Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Terrelle Pryor's Rise and Fall, and the Hype Machine


Back in 2008, there was a certain 6'6", 235-lb QB from outside of Pittsburgh that was being compared to Vince Young, the incredible dual threat QB at Texas who accounted for 467 yards in the thrilling National Championship win against highly touted USC.
Not only was he a 5-star football recruit on Rivals (ranked No.1 in his entire class) but he also excelled on the basketball court, garnering a 4-star ranking. Frank Coyle of Rivals wrote about Pryor: "A superior athlete with the height to fill out further and the speed and agility to be a huge factor outside the pocket." He also won state titles in both football and basketball. Pretty much any school in the country would have loved to have him, but Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State were the early front runners. The recruitment of him was so intense and widely followed, The Cleveland Plain Dealer called it "the most publicized recruiting saga in college football history."
On the first day that recruits could officially sign with a school, Terrelle Pryor held a news conference in his high school's gym to announce where he would be playing college football. The decision? There was none, as Pryor said that he still needed more time to think and hinted at taking a closer look at Penn State and Oregon. While shocking, this also created more time for the media to guess and analyze everything about this prized player, sending the hype surrounding him to new levels. 
Seven weeks later, Terrelle Pryor held his second news conference to announce his decision. By then almost all of the other top football recruits had signed, leaving the spotlight for Terrelle Pryor, and Pryor alone. In a last ditch effort to woo him, several college football personnel from different schools, including Penn State coach Joe Paterno, visited Terrelle Pryor in his hometown of Jeanette, Pennsylvania. Finally in late March, Pryor announced he would attend the Ohio State University. Not only was the Buckeye faithful excited, but so were Jim Tressel and Athletic Director Gene Smith. The sky was the limit for a talent like that.
While not the starting QB coming into his freshman year, Pryor quickly found some good playing time later in games. He even scored the winning touchdown in a huge game against Wisconsin. Soon he was the starting QB, going 8-1 in games he started as a freshman (senior Todd Boeckman got the nod for the start in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas).
Before his sophomore year, Pryor ran a 4.33 40-yard dash, which was the fastest on the team and one of the fastest in college football. A slow start to the season gave way to a strong finish to year, as he was named the 2010 Rose Bowl MVP in the Buckeyes win over Oregon. It appeared to be the beginning of a great two years for the blossoming star, a la Troy Smith's spectacular showing in the Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame, which led to a Heisman trophy and National Championship the next year.
The expectations heading into his junior year were even higher, as many pegged him as one of the favorites to win the Heisman and Ohio State to win the National Championship. The team finished 11-1 in the regular season, with the only loss coming to Wisconsin. Before playing in the Sugar Bowl, five OSU players, including Pryor, were suspended by the NCAA for the first five games of the next year for selling memorabilia.
Many were surprised by the sudden investigation and confused as to why the players were still allowed to play in the BCS bowl game. All five players played in the game and defeated Arkansas. After the season was over, Jim Tressel assured the media that all five of the suspended players would stay at OSU and wouldn't jump to the NFL. Just a minor incident for a great program, right?
As the months passed, new details emerged about tattoos, memorabilia, and cars and how Jim Tressel allegedly covered them up from the NCAA. This eventually led to Jim Tressel resigning, and today, Terrelle Pryor announcing that he would be leaving Ohio State.
While none of this was a surprise to people around the program while the investigation was going on this month, it is still nonetheless sad to see one of the most talented players in the country waste it and exit because of the biggest scandal in Ohio State's football program ever. Yes, Pryor never lost to Michigan and was 31-4 as a starter. And yes, he does leave with the fifth most passing yards in OSU history and the most rushing yards by a QB there. He ranks second in total offense and is tied for the most touchdown passes. 
But Terrelle Pryor will be remembered for what he didn't accomplish on the field (the Heisman, a National Championship) and also by what he did off the field. It is a sad end to a story that started off with visions of championships and greatness. Is the media partly to blame for the unreasonably hype placed on this kid, or is it the fans, or both? Either way, what started out as a great grab for a great university ended up with the resignation of arguably one of the best coaches in OSU history and left the football program in a terrible scandal.
Ohio State and its fans will move on, but in the future, recruits will just be hyped up even more thanks to the Internet and rabid fans looking for the next star. Did the hype and attention placed on this high schooler affect his decision making? We'll probably never know. But one thing is for sure: There will be countless more stories like this (albeit not as followed) year after year. The hype machine rolls on.

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