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Fab 15: Redfield's switch part of journey
MISSION VIEJO – Max Redfield stood just a few weeks from announcing his college decision when USC's football staff called a bold play in December in hopes of recapturing the promising recruit it once counted as a commit.
Five coaches, including Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, arrived for a recruiting visit at Redfield's home with the Heisman Trophy awarded to USC quarterback Matt Leinart.
Redfield and his family took pictures with the trophy. Redfield's 9-year-old brother, Langston, beamed as he carefully held the highest award in college football.
The coaches also brought along a USC football jersey with the No. 1 Redfield wore for Mission Viejo.
"They really pulled out the stops," said Redfield's mother, Kathy Mora.
But Redfield, a member of the Register's annual Fab 15 team that honors the top recruits in the western United States, wasn't swayed this time.
In his mind, and more important, in his heart, he knew he was committed to another school.
News of Redfield's commitment to Notre Dame surfaced in early January. And while he is expected to make his pledge official today on National Signing Day, Redfield wouldn't be the only high-profile recruit to sign a letter of intent with one school after decommitting from another.
Three other top county players switched commitments, adding to the conversation on a controversial topic in the recruiting community.
"This year, probably more than any other year, I think people are finally starting to say, lets not use that word commitment any more," said Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for Fox Sports and Scout.com.
"It's almost like you're holding your place. It's not something that anyone takes that serious because now even when you do commit, probably 70 percent of the players who commit are still taking (recruiting) trips somewhere."
But to Redfield, decommitment isn't a nasty word in recruiting. It's part of his journey.
Redfield first noticed the attention from college recruiters following his sophomore season.
College coaches, already well aware of senior Tre Madden and junior Jahleel Pinner at Mission Viejo, were also keeping track of Redfield.
One day during the spring of his sophomore year, Redfield came home with a stack of letters from colleges that Mission Viejo coach Bob Johnson had been collecting.
"He'd come home with a hundred letters," recalled Redfield's step-father, Louis Mora.
Redfield played even better as a junior, and USC was the first to offer him a scholarship. In July, the All-County defensive back committed to USC during a rush of recruiting activity by the Trojans.
But even as he discussed his pledge to USC, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Redfield said he wanted to take recruiting trips to other schools, including Notre Dame.
"And they were open to that," he said of USC. "If I did make the right decision, I would have a good time (on the recruiting trip) but (that school) wouldn't be where I ended up wanting to go."
But that's not what happened when Redfield made his official recruiting trip to South Bend,Ind. the weekend of Oct. 13.
Redfield enjoyed his trip, felt comfortable after talking the players such as linebacker Manti Te'o and defensive back Bennett Jackson and gained trust in the coaches. And his feelings for Notre Dame didn't fade after the trip.
"It pretty much told me that I didn't make the right decision (with USC)," he said.
"I realized the true meaning of just feeling inside yourself and really wanting (to) make the decision for myself and wanting to go to a school because it's really the fit for me. ... (That's) the first time I ever felt that way about a college."
Then in early November, Redfield sent a jolt through recruiting circles by decommitting from USC.
"I was actually shocked," Biggins said. "He's always been a guy who I thought was going to end up at USC."
Redfield dreaded the thought of calling USC coaches with his news. But he received some helpful advice from Mission Viejo's Johnson, part of a support system that included his parents and grandfather.
"My coach told me it would be tough and that it's something you have to do – it's part of growing up," Redfield said.
"It's really hard to call someone you committed to, and been talking to since my sophomore year and tell them that I'm not sure that I'm going to be coming to your school."
Redfield called USC coaches, and as it turned out, it wasn't as difficult as he expected.
Redfield said assistant coach Kennedy Polamalu didn't scold him and reminded him that USC was going to keep recruiting him
Kiffin seemed to downplay the development, perhaps in a belief that USC would rally at the end, Redfield speculated.
"I'm definitely proud of how he has handled the whole thing," Redfield's mother said.
But with his recruitment reopened, Redfield also began receiving even more messages from coaches and media about his situation.
The pressure to read and respond to messages became so intense, Redfield deactivated his Facebook account.
"That was probably the height of it," he said.
"I used to worry about it during school, coming home to it and checking it. I never wanted to check it. I would see way too many messages."
Redfield smiled for pictures with the Heisman Trophy. He also held the USC jersey during the in-home visit. But inside, he felt besieged by a recruiting process that he knew he was fortunate to have.
"That was definitely overwhelming especially (when) in my head, I knew I was already going to Notre Dame," he said.
Offensive linemen Alex Redmond of Los Alamitos, Sean Harlow of San Clemente and Erik Bunte of Mission Viejo each switched their commitments in the weeks before Signing Day.
But the colleges also are part of the equation when it comes to changes.
"They'll say, 'If you commit to us early, you can still take your trips,'" Biggins said. "(And) now you're seeing colleges take commitments, and if they like other players, they're starting to force players out who committed there. It's almost become a two-way street."
Redfield looks backs at his commitment to USC and believes that he succumbed to outside pressure.
Many expected him to pick USC and join his ex-Mission Viejo teammates, Madden and Pinner.
Redfield, himself, planned on becoming roommates with touted safety and fellow Fab 15 selection Su'a Cravens of Vista Murrieta, who has already enrolled at USC.
"It came from a bunch of outside sources and different forces and not inside my self," Redfield said of his commitment to USC.
"It was (USC) coaches telling me all about it. All my friends telling me I should (commit). Tre and Jahleel saying I should. I kind of just did it."
But in the end, Redfield believes he picked the right school.
He announced his commitment to Notre Dame while participating at the Under Armour All-America Game in Florida in early January.
"I kind of wanted to get away and do my own thing and not just (follow) the path that everybody expects me to do (and) do the harder thing ... even though it might be a little more difficult," Redfield said.
And to make it happen, he had to decommit.
"It definitely has a negative connotation, (which) most people probably shouldn't have," Redfield said of decommitting. "If it's really necessary, it should be done at all costs because (your decision) is going to affect your life."