ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Terrelle Pryor lives in a small town near Pittsburgh, insulated from the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
The highly touted quarterback is about to make a decision, though, that might end up making him a pivotal player in one of the marquee matchups in sports.
Pryor is expected to announce Wednesday where he will play football next fall and many will be surprised if he doesn’t choose to play for the Buckeyes or the Wolverines.
“He has no idea what the rivalry is about and how much he has added to the intensity of it,” said Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, a family friend and recruiting adviser. “I know all about it after playing at Eastern Michigan and for the Lions, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out if he chooses Ohio State or Michigan.”
The Jeannette High School star might stay closer to home to play for Joe Paterno at Penn State. Or, he could possibly stun everyone tuning in to hear what he says on national TV by picking Oregon, LSU or Florida. Or he could take some extra time to make up his mind. Wednesday is only the first day of the signing period. While most top players ink a scholarship that day, they’re not obligated to do so.
“He’s still unsure what he is going to do at this point,” Batch said Monday night.
Only one thing seems clear.
The Ohio State-Michigan series has not been played out off the field quite like it has since Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia to coach in Ann Arbor.
Pryor told The Associated Press on Dec. 16 that Rodriguez called him at 10 a.m., saying he was going to coach the Wolverines. News of Rodriguez’s move broke later in the day.
Don Nehlen, Rodriguez’s coach and mentor at West Virginia, quickly raised the stakes.
“If that kid comes, he’s probably more important that Rich,” Nehlen joked six weeks ago.
Pryor, also an all-state basketball star, has been juggling recruiting visits and meetings with his basketball games. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, Rodriguez and assistants from both schools were at Jeannette High’s game Saturday night.
The 6-foot-6 Pryor is rated as the No. 1 recruit at any position by Rivals.com and Scout.com and was the MVP last month in the U.S. Army All-American game in San Antonio.
“He’s in a class of his own and he compares favorably to Vince Young and Randall Cunningham because he’s a freak athlete that is a threat to throw or run,” Rivals.com’s Mike Farrell said.
In a dissenting opinion, Takkel.com ranks him 16th overall.
“Don’t get me wrong, he’s a brilliant athlete,” said Bill Urbanik, a former coach and scout, whose evaluation contributed to Takkel.com’s rankings. “But like other big quarterbacks such as Vince Young, Michael Vick and Steve McNair, he doesn’t show the ability to throw the ball accurately.”
Pryor is the only player in the rich Pennsylvania high school history to run for and throw for more than 4,000 yards, though he accomplished the feat playing smaller schools.
Unlike Hall of Famer Dan Marino — or even Young — Pryor’s talents can easily be watched at Web sites such as YouTube, where a highlight-reel video of him that was uploaded five months ago has been viewed more than 200,000 times.
The accessibility of Pryor’s highlights, the increased coverage from mainstream media, his delayed decision and the Ohio State-Michigan factor have contributed to Pryor’s recruitment becoming a transcendent story.
Buckeye Sports Bulletin editor Mark Rae, who has been covering recruiting for 20 years, hasn’t seen anything like it.
“My mother lives in Florida, and she doesn’t know A.J. Hawk from James Laurinaitis, and she asked me the other day, ‘Where is Terrelle Pryor going to school,’” Rae said Monday. “I said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to be kidding me.’”
The Wolverine editor John Borton said Ohio State and Michigan have been locked in recruiting competitions, but nothing compares to the pursuit of Pryor.
“What makes it different is he’s the No. 1 prospect in the country and nobody knows where he’s going until he puts the pen on the paper,” Borton said. “Michigan and Ohio State always play in November, so this just puts the battle on the calendar a little earlier.”