Nathan Tilford is still in middle school, but the 6'2", 190-pound eighth-grader from Upland, Calif., would be wise to set his college plans in stone as the promising wide receiver already has an offer to become a USC Trojan in four years.
According to Sports Illustrated, Southern Cal head coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans are doing their homework well ahead of time. Kiffin offered Tilford a scholarship at USC's skill camp on Sunday in hopes of beating his competition to the punch.
While it's a risky move on Kiffin's part, it's also a shrewd one as he could potentially land the best prospect in the class of 2017 a few years before most other schools will even consider it. Perhaps Tilford won't be as good as advertised, but he already has a major college football body and conventional wisdom suggests that he'll only get better.
Tilford is seemingly in a position of power as USC appears desperate to sign him, but he shouldn't allow that to cloud his judgment. Playing college football at USC is likely a dream for most young football players in the state of California. If Tilford accepts USC's offer now, then he pretty much guarantees himself that opportunity.
Although it's Tilford's prerogative to wait and play the field if he so chooses, he isn't likely to get a much better offer than the one that USC has already put on the table. Accepting this offer would also take a lot of the pressure off of Tilford's shoulders as he transitions to the high school level next year.
Players of Tilford's caliber constantly have to worry about performing well and impressing college recruiters. Tilford will still have to play well in high school if he accepts USC's offer, but he won't have to constantly look over his shoulder. He'll have peace of mind, and that should actually allow him to play freer football.
A verbal commitment is certainly important in college football, but it doesn't mean that Tilford absolutely must play for USC. A lot of things can obviously change over the next four years. If Kiffin or other key members of the coaching staff get fired, quit or move on to a different job, that would be grounds for Tilford to break his commitment.
It seems clear that Kiffin and Tilford already have a friendly relationship as evidenced by this photo courtesy of Scott Schrader of FightOn247.com:
Tilford has also put up some impressive numbers in skills camps at USC, so playing for the Trojans seems like a natural fit.
He has a lot of flexibility, and there isn't much reason for him to dismiss USC's offer. Accepting it would give him some measure of security, and there are ways for him to change his mind down the line if he so chooses. It's a win-win situation for Tilford, and it is one that he ought to take advantage of.
In addition to that, signing four years earlier would basically ensure Tilford celebrity status once he reaches the USC campus. He'll likely be one of the most highly-anticipated recruits in the school's history if he continues his upward trend and that will, in effect, give him more chances to impress NFL scouts.
Coming in to USC with that much fanfare will also lead to more pressure, but that is something that great players feed off of. All eyes will be on Tilford, and he can develop himself into a top NFL prospect as long as he produces at USC.
It's probably difficult for an eighth-grader to look too far into the future, but Tilford and his family need to think about what is best for him in the long run. Scholarship offers will continue to pour in if Tilford continues to improve, but it can be argued that the ideal offer is already sitting right in front of him.
Regardless of what he decides to do, though, Tilford is in the catbird seat, and he is the envy of high-school prospects across the nation.
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