Four sacks containing roughly 2,000 letters from love-struck
recruiters sadly sat by his Riverside, Calif., front door, like
trash waiting to be taken to the curb. Chris Claiborne dipped
into a bag and pulled out a two-inch-thick stack of letters.
"Take a look at this one," said the 6'4", 235-pound Claiborne.
"All the players are asking about you," the letter offered
succinctly. "Your [sic] the man!" screamed the next. Men of many
letters they are, but no one will ever mistake college football
coaches for, say, Cyrano de Bergerac. You would have never
guessed it, though, from the soft, smitten look on Claiborne's
"How could I say no to any of these schools?" said Claiborne, a
linebacker who like so many other recruits wrestled with his
college decision. Indeed, he had been unable to bring himself to
say no to any of his final choices. He had left that task to his
J.W. North High coach, Mark Paredes, who in the week preceding
national signing day dutifully called Arizona, Texas, Colorado
and, finally, on Feb. 6, Notre Dame with the news that
Claiborne, the Cal-Hi State Player of the Year, had chosen to
stay close to home and attend Southern Cal.
Claiborne's decision to play for the Trojans brought to a
conclusion an especially bizarre series of events. On Jan. 30
the Riverside Press-Enterprise quoted Claiborne as saying of
USC, "It's Tailback U, and I want to be part of that tradition."
The newspaper had been duped by an impostor, who had given
several programs false commitments. "It was funny, I guess, but
it made me mad, too," Claiborne says. "Making a decision is
tough enough without some joker getting involved."
Since last fall Claiborne had taken careful inventory of the
schools that were recruiting him, weighing variables that ranged
from whether notes from coaches had been handwritten to whether
he would be given a chance to make an immediate impact next
fall. Then came the hardest part, culling one school from his
final five choices. "I decided I wanted to be close to home," he
explains. "But there was only one school where I thought the
distance might not matter: Notre Dame."
On Feb. 2 he made his final official visit, to South Bend,
willing to be swayed. "You could feel the tradition," he says.
"It was everything I thought it would be." But the distance, not
to mention the bitter winter cold of northern Indiana, did turn
out to matter. Four days later, Claiborne's mind was made up.
"It'll be hard," Claiborne said last Wednesday. "When I was a
kid, I used to dream that I'd play for Notre Dame someday." He
then picked up the phone and called Mike Van Raaphorst, the
highly rated quarterback from La Mesa's Helix High with whom he
will room next fall. "No, don't worry, I'm still going to SC,"
he told Van Raaphorst. "Time to go make it official. Time to
sign on the dotted line."
COLOR PHOTO: JAN SONNENMAIR Claiborne pondered long and hard before deciding the warm clime at USC beats the cold at Notre Dame. [Chris Claiborne]
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER [See caption above--University of Southern California football players during game]