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Friday, June 6, 2008
Updated: June 12, 2:15 PM ET


ESPN.com/Tom Hauck

Penn State-bound defensive back Darrell Givens, who's on the ESPN 150 Watch List, is confident 81-year-old coach Joe Paterno will be in State College the next few years.

Five 2009 Recruiting Trends

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.

Penn State, Paterno bounce back on the recruiting trail
The recruiting buzz around Happy Valley after national signing day last February wasn't overly positive, and unfortunately, much of the negative attention was focused toward the legendary Joe Paterno. After failing to land a top-25 class -- PSU's 2008 group got a B- rating from Scouts Inc. -- and coming out of the gates a bit slowly in '09, some Penn State fans were making a case that JoePa's age, coupled with the fact that he has no clear, apparent successor, presumably had created a feeling of uncertainty among the program in the eyes of blue-chip recruits.

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.

New coaches making an early splash
Though head-coaching turnover in college football is the norm, it is difficult to find a situation that has created as much controversy as Rich Rodriguez's departing West Virginia for Michigan. Bobby Petrino made headlines of his own when he stunningly left the Atlanta Falcons during the season for the chance to jump back into the college game and take over at Arkansas.

The negative attention from both situations has done little to hinder recruiting efforts in Ann Arbor and Fayetteville, however. Despite new NCAA rules prohibiting head coaches from going on the road for spring evaluations, both Rodriguez and Petrino are putting together impressive early classes in their first full recruiting seasons.

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.

The year of the back in Florida
It should come as no surprise that the state of Florida is producing a great running back class; historically it has been a hotbed for some of nation's finest runners. However, the Sunshine State may never have been this loaded with blue-chip studs and top-to-bottom talent. The depth of quality backs is impressive, and the variety of runners with the skill sets to fit in different schemes and systems is just as striking, particularly to college recruiters in need.

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.

Clemson continues where it left off
Out to prove that last year's No. 2 class composed of 10 ESPN 150 prospects and the No. 1 overall player in the country, DaQuan Bowers (Bamberg, S.C./Ehrhardt), was no fluke, Clemson is hot on the recruiting trail in '09. It's now becoming the norm to hear a top national prospect include the Tigers as one of his top schools of interest. Clemson currently boasts eight commitments, all of whom are on the ESPN 150 Watch List.

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.

Top QBs off the board early
This class may have a slight edge over last year's in terms of the total number of outstanding signal callers, but that doesn't mean many are left for the taking. If you are a top program still searching for a quarterback, you might want to turn your focus to 2010. The prevalence of early committing clearly is seen in the number of early commits at the headline position.

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.

Jones Doing Some Recruiting?

By Billy Tucker

On 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.

Richardson
"He is a great blocker and should help open up runs for me," Richardson said. "Hopefully I can take some attention off him, too, with defenders trying to stop the run. With Julio, myself and Star Jackson at quarterback, with his dual-threat skills, it is going to be hard to key on anyone."

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.

Sleeper Commit Of The Week

Missouri is quietly putting together an impressive early class composed of three ESPN 150 Watch List prospects and a handful of quality football players like sleeper commit of the week T.J. Moe (O'Fallon, Mo./Fort Zumwalt West).

With Moe, Mizzou lands a talented in-state athlete who has the physical tools and skill sets to potentially develop as a safety, running back or even a slot in its offensive system. A productive dual-threat QB in high school, Moe is a smooth skill player on film with a good blend of speed, initial burst, quickness and sound instincts. He'll most likely start his career off at defensive back. He has great range and room for continued physical development as a high-point safety, but he'll provide great depth and versatility at a number of positions for the Tigers throughout his career.

-- Billy Tucker

From The Briefing Room

Scott to become a Scarlet Knight

Desmond 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."

Scott's Briefing Room archive


More in-state talent for the Cavaliers

ESPN 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.

"There were a lot of factors, but the first thing I was looking at was the school, the academics, UVA is a great school," Snyder said. "And the football program, the coaches have done a great job with everything and I like that part of it, too.

"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.

Snyder's Briefing Room archive


Cowboys lasso Sooner legacy guard

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

• Complete Briefing Room Updates

Chat With Billy Tucker

Chris (Orlando): Gators struck big last Friday; can Nu'Keese Richardson and Mike Gillislee make early impacts at UF?

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.

• To read the full chat, click here.

Meet Ronnell Lewis

Lewis
Like many high school football players in small towns across Oklahoma, Ronnell Lewis often has dreamed about playing for the Oklahoma Sooners.

The odds would seem to be stacked against him, considering his hometown of Dewar is barely a speck on the map. Not much is there other than about 900 hearty souls who live surrounding a central business district that consists of a convenience store and a Mexican restaurant.

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.

• To read the full story, click here.

Tracking Penn State's Class

After a lackluster 2008 recruiting class, Penn State looks to be back on track in '09. The Nittany Lions have secured verbal commits from 11 prospects. Here's a look at the six ESPN 150 Watch List players heading to State College.

PSU's 2009 verbals
Name Pos. Grade
Darrell Givens CB
Eric Shrive OT
Ty Howle OC
Derrick Thomas S
Sean Stanley DE
= ESPN 150 Watch List player

• Click here to see more commit lists.