For Eric Futch, a standout track and field athlete at Penn Wood, it came down to two schools: Houston and Louisiana State.
He made his decision two weeks ago. He just didn't tell anybody. On Wednesday, in Penn Wood's auditorium partially filled with family, friends, school administrators, and classmates, the 5-foot-11, 160-pound sprinter who holds the PIAA record in the 300-meter hurdles made his college destination public.
Futch, wearing a maroon Penn Wood track and field shirt, with a backward Penn Wood hat, sat at a table draped with Houston and LSU T-shirts. His mother, uncle, coach, and athletic director flanked him. After some opening remarks, Futch finally revealed his choice.
"I think I'm going to go ahead and pick the University of Houston," he said.
Futch tabbed Houston among a bevy of athletic-scholarship offers from top track schools, including Oregon, Mississippi State, South Florida, Nebraska, and Texas Tech.
The determining factor, Futch said, was Cougars coach Leroy Burrell, a Penn Wood and Houston alumnus, a former world-record holder in the 100-meter dash, and an Olympic gold medalist (4x100 relay at the 1992 Barcelona Games).
"He's built from the same cloth I'm from," Futch said. "He ran on a dirt track, and he did the things that I'm destined to do. I think Leroy is the decision for me.
"He was once the fastest man in the world. I can't go away from that."
At Houston, Futch will join two former Penn Wood track and field stars in Darrell Hill, a freshman thrower, and Brittany Wallace, a sophomore sprinter.
"In the beginning of the year, I was saying that I didn't want to go to Houston," Futch said, "because everybody from Penn Wood, basically, went there. . . . I wanted to go somewhere else and be different."
Futch said LSU was the front-runner until it was announced on Dec. 8 that Houston was one of five schools joining the Big East Conference, effective with the 2013 fall season. It meant Futch would have occasion to travel and compete close to home, as well as run in the Penn Relays.
"I had to think about seeing my family. I didn't want to be away from my family; they're good for me," Futch said. ". . . Now Houston is in the Big East, so I'm going to be coming home a lot of the time and I think I'll see my family more often."
As a junior, Futch won the outdoor state championship in the 300-meter hurdles, breaking a 29-year-old record in the event with a time of 36.43 seconds. This past winter, during the indoor season, he won state titles in the 200 dash and as part of the Patriots' 4x200 and 4x400 relays. In late December at the Bishop Loughlin Games at the New York Armory, he ran the 300 dash in 33.56, the country's fastest time in the event this year.
He achieved such heights training under Penn Wood coach Lenny Jordan, who is forced to conduct winter practices in a 100-meter hallway on the school's second floor. During the outdoor season, the team runs on a small, 352-meter dirt track.
"I really don't know how to describe Eric," Jordan said. "I'm getting ready for a son to leave. If you haven't gotten out to see him run, shame on you."
As Futch announced his decision, he raised the Houston T-shirt that had been draped on the table. Those in the audience, including his sister, Joy Curry, whooped and hollered. Futch drew the shirt over his head and on top of his Penn Wood T-shirt. He replaced his Patriots hat a Cougars one.
"You look handsome in that red, brother!" Curry shouted.