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By Billy Tucker, Scouts Inc.Though national signing day is still several months away, we already have seen an interesting start to the 2009 recruiting season. Besides the many elite prospects who commit early and the great classes that begin to take form, every year seems to bring about different themes and changes on the recruiting trail -- and '09 is no different. Here is a look at five significant trends defining this recruiting class at its early stages.
However, PSU and Paterno have bounced back, putting together a top-10 class in the early going (11 total commits, with five on the ESPN 150 Watch List). The consensus among the committed prospects to whom we have spoken is that the 81-year-old coach is still sharp, lively and very much involved, and his successor likely would be someone from the Penn State family. Much of the resurgence came in the matter of a week in mid-May when the Nittany Lions landed three talented ESPN 150 Watch List prospects. The most significant verbal commitment came from elite corner Darrell Givens (Indian Head, Md./Lackey), a former Ohio State commit and one of six pledges from the state of Maryland, who thinks the Hall of Fame coach still has some gas left in his tank.
"He had a lot of energy at [spring] practice and told me he would be there for my whole four years. I believe him," Givens said.
Aside from a void at the much-needed quarterback position, Rodriguez inherited a good, system-fitting class from Lloyd Carr. The QB predicament has been addressed in Michigan's 2009 class; Rodriguez has landed two dynamic, dual-threat quarterbacks with the skills to move the chains in his explosive offense. Quarterbacks Kevin Newsome (Chesapeake, Va./Western Branch) and Shavodrick Beaver (Wichita Falls, Texas/Rider) are just two of eight 2009 commits on the ESPN 150 Watch List for the Wolverines.
Stealing elite athlete Joe Adams (Little Rock, Ark./Central Arkansas Christian) from USC on signing day in February may have been a touch of foreshadowing; Petrino has put a proverbial recruiting fence around the state of Arkansas in '09. Corner Darius Winston (Helena, Ark./West) and offensive guard Colby Berna (Fayetteville, Ark.) are two of the state's and country's finer positional prospects.
Notes of interest: Bill Stewart has done a commendable job thus far at WVU, landing a talented one-two punch of ESPN 150 Watch List quarterback Tajh Boyd (Hampton, Va./Phoebus) and receiver Logan Heastie (Chesapeake, Va./Great Bridge). In Lincoln, first-year Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has yet to land a single prospect with major significance. Former Oklahoma assistant Kevin Sumlin already has commitments from 10 prospects in his inaugural year at Houston.
Jaamal Berry (Miami/Palmetto) and Trent Richardson (Pensacola, Fla./Escambia) not only are the two of the top backs in Florida, they're also arguably two of the finest runners in the country. Still, what makes this Florida running back class so special might be the depth behind the aforementioned elite runners. Though the number of top-tier backs with a Scouts Inc. grade of 80 or higher is double that of last year's class, it is the value below those backs that is most extraordinary. The state of Florida already boasts 17 prospects with a quality grade of 78 or higher. Last year, the state produced only eight.
Though Tommy Bowden and his veteran staff have done a commendable job landing some of the best prospects in the country the past three seasons, it is actually Clemson's youngest full-time coach, recruiting coordinator Billy Napier, who has been the true architect of the Tigers' recent success on the recruiting trail. Napier oversaw Clemson's past two impressive recruiting classes, and the majority of the Tiger signees we spoke to last year pointed to the 28-year-old coach as one of the main influences in their decisions to attend Clemson University.
This year is no different. The hard-working, passionate Napier has been referred to as a "nonsalesman," "a recruiter who genuinely cares," "just a cool, young guy" and even a "father figure" by some of the Tigers' top '09 commits. Not bad attributes for a budding recruiting coordinator.
It's the first week of June, and 18 of the top 25-rated '09 quarterbacks already are off the board. Precedence was set early when three of the marquee names in this quarterback class, Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei), Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis) and ATH/QB Russell Shepard (Houston/Cypress Ridge), announced their commitments to USC, Texas and LSU respectively by the first week of March. Though most Division I head coaches appear to be in favor of an early signing period to avoid the decommitting cycle that has become so prevalent, expect the aforementioned three quarterbacks to sign with their committed schools in February.
By Billy TuckerOn Monday, after he committed to Alabama, Trent Richardson (Pensacola, Fla./Escambia) told us Julio Jones -- ESPN's No. 2 overall player in 2008 -- didn't really try to recruit him to Tuscaloosa. However, the Under Armour All-American running back did tell us that he is growing close to the talented receiver from Foley, Ala., off the field, and they already have talked about how they can help each other on the field come the Fall 2009.
Aside from just his dynamic receiving skills, the ESPN 150 Watch List prospect also acknowledged he likes the fact that Jones is a hard worker like himself and is committed to winning championships at Alabama.
The hard work could already start soon; Richardson told us Jones was on campus starting summer school the same day he committed.
-- Billy Tucker
Scott to become a Scarlet KnightDesmond Scott, an ESPN 150 Watch List running back, committed to Rutgers, becoming the seventh Class of 2009 pledge for the Scarlet Knights, the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger reports.
ESPN's Billy Tucker elaborated on the announcement: "Scott joins QB Tom Savage (Philadelphia/Cardinal O'Hara), giving Rutgers another talented ESPN 150 Watch List prospect on offense. This big land out of North Carolina shows how far the Scarlet Knights program has come and what national exposure can do for a program."
"Scott is a good back, maybe slightly overhyped, but is very shifty, elusive, can create mismatches in space with his good quickness and has polished receiving skills. He impressed me when I met him in person this spring with his thickness and compact body structure, but I'm not sure if he has the power to carry the load for the Rutgers right away."
More in-state talent for the CavaliersESPN 150 Watch List defensive end Jake Snyder has committed to Virginia despite scholarship offers from Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Louisville and Boston College, the Daily Progress reports.
"Location was also a big part of it. It is under an hour, and if I need to get home for the weekend or the day, it is not impossible. And having my brother there doesn't hurt, either." Jake's older brother Matt is a walk-on wide receiver at Virginia.
Brandon Webb picked Oklahoma State instead of programs such as Texas Tech, Arkansas, Kansas and Tulsa, writes Bill Haisten in the Tulsa World.
Webb's high school coach, Bill Patterson, said, "I knew Brandon was going to commit early, and I had a feeling he was leaning [toward OSU]. "The OSU coaches did a great job of recruiting him. Brandon developed a good relationship with [offensive line] coach [Joe] Wickline."
ESPN's Bill Conley said of the pledge, "The decision of Brandon Webb to verbally commit is huge for the Oklahoma State football program."Webb's Briefing Room archive
Billy Tucker: Gillislee is a dynamic back who can hurt you with his great outside speed, quickness in space and polished receiving skills out of the backfield.
Billy Tucker: Richardson is small, but he's a playmaker and a game-breaker with his great speed and quickness in the open-field.
Nic (Miami): How is the Canes' class shaping? Are they building off their good momentum from last year?
Billy Tucker: From recruits I have spoken with this year, Randy Shannon is still getting a lot of respect and building great interest at Miami.
Billy Tucker: I just don't see the same amount of South Florida talent out there that they cleaned up on last year.
But the area along Interstate 40 about 50 miles south of Tulsa has long been known as a Mecca for football players. Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman was reared and played at nearby Henryetta, only about 3 miles from Lewis' hometown.
|PSU's 2009 verbals|