Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When it comes to college recruiting, no high school athlete's commitment is official until the dotted line is signed on a national letter of intent.
Scholarship offers to student-athletes aren't official until the offseason before an athlete's senior year of high school.
Over the years, though, verbal commitments have become a much more common tradition in the realm of college football, and, unlike an official signed commitment to a college of university, the verbal commitment can be made by any athlete garnering interest from an institution regardless of age. Until it's made official, a verbal commitment is non-binding.
But is there a line colleges should draw when it comes to recruiting athletes who are too young?
The LSU football program made news late last week when a Texas middle school eighth grader named Zadock Dinkelmann verbally announced he would attend the Louisiana state school and play football there when he is college eligible. Dinkelmann is the 14-year-old nephew of former Heisman Trophy winner and BYU standout quarterback Ty Detmer.
Dinkelmann is in the eighth grade at Somerset Junior High School, but LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron offered the already college-built 6-foot-4, 190-pound Dinkelmann a scholarship, according to Detmer.
Dinkelmann not only hasn't played a single a down of varsity high school football in his life, but has yet to step out on the field for any high school team in general. Other than his size, his junior high school tapes and his football bloodlines, there isn't much on which to base this decision.
According to Dinkelmann's father, Johan Dinkelmann, who played football with the Cincinnati Bearkats, his son's goal for his first season at Somerset will be to lead the freshman team. The varsity team is coached by Dinkelmann's grandfather, Sonny Detmer, and Koy Detmer Jr. is the returning varsity starter under center.
"LSU is a top program, and Zadock has liked LSU for a long time," Johan said. "What kid at his age with dreams and aspirations wouldn't commit to a program like that? It's a tremendous opportunity. It was an opportunity that we, as his parents, wouldn't let him pass up if that's what he wanted."
It seems a bit premature for LSU to put faith in a player who has two years left until he can legally receive a driver's license. But the beauty of a verbal commitment from Dinkelmann means it's completely non-binding, and if, let's say, he gets severely hurt sometime in the next few years and can't play football anymore, it's not like LSU's recruiting class is damaged. Dinkelmann won't be able to sign an official commitment to LSU, or any other school, until February 2018.
The fact this 14-year-old quarterback knows a top-notch Southeastern Conference program is interested in him can go one of two ways. Dinkelmann can embrace the fact that LSU and Cameron want him as part of their future, and he'll do everything in his power to become the best he can be for their sake. Or he can get complacent and shrug off other responsibilities, including his progression in football.
This isn't the first case of LSU offering a prospect a scholarship before the player hits high school. Back in 2012, the Tigers offered Dylan Moses, who was at the time a 6-1, 215-pound linebacker/running back, a scholarship the summer before his eighth grade year. The Tigers got a verbal commitment from him during his freshman season.
It's happening on other campuses around the country as well. Kentucky offered then-seventh grade cornerback Jairus Brents a scholarship after the 5-8 player attended a football camp in Lexington. Brents is a member of the recruiting class of 2018. And USC got 2015 quarterback prospect David Sills to verbally commit to its program when he was just 13.
It's no harm, no foul for these football programs. On the one hand, they could get a top-notch prospect of the future for their football team. On the other, there's so much that can go wrong or change in the time frame between the offer and official commitment that it becomes a pointless process.
Do you remember what you were doing when you were 13 years old? Was it committing to college to play football? It's a decision that seems to require such maturity and cognitive thought, and it's being placed on such immature minds.
But as long as Dinkelmann can stay healthy and assuming he has the same goals in four more years, LSU will gain a potentially dangerous offensive player.
"Obviously, Zadock has been blessed with some physical talent," Johan said. "He's big, he's tall, he's got a good arm. The fact that he has grown up in a football family where everybody he knows has either played college football, college basketball or has coached helps tremendously. It's not really an expectation because of his family, it's a given that he's going to go play college football somewhere for somebody at some time."