Seated comfortably more than 30,000 feet off the ground, Rick Town Sr. and his son Ricky Town were on their way back to Los Angeles after the latest recruiting camp trek. As they settled in for the journey home, the latest in a long line of sales pitches started without warning. This one came from an unfamiliar source.
"Ricky, we need you at Alabama," the man said with complete and utter desperation, hoping to make the most of this unexpected encounter. "I’m not joking; we need you. Sign your name here."
This was no coach or recruiter. This was a flight attendant who just so happened to work the charter flights for the Alabama football team. After he asked Ricky about the USC logo printed across his chest, he soon learned that he was speaking with one of the nation’s elite high school quarterbacks—who just so happened to be a former Crimson Tide commit—and his father.
The document he wanted Ricky to sign was a blank piece of paper, presumably some sort of impromptu national letter of intent. Ricky, 100 percent committed to USC, signed the paper with a smile as he and his father enjoyed this strange, but memorable, recruiting attempt.
"He asked us if we missed Lane Kiffin, then he showed pictures of coaches and players," Town Sr. said, laughing as he rehashed the story. "He was friendly and polite, and he did it for three-and-a-half hours. We had a blast."
Rick Town Sr. has a first-class seat to one of the most unique voyages in the sporting universe. He is the father of the nation’s No. 6 player in the class of 2015, according to 247Sports’ composite ranking. He is also a CEO of a land development company in Los Angeles—a position he has held for 15 years—and a former Division II football player.
He is remarkably sharp in both business and football, something that becomes evident after only a few minutes of conversation. It is natural but also calculated, and Town Sr. is no stranger to speaking about the process. He has spoken to parents at various recruiting camps, providing insight for others in a similar position seeking guidance.
He refers to recruiting as "the business," and also uses "Coach" to describe the various football people he is discussing. He is pro, and yet, he can’t help sounding like Charlie in the chocolate factory every now and then.
"I’ve gotten to meet Coach [Mack] Brown, Coach [Nick] Saban and other amazing coaches that are also amazing people," Town Sr. said. "My favorite part of this process, without question, has been getting to know these personalities and also seeing the storied programs and their stadiums."
The reason Town Sr. has gotten to enjoy these football palaces and become acclimated with legend after legend is that his son happens to be one of the most gifted quarterback prospects in the country.
At 6'4" and 205 pounds, Ricky Town already has the build of an NFL QB and the speed—right around the 4.6-second 40 range—of most gifted high school running backs.
Although he battled injuries during his junior season at St. Bonaventure in California, he is projected as a top-flight quarterback at the college level and perhaps beyond.
"Our analysts like Ricky Town because he's a complete quarterback," said 247Sports’ National Recruiting Director JC Shurburtt. "He has size, good arm strength and is incredibly accurate. We also value what he can do in pads in a full-speed game in a pro-style offense, which is a testament to his decision-making ability. He's a cool customer against pressure and excellent at reading defenses."
Although his physical gifts are what many will cite first, it's his mental approach that has coaches excited.
"Ricky's football acumen is extremely high," Town Sr. said. "I know that's coming from a dad, however this and his maturity have been the biggest attraction to college offensive coordinators and head coaches."
It’s this total package that has had coaches lining up to speak to the golden-armed California wunderkind. And when they can't speak with him, chances are they're destroying the Towns' mailbox in an effort to make an impression.
They’ve been doing so for quite a while.
"He received 125 letters on the first day colleges could send them," Town Sr. said. "He’s probably received between 7 to 10,000 letters in total. It’s unbelievable. He has boxes and boxes of them."
The road from promising high school quarterback with size to can’t-miss, 5-star prospect is one that you would think takes time. The reality of recruiting in its current form, however, is not the case.
Once word gets out, it’s out. From that point, the process takes over and the mail, text messages and phone calls begin to pour in.
"When Miami offered him, it quickly followed with UCLA," Town Sr. said. "His film really started to hit after that and he played in a couple of televised games. It was within six months that it really started to escalate."
Like anything else, all good things come with their downsides. In the instance of Ricky, the interest led to more camps, interactions and response.
His strengths and weaknesses have been (and will continue to be) dissected. And while the feedback is both respected and appreciated, it can become difficult to process everything over the long haul.
"Imagine trying to take golf lessons from dozens of different coaches a year, each with their own ideas on how to create the perfect swing," Town Sr. said when assessing the feedback. "While you love to hear knowledgeable coaches helping your son, this can be difficult for someone who is still maturing and learning a complex position to process."
Feedback is only a part of the 5-star treatment. Interest and a newfound celebrity status is another. It’s twisted to view high school juniors as celebrities, but as recruiting becomes more a part of the national spotlight, that’s exactly what they are.
It’s not something all players (and families) are ready for, but it’s something the Towns have been ably handling from a very early stage. There’s a support system in place—a "process" to steal a Saban term—although it doesn’t hurt to be ready for everything thrown your way.
"It was really about getting him grounded and balanced early on, but he does a real good job doing that himself," Town Sr. said. "But I’d say for the past two months, he’s had to readjust because so much has gone on."
Knowing when to get involved and when Ricky should steer the ship was a balance the two learned together. While recent national signing day nightmares have shown us just how disconnected players and their parents can be—look at Alex Collins and Malik McDowell, for starters—that has not been the case here.
There’s guidance at first, as you would hope, but Town Sr. has not wanted to be the focus. In fact, his role—at least on the communication front—has mainly centered around introductions.
"Once we established a relationship, my role diminished greatly," Town Sr. said on being the point of contact between Ricky and coaches. "Having my son grow the relationships was more important than anything I could possibly say or do. It was really building the bridge and letting Ricky cross it."
When it came to actually dissecting schools and offers, however, the Towns worked together. They set up criteria—putting nearly 20 years of CEO influence to good use. They formed plans going into visits, saw what they wanted to see and tried to separate themselves from the countless salesmen they encountered.
That might sound easy, but it’s not, at least not for most. College football coaches are some of the most convincing people on the planet, and recruits—along with their families—can be charmed after a two-minute conversation. It’s a coach’s job to do so.
"So many people asked me about coaches and recruiters and if you can trust them," Town Sr. said. "I try and tell them, politely, it doesn’t really apply. You have your own criteria and agenda and it doesn’t matter if they’re telling the truth. You need to dig into their system, get beyond the recruiters to your position coach and see how you relate. But more importantly, you need to learn how you relate to the system and the culture.”
That’s where USC comes in, the ultimate fit for the Towns in every way imaginable.
When Steve Sarkisian was hired, one of the first orders of business was to pursue Ricky Town—then an Alabama commit—to come play under new leadership.
While it may seem like protocol for a new head coach to check in on one of the state’s premier prospects, a player who grew up near the program, it was more than that. This, in many ways, is when USC truly showcased everything it had to offer after moving beyond turbulent times.
"The first few times we went to USC there was a sense of instability," Town Sr. said. "We didn’t get to see the campus like normal recruiting trips and they separated the parents from the players. It just seemed unstable. When Sark got the job and they really started coming after Ricky, we got the full treatment. We saw USC for the first time."
More than just a tour of the gorgeous campus, Ricky’s visit to USC included a gauntlet of football dialogue. Ricky spent hours with the coaches in the film room going over what offense he would be running. It turned out to be a similar offense to what he runs now, which is when the fit came into focus.
"After visiting, Ricky left saying, 'Dad, I’m going to USC,'" Town Sr. said. "I asked him to wait a week, think about it, and let me know on the following Saturday what he wanted to do."
The following Saturday Ricky woke up, came out of his bedroom and eliminated all suspense before breakfast. "I’m committing to USC today," he told his father.
And so he did.
Ricky plans to graduate early and sign his financial aid agreement in August. After he plays in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he will enroll at USC in January of 2015, according to his father. The suspense is over.
Since Ricky committed to the Trojans earlier this year, the calls have subsided. The mailbox is no longer filling up, and the boxes of mail are no longer taking up more space. Rick Town Sr. is no longer introducing, processing various pitches or worrying about his son’s eventual destination. That wasn’t the case when he was committed to Alabama, although it is now.
"We were prepared for Ricky to go anywhere that was the best fit for him," Town Sr. said. "The fact that it came full circle and landed in our backyard is a true blessing."
Other schools have backed off, recognizing that the Towns—together—have found their dream school, dream coaching staff and dream fit. There’s no sense even trying, not now, not after a well-thought process took its course.
Flight attendants, you’ve been warned.
Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.