Sept. 1 is the date the prospects in the Class of 2012 can receive written offers, and it's a day that grows in importance every year. Long gone are the days of big-time programs holding silent commitments in hopes of making a big splash during the final hours before national signing day. Now it's all about early commitments and early enrollees. More players are committing before their senior years and enrolling into programs in January.
Texas filled the majority of its slots in the 2011 class before summer even started and will look to do the same for its 2012 class within the next six months. Southern Cal already snagged verbal commitments from two potential blue-chip prospects from the Class of 2012.
"The recruiting process has become more advanced than ever before," said Tom Luginbill, ESPN's national director of recruiting. "Programs are already evaluating and scrutinizing 2012 kids for potential offers and in many cases formulating an outline for the 2013 class.
"Recruiting never stops. In the old days it was an eight- or nine-month period. Not anymore. It is 25 hours a day, eight days a week and 366 days a year. The 2012 ESPNU Watch List is constantly growing on a weekly basis to give us our initial idea of how the class will be shaped. While it is only an early indicator and prospects will be added throughout the fall, the list should provide for a nice national perspective on the upcoming class."
The Watch List has more than 300 names right now, but here's a look at some of the top players from the Class of 2012.
Zeke Pike (Edgewood, Kentucky/Dixie Heights)
When it's all said and done, Pike will be in the running as the top quarterback in the Class of 2012 and most likely will be seen by many as the top player in the nation. He already has received more than a dozen offers from schools such as Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Iowa and Kentucky.
Shane Dillon (El Cajon, Calif./El Cajon Christian)
This 6-foot-4, 185-pounder will be one of the most watched signal-callers in his first year as a starter. He already has verbal offers from Ohio State and Cincinnati. Expect the rest of the nation to follow.
Skyler Mornhinweg (Philadelphia/St. Joseph's)
The son of a longtime NFL coach, Mornhinweg has already decided to take his considerable talents to Stanford and play under the watchful eye of Jim Harbaugh.
Gunner Kiel (Columbus, Ind./East)
Kiel threw for more than 2,500 yards and 26 touchdowns as a sophomore, and the 6-4, 210-pounder will be one of the more coveted pro-style quarterbacks in the nation. Purdue, Cincinnati, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin were the early verbal offers on his plate.
Bennie Coney (Plant City, Fla./Plant City)
Arguably the top quarterback prospect in the Sunshine State, Coney already has more than 10 verbal offers with programs like Auburn, Michigan, South Florida and Texas Tech chasing him.
Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla./Armwood)
Although it's possible that Jones could outgrow the position, the 6-3, 220-pounder is considered by many to be the top Class of 2012 prospect in Florida. Jones has several verbal offers, but Georgia, Florida and Miami appear to be his favorites.
J.C. Coleman (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith)
Coleman will be one of the most-sought-after players for teams looking for running back/slot back hybrid players. The 5-7, 165-pounder is quick and shifty. Florida and West Virginia are among his early offers.
Brionte Dunn (Canton, Ohio/Glen Oak)
Dunn ran for for more than 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore. At 6-1, 212 pounds, he is another of several big backs in the 2012 class. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were his first verbal offers.
Byron Marshall (San Jose, Calif./Valley Christian)
One of the state's most decorated players in 2009, Marshall was named sophomore of the year by several groups. California, Northwestern, Stanford and Arizona State are among his verbal offers.
Barry Sanders (Oklahoma City, Okla./Heritage Hall)
Does that name sound familiar? Well, it looks as if the 5-10, 190-pounder is a chip off the old block. No surprise that Oklahoma State was his first verbal offer, but he has eight more to choose from, with Alabama being the latest.
Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest)
The No. 1 receiver in the nation? Green-Beckham could be the No. 1 player in the nation. Being 6-6, 220 pounds is enough of an advantage, but adding a 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash seems almost unfair. Florida, Iowa, Southern Cal, Ohio State, LSU and Oklahoma are the early verbals with more to come.
Leonte Carroo (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco Prep)
Carroo is still very raw, but he showed enough during summer camps and seven-on-seven events to receive verbal offers from Boston College and Rutgers. At 6-1, 200 pounds, Carroo has room to grow, and he's one of the fastest players in New Jersey.
Avery Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla./Ely)
The younger brother of LSU DB Patrick Peterson, Avery has many of the same skills as his older brother, but he's doing it on the offense end. Florida, Florida State, Miami and, of course, LSU were in early with verbal offers.
Cayleb Jones (Austin, Texas/S.F. Austin)
Arguably the top prospect in Texas in 2012, the 6-2, 185-pound receiver was the talk of the summer camp circuit. Miami is listed as his early favorite, but Texas and Texas A&M will be there until the end.
Jordan Payton (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian)
One of the top prospects in California didn't waste time when it came to choosing his future suitor. This tall, talented pass-catcher is headed to Southern Cal.
Look out for Florida commit Latroy Pittman (Citra, Fla./North Marion), Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral), Nathan Cole (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) and Armani Reeves (West Roxbury, Mass./Catholic Memorial).
Taylor McNamara (San Diego/Westview)
The 6-5, 240-pound pass-catcher is already receiving interest from coast to coast, as California, Florida State, Ohio State and Kentucky are among the early verbals.
Kelby Latta (Battle Creek, Michigan/Harper Creek)
When Wisconsin and Michigan State are the first verbals, there's a good chance that a dominating run-blocker could be born. Latta, 6-3, 290 pounds, looks to be on everyone's recruiting board in the Big Ten.
Ty Darlington (Apopka, Fla./Apopka)
Darlington figures to be a top-10 prospect in Florida for the Class of 2012, and the 6-4, 265-pounder will be a center at the next level. A coach's son, Darlington knows the game well and is in line to be the school's valedictorian.
Freddie Tagaloa (Richmond, Calif./Salesian)
A mountain of a young man at 6-7, 300 pounds, Tagaloa is surprisingly agile. That has gotten the attention of every Pac-10 school, with Arizona State, California, Oregon, Southern Cal, UCLA and Stanford making early offers.
John Theus (Jacksonville, Fla./Bolles)
Few programs in the Southeast produce more quality offensive linemen than the Bolles program, and Theus might be the best of them. At close to 6-6 and 260 pounds, Theus will develop into a strong, balanced offensive tackle. Florida and Georgia offered quickly, and others have followed.
Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz./Corona Del Sol) has more than a dozen verbal offers. … Shane Callahan (Parker, Colo./Chaparral), Joe Harris (Lithonia, Ga./Lithonia) and Michael Flint (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) will all be hot O-line prospects.
Quinteze Williams (Atlanta/Westlake)
The 6-5, 245-pounder dominated every camp he participated in this summer and left most of them with verbal offers. Florida State has identified him as a top target along with Georgia, Louisville and Ole Miss.
Arik Armstead (Elk Grove, Calif./Pleasant Grove)
It will be a fierce Los Angeles battle for the services of this 6-6, 260-pound athlete. Southern Cal received the early verbal commitment, but Armstead will check out UCLA as well.
Others: Don't be surprised if a few mainland programs go out of their way to recruit Luke Kaumatule (Honolulu/Punahou). … Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha teammates Brent Wilkerson and Michael Moore both have early BCS school offers. … Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer has already made overtures to Dante Fowler (St. Petersburg, Fla./Lakewood). … Josh Posley (Indianapolis, Ind./Warren Central) is another one to watch.
Eddie Goldman (Washington, D.C./Friendship Academy)
Few players in the Class of 2012 have more verbal offers than Goldman. At 6-4, 305 pounds, he is a big, athletic presence in the center of a defense. Alabama, Florida, Clemson, Miami, Michigan, Penn State, North Carolina and UCLA are among his 25-plus verbal offers.
Jafar Mann (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson)
This future three-technique star has a never-ending motor that was on display at camps from Tuscaloosa to Athens. Tennessee was the first to jump on board, and Miami and Auburn soon followed. Expect more offers in the next few days.
Dalvon Stuckey (DeFuniak Springs, Fla./Walton) has the size of a defensive tackle with the pass-rushing ability of a defensive end. And Malcolm Brown (Brenham, Texas/Brenham) looks as if he'll be the top defensive tackle in Texas for the Class of 2012.
Reggie Ragland (Huntsville, Ala./Bob Jones)
The two-sport star might outgrow the position, but his top suitors, Alabama and Auburn, like big linebackers, and few are bigger than the 6-3, 240-pound Ragland.
Deaysean Rippy (McKees Rocks, Pa./Sto-Rox)
A player who flies to the ball and is ready to unload on the ball carrier, Rippy could be a linebacker or a big safety at the next level. Florida, Maryland and Ohio State are some of the programs that have an early verbal offer on the table.
Peter Jinkens (Dallas/Skyline) was the most active player on the Skyline defense in its season opener against Glades Central (Belle Glade, Fla.). … The Virginia Cavaliers are hoping for an early commitment from Trey Edmunds (Ringgold, Va./Dan River). … Keith Brown (Miami/Norland) is quickly establishing himself as the state's top linebacker.
Terry Richardson (Detroit/Cass Technical)
This speedy defender is receiving plenty of early buzz and appears to be the subject of a battle between Michigan and Michigan State. Alabama, Iowa and LSU have verbal offers on the table as well.
Amos Leggett (Miami/Gulliver Prep)
A physical presence in the secondary, Leggett went up against the best receivers in South Florida this summer and was rarely beaten. Florida State was first on the board with an offer, but look for Miami and Florida to jump in for this prospect.
Notes: If not Leggett, Tracy Howard (Miramar, Fla./Miramar) could be the best cornerback in Florida. … South Carolina has offered teammates Devon Miller and Jadarius West (Jonesboro, Ga./Charles Drew). … Shaq Thompson (Sacramento, Calif./Grant) is another physical cornerback who can frustrate top receivers.
Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold)
In a year when Florida should be loaded at safety, this 6-4, 175-pounder is the best of the bunch. He had several major offers from the Southeast and beyond but committed to Alabama in mid-August.
Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown)
A former New Orleans resident, Collins has been a rising star in Louisiana for much of the past two seasons. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Collins could stay at corner or move to safety. LSU and Tennessee were his first verbal offers.
P.J. Williams (Ocala, Fla./Vanguard) committed to Florida State during the Jimbo Fisher camp. … Brian Poole (Bradenton, Fla./Southeast) has listed an interest in being reunited with former teammate Jon Dowling at Florida. … Patrick Wooten (Los Angeles/Jordan) is a two-way standout who also could play wide receiver.
Kaleb Nobles (Fitzgerald, Ga./Fitzgerald)
He can do everything -- return specialist, slot receiver, defensive back. Nobles even plays quarterback for his high school right now. His dad was the high school coach for former Clemson and current Buffalo Bills RB C.J. Spiller, so it's no surprise Clemson is high on his list.
Gabriel Marks (Los Angeles/Venice) won the wide receiver MVP at the Nike camp in Los Angeles. … Travis Blanks (Tallahassee, Fla./North Florida Christian) already has offers from Florida State, Alabama, Notre Dame and South Carolina.
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.