Barely enough time to exit LSU coach Les Miles’ office, chat with recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson and pose for a couple of pictures before descending the stairs of the Tigers’ gleaming football operations center.
Before University High guard Garrett Brumfield reached his parents’ car after committing to play for the Tigers, Paul Brumfield’s cell phone buzzed.
The caller ID display left the prospect’s father perplexed: It was an assistant coach from Florida.
“I just heard something I don’t believe,” the assistant said. “Did Garrett just commit to LSU?”
Cupping the phone, Paul turned to his wife, Geneva, and whispered.
“Man, how do they already know?” he asked.
On April 20, the day of the Tigers’ spring game, Brumfield shut down a two-year courting process in a meeting with Miles. Quiet and low-key, the face-to-face pledge fit the four-star prospect’s style — one rare in a year when LSU faced a mad-dash scramble to the end.
And in a year when harvesting a bumper crop of in-state talent has produced drama ripe for ESPN producers, Brumfield’s otherwise straightforward courting is an exception.
“Nobody likes that guy that’s out there trying to parade himself in front of people,” Garrett said. “People like the guy who can move in silence.”
An early start
Pete Perot was the oracle.
At a spring practice three years ago, the Louisiana Tech offensive line coach sidled up beside Paul Brumfield after watching Garrett, then all of 15 years old, and threw out the first of what became 26 scholarship offers.
“We want to be in on the ground floor,” Perot told Paul.
Later, Florida trekked to Baton Rouge to watch a spring practice and put eyes on safety prospect Tim Williams, who signed with Alabama a year ago. Miami sent emissaries to the Cubs’ spring game, and it also was intrigued.
“Pretty early on, you knew he was going to be a big-time recruit,” U-High coach Chad Mahaffey said. “Obviously, when one big offer comes in, it’s not long before they’re followed by others.”
That summer, the Gators, Hurricanes and Florida State extended offers after Brumfield camped on their campuses. In July 2012, LSU joined the fray for a prospect who played on Friday nights just over the fence from the Tigers’ practice fields.
“I had the Florida offer, and it was almost like it was life-changing,” Brumfield said. “I thought to myself, ‘I could do this.’ That was the day, I guess you could say, I understood the things I could do. I wasn’t limited.”
The usual ritual followed: unofficial visits, Facebook messages and texts pinging back and forth. Early on, Brumfield admits he was enamored with Florida. Gainesville reminded him of Baton Rouge, and the idea of leaving home didn’t seem to faze him.
“People assume that I was bound to LSU,” Brumfield said. “I looked at it as, ‘I go to high school in Baton Rouge. I don’t go to LSU’s high school.’ ”
From subjective to objective
Frenzied as the courting process might appear, Paul and Geneva provided structure.
At night, Paul, a shift manager at the BASF chemical plant in Geismar, would sit down at the family’s computer and assemble detailed reports on programs.
Where were the campuses? What were admission requirements? What majors were offered?
For staffs, he’d sift through a head coach’s biography down to his hometown. Next, Paul put together breakdowns of the staff: What were their credentials? How long had they been together?
Finally, he’d track down graduation rates and APR scores, material he’d found some staffs might try to frame certain ways to bolster their academic credentials. Once on campus, he and Geneva would chat with other recruits and compare notes with prospects and their advisors.
“I don’t tell a coach I’ve done all this before we head into a meeting,” he said. “I’m going to let him talk, and I’m going to see if everything he tells me matches.”
Paul understood the job of a staff was to sell the program to Garrett. Arming himself with facts let him and Garrett apply an objective process to a subjective decision.
“The thing I wanted most all from them was truthfulness,” Paul said. “Don’t snow me. Don’t lie to me. Don’t give me a sales pitch.”
On his own, Garrett sought out Williams for advice, such as vetting whether coaches’ claims about the number of open spots in a class and commitments matched up. If a coach began getting loose with language or vague, it tripped an alarm. If a coach changed jobs but the pitch didn’t, be leery.
“Coaches try to put that pressure on you,” Brumfield said. “It’s their job. They do what they have to do. But to me, it was, ‘You don’t have to lie to me.’ ”
Since Garrett was 8, academics were stressed. He arrived at U-High, known for its tough admission standards, from Scotlandville High after spending his first semester of high school in a rigorous engineering program. With the family paying out of pocket, the move put Garrett in an environment that nurtured his curiosity.
“The top priority has to be academics,” Geneva said. “Not every single offensive lineman, not every single quarterback is going to go to the NFL. That’s why we stressed education from the outset.”
Last spring, a math teacher sent an e-mail to Geneva, notifying her that Garrett had missed a few assignments. She was just checking in. Geneva, who works in account services at Cox, had a simple remedy: “I’m going to come to class,” she replied.
On the day Geneva sat in, Garrett’s classmates tried to track him down in the hallways for a heads-up. No dice. So when he lumbered into the room, there was Geneva waiting in the back.
“It was more of a nervous thing to him than anything else,” she said. “He knows that if academics aren’t in order, we’re not going to let him play football.”
Emotion of the moment
Geneva still wept.
Early Wednesday afternoon, Garrett, clad in khakis, a light yellow shirt, a purple sweater vest and a tie, scrawled his name on a National Letter of Intent. Inside the U-High gym, a half-moon of students, administrators and media members watched.
Never mind the document was fake. Before 8 a.m., the family faxed the necessary documents over to LSU’s football offices. But no one was around to see that, so no one could blame Geneva for letting the gravity of the moment take her.
“When you know where you want to go, you don’t need a parade for it,” she said. “You can silently go. That’s a commitment between the family, yourself and this coach. Everybody’s still going to know.”
By last February, he had winnowed his list down to the Tide, Gators and Tigers. Geneva and Paul didn’t prod or push. Geneva might drop in and ask him to fire off a list of pros and cons for each program. Paul asked him to outline what coaches told him, and they’d try to compare inconsistencies.
Two months earlier, Garrett had warmed to the notion of staying home. Outside the football building in December 2012, he managed to get former center P.J. Lonergan alone for a chat. Brumfield kept the details to himself, but the takeaway was simple: If the recruit wanted, he could parlay his status as LSU player into connections that would pay off after graduation.
“He was set without being set,” Garrett said. “Guys who market themselves well, those are the guys that make those connections. I feel like I can be one of those guys.”
It’s why he isn’t shy in saying he has mulled studying architecture or graphic design. Or why he openly talks about learning to paint as applicable to football in terms of mastering a craft. Every answer is mulled and polished.
“It’s not necessarily posing as this person, but I want to be this persona and present myself this way for people to accept me,” Garrett said. “Just by your character, you become a versatile person.”
But wouldn’t the mission be helped, potentially, by using media platforms — from Twitter to a live commitment on ESPN — to expose his polished presence?
“I’m not knocking what you do,” Garrett said. “I’m not going to step on your toes. I’m not looking to cross you. It’s just not what I wanted to do.”
Deciding between Florida and LSU, the same principle held: Gainesville reminded Garrett an awful lot of his hometown, so why leave for a place trying to imitate what he already had?
“If you say Powerade is just like Gatorade, then just pick up a Gatorade,” he said.
On the line
The lone drama came the day Garrett committed.
Paul’s phone continued to buzz and ring. Every position coach and recruiting coordinator wanted a post-mortem discussion about what went wrong. One coach, from a program Paul refuses to name, questioned Garrett’s integrity.
That prompted a return dial and a terse conversation when Paul said perhaps the best solution was to board a flight so the man could make his accusations in person.
Running interference, Garrett powered down his cell phone — one of the nights where his parents demanded he cut off access. The next morning, he’d wake to a backlog — 16 missed calls and 42 text messages.
Plenty to sift through, but more than worth it to Geneva.
“This was one night,” she said, “where I could see relief on my child’s face.”