Way Too Much, Way Too Soon

By Drew Sharp
Updated: February 8, 2010

Middle school student David Sills, 13, has orally committed to play football at USC.

Middle school student David Sills, 13, has orally committed to play football at USC.

DETROIT — There’s nothing within the contradictions and hypocrisies of NCAA law prohibiting a 13-year-old from orally committing to a college football program before he has picked a high school.

David Sills followed the rules.

David is a 6-foot-1 middle school quarterback in Delaware, deemed the next football prodigy. He wants to go to USC. New Trojans coach Lane Kiffin wants him to go there, offering Sills a scholarship that he can’t sign for another five years.

But permissibility doesn’t excuse parents from condoning a stunt like this in some grab for cheap celebrity. The Sills family doesn’t understand why this decision attracted national attention. They don’t think it’s a big deal.

But perhaps they could explain the national television talk-show circuit they took last week to tell their motives while bringing more attention on a 13-year-old who should worry about being a kid.

Blame the NCAA, insists Sills’ father, David.

But that’s like blaming McDonald’s for teenage obesity because it offers fatty foods. That doesn’t mean that parents should sit by and watch their 13-year-old devour quarter pounders like potato chips.

Blame the parents for this one.

Nobody’s suggesting that Sills shouldn’t pursue a dream or that his parents shouldn’t guide him along that path. But when a 13-year-old has a private quarterbacking coach, Steve Clarkson, who’s known for steering his young protégés to USC (former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart and last year’s starting freshman Matt Barkley), and he has taken physical tests to determine how tall he should become, you can’t help but wonder whether the parents are pushing more than prodding.

Nobody wants David Sills to become another Todd Marinovich.

Sports Illustrated crowned the then-18-year-old “America’s first test tube athlete” in a cover story more than 20 years ago, introducing the nation to his father’s controlling regimen of diet, conditioning and practice to create the perfect quarterback almost immediately from birth.

Marinovich enjoyed some success at USC and was picked in the first round of the NFL draft, but mixed in with those achievements were episodes of a self-absorbed life spinning out of control through reckless behavior. He became hooked on drugs, resulting in numerous arrests since 1991 when he was still at USC.

Parents certain that their kid is destined to be the next great prodigy should hear that story.

Sills truly is a kid.

There’s nothing wrong with him dreaming big, preparing for his future and pushing himself within reason. But it’s equally important that his parents exercise some restraint, for if they forget he’s only 13, that potentially could create serious problems when he gets older.