by Mike Coffey
I make no bones of the fact I’m not a recruitnik. In today’s atmosphere of being able to know who you didn’t get and (allegedly) why, I prefer to focus on the players Notre Dame does get and how they help the program progress towards a national title. So when players verbally commit or de-commit, I tend to take a talk-to-me-in-February approach.
Occasionally, though, a recruiting story will catch my eye … or, in this case, seize it with icy tongs.
Yesterday, highly-regarded high school defensive end Matt Dickerson de-committed from Notre Dame in favor of UCLA. According to the reports, the driving force behind the change of heart was Dickerson’s father being diagnosed with prostate cancer in recent weeks, two months after his uncle died of the same disease. With his mother already disabled, Dickerson felt staying proximate to family was more important at this stage of his life, and decided to change his college destination.
This news was met with the usual message board upheaval, with Fighting Irish faithful ready to string up UCLA coach Jim Mora for another (this time legal) episode of tampering with a Notre Dame recruit. I can’t join them, though, because I’ve been in Dickerson’s shoes (although a much older pair), and I would ask my fellow Domers to cut the kid a little slack.
In September of 2012, my 66-year-old mother was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer which had metastasized to her brain. She tried to beat it back with chemo and radiation, and although it seemed to be on the run in March of 2013, it returned in her spinal fluid a month later, and after a four-month stay in hospice, she died in October.
For those of you unfamiliar with the experience, having a parent diagnosed with cancer is incredibly frightening, particularly when there have been other episodes of it in the family. Even if a treatment plan is in place and the prognosis is good, it feels like someone somewhere has clicked a stopwatch, and time you previously didn’t even think about measuring all of a sudden seems very finite.
While I didn’t completely stop my life and sit by my mother’s bedside, I did find myself stopping by the house more often than I had previously. I found more excuses just to stick my head in the door and see how things were going. And I was comforted in the knowledge that, should something go wrong, I was close by and could make the necessary adjustments to get where I need to be with little upset. My sister, residing in Canada, certainly lacked that comfort.
I don’t envy the decision Matt Dickerson had to make, and I don’t blame him for the conclusion he reached. His life isn’t going to stop either, but it has changed, probably irrevocably. Like Mike Gundy, I’m a man, I’m [getting well beyond] 40, and I know what it was like for me. The thought of a 17-year-old with one already-ill parent facing this kind of situation is wrenching, and goes well beyond the impact on Notre Dame football.
But Bonger, say the frenzied, why isn’t he going to school closer to home if it’s so serious? As I said, his life is changing, not stopping. I didn’t move into my parents’ house when mom was diagnosed, but I made the necessary adjustments to assist them while keeping general positions in life (family, work) as undisturbed as possible. Life is an equation, and while Dickerson’s top priority is his dad, he needs to balance that against the rest of his own time on this planet. UCLA was the best local program that had offered him a scholarship, so that’s where he went. A 30-minute flight versus a six-hour marathon, in this situation, is a no-brainer.
Hang on, Mike, say the cynical, isn’t this the same thing as the Eddie Vanderdoes situation last year? I don’t believe it is, for many of the reasons Keith Arnold illustrates. Vanderdoes’ use of his grandmother’s diagnosis was a cop-out to further whatever agenda he had in mind, and the NCAA allowing him to play this season remains a disappointment. Dickerson is facing two ill parents and is trying to do the best he can for them given the situation.
There’s no easy way to deal with a parent who may be leaving you a lot sooner than you’d want. When you have a couple thousand people looking over your shoulder while you deal with it, the difficulties increase exponentially. Matt Dickerson made the best decision he could. It’s time for Irish fans to take the energy spent kvetching about defensive line depth and redirect it towards praying for a family in a tight spot.