's flip puts depaul coach dave leitao on 'uncomfortable' side of recruiting

being a coach's wife helped joyce leitao anticipate how the recruiting dominoes would fall and affect her son reese's commitment to play college football at nebraska.

when texas fired charlie strong on nov. 25, speculation already centered on eventual successor tom herman, the houston coach. at houston, herman had heavily recruited reese leitao, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end out of jenks, okla. – where he remained to finish high school after his father, dave, left the tulsa staff last year to coach depaul.

"my wife predicted it,'' dave leitao recalled monday in his depaul office. "as far back as when the charlie strong rumors started, she told my son, 'tom herman is probably going to get that job and texas is going to come after you.' ''

even in recruiting, mother knows best.

after texas hired herman, the longhorns indeed offered reese a scholarship and put his father, a college basketball coach for 33 years, awkwardly on the other side of the recruiting equation. on dec. 20, reese re-opened his recruitment with his parents' blessing. by the end of the month, he had changed his commitment to texas, with whom he will sign wednesday.

dave's own experiences in coaching made him think that when reese committed to nebraska last august, that would mark the end of recruiting. he breathed a sigh of relief and his wife loaded up on cornhuskers gear. in retrospect, it only marked a new beginning.

"sometimes, committing only makes you ier to everybody else and the weirdness for me was that he still got recruited,'' said leitao, in his second season of his second stint at depaul. "that very rarely happens in college basketball. football is so different because of the recruiting calendar.''

so many top prospects like reese, a three-star recruit who received 26 scholarship offers, commit before their senior seasons to appease college football coaches competing to emble top cl es by the end of summer — six months before national signing day. it's a system designed to fail.

reese leitao
reese leitao

depaul coach dave leitao's son reese is a blue-chipper going to texas, but only after decommitting to nebraska, putting his dad in the odd spot of being on the other end of recruiting.

depaul coach dave leitao's son reese is a blue-chipper going to texas, but only after decommitting to nebraska, putting his dad in the odd spot of being on the other end of recruiting.

"then most football official visits aren't until after the season and these kids are teenagers who still feel like, 'i want to take some visits, i deserve that,' '' leitao said.

in january, the ncaa division i council, while rejecting a june early signing date, finally addressed the problem by considering a 72-hour december signing period and approving a measure that allows juniors to take official visits beginning april 1 through june.

something must be done to reduce the rising number of decommitments, the bane of every recruiter's existence. the recruiting web site even created a national decommitment tracker, which tuesday had increased to 716 — including a tight end whose dad made him call nebraska's coaches personally to break the news.

"that's part of the process and it was tough on him,'' leitao said.

it was tough on dad too, knowing how it felt to be on the receiving end of such a call.

"it made me uncomfortable as a coach to know these coaches at nebraska who had spent a lot of time and money and effort recruiting reese now have to look at what you've done,'' leitao said. "there is a disloyal part of it. what helped me is how the coaches at nebraska handled it. they didn't like it, but they didn't fret over it. it was like it was par for the course.''

that surprised leitao given how infrequently he sees similar flips happen in college basketball. why? its smaller recruiting cl es perhaps spawn closer relationships.

"very rare,'' leitao said. "there's an unwritten rule, a handshake. i'm surprised it doesn't happen more because there are more ancillary people in basketball (recruiting) than football.''

even after reese announced his commitment to texas via twitter — "in some ways, he's still a typical 17-year-old,'' dad said — lsu had scheduled a recruiting trip that longhorns coaches strongly urged the leitaos to cancel. high expectations suddenly exist at u-t; one recruiting service called reese one of five freshman tight ends to make the biggest impact in 2017.

football aside, leitao felt even better about texas after a late december trip to pus, a "unique place,'' he visited when his old friend rick barnes coached the texas basketball team. spending 90 minutes alone with texas' current basketball coach, buddy shaka smart, provided leitao an even greater sense of comfort in his son's change of heart.

"from a parent standpoint, i'm not waiting for the first game to see how much playing time he gets or this to culminate with (reese) being drafted,'' leitao said. "i just want him to enjoy the hell out of college, work his tail off and we'll see where it ends up.''

smiling, leitao paused as he recalled also parroting to his son what he has told so many athletes under his direction.

"as a competitor, i told him this is the beginning, not the culmination, and it can come to an abrupt end if you approach it as something you're isfied with,'' leitao said.

a isfying wednesday — college football's unofficial holiday — will begin with leitao, his wife and their two other sons taking an early flight from chicago to tulsa for a signing ceremony at jenks high school.

"i'm sure it'll be pretty emotional,'' leitao said.

the best coaching victories always are.

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