"Terrelle Pryor," the Jeannette High School public-address system crackles, issuing the sentence every teenager dreads, "report to the main office immediately."
The staticky voice doesn’t register with the kids shuffling down the halls between second and third periods on a late-spring Thursday in Jeannette, Pennsylvania (population 10,096). Or the ones leaning against the overstocked trophy cases filled with letters from congressmen and the minutes documenting Pryor’s name being read into the Congressional Record for leading the Jeannette Jayhawks to state championships in football and basketball this year. They’ve been hearing this on the PA for months now, half a dozen times a day at the peak of college-recruitment season, just as they’ve been seeing the limos and satellite trucks in the parking lot and all those mysterious men in the bleachers for the past three years.
"Terrelle Mania," Rick Klimchock, Jeannette’s former basketball coach and current guidance counselor, calls the ravenous pursuit of Pryor, the most heavily recruited athlete in NCAA history. At six feet six and 230 pounds, Pryor is the first Pennsylvania high-school quarterback to run and pass for more than 4,000 yards apiece and one of the most tantalizing basketball prospects in the nation. He’s been proclaimed the next Vince Young and the next LeBron Jamesin onebut he could as easily be the Great Cautionary Tale of the meat market that college recruitment has become. When his signed footballs hit $99.99 and game-used wristband reached $349.99 on eBay, YouTube montages of his gridiron highlights topped a half-million hits, and a terrellepryor.org site and limited-edition action figure appeared this winter, it begged the question: Are we projecting a bit much onto an 18-year-old from a tiny school in the sticks?
The answer isn’t immediately apparent when Pryor ambles into a conference room with the remnants of breakfast, a bag of doughnuts, in hand. He’s wearing the sweet smile of a much younger kid, even as the mistrust of an older man darkens his brow. Wooed, followed, and worshipped since third grade, he’s clearly tired of being a vessel for people’s hopes and machinations. In an era that insists on making cover boys out of its quarterbacks, Pryor is, or is destined to become, a flack’s worst nightmare: someone who knows the public role he’s supposed to play and just won’t have anything to do with it.
Since he last suited up, he’s put on a few poundsreadying himself for college by lifting relentlessly, running with a parachute into the wind, dragging 50-pound sleds downfield at daybreakand he has that quiet disdain and confidence you find in the Brett Favres and Tom Bradys of the world. His girlfriend, Katie, is the prettiest girl in town, and his peers and teammates do their best to play along with the idea that he’s just one of the guys, even as he makes them all but disappear from view when he passessmiling quietlyin the hallways. He wears a red Air Jordan tee, baggy jeans cuffed above the ankles, and red Adidas sneakers, his right arm tattooed with massive Praying Hands, his neck, ears, and wrist flashing cubic-zirconia starter bling. From second to second, he appears as either The Future or just another oversize kid. Gradually you pick up on the fact that he gets a kick out of the ambiguity, and that he’s learned to use it as cover.