When it comes to talking about his life, Lorenzo Mauldin is not a big stickler for details. He tends to gloss over big chunks of his past, summarizing large expanses of it like asphalt over a highway full of potholes. The way he tells it, there are miles of smooth road both ahead and behind.
It’s easier that way, for Mauldin is a young man who is not terribly concerned about where he’s been, only where he’s going. That he’s not entirely certain of his destination is immaterial.
Mauldin is pretty sure his road will eventually lead to the University of South Carolina. Anywhere he ends up between now and then is, well, better than where he’s been.
“I’m pretty much set on South Carolina because of the fact that they will, if I don’t make the score that they need, they will put me into prep school for a semester and I will be there until early January,” said Mauldin, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end at Atlanta’s Maynard Jackson High School. “So I mean that’s pretty good. I’m used to making good decisions in life and to me that sounds like a pretty good decision.”
Mauldin is used to making hard decisions. He has been a ward of the state most of his life. His mother has been incarcerated since he became a teen-ager and his father, who lives in California, is not involved in his life.
Now 18, Mauldin said he has lived in 16 foster homes and two group homes. He currently resides at Families First, a children’s group home in Atlanta.
Since last July, I knew Mauldin only as a name on a list, a good looking prospect who committed to play football for the Gamecocks before last season started. He wasn’t what you’d call “heavily recruited.” Mauldin got some long looks from Georgia Tech but ultimately received offers from only South Carolina, Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State, South Alabama and Troy. He accepted the Gamecocks’ offer way back on July 23rd of last summer and really never bothered much with the recruiting thing again.
But Mauldin didn’t end up signing with South Carolina as expected. He found out via a letter faxed to his school the day before national signing day that the Gamecocks would not have room for him in their Class of 2011. South Carolina signed 31 players on national signing day and added one more — Jadeveon Clowney, the nation’s No. 1 prospect — on Feb. 14th.
Mauldin wasn’t the only to be left at the altar by the Gamecocks. Linebacker Jordan Montgomery of Groveland, Fla., was also left hanging despite being committed since August.
“I kind of feel like I’ve been shoved away,” Mauldin told me recently. “Then again, on the other hand, I realize that I wasn’t academically eligible and I understand that was on my part. And I can’t really use the times I’ve been through as an excuse for that. It’s all right.”
Never mind that a number of South Carolina’s prospects also have not met entrance requirements.
Mauldin is just the latest victim of the growing problem of over-signing. The NCAA and the Southeastern Conference have done what they can to control it. This past year the collegiate sports’ national governing body adopted the SEC’s “25/28 rule” that limits to 28 the total number of signed letters-of-intent schools can accept. But there is little or no jurisdiction for ethics.
In the Gamecocks’ case, four of their 2011 signees enrolled early and actually count against the 2010 class. But that still leaves them three over the maximum number of 25 that will be able to enroll in August. At least that many are expected fall short of academic entrance requirements or suffer a similar fate as Mauldin and Montgomery. Why they were signed instead of the other two is left to interpretation.
“We’ve handled it,” head coach Steve Spurrier told reporters when asked about the unsigned commitments on national signing day. “Hopefully they’re still going to be with us. That’s about all I can tell. . . . We’ll see how it plays out down the road.”
If Mauldin fails to qualify — he still needs to achieve the minimum test score on either the SAT or ACT — he will be able to enroll at Fork Union Military Academy, a prep school in Virginia, according to Maynard Jackson coach Eric Williams. But if and when that happens and who will pay for it is unclear at this point.
The bigger question is what happens if Mauldin does qualify between now and the end of summer. He has taken the tests several times and says he is very close to getting the score he needs. In fact, he is currently awaiting word on his latest attempt.
“What I’m telling Lorenzo is, basically, ‘you’re a free agent,’” Williams said. “‘Although we have that letter, what will really force their hand is to get your score. Get your score and see if they’re going to honor what they say they’re going to do and bring you in.’”
In the meantime, Williams is seeing that his star player doesn’t sit around waiting in vain. Mauldin made an official visit to Louisville last weekend and he’s in the process of setting up a trip to Miami. Kentucky has also made inquiries about Mauldin’s possible availability and Troy has never stopped pursuing him. The national signing period for college football continues until April 1.
“He would be a jewel for any them at this late date,” Williams said. “He’s the real deal.”
Quite clearly, though, Mauldin favors South Carolina over any of his other options. Before his recent trip to Louisville, it was the only place he visited.
“I just fell in love with their campus over there, their football program, their academic program,” Mauldin said. “It was all what I wanted. Plus it was close to home. I didn’t want to go too far from home because of the family situation.”
Mauldin has four brothers and sisters, three of whom remain in state custody. And that’s where his story gets really sticky.
Upon graduation from Maynard Jackson in June, Mauldin will be emancipated from the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFACS) system. Effectively, he’ll be on his own.
“Whatever school he goes to, it ain’t like he can come back,” Williams said. “His mom recently got out of prison, so hopefully she will have herself established soon and he’ll be able to go stay with her. But who knows? Even when we thought he was going to sign with South Carolina, we were already talking about the prospects of the next four years and him coming home to stay with us over the Christmas break or after bowl games. I told him he could come to my house.”
For his part, Mauldin says he’ll be just fine.
“I think everything will work out eventually,” he said. “Again, it’s better than nothing. As long as I’m playing football, I’m OK. I’m still getting my education. If I’m not playing football with my team right away, in the end, I will play with them eventually.”
From Lorenzo Mauldin’s perspective, it’s a smooth ride from here.
By Chip Towers, The College Recruiting Blog