NLI signing day is a big step for AZ high school athletes

That collective sigh of relief heard earlier this week in high schools and colleges across the country meant it was the second Wednesday of November – better known in sports circles as signing day for National Letters of Intent.

The high school kids that sign the letters are relieved to finally commit to the college of their choice, and not to have to worry about coaches calling and texting them at all hours of the day and night because signing the letter puts a halt to all that.

College coaches are relieved because their verbal commitments just turned into something more concrete.  And they’re also happy to know that their prized acquisitions are now beyond the grasp of other recruiters.

The athlete commits to playing for the college for a year, while the college guarantees a scholarship for that first year.  A win-win for all involved – at least at this point.

The signing period runs through next Wednesday, but most of the NLIs will get signed right away.

In Arizona, dozens of high school athletes signed on the dotted line on the first day.  Most haven’t gotten a lot of publicity, but some of them are high-profile athletes whose names the every-day fan would recognize.

Three recognizable names  in different sports stand out from the crowd:

Tyler Messerschmidt is a name fresh in the minds of swimming fans.  He’s the athlete from Desert Edge High School in Goodyear who just broke a 17-year-old record set by another very recognizable name in swimming, Gary Hall Jr., who went on to the world stage as a successful Olympic competitor.

Messerschmidt broke Hall’s record time of 43.85 in the 100-yard freestyle, set back in 1994, while competing in the Division II state championships.  The senior clocked in at 43.71 in the 100 free and then went on to set another new state record, this one in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:36.33.  The 200 free record he broke was his own, set last year.

Messerschmidt will now go on to swim for University of California-Berkeley.

Another high-profile signee will be heading to Tucson to play basketball at University of Arizona, after making a verbal commitment in August.

Nick Johnson, ranked as one of the best combo guards in the country, got Arizona’s attention when he played for two years at Highland High School in Gilbert before transferring to Findlay Prep in Nevada.

The Wildcats are getting the No. 8-ranked shooting guard in the country who can shoot the lights out and play the kind of intense defense demanded by Coach Sean Miller.  Arizona has had a bead on Johnson, the nephew of NBA hall of famer Dennis Johnson, since before he got to high school.  The signing is just the end of a long recruiting road.

And finally, Arizona State has plucked a signee off the baseball diamond at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa.  Scott Hoffman is just a junior, but had an all-star season last year that earned him selection as the Arizona Republic Big Schools Player of the Year.

The imposing 6’4″ right-hander was undefeated in 13 starts and helped Desert Ridge to its second straight state championship.  He had a 1.80 ERA and 76 strikeouts, while contributing at the plate with a .485 batting average.

He’ll be joined at ASU by another pitcher with some visibility, Brandon Bonilla, who changed his earlier commitment from USC to play for the Sun Devils.  Bonilla is the son of former major league standout, Bobby Bonilla.

The 2011 recruiting classes will continue to take shape over the next week, and many more athletes from local high schools will take that big step onto the college stage.

And probably feel like the world has been lifted from their shoulders.