Commentary

SEC flexes recruiting muscles

Originally Published: February 2, 2011
By Corey Long | ESPN Recruiting

With 78 players in the ESPNU 150 from the region, it was expected that the Southeastern Conference would flex its muscles on national signing day.

And college football's most successful conference did just that, with four teams in the top 10 and nine overall in ESPN Recruiting's top 25.

There were movers (see: Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee) and teams that had to fight to stay put (Alabama, Florida).

"The day started with five teams in the top 10," said Tom Luginbill, ESPN's national recruiting director. "The teams we expected to rise -- Auburn, Alabama and Georgia -- did a tremendous job. It was a very fruitful day as a whole for the conference."

Forever rivals

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstFresh off a national championship, Gene Chizik put together the nation's No. 3 class.

Emotional battles on the field are always followed with battles on the recruiting trail in the state of Alabama. As the afternoon progressed, it looked like Auburn was going to get the upper hand with the commitment of Cyrus Kouandjio (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha), but now the nation's top-rated offensive tackle appears to be having second thoughts.

"The Kouandjio saga will continue to occupy the hearts and minds of both Alabama and Auburn fans for the next few days," Luginbill said.

It was just one salvo in a back-and-forth battle between the Tigers and Tide. Auburn received the long-awaited commitment of defensive tackle Gabe Wright (Columbus, Ga./Carver), while Alabama surprised a few people with a late run to land ESPNU 150 defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan (Asheville, N.C./Asheville).

Auburn aimed high all day. The Tigers sent a letter of intent to longtime LSU commit La'El Collins (Baton Rouge, La./Redemptorist), but the Under Armor All-American stuck with the Tigers.

Of course, the Kouandjio drama took away from an interesting couple of nights from linebacker Brent Calloway (Russellville, Ala./Russellville) in which the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder tried to play both sides of the fence.

Calloway flipped to Auburn last month and it drew the ire of his adopted father Harland Winston, who had hoped his son would stick to his original word. On signing day, Calloway decided his original word would be his final word, and he sent in a letter of intent to Alabama.

Auburn is ranked No. 3 in ESPN's class rankings, while Alabama is at No. 2. Both programs staring at the 6-foot-7, 320-pounder who could put them over the top. (The Tide are also waiting on the announcement of No. 1 overall recruit Jadeveon Clowney, who has said he will make his decision Feb. 14.)

The dream is alive

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
AP Photo/ Butch DillMark Richt will have sweet dreams Wednesday night.

Much has been made of the top in-state prospects in Georgia, dubbed "The Dream Team." After losing Xzavier Dickson (Griffin, Ga,/Griffin) to Alabama and Quan Bray (LaGrange, Ga./Troup County) to Auburn, it was thought that the dream was dead.

But then Valdosta teammates Jay Rome and Malcolm Mitchell committed to Georgia two weeks ago, followed by the commitments of athlete Damian Swann (Atlanta, Ga./Grady) and Ray Drew (Thomasville, Ga./Thomas County Central).

"Once things started to get rolling with Jay and Malcolm committing, I knew we could make this dream team thing happen," Drew added.

Running back Isaiah Crowell's (Columbus, Ga,/Carver) commitment made Georgia's triumph complete. Crowell even introduced a live prop, a Bulldog puppy, to his announcement. He didn't have a name for the puppy yet but calling him "Dream" might be appropriate."

Drew says the goal of the dream team is simple -- they want to leave a legacy.

"Once we get in, we want to work hard and hopefully do things that will make the Georgia football history books," Drew said. "We have Isaiah in the fold now and you saw what happened when Georgia had a big, dominant running back like Herschel Walker."

The goals have been set, but the five-star prospect knows that it won't be easy.

"Right now it's just a dream," Drew said. "We need to make it a reality. So it's time to get to work."

Volunteers surge ahead

Tennessee proved that it could close strong once again. ESPNU150 linebacker Curt Maggitt (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) surprised many by choosing the Volunteers over Florida, Alabama and Wisconsin.

Derek Dooley's program also receive commits from junior college defensive back Byron Moore (Los Angeles Harbor CC) and four-star offensive lineman Antonio Richardson (Nashville, Tenn./Pearl-Cohn).

It could have gotten better as Wright considered the Vols before selecting Auburn, but Tennessee still climbed from 23rd to 13th in the team rankings.

"Just as they did a year ago, Tennessee proves it can close as good as any program around the nation," Luginbill said. "The class fills major needs at running back, offensive line and quarterback with Justin Worley."

Other conference notes

• It was a mixed bag for the Gators, as they slipped to 12th in the rankings. The Gators lost several guys who were thought to be "Gator leans" early in the recruiting cycle, such as James Wilder Jr. (Tampa, Fla./Plant), Tim Jernigan (Lake City, Fla./Columbia) and Kelvin Benjamin (Belle Glade, Fla./Glades Central). All three signed with rival Florida State.

• LSU finished just inside the top 10. The commitments of Mickey Johnson (Covington, La./Convington) and Jermauria Rasco (Shreveport, La./Evangel Christian) gave the Tigers another group of elite defensive linemen.

• Arkansas stayed in the top 20, but saw former commit Chris Barnett (Hurst, Texas/L.D. Bell) leave the fold and head to Michigan.

• Ole Miss signed five of the top eight in-state prospects from Mississippi.

Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at coreyespn@gmail.com.

Corey Long

Reporter, RecruitingNation