Recruiting season provides three key lessons

Originally Published: January 19, 2007
By Henry Gola | Scouts Inc.

Football recruiting has evolved greatly over the past 10 years, but it still hasn't quite caught up with the information age. It eventually will, whether that means restrictions on text messages, the implementation of an early signing period or a unifying standard for camps and combines.

Meanwhile, here are three things to take away from the year in recruiting:

1. Senior seasons matter: Regardless of whether an early signing period eventually is added, don't expect the big-time schools to use up their allotment of scholarships at that time. That's because they'd miss out on players like Joe McKnight, who showed talent in his junior year but exploded in his senior year.

Joe McKnight
Alissa Hollimon for ESPN.comBecause of John Curtis Christian High School team rules, No. 1 prospect Joe McKnight didn't begin looking at schools until after his senior season.
On Feb. 7, McKnight's signature on a letter of intent will be the most coveted autograph in college football.

2. Coaching changes matter: No factor has caused more de-commitments than coaches being fired, reinforcing the notion that many prospects commit to a coaching staff rather than to a school. That's further reinforced by the fact that since Nick Saban was hired at Alabama, he has opened dialogue with plenty of recruits who had no intention of going to school there.

There are exceptions, of course, like No. 2 OG Harland Gunn (Omaha, Neb./Central), who never questioned his decision for Miami (Fla.) despite a tumultuous season ending in Larry Coker's dismissal. But for every Gunn, there's a Sidell Corley Jr., a Florida commit now considering Alabama, an Arthur Ray Jr., a former Boston College commit now committed to Michigan State, or a Matt Simms, a former Louisville commit. All reconsidered their early decisions thanks to coaching changes.

3. Be careful what you wish for: It's pretty well known that coaches might fib a little to recruits about playing time in order to get them to sign, but most prospects realize when they get on campus that it's an uphill battle to see the field right away. Whatever was promised to Mitch Mustain and his Springdale crew by Arkansas, they apparently expected it immediately, despite the fact that Arkansas went 10-4 and won the SEC West.

After months of parent-coach conferences and Mustain's tell-all book that criticized Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, offensive coordinator and former Springdale high school coach Gus Malzahn has left for Tulsa, WR Damian Williams has transferred to USC and Mustain is considering a transfer (TE Ben Cleveland and WR Andrew Norman have decided to stay).

Arkansas gave up a lot -- probably too much -- to keep its best prospects in-state. Don't expect it or other schools to make the same mistake any time soon.

Commitment news

Kenny Rowe
Maxpreps/Kevin IslanderKenny Rowe chose Oregon over USC, Cal and Arizona, among others.
• Oregon quietly continues to put together a strong class, landing ESPN 150 DE Kenny Rowe (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and No. 29 OT Darren Weems (Woodland Hills, Calif./Taft) this week. Also out West, Oregon State added six commits and Arizona State four.

• Age ain't nothing but a number at Georgia. Fifteen year-old Richard Samuel (Cartersville, Ga./Cass), who moved to the U.S. from the Virgin Islands before middle school, gave a verbal commitment this week. The Class of '08 RB/LB will be 17 when he steps on campus.

• Michigan State had a big week swaying previously committed recruits. DE Greg Jones (Cincinnati/Moeller) and RB Andre Anderson (Barrington, Ill.) both switched from Minnesota, and LB Kevin Pickleman (Marshall, Mich.) switched from Central Michigan after its coaching change.

• Texas, its class usually pretty set by now, made some noise this week by landing three previously committed players. TE Ian Harris (San Antonio/Churchill) came on board after first committing to Nebraska, then Missouri. DL Tyrell Higgins (Schertz, Texas/Clemens) de-committed from Oklahoma State, and WR James Kirkendoll (Round Rock, Texas) de-committed from Oklahoma. Both announced for the Longhorns.

• ACC champ Wake Forest had its biggest week of the year, landing five commitments and one other who will walk on (K Shane Popham). Four of the five are from Florida, bringing its total to seven commits from the state.

• Five commits chose Clemson this week, including brothers Brandon Clear and Byron Clear (Birmingham, Ala./Hoover). Postgrad Miguel Chavis (Fayetteville, N.C./Hargrave Military) switched from North Carolina.

Henry Gola is the recruiting editor for ESPN.com

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