“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.
It's difficult to imagine that in the fertile recruiting grounds of South Florida, a college football prospect could be overlooked, but they are.
Coaches from around the country flock to Palm, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties searching for the signature from the next five-star recruit, but in their quest to sign a big name, they often look past unheralded players who could help provide significant depth for their program.
These players represent an anomaly in the local recruiting scene. Whether it's University School's LaJuan Hunt, who played for one of the nation's most recruited programs, or Pope John Paul II's DeQuan McGriff, whose school produces a major prospect once a decade, in South Florida, Division-1 caliber players can fall through the cracks.
If Hunt or McGriff played in Colorado, New York or Wisconsin they would have been regional stars, but because they competed in the over-saturated market of South Florida, their football futures remain in jeopardy ahead of Feb. 5's National Signing Day.
Hunt's recruitment started with a few letters. In the spring following his freshman season, top-flight colleges reached out through the mail, and Hunt heard from Florida, Georgia and Oregon. But the attention was short-lived.
That summer, highly touted running back Jordan Scarlett enrolled at University School, and Hunt was relegated to the bench as a backup. Scarlett quickly became one of the nation's top prospects in the Class of 2015, and Hunt watched as schools from around the country flew in to see the superstar running back.
Scarlett secured offers from nearly every major program east of the Mississippi River - and even one from Hawaii - while Hunt waited patiently for his first scholarship bid.
"It's not always going to go your way," Hunt said. "I wanted to have all the publicity that [Scarlett] had, but God works in mysterious ways, he put it over to him, not me."
The coaches that had once shown interest in Hunt, pre-Scarlett, said they were still interested, but never acted on those words.
While Hunt was being overlooked by a parade of high-profile coaches, McGriff was doing everything possible to give a reason for a college coach - any college coach - to come by his school and see him play.
McGriff accounted for more thanr 4,000 yards of offense and was a key defensive contributor during his high school career, but those numbers were overshadowed by his, and his school's, size. Playing at Pope - a small, independent-conference school - the 5-foot-8 McGriff didn't talk with a college coach until the spring of his junior year.
"The unfortunate thing for him is he's a little bit undersized for a tailback, but he's as good of a high school football player I have ever coached," said Pope John Paul II coach Matt Dillon, whose squad will have two Division-1 signees on National Signing Day in wide receiver Will Jeanlys and lineman Kieran Leen.
McGriff's recruitment has remained tame, but Hunt eventually started receiving serious offers - though they weren't from Florida, Georgia or Oregon. After receiving some offers from smaller, directional schools at the lower-end of Division-1, Hunt committed to the Air Force Academy the summer before his senior season, with the hope that bigger schools would take notice.
But those BCS conference offers never came, and after U-School's season ended in a playoff loss, Hunt decommitted from Air Force, thinking that could solve the problem. Once again, the offers he wanted didn't surface.
Hunt committed to Utah State in January after the coaching staff told him he was their top running back target, but there was another twist ahead. With less than a week remaining until National Signing Day, the Aggies told Hunt they might not have a scholarship for him anymore.
That leaves Hunt, once again, searching for a school. Georgia State has expressed interest in Hunt, and he, not wanting to be left optionless, scheduled an in-home visit from the coaches - though the Panthers haven't guaranteed Hunt a spot either.
"I'm kind of playing a waiting game between these two schools, and just have to see what's going to happen. It's not ideal," Hunt said.
Hunt hopes everything is sorted out by National Signing Day and he can sign with either school.
McGriff has an offer to walk-on at FAU, but he's also considering FCS programs Wagner and Bryant. And he hasn't ruled out the junior college ranks either.
While Hunt is expecting to sign on Feb. 5, McGriff will likely be forced to continue to weigh his options well after National Signing Day.
Every prospect dreams of having a Signing Day ceremony at his school, but McGriff understands that waiting could open more doors, as schools, pre-Spring practices, shuffle their rosters and find scholarships to extend to high school prospects.
"I'm believing it has to happen. I have worked too hard for this not to happen," McGriff said.
Both players have done their best to not take the situations personally, acknowledging that college football is a business, and often times in business, people are crossed, but whichever college signs the running backs can be assured that both players will be running angry.
Said Hunt: "I'm going to go as hard as I can and make a name for myself. [I'll] make all the college coaches that overlooked me regret their decisions."Copyright © 2015, CT Now