If it had happened to nearly any other team, my reaction would have been totally different. If it had happened to Florida, Miami, or Georgia, I probably would have laughed too. When I watched on my office computer as Josh Pate and his cohorts at CBS Sports raised alarm bells that Travis Hunter’s yearlong, seemingly ironclad commitment to Florida State may not be as solid as once believed, I would have picked up my phone and lit up the group chat I share with my father and two brothers. Anything that turns the college football world on its head is grounds for such a text and it feels so good to be the first one with big news.
But this was happening to our beloved Seminoles. The chyron speculating that Hunter may be wavering in his commitment and considering a flip to Georgia or even Jackson State, was like a gut punch. It made me wish there was any work to distract me, but it was a slow day and I couldn’t look away. A freight train was bearing down and my favorite team was tied to the tracks. To make matters worse, it appeared that one of our most celebrated alums was driving the train.
Bittersweet relief came when an announcement time was announced. The top ranked player, a generational talent from the Atlanta area, would sign his Letter of Intent within the hour. I busied myself with work that could have waited for at least another month, waiting for the local news station’s YouTube feed to go live.
After his teammates made their commitments to Mercer and Missouri official, the microphone was passed to Hunter, the main attraction. From the moment he started talking, I knew he was going to flip. He seemed to be relishing the attention more than the moment. That’s not a judgment on the young man — attention is fun, exciting, and unbelievably profitable — it just indicated to me that he was not here to make the safe choice of sticking with the school he committed to over a year ago. He was there to make a splash. When a guy has been in the fold for over a year, that isn’t good.
Then he tossed the Auburn hat. To my knowledge, he wasn’t even remotely considering attending Auburn. My only hope was that he was trying to create some drama in an otherwise drama-free recruitment. Hunter repeatedly reiterated his commitment to the Noles throughout the early struggles of the 2021 season. But I didn’t believe it.
Then he threw the Georgia hat. Let me be clear: I am not ever remotely a Georgia fan. Quite the opposite, if I’m being brutally honest. But that rubbed me the wrong way. I hate when guys toss the hats. Have them on the table, sure. Make it a dramatic moment and fake like you’re going to pick one up if you want, but don’t disrespect the school and coaches that have spent years recruiting you.
Then, he put on the FSU hat. And you know what happened next….
This is probably the college coach in me speaking, but coaches spend so much time and energy on recruiting. Yes, it takes energy to make the calls, send the texts, write the emails, but I’m talking about the mental and emotional energy it takes to get to know and connect with young people. A good recruiter gets to know the kids, in an effort to tease out whether they’re a good fit for the program and vice versa. As college coaches, we hear “no” a hell of a lot more than we hear “yes”. I have no issue with the kid electing to go somewhere else, but I hate the disrespect towards the coaches who had invested so much time and energy getting to know him.
And this is where I have to try my hardest to be objective. Because a Travis Hunter type of player going to a non-Blue Blood program is a good thing for college football. A player of his caliber going to an HBCU may be an even better thing for college football. Jackson State recruiting at a Power 5 level already seems to be echoing throughout other HBCU programs, particularly through Power 5 transfers increasingly choosing teams like FAMU or Alabama A&M (both have landed FSU transfers in the last few weeks), among others.
Reluctantly I have to admit that Travis Hunter going outside of the traditional powers of college football is a net positive for the sport that I love, even if it was a gut punch to the team that I love. The cynic in me believes that Barstool money may have motivated the decision more than any other reasons, but that doesn’t change the fact that an HBCU landing the top player in the country continues the upward trajectory that HBCU football — and indeed HBCU athletics as a whole — is currently riding.
The coach in me hates the way it was done and feels for the coaches who saw years of work vanish before their eyes with mere hours until the job was done. But ultimately Travis Hunter had to do what he thought was best for himself and for his family. And who among us wasn’t guilty of doing something overly ostentatious as a senior in high school?
In the interest of full disclosure, it took me some time to arrive at this gracious place of understanding. You’d better believe I enjoyed every second of South Carolina State’s beatdown of Deion’s Jackson State Tigers in the Celebration Bowl, with nearly the same relish as Samford hanging 52 points on Florida in the Swamp or FIU beating Miami in 2019. So I suppose I can’t begrudge Canes fans, Gator fans, or any others basking in the suffering of an already beleaguered FSU fanbase.
I hope all FSU fans will eventually join me in wishing Travis Hunter a successful and healthy football career, thanking Deion Sanders for everything he has done for Florida State University over the years, sharing a laugh or a beer with the fans who are reveling in our pain, and of course piling on when something equally painful happens to their teams.