Time to sort out schools, pick one

January 18, 2003|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Cornerback or quarterback?

Close to home or far away?

Sunny climes or snowy winters?

Questions, questions. For Ambrose Wooden and his family, it's answer time. After months of wading through hundreds of college come-ons and scouting campuses from coast to coast, the Gilman School standout has to choose one.

Like high school seniors everywhere, Wooden wants the correct college fit. But as a star athlete, he also must determine the position that best suits his skills and the right coach to guide him.

"It's time for Ambrose to take the phone off the hook, sit down with his parents and sort it all out," says Biff Poggi, Gilman's head coach.

Two weeks remain before National Letter of Intent Signing Day, Feb. 5. But many of the football prospects being wooed by the nation's 238 Division I schools have already made oral commitments or want to make up their minds, to bring the recruiting ordeal to a close.

This week, coaches from four universities came to Wooden's home on consecutive evenings. The phone keeps ringing as others make a last plea for one of Maryland's top recruits. Coaches even call him on his cell phone during the school day.

"I just want to get out of the spotlight, go back to being a normal kid," says Wooden, who turns 19 on Feb. 22.

The Sun's All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year, Wooden received more than two dozen scholarship offers, most worth $100,000 or more. He narrowed the list to four and visited Notre Dame, Maryland, Stanford and Boston College. (He eliminated BC a couple of days ago.)

A prospective business major with an "A" average, Wooden has sized up both academics and athletics. As Gilman's quarterback, he led the team to a 10-0 season and No. 1 state ranking. Wooden (6 feet 1, 190 pounds) also played defensive back in big games.

He lives in East Baltimore with his mother, Robin Petty. His father, Ambrose Wooden Sr., is an MTA bus driver who resides in Randallstown. Although divorced, his parents have collaborated to see their son through the recruiting process. For example, his dad was on hand Monday when Notre Dame's coach, Tyrone Willingham, made his pitch.

Ambrose Sr. says neither he nor Petty knows which way their son is leaning. "He's playing `Maverick' with us, keeping his cards face down. He won't flip them up," he says. "When I ask, `Do you like this one?' he says, `Yeah,' and just grins.

"When I tell him, `You've got to choose,' he says, `I know, I know.' "

Tomorrow, Wooden and his parents will go over the pros and cons of the three schools still in the running. Petty plans to fix a big midday meal. "Then we'll clear the dishes, sit at the kitchen table and talk," she says.

One thing Wooden must mull over is the position he would play. Stanford says defensive back, which he played in the high school All-American Bowl game on Jan. 5 in Texas. There, Wooden intercepted a pass and returned it 5 yards.

The other two contenders are talking offense. Notre Dame wants him as a receiver, an unfamiliar role, but one that would at least let him touch the ball. Maryland is dangling quarterback, though Wooden would sit out his first year as a redshirt.

Stanford also offers a shot at baseball; at Gilman, Wooden is a pitcher/infielder.

Off the field, the draws vary. Notre Dame has a storied past and a highly visible coach. Stanford has great weather and a reputation as an academic mecca. Maryland is nearby, its football program on the rise, its honors program appealing.

Wooden's mom says the visiting coaches sensed how tough it is for an athlete to finally make a choice. "Coach Willingman told Ambrose that some kids find it hard to actually commit, to make the words come out of their mouths, to say, `This is where I want to go,' " Petty says.

Stanford assistant coach Tom Quinn had some advice: "Make a decision and go to sleep," Petty recalls him telling her son: "Get up for a couple of mornings, and if you still say Stanford, you're doing OK."

On the other hand, Wooden could sleep on it and say Maryland. Or Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, his mom says, "I don't want to be in his shoes."

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