Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Terrelle Pryor - The Hunted

An interesting and somewhat frightening look at what it is to be the most highly recruited high school athlete in the country. This kid seems to have some perspective, but I still can't help wondering how this is going to mess up his head.

The article also reveals a little of how much he still has to learn -- raw talent gets you in the door, but then you have to have the discipline, the desire.

The Hunted

Coaches, recruiters, and reporters have wanted a piece of Terrelle Pryor since he was in third grade. Can the most-pursued high-school athlete in history become the next Tom Brady?

"Terrelle Pryor," the Jeannette High School public-address system crackles, issuing the sentence every teenager dreads, "report to the main office immediately."

The staticky voice doesn’t register with the kids shuffling down the halls between second and third periods on a late-spring Thursday in Jeannette, Pennsylvania (population 10,096). Or the ones leaning against the overstocked trophy cases filled with letters from congressmen and the minutes documenting Pryor’s name being read into the Congressional Record for leading the Jeannette Jayhawks to state championships in football and basketball this year. They’ve been hearing this on the PA for months now, half a dozen times a day at the peak of college-recruitment season, just as they’ve been seeing the limos and satellite trucks in the parking lot and all those mysterious men in the bleachers for the past three years.

"Terrelle Mania," Rick Klimchock, Jeannette’s former basketball coach and current guidance counselor, calls the ravenous pursuit of Pryor, the most heavily recruited athlete in NCAA history. At six feet six and 230 pounds, Pryor is the first Pennsylvania high-school quarterback to run and pass for more than 4,000 yards apiece and one of the most tantalizing basketball prospects in the nation. He’s been proclaimed the next Vince Young and the next LeBron James—in one—but he could as easily be the Great Cautionary Tale of the meat market that college recruitment has become. When his signed footballs hit $99.99 and game-used wristband reached $349.99 on eBay, YouTube montages of his gridiron highlights topped a half-million hits, and a terrellepryor.org site and limited-edition action figure appeared this winter, it begged the question: Are we projecting a bit much onto an 18-year-old from a tiny school in the sticks?

The answer isn’t immediately apparent when Pryor ambles into a conference room with the remnants of breakfast, a bag of doughnuts, in hand. He’s wearing the sweet smile of a much younger kid, even as the mistrust of an older man darkens his brow. Wooed, followed, and worshipped since third grade, he’s clearly tired of being a vessel for people’s hopes and machinations. In an era that insists on making cover boys out of its quarterbacks, Pryor is, or is destined to become, a flack’s worst nightmare: someone who knows the public role he’s supposed to play and just won’t have anything to do with it.

Since he last suited up, he’s put on a few pounds—readying himself for college by lifting relentlessly, running with a parachute into the wind, dragging 50-pound sleds downfield at daybreak—and he has that quiet disdain and confidence you find in the Brett Favres and Tom Bradys of the world. His girlfriend, Katie, is the prettiest girl in town, and his peers and teammates do their best to play along with the idea that he’s just one of the guys, even as he makes them all but disappear from view when he passes—smiling quietly—in the hallways. He wears a red Air Jordan tee, baggy jeans cuffed above the ankles, and red Adidas sneakers, his right arm tattooed with massive Praying Hands, his neck, ears, and wrist flashing cubic-zirconia starter bling. From second to second, he appears as either The Future or just another oversize kid. Gradually you pick up on the fact that he gets a kick out of the ambiguity, and that he’s learned to use it as cover.

"Can I see that for a sec?" he says, as he opens the USA Today sports section on the table to the box score of Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, between the Cavaliers and the Celtics. An ESPN ad on the opening page pairs halves of two opposing athletes’ faces—LeBron James’ and Kevin Garnett’s—above the tagline "Win or Go Home."

Who would you go with?

"LeBron?" he says, effecting a teenage shrug that connotes Kind of a no-brainer, huh?

And so it goes for a half-hour of questions, answers ranging from head nods to two-word demurrals to set speeches: "Just a man on the move," he’ll say when asked about specific 57-yard runs or tomahawk dunks. "Going 100 miles an hour, is all." They clearly convey one sentiment: Back off—I’m just a kid.

Read the rest of the article.

Was the hype for real? He started his first game this past Saturday, the first time a freshman has replaced a QB who guided his team to the national championship game the previous year that anyone can remember.

Freshman Terrelle Pryor threw four touchdown passes in his first collegiate start to lead 13th-ranked Ohio State to a 28-10 victory over Troy at Ohio Stadium.

Pryor, considered by many recruiting insiders to be the nation's No. 1 incoming prospect for this season, completed 10-of-16 passes for 139 yards and one interception to help the Buckeyes (3-1) rebound from last week's disappointing 35-3 loss to top-ranked Southern California. The highly-touted quarterback added 66 rushing yards on 14 carries in a highly-impressive performance.

"Starting my freshman year never even crossed my mind when I committed, so it came as a big surprise," said Pryor, who wasn't overly pleased with his effort. "I thought I messed up a lot. When we sit down in the film room, I'm going to get yelled at but that's a good thing. We all need to keep improving going into the Big Ten schedule."

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