When he committed to Ohio State as a high school sophomore, Akron Archbishop Hoban running Todd Sibley Jr. was 100-percent sure his recruitment was over.
The country's 18th-ranked tailback had a brief flirtation with Michigan State but quickly shut it down. He was a Buckeye and had no intention of being anything else. His recruitment was over.
For a year, anyway. A phone call changed the situation for Sibley in a way he'd not expected.
"It started off with a phone call," Sibley said of the day his recruitment went from over to open. "The conversation suggested that it was 100 percent in my best interest to look around and visit some other places. It was huge blow to me and my confidence as a player, because at that moment I felt like I wasn't good enough."
It was more than just a knock to Sibley's confidence, it left him feeling very unsure why it was happening.
"I was confused," he said. "I was good enough a year ago, but now I'm not? The conversation was completely unexpected and I had not seen it coming at all."
The Buckeyes weren't saying he was out, just that he'd need to accept a gray-shirt offer – meaning he'd need to enroll six months later than the rest of his 2017 teammates – if he wanted to wear the Scarlet and Gray. Ohio State's scholarship shortage for that class is well-documented, but Sibley believed he was in the clear.
"At the end of the conversation, I had asked if I still had an offer on the table," Sibley said. "The next day it was confirmed by my coach that it was a gray-shirt offer, and that got leaked out to the public. I was in disbelief about the whole thing and I didn't know what to do next."
When someone at the school you've been committed to for a year says "look around," it's only natural that eventually that becomes what happens next. Sibley has visited Michigan State and Pitt in the last two months, taking a little time to explore options around the region. He wants to stay close to home, that he knows, but the next step could take him anywhere, so he's trying to adjust what he's looking for.
"I am still a great football player, whether I'm at Ohio State or Akron," he said. "It won't matter as long as am able to play the game I love, so I can't let a schools opinion of me, change who I am at the end of the day. I want to visit Virginia, Iowa State, Penn State, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Indiana. The trophies and the rings are nice because we all want to go to a winning program, but now I'm more concerned with where I am on the depth chart and how far I have to work myself up. I'm also very interested in the graduation rate of each school and the distance from my family, because those are both major parts in my recruiting now."
The Buckeyes are not out of Sibley's mind, despite the disappointing turn his recruitment took. He's still considering the gray-shirt offer, but he has not had any contact with the Ohio State since then. He intends to change that soon.
"Growing up a fan of Ohio State, it still plays a huge part of what I'm thinking," Sibley said. "Being able to get on campus with all the big-time players and coaches was a dream for me and I've loved every second I spent on campus with the coaches and players. We haven't communicated since the gray-shirt conversation. I think everything has cleared out enough so I'll probably try to contact them soon."
One way Sibley has considered contacting Ohio State? Showing up and camping with the Buckeyes at one of their upcoming camps. There are few things Urban Meyer's staff values more than unbridled competitive spirit and the 5-foot-10, 215-pounder thinks that's one to re-open the staff's eyes.
"Going there and camping has crossed my mind several times. In this generation, everyone is talented and blessed but it's about having that mindset that you can complete and battle with anyone that gets put in front of you," Sibley continued. "I have that mindset that I can compete with anyone at a high level."
At Nike's The Opening regional in Columbus a month ago, Sibley spent most of the day talking to a number of Ohio State commitments who were present. Those guys, the ones he felt sure would be his future teammates, have helped him keep level-headed.
"(The commitments) all have been supportive and I can't thank them enough," he said. "They always tell me to keep my head up and just do what's best for me. I love them to death and it won't matter if I play with them; we will always be family. I can't thank Ohio State enough for somehow bringing this odd group of kids together."
As the business of college football continues to grow, the less-than-pretty side of recruiting gets exposed more and more. Sibley obviously has an opinion on what's happening to him and thinks other prospects need to make sure they're paying attention.
"My situation caught me off-guard and I didn't see it coming," Sibley said. "I would tell people to stay on their toes because anything could happen and you should always have a Plan B. I was one of those people who didn't believe it could happen to me until it happened, so people should take their recruitment seriously. This is no joking matter. As a future collegiate athlete you're going to be spending four to five years on that campus so you better make sure that's where you want to be. Not where everyone else wants you to be."
That's the big question that the four-star running back is trying to answer. Does he want to be at Ohio State enough to take the opportunity a bit later than he expected? Does he think the grass will be greener elsewhere? He's not sure yet, and he's not in a hurry to answer it.
"It's only been a year since I committed but we have had some many great conversations and laughs between us. After the gray-shirt thing, I started to realize that all that could potentially fade away if I decide not to go (to Ohio State). However, I also don't want to go there and put myself in a bad situation so it's been tough. I will definitely take my time and let recruiting take care of itself. I want to make the right move."