“The Journey” is an eight-part, eight-day series that takes you behind the scenes of the college football recruiting process as South Florida's best make the biggest decisions of their lives. To read other installments of "The Journey" visit SunSentinel.com/Journey.
When University School wide receiver Chris Taylor committed to Duke last May, he did so with the full intention of signing with the Blue Devils next Wednesday, on National Signing Day.
Taylor will follow through on that pledge, but over the last nine months, his commitment has been tested, not only by other college recruiters, but by average fans as well.
And it's these factors that have made long-term commitments such as Taylor's rarer and rarer each year.
A year ago, Sports Illustrated looked back at the nation's top 500 prospects from 2007 to 2011 and found that nearly 15 percent of the most highly sought-after players in the nation decommitted at least once in their recruitment process.
For the most sought-after in South Florida's Class of 2014, those attrition numbers are significantly higher. Three of the top 11 players in Palm Beach County decommitted at least once in the last year (27 percent), and nine of the top 25 players (36 percent) in Broward County pulled out of their pledges.
It's not the national divorce rate, but it's creeping that way. And while the reasons behind the decommitments vary significantly, one thing is clear — these days, when a player commits, it doesn't meant his recruitment process ends.
Before Hallandale's John Battle committed to LSU in late June, the 6-foot-2, four-star rated safety took a road trip to the colleges he was interested in attending. He analytically studied everything they had to offer and decided on LSU.
Battle was convinced LSU was the place for him, but that didn't stop other college coaches from visiting Hallandale to see if they could get him to flip his commitment.
"I just feel like they wasted their time," Hallandale coach Dameon Jones said.
But he can see why the coaches showed up: "These being young teenagers, sometimes they make decisions they're not ready to make."
The decommitment issue is further compounded by the fact some players commit solely to be noticed by other colleges. Making a commitment guarantees that a player will have a few stories written about him on recruiting sites across the country — including glowing ones on the fan sites of whatever school they commit to — and that creates buzz. Often times that buzz can put them on the radar of coaches that haven't yet heard of them.
With a commitment meaning little these days, it makes the lives of those who are truly committed more difficult, and not solely because coaches continue to call and visit.
The growth of the recruiting news industry is almost in direct proportion to the growth of social media websites Twitter and Facebook. High School football is the minor leagues of the NCAA, and die-hard college fans have shown they have an insatiable thirst for recruiting chatter — substantiated or not.
For Taylor, an erroneous story, posted on a recruiting website, tested his relationship with Duke coaches.
Vanderbilt continued to recruit Taylor after his Duke commitment, going as far as to offer him a full-ride scholarship on Oct. 14. After receiving the offer, Taylor took 20 minutes, talked about it with his family and called back to decline.
That should have been the end of the story.
After he passed on the Vanderbilt offer, Taylor was contacted by a recruiting writer who covered the Commodores.
"A guy messaged me on Facebook the day after I got the offer. I didn't tweet the offer, I didn't tell anyone about the offer, but I already knew it was coming," Taylor said.
When asked, Taylor confirmed that he was offered by Vanderbilt, but declined to say anything further.
"The next day I get out of practice, and I saw my coaches from Duke were sending me messages saying that there's a story online that 'Chris Taylor got an offer from Vanderbilt and that he's seriously thinking about flipping [his commitment].' "
Taylor wasn't too happy about having to clean up the mess that he didn't make, but he was able to explain the situation and make sure his relationship with the Duke coaching staff wasn't strained by the ordeal.
Taylor can laugh about it now, knowing that everything worked out, but don't mistake his good humor for forgiveness.
Said Taylor: "It's your future, it's not something you should play around with."