Gators pick up 4 top-10 recruits
Florida may have lost in the SEC title game and coach Urban Meyer may be taking a leave of absence, but nothing has slowed the Gators on national letter-of-intent signing day.
Defensive end Ronald Powell of Moreno Valley, Calif, the nation's top-ranked recruit in the ESPNU 150, signed his letter of intent on Wednesday. The Gators also have signed the top defensive tackle in the class, Dominique Easley of Staten Island, N.Y. (No. 3 in the rankings), and the top safety, Jonathan Dowling of Bradenton, Fla. (No. 10 in the rankings).
"The key to recruiting is a lot like the keys to making a great sale," said Meyer, who has won two national championships in five seasons with the Gators. "The first one is having a great product and we obviously have that here at the University of Florida."
Matt Elam, No. 9 in the ESPNU rankings, has also signed with Florida. He was a running back and linebacker in high school, but appears headed for defense in college.
Residing in maybe the most fertile football state in the country, the Gators always load up on homegrown talent. Fifteen of Florida's 27 signees are from the Sunshine State. But Meyer and his staff showed they can reach outside far and wide to pull in top talent.
Powell is from Moreno Valley in southern central California and Joshua Shaw, the No. 3 cornerback in the class, is from Palmdale, Calif., about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The Gators ventured into the Northeast and came away with two defensive linemen considered among the very best players in the country in the No. 3 defensive tackle in the class, Sharrif Floyd of Philadelphia, and Easley.
ESPNU, Scout.com, SuperPrep Magazine and MaxPreps all ranked Florida No. 1.
National runner-up Texas has the No. 2 class in the ESPNU rankings, led by Jackson Jeffcoat, a defensive end from Plano, Texas, and the son of former Dallas Cowboy Jim Jeffcoat. The Longhorns also have signed Jordan Hicks, the top outside linebacker in the class from West Chester, Ohio.
Longhorns coach Mack Brown deflected some claims that the 2010 group is the best in his 13 seasons in Austin.
"It definitely has the potential to be. A lot of recruiting is determined on how they finish," Brown said. "In four or five years we hope all of these guys will graduate. We have some great players on campus. We feel like this group will continue in that tradition."
Texas also signed quarterback Case McCoy, younger brother of former Longhorn Colt McCoy, who led Texas to last season's BCS Championship Game.
Case McCoy passed for 10,711 yards and 111 touchdowns at Graham High School.
"The fact Colt was here ... has absolutely nothing to do with signing Case," Brown said. "We would have signed Case if his brother was not here or not a factor."
Texas also signed quarterback Connor Wood, who passed for 8,417 yards and rushed for 1,482 in his career at Houston Second Baptist. It is the first time Texas has signed two quarterbacks in the same year since 2007, when Texas signed John Chiles and G.J. Kinne Jr. Chiles now plays wide receiver and Kinne transferred to Tulsa.
Of the Longhorns' 25 signees, 22 were from in state. Hicks was Texas' only signee from outside the Southwest.
"He can do it all," Brown said of Hicks. "He can hit."
Alabama, the defending national champ, has the No. 3 class, which includes the nation's top quarterback, Phillip Sims of Chesapeake, Va. Not that it matters to coach Nick Saban.
"I'm not really much into the ratings and really don't even know how we are rated, and really don't much care," he said.
Alabama also grabbed the state's top prospect, cornerback DeMarcus Milliner. Milliner is a Parade All-American who was rated as the No. 2 cornerback and 16th-best prospect nationally by ESPNU.
Alabama must replace three starting defensive backs -- including All-American cornerback Javier Arenas -- and four reserves in the secondary. Incoming cornerback DeQuan Menzie, a highly rated junior college player, won't be on campus until the summer.
The players who were able to enroll early include South Carolina cornerback John Fulton and Sims. ESPNU rated Fulton as the No. 4 cornerback though he missed half his senior season with an injury.
Sims, Milliner and highly ranked linebacker C.J. Mosley were all Parade All-Americans.
Auburn, the Crimson Tide's biggest rival, picked up the nation's top running back, Michael Dyer of Little Rock, Ark. But Auburn's best get might have come from junior college. Former Florida quarterback Cameron Newton, who left the Gators after getting into legal trouble off the field, could start for the Tigers this fall.
New USC coach Lane Kiffin has one top-10 recruit in his class. Robert Woods, the No. 1 wide receiver from Gardena, Calif., has committed to the Trojans.
With just three weeks to keep together outgoing coach Pete Carroll's class, Kiffin and recruiting guru Ed Orgeron say they retained every Carroll recruit they wanted.
"We did have a background with a number of these kids and some knowledge about them," Kiffin said. "They had the sense that things were the same on a lot of fronts here. They weren't going to come in with brand-new offense and defense systems, and it's why I think this class really stayed together. The stars that were in this class are still here today that were here three weeks ago."
Offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson of St. Paul, Minn., the No. 9-ranked player in the class, committed to USC late in the day. He had been one of two highly ranked uncommitted players.
"Despite the coaching, I always liked USC, period," Henderson said. "It's a great school and great education.
"As far as football goes, Lane Kiffin recruited me when he was still at Tennessee."
Henderson, however, did not make his decision official Wednesday. He was not included on USC's official list of players who had submitted signed letters of intent with the school. Henderson's father, Sean, told The New York Times his son will wait until USC appears before an NCAA Committee on Infractions from Feb. 19 to 21 to hear about possible sanctions for the program before deciding whether to sign the letter. According to the Times, even though USC is not likely to hear about any possible sanctions at that time, Sean Henderson said the hearing would give the family a sense of where the process was headed.
The NCAA is investigating if former Trojans running back and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush received extra benefits during his sophomore and junior seasons (2004 and 2005).
Kiffin couldn't talk about Henderson when he met with the media, but he acknowledged he hadn't felt much disappointment in losing a few prospective recruits "because I kept thinking about that left tackle that might be coming here a little later in the day."
One particular USC signee will no doubt have Tennessee fans cussing Kiffin again after his departure caused a few Volunteers recruits to reconsider their commitments.
Wide receiver Markeith Ambles from McDonough, Ga., the No. 4 wide receiver in the ESPNU list and No. 23 overall, had committed to the Vols, pulled back on that commitment after Kiffin bolted after one season for USC, and ultimately signed with the Trojans.
Kiffin attributed his success in keeping together Carroll's class and landing a few extra talents to his familiarity with most of the top recruits from his year at Tennessee. He also credited the tradition at USC, with Kiffin telling recruits he plans to run much the same systems that Carroll put together during Kiffin's six seasons as an assistant coach.
Derek Dooley appeared to have a daunting task when he was hired at Tennessee 19 days ago.
Turns out, selling the Volunteers' program to recruits wasn't that difficult for him.
"I'm still trying to find out if there's anything wrong with this place," Dooley joked on Wednesday. "What's not to sell?"
Seventeen prospects signed with Tennessee on Wednesday to join eight others who enrolled in January to form Dooley's 2010 recruiting class. The class included ESPNU's No. 6 wide receiver, Da'Rick Rogers, and offensive lineman James Stone, one of the top prospects from the state of Tennessee.
"The university has so much to sell, so it wasn't as hard as people think to go out there and convince some of these young men to come to Tennessee," Dooley said. "It was just a matter of getting out there in front of them."
Demar Dorsey, a safety from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and No. 12 in the rankings, signed Wednesday with Michigan. Dorsey is the highest-ranked player in the ESPNU 150 to sign with a Big Ten team.
Safety Ahmad Dixon from Waco, Texas, is headed for Baylor. He's the No. 3 safety and No. 13 player overall.
USC didn't claim every recruit it hoped to sign in the area. Fontana linebacker Josh Shirley and La Canada defensive back Dietrich Riley (No. 10 safety in the ESPNU list) both chose UCLA over the Trojans, leaving Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel overjoyed by his class.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, the No. 2 defensive end in the ESPNU list and No. 16 overall, also picked UCLA.
Kiffin betrayed no disappointment in any losses to UCLA.
"I've been gone three years but much hasn't changed," Kiffin said of the recruiting tussles between Los Angeles' two programs. "As you meet the kids there is a sense ... of the kids that go to UCLA and the kids that come to USC. I watched it over the weekend just to see if it's the same, and it's really still the same. I guess we waste time continuing to recruit them, [but] we know within the first 10 minutes whether they're the type of guys that want to play here or there."
Brian Kelly's first recruiting class at Notre Dame didn't draw big raves, but it got a late lift Wednesday when highly rated offensive lineman Matt James from Cincinnati chose the Fighting Irish over Ohio State.
Kelly described the 23 signees as a good class, especially after he spent his first few days on the job working to make sure the five early enrollees would stay committed and then working to hold together the rest of the class recruited by Charlie Weis.
"It's a good start for us," Kelly said. "I think you'll see a growth in the recruiting process for us next year. But I think it's a good start for us."
Information from ESPN The Magazine's Bruce Feldman and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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