For those of us who follow high school football recruiting, there is one truism that never fails to deliver: When it comes to reading the intentions of prep gridiron stars, nothing is for certain.
For confirmation of this adage, one needs to look no further than the odd recruiting journey of former USC pledge Jason Hatcher.
Throughout the process, Hatcher had given no indication that he was seriously wavering in his commitment, although in December, he decided to take some recruiting trips in addition to his official visit to USC the week of January 19.
In fact, according to an article by Cardinalauthority.com's Jody Demling, Hatcher said, "Right now, my heart is set on going to USC but I just want to make sure.”
So for Trojan fans, it seemed that a solid visit to USC should have pretty much sealed the deal and this seemed the case both as Hatcher led up to his visit and what he tweeted during the trip.
On January 16th, just a day or so before he left for his Trojan trip, Hatcher tweeted the following:
"Just had a great meeting with coach Kiffin. Looking forward to working with him. Great guy with a lot of knowledge."
That "great meeting" was followed up by what appeared to be a fantastic visit as Hatcher offered the following tidbits on his Twitter account:
So what—if anything—changed between that last tweet on January 20th and his decommittment on the 22nd?
Well, realistically, there are only two scenarios that make any sense.
The first is that Hatcher was running a game on USC and that his primary objective was to string the Trojans along and get a free, all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles.
In order to make this leap, there are several assumptions that have to be made.
One is that Hatcher never really intended to sign with the Trojans and that his prior comments about being committed to USC were just so many hollow words.
To offer that assertion, one would be essentially questioning this young man's integrity and I, for one, refuse to do that simply because I don't know him.
And there are other considerations that must be pondered.
Recruits don't have to offer verbal commitments to receive official visit invites; they just have to be good enough at their craft to warrant a school to make an offer, and Hatcher obviously qualified under those auspices.
So to say that Hatcher was simply playing USC for a free trip would be stretching the boundaries of credibility.
Or would it?
Perhaps Hatcher had been entertaining second thoughts and was no longer truly secure in his pledge to the Trojans.
After all, there were the aforementioned recruiting trips that Hatcher felt motivated to take and then there is a quote from Hatcher's high school football coach, Bob Beatty.
In an article by courier-journal.com's Steve Jones, Beatty, when asked about Hatcher, said he wasn't aware of his decommitment, but that "It doesn't shock me."
Of course, this could just be Beatty's reaction to a player that was having misgivings about an important decision, but it does give one cause to pause that this might be a case of a recruit having already made up his mind and was just out for that sightseeing trip to sunny Southern California.
So that is one scenario. Here is the other, and this one should concern Trojan fans.
What if the Trojans pulled a fast one on Hatcher and either rescinded the offer or attached some significant strings to it?
This certainly is not unheard of and the recent decommitment of another defensive end, Kylie Fitts, is an example of just that.
Fitts, who is another Scout.com 4-star prospect, withdrew his pledge to the Trojans after being advised by the coaching staff that he could not enroll early as promised.
Despite being told by Trojan coaches that he would be allowed to enroll early right up to a few days before he was to enter school, that offer was rescinded at the last minute and Fitts felt it was in his best interests to look elsewhere.
So there is a precedent for USC's coaching staff to play it fast and loose with their promises to what they felt was a secure pledge from a committed player.
When all is said and done, fans of the program are left scratching their heads at how yet another player has gone back on their word to play for the cardinal and gold.
Like it or not, this is another black eye for a program and coach that simply cannot afford much more bad press.
Perhaps—given a lack of further information that would provide clarity—Trojans fans would be well advised to remember that high school recruiting is a two-way street.
And whether or not this is a case of a player changing his mind or having it changed for him by the coaching staff is an avenue whose location has yet to be determined.
But what is certain is that Kiffin and his staff had better have a very good player to take Hatcher's place, or those who are calling for his head will be screaming even louder.