PLANTATION, Fla. - Here is how Alex Collins, who became the unfortunate poster child for everything contorted about National Signing Day, summed up his two days on the sports stage:
“I really just wanted my mom’s blessing,” he said.
He got his father’s blessing instead. And his aunt’s. And his grandma’s. And, as he stood Thursday at Bokamper’s restaurant in Plantation, smiling with an Arkansas hat on his head a day later than expected, you realized something about this entire mess.
This kid was the one who did everything right, the one who acted most like an adult. That’s the real story here. And the neglected one.
That narrative got buried under Signing Day’s crosscurrent of noise, of his mom refusing to sign the letter-of-intent to Arkansas, of thousands of Arkansas fans and Miami fans scribbling on the Internet, of whether Miami coach Al Golden was recruiting South Florida enough and, mainly, of America’s need to be entertained.
“Mama Drama,” an ESPN headline on the side of the television screen read at the restaurant as Collins and a few South Plantation High students watched.
“That’s not right,” Collins said, watching himself on the screen.
One of the fascinating occurrences these days is observing how people are titillated by stories that burst before their eyes for a day, maybe two, before being replaced by the next big thing. As if some stories have nothing to do with actual peoples’ lives inside them.
These two days affected Collins. They still were affecting him, as his mother hired Johnnie Cochran’s law firm to represent her wishes that Collins attend Miami. The firm quickly put out a press release saying it wanted his college decision to be a “clean choice that is free of any outside influences.”
Collins read of it on a reporter’s computer Thursday at the restaurant. And so what you saw all the way to the end Thursday was a family’s unfortunate business spilling out in public.
What you also saw was how Collins handled this situation. When his mother left South Plantation without signing his letter-of-intent as the NCAA demands, he wasn’t happy.
“That’s not how I planned that day going,” he said.
There’s room to question the NCAA in this. An 18-year-old can sign up for the Army without his parent’s signature. But he needs one to sign a letter-of-intent to play sports?
Collins did something interesting immediately. He turned off his phone. He stayed away from computers. He wanted some time to think about his feelings without friends, family and media calling.
“I wanted to process what I should do,” he said.
He decided to call his father, Johnny. They don’t live together. They haven’t in years. That’s part of this family’s story. At one point last year, Collins lived briefly with the South Plantation football coach.
He went Wednesday afternoon to his father’s home in Hallandale. Other family members showed up. His aunt. His grandmother.
“We talked,” Collins said. “We talked of what I should do, and why I wanted to go to Arkansas, and what was the next step.”
“He said he needed my signature,” said Johnny Collins, a retired tow-truck driver.
The father was asked if he had any reservations about Arkansas in the manner the mother had.
“I want him to be happy,” Johnny said. “If he says he’s happy going to Arkansas, that’s good enough for me.”
Alex Collins said he liked the Arkansas campus, liked the coaching staff, liked the idea of going to college in another part of the country. You can understand all that. Sometimes it isn’t about drama or Golden not recruiting hard enough.
“This wasn’t about what Miami didn’t do,” Collins said. “This was really about me wanting to live my life the way I want to. I could do what a lot of people want me to do. Or I could do what I think is best for me.”
Over the Internet, Arkansas assistant Charlie Partridge watched Thursday’s news conference from Fayetteville. “He did everything right, didn’t he?” Partridge asked.
The kid acted the most grown up of anyone in this story.