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How young is too young to offer an alleged football phenom?

Offering junior high athletes is still an exception rather than the rule, but is it a good idea to push this envelope?

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Most of what keeps football fans afloat in the offseason is sporadic news of offers and commitments by members of the next year’s class, but this season has been especially unique in the Mountain West.

It began about a week and a half ago, when the staff at the University of Hawaii took a drastic step and offered a scholarship to an athlete in fifth grade.

Titan Lacaden, the younger brother of former Nevada linebacker Jake Lacaden, is eleven years old. Lacaden is also a quarterback, and it’s no secret that blue-chippers at the position are scarce. Regardless, such a move smacks of, at least to me, equal parts cheeky publicity stunt — hometown university offers precocious talent — and desperation.

Are the Warriors, who unearthed, mind you, a pretty solid quarterback in former two-star recruit Dru Brown and have, in the past, struck paydirt in mining the JuCo ranks for Colt Brennan and Bryant Moniz, really that hard up for a quarterback prospect?

Lacaden’s father, for his part, doesn’t seem fazed by skepticism from the mainland. “When opportunity knocks,” he told Tom VanHaaren of ESPN, “You answer the door.” It sounds pragmatic on the surface, the way that the father of a math prodigy might sound if an Ivy League school had offered his child a full ride, but the mind and the body don’t necessarily develop along the same curve. I won’t rehash the obvious arguments about physicality made elsewhere — except to note that the elder Lacaden brother, Jake, was last listed at 5-foot-11 on the Nevada roster, which isn’t exactly the ideal height for a top signal-caller — and focus instead on how pointless an endeavor this kind of move is.

Look no further than current Ohio State freshman quarterback Tate Martell. Steve Sarkisian offered Martell a scholarship when he was the head coach at Washington in 2012, when his target was just 14 years old. Martell stood 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds at the time, according to an article from the Seattle Times, and the only things that changed since then were... well, first and foremost, his commitment. He bailed on the Huskies in favor of Texas A&M in 2015, then changed his mind again a year later to commit to Ohio State.

And the athlete who stood to potentially mainstream this practice, Class of 2015 quarterback David Sills, backed out of his commitment to Southern California four years after being offered by Lane Kiffin and then yo-yoed from West Virginia to junior college and back to West Virginia (and switched to wide receiver).

And Martell lost an inch and gained twenty pounds upon joining the Buckeyes.

The smallish stature never hurt Martell’s standing much in the eyes of recruiting services, as 247Sports ranked him as the second-best dual-threat QB prospect in the Class of 2017, though it is worth noting that only one other dual-threat athlete in the top 30 is listed as being under six feet tall. The past comparisons to Fran Tarkenton and Brett Favre, who stood 6-foot and 6-foot-2 in their playing days, respectively, seem a little absurd in retrospect.

The nature of the modern college game is fleeting, the agents of such actions never in place long enough to see such wild swings come to fruition. If Rolovich maintains Hawaii’s upward trajectory, and even if he falters, he’ll leave the island in two or three years one way or another. If Lacaden continues to develop in the manner of, say, recent Alabama recruit and fellow Hawaiian Tua Tagovailoa (who, ironically, is the only 2017 dual-threat QB ranked ahead of Martell and didn’t receive his first offer until he was a junior in high school), there’s zero chance he sticks to his commitment to the Warriors. It’s showmanship for the recruiting mill and nothing more.

Yesterday, however, if a single tweet is to be believed, the Nevada Wolf Pack took the practice one step further:

Granted, Jay Norvell and the rest of the Nevada coaching staff has said nothing about such an offer. A cursory Google search reveals little more than highlight videos and a surprisingly polished Instagram account which exists in violation of IG’s terms of use. The Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray hasn’t said anything about it, either, but the suggestion is, at the same time, disturbing and not surprising.

At some point, simple ethos has to kick in, whether it’s from the NCAA, the programs pushing the limits of good taste, or the parents who, despite all appearances of humility, need to allow their kids to step back and embrace a less single-minded upbringing. If Rolovich and Kiffin and others want to continue down this road, it’s only a matter of time before offers begin to reflect something that would spring from The Onion.