De-committing is difficult. Especially for high-profile football athletes. Especially when the college initially picked has been so loyal.
In the case of Serra (San Mateo, Calif.)
defensive lineman Matt Dickerson
, it was excruciatingly difficult. A back injury — a small fractured in his lower L3 vertebra during the preseason — sidelined him all season and Notre Dame, a school he committed to on Aug. 3, stuck by Dickerson.
Head coach Brian Kelly and assistant Mike Denbrook even visited Dickerson in Northern California the first week of December.
But on Wednesday, the soft-spoken, thoughtful giant had to deliver the bad news to the Irish. Three weeks ago Dickerson's father Clarence was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His mother Pam is also largely disabled. After long, careful deliberations between family and friends, Dickerson felt it was the right thing to stay closer to home.
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound senior is now committed to UCLA.
Shortly after calling Denbrook about an hour ago, Dickerson spoke with Mora. None of it was easy, but hearing Mora scream with joy helped, Dickerson said.
Despite not playing his senior season, Dickerson is the 247Sports Composite No. 26
defensive tackle in the country.
"Calling (Denbrook) was a really, really hard thing to do, but it was the right thing," Dickerson said. "I looked so forward to playing for the Irish. But I'm doing what's best for my family and I. I need to stay close to home.
"It's so hard because they stayed so loyal. They stuck with me through the injury. I love the guy (Denbrook). But it's my decision. My life. It's hard."
Asked if he considered Bay Area schools Stanford or Cal — Serra is in Northern California and alma mater of Tom Brady and Lynn Swann — and Dickerson said: "No. My final choice in August was either Notre Dame or UCLA. It's an hour's flight to get home from UCLA. It's the right place."
It was a tough season to watch for Dickerson, whose Padres (11-3) won their first Central Coast Section Open Division title and advanced to the North Region Division I title game.
A 28-20 loss to Del Oro stopped them from reaching the State Division I Bowl game, one which Del Oro lost to Bakersfield, 56-26. Serra, which shared the West Catholic Athletic League title, also lost a 21-14 opener to national power De La Salle.
Considering Dickerson's game-changing nature, some of the close defeats might have been turned around. No one will ever know. Dickerson knows it was one of the hardest things he's ever had to go though.
"To sit on the bench and watch my brothers play the game I love felt like I was chained and tortured at times," Dickerson said. "I'm so proud of what they accomplished and so happy for them. I wish I could have done more than just cheered and encouraged them."
If sitting through the season was tough, hearing the diagnosis of his father — in the early stages, Dickerson said — and switching schools wasn't any easier.
Serra coach Patrick Walsh said it was excruciating for all. But he supported the move completely because Dickerson made the call himself and communication with all parties was clear.
"We have so much respect for coach Kelly, coach Denbrook and entire Notre Dame community," Walsh said. "There's some bitter sweetness here because Matt built such great relationships with Notre Dame. But he's doing what he has to do for his family. He's growing up and being a man. He called all parties today and let them know. It wasn't easy.
"We all love Matt and all parties do because of his character. He showed that again today. … College football is a big time business and today he made a big-time decision. He made it for all the right reasons. His family. ... And he's going to a great place and program."
This was the second time in a year a top Northern California defensive lineman has opted for UCLA after originally choosing Notre Dame. Eddie Vanderdoes
, a five-star 2013 recruit from Placer, actually signed with Notre Dame in February, but for personal reasons (never made public), wanted to attend UCLA instead.
The NCAA National Letter of Intent Appeals Committee released Vanderdoes to play for the Bruins immediately. He was a UCLA starter in 2013 and had 39 tackles.