HUNTERSVILLE – Two SouthLake Christian Academy football players who committed as freshmen to play college football at Mississippi State have changed their minds.
Running back Robert Washington Jr. and wide receiver Connor O’Donnell, both rising sophomores, have reopened their recruiting after a misunderstanding concerning the offer from Mississippi State.
“We didn’t de-committ because it wasn’t a commitment to begin with,” said Geoff “Bub” O’Donnell, SouthLake Christian’s football coach and Connor’s father. “It’s not what we agreed to (with Mississippi State). It wasn’t the facts we were told.”
Both Washington and O’Donnell agreed to a four-year guaranteed scholarship. Both liked Mississippi State when they visited the campus in Starkville, Miss. But the sticking point was an injury provision, meaning if the player were injured in high school, Mississippi State would still honor the scholarship.
The injury provision was promised by the college’s recruiting coordinator, Bub O’Donnell said. He’s since left the university, and Mississippi State contacted both SouthLake players last week. The injury provision has to come from the head coach, they were told.
Essentially, what Washington Jr. and O’Donnell agreed to no longer exists.
“We agreed we still love each other, but we’re not married,” Bub O’Donnell said. “We’ll talk to Mississippi State. We liked Mississippi State and we had no intention of leaving (the agreement).”
Both players were invited to Mississippi State for a face-to-face meeting with head coach Dan Mullen. But high school practice begins this week, and Washington Jr. and O’Donnell spent a large chunk of their summer at football camps and on unofficial visits. Both want to concentrate on the upcoming season.
“Robert is really focused on the season at SouthLake,” said Robert Washington Sr., his father. “Nothing else matters right now.”
It was a whirlwind summer for both players. Both played for Team USA’s 16-and-under team. Washington made unofficial visits to Michigan and Arkansas. He participated in camps at Georgia, North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina and Michigan. O’Donnell went to camps at Notre Dame, Michigan, Georgia Tech, Florida State and N.C. State. He visited Arkansas and Michigan.
O’Donnell, 6-feet and 170 pounds, caught 39 passes for 919 yards and five touchdowns last season, helping the Eagles (11-2) reach the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division III championship game.
Washington, 5-10 and 192 pounds, became the youngest player to accept an offer from an SEC college when he committed to Mississippi State last November.
Washington rushed for 1,017 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games as a freshman. He battled a hip injury during the first half of the season, but returned with rushing games of 151, 155, 163 and 165 yards in consecutive weeks. He averaged 11.4 yards per carry during the season.
Washington has scholarship offers from Arizona State, North Carolina and N.C. State. O’Donnell has offers from Akron and UCLA. But the recruiting race has reopened, and Bub O’Donnell said the players have been in contact with about 30 universities. More will follow, no doubt.
“A lot of schools are back in it,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve got a lot of options.”