By Greg Swatek
When Nick Forbes stepped off a plane at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport on Monday morning, the bright future suddenly laid out before him was not one he could have even imagined four months ago.
Forbes, a soon-to-be senior at Thomas Johnson High School, had just returned from a three-day West Coast trip, on which he verbally accepted a full scholarship to play football for the University of California.
After being pursued by hundreds of schools on all levels of college football and receiving scholarship offers from roughly 15 high-profile Division I programs, the 17-year-old Forbes disclosed one of the biggest decisions of his life to the Cal coaching staff at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday. By that time, he was six hours into his second visit of the campus. "I was holding back. There was a smile on my face all day," said Forbes, a muscular 6-foot-1, 225-pound inside linebacker and running back for the TJ football team. "Two hours into the trip, I knew this was where I wanted to be."
News traveled across the country quickly that another domino had fallen in Frederick County's highly touted recruiting Class of 2010. Jeremy Grove, who recently committed to East Carolina and plays beside Forbes in TJ's linebacking corps, received a text message from his workout partner and close friend around 11:30 p.m. Friday. "I couldn't fall asleep for about an hour," Grove said. "I was excited."
At Monday evening's workout session in the TJ weight room, coach Ben Wright was already wearing his souvenir from Forbes' trip, a navy blue T-shirt with a large Golden Bear print on the front. "Nick's one of the hardest workers on this team. I am happy for him," Wright said. "I couldn't think of a better place for him to go to school." Forbes was a coveted football recruit for two years. The website Rivals.com ranked him as the seventh-best high school linebacker in the country following the most recent season, in which Forbes led the Patriots with 106 tackles and was named The Frederick News-Post's All-Area Defensive Player of the Year. But, as recently as late February, Cal was not among Forbes' top choices.
When the Golden Bears' offer arrived in what Forbes described as a nice, shiny envelope, he was flattered by the attention, but immediately dismissive of the idea he would go to school there. "I was like, 'There is no way I am going out there,'" he said. Distance from home was the primary concern. Plus, there were attractive offers from Duke, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and West Virginia. Forbes viewed all those schools as finalists for his decision. On the final weekend of February, Forbes headed west with the purpose of visiting Stanford. Since Cal had expressed such a strong interest and even sent one of its recruiting coordinators to TJ to make a face-to-face offer in the middle of a school day, Forbes thought it wouldn't hurt to make the 43-mile trip north from Palo Alto to Berkeley to take a look at the Cal campus.
Upon arriving, Forbes, prominently wearing TJ colors, was scolded by Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "Man, you are lucky anybody let you through the door wearing all that red," Tedford told Forbes, referring to the red and white of the Stanford Cardinal, the Golden Bears' arch rival in the Pacific-10 Conference. It wasn't Forbes' intent to wear Stanford colors, even though he was on his way there for a visit. But Tedford's friendly jab sent Forbes a strong and direct message: Even wearing enemy colors, the Golden Bears wanted him pretty badly. And, in the span of a few hours, Forbes started to fall in love with all of the opportunities that were being presented to him in Berkeley.
Not just on the football field, but in the classroom, too. Forbes carries a 3.6 grade-point average at TJ and wants to study mechanical engineering. "I had the opportunity to go to the No. 1 public school in the country and compete on a top-10 caliber team. This year, they are rated No. 11 in the country," Forbes said.
Suddenly, Cal had shoved its way into Forbes group of finalists and all those cross-country flights didn't seem so bad. "One of the stats I heard was that 44,000 kids apply to pay close to $50,000 a year to go there," he said. "It's truly a blessing to be able to go there and play football on top of that."
By the time Forbes touched down for his second visit on Friday afternoon, accompanied by his mother, Carol, his decision was basically a formality. "I wanted my mom to see the school because I wanted her to be comfortable with my decision," he said. Forbes understands his choice will require some major adjusting within his family, but, by Monday evening, he was convinced, "It was the best decision I ever made. I am really confident about it. It just feels really great to get it over with so I can focus on my senior year (at TJ)." Forbes has yet to make his official, school-sponsored visit to Cal, which he is planning to take the first week of September when the Golden Bears play host to Maryland on Sept. 5.
Despite the thousands of miles of separation, Forbes anticipates his family will come out to see most of his games. He said, "My mom is going to be racking up some frequent-flier miles."