Elite high school recruits using the Notes app on their iPhone to make news is nothing new, but this particular type of news is -- and may be the start of a trend.
On Thursday, Jaydon Blue, a Texas running back commitment in the class of 2022, announced he will opt out of his senior season to focus on academics and training before beginning his collegiate career.
Blue is a high 4-star recruit, rated the No. 48 player nationally by the 247Sports composite out of Klein Cain High School, near Houston. He committed to Texas on Feb. 2, the second of seven players (thus far) to commit to Steve Sarkisian's program. He rushed for 2,155 yards and 30 touchdowns on 9.5 yards per carry as a junior last fall against 6A competition.
And now in an effort to maximize his playing career, Blue will skip his senior year.
"This has been a very difficult decision for my family and I," he wrote. "Football is a brutal sport, and the wear and tear associated with the RB position is undeniable. I plan to take this time to focus on my academics while enhancing my off the field training/rehab regimen. This is a strategic (and) conscious effort to ensure that I am prepared to perform at an elite level at the collegiate (level) during the 2022 season."
The move will harken fears of copy-cats, just as Christian McCaffrey opting out of the 2016 Sun Bowl sparked a trend where it's now expected for draft-ready players to skip non-Playoff bowl games.
More recently, a number of high-level college players skipped the 2020 season due to the pandemic and its associated concerns. Those players paid no professional price, as many expected (and hoped). LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, Oregon's Penei Sewell, Penn State's Micah Parsons and Northwestern's Rashawn Slater all opted out and were the first or second players selected at their respective positions during last month's draft.
So far, no 2022 first-round hopefuls have opted out without a global pandemic threatening the season, but it's only May.
High school coaches have long feared their own players would opt out or, or coast through, their senior seasons after accepting scholarship offers as juniors. Thus far, that hasn't happened -- at least not at a wide scale. College coaches typically explain upon accepting a commitment that they have the right to revoke said commitment if they deem the player isn't giving his high school team his all, which is usually enough to keep the player's nose to the grindstone.
The only recent precedent I can recall was when Virginia Beach cornerback Tony Grimes left Princess Anne High School before his senior year, but he did so to re-classify from the 2021 class to 2020 and enroll at North Carolina early. Blue won't enroll at Texas any earlier, he'll just spend the fall hitting the books and the weights instead of opposing defenders.
Presumably, Blue wouldn't have made Thursday's announcement without receiving assurances from the Texas staff that his spot in the '22 class was secure. We have no reason to believe otherwise -- and, frankly, it's tough to imagine a player opting out of his senior year of high school and not getting the OK from his college coaches. At the very least, Blue indicated he still wants to be a Longhorn a year from now. His profile photo is him with Texas running backs coach Stan Drayton, and the announcement was accompanied by a photo of Blue in a Longhorns uniform.
Needless to say, this will devastate Klein Cain's prospects this fall. Blue carried 20 times a game as a sophomore and junior, and the Cain coaches undoubtedly planned on Blue toting the rock at least that many times this fall. (Which, in turn, is why Blue opted out in the first place.) While I admittedly don't have a firm grasp on the Hurricanes' depth chart, it's safe to say there's not another Jaydon Blue on the roster.
Whether they knew of the move ahead of time or not, Blue has put the ball in Texas's court. If the Longhorns staff keeps Blue as part of the class, they endorse the move and thereby empower other recruits to do the same (or at least try). If they tell Blue to look elsewhere for his college destination, they might just nip this trend in the bud -- and win a lot of friends in the high school coaching community -- while also depriving themselves of an elite talent. Texas isn't exactly in a place where it can turn down national top-50 players. Sarkisian and company must also consider the possibility that cutting Blue loose from their class would just lead him into the arms of one of their rivals.
Elite recruits leave their high school teams to play elsewhere all the time. But an elite player leaving the team to not play? That's new. And we have to wonder if this will signal the start of a trend.