ACC: Football Recruiting
With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes in each conference. For the full series, click here.
Syracuse is going to an open, up-tempo offense next season, and, on national signing day, the Orange signed a pair of quarterbacks who could be near-perfect fits. Four-star recruits Alin Edouard (Hialeah, Fla./Hialeah) and A.J. Long (Lebanon, Tenn./Friendship Christian) fit the bill as athletically skilled, dual-threat prospects who can play fast and spin the ball.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
She had one in 2010, when an ACL tear ended her basketball career at Hampton but didn’t derail her from interning at the White House or founding her own company. However, Rolle, a former No. 1 high school recruit and All-American, had a much more public Plan B.
That lesson registered Saturday, as McGirt’s eyes were fixated on Florida State’s junior day guest speaker. They were fixated on Rolle.
“He said don’t let football define you,” said McGirt, who has a 3.92 high school GPA. “You always hear it from someone who never played football, so it’s good to hear from someone who made it. He makes you feel comfortable to be smart and play football.”
Football has never defined Rolle, who attended a Rhodes Scholar interview and played safety for the Seminoles on the same night. So when Rolle enrolled at Florida State following a short NFL career to concentrate on neurosurgery, Jimbo Fisher approached him about speaking to prospects during recruiting weekends. Rolle “unequivocally” accepted.
“I truly support the program and ideology Coach Fisher has for the team,” Rolle said. “So anyway I can help augment the process by [FSU] being a program that not only puts players in the NFL but puts degrees in players’ hands, I’m all on board.”
Rolle was the first No. 1 high school recruit for ESPN, which began ranking prospects in 2006. A Bahamian emigrant, he landed in New Jersey and attended a prestigious prep school just three miles from Princeton University. High school classmates, many Ivy League bound, pushed Rolle to go to Stanford or Notre Dame, even nearby Princeton. Attending football factory Florida State would be selling himself short, some told him.
“They were trying to put me in a box, and I told recruits don’t let anyone take the pen and write their narrative,” Rolle said. “... [The recruits] were very perceptive, locked in and engaged, and asked great questions. [Football] is going to end for everybody ... [and] we’re all going to have to exit stage left. I had to leave the game after being No. 1 in the country, I’m an example, and it resonated.”
Derwin James Jr. was in Tallahassee on Saturday and sat in on Rolle’s 30-minute speech to recruits. The two spoke one-on-one afterward, and Rolle’s first questions were about James’ GPA and leadership qualities. Rolle was not interested in discussing the fact that James is also the country’s No. 1 safety and planning to enroll at Florida State next year.
“He’s my new role model,” James, who owns a 3.4 GPA, said. “That’s a person I see myself wanting to be like.”
Watson, Priester, Kitt and Scott are already enrolled and will participate in spring practice, so that gives them an extra opportunity to earn playing time and perhaps a starting job. Not only does Clemson have to replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback, starting receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant are gone, along with 1,000-yard rusher Roderick McDowell. That is a lot of production that has to be replaced in a short period of time.
Morris had plenty to say about each position group during a signing day show on the Clemson Web Site last week. Here is a little bit of insight, with a month to go before spring practice opens.
On the receivers: Morris touched on the veterans returning, noting that Charone Peake will not participate in full-contact drills while continuing to rehab a knee injury. The hope is for Peake to be full-go when fall practice opens in August. Germone Hopper will be expected to take on a much bigger role. "It's time for him to separate himself." As for top returning receiver Adam Humphries, "We expect Adam to be a guy we can move all over the field and be that guy we're really dependent on."
Priester will be expected to back up Mike Williams initially and challenge at the position Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins played. Morris described Kitt and Scott as "dynamic" and said they are both going to be battling to play. "The great thing about this profession, a fresh start's always a year away. To watch the battle at the receiver position is going to be a lot of fun, like quarterback."
On the quarterbacks: Morris described Watson as a "game changer." He will compete with veteran backup Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly for the starting job. "We have a great battle ahead of us this spring. ... That's why they call it coaching. We'll see how it goes, may the best man win."
On the running backs: Despite losing McDowell, Morris says Clemson will have the best depth at the position since he arrived. Zac Brooks is healthy and the Tigers are expecting big contributions from him, along with D.J. Howard. They also anticipate the debut of two redshirt freshmen: Tyshon Dye, iffy for spring with various injuries, and Wayne Gallman. Morris said Gallman is "probably as dynamic and electric a back as I've seen. He can turn speed to power so fast. There's a lot of great things going on with our backs."
Their approaches, though, were vastly different.
When Clawson left Bowling Green, he also left his recruiting class. Franklin, however, continued to pursue some of the recruits he had committed to Vanderbilt, and was praised for flipping five pledges from his former school. For some of those teenagers, the relationship with the head coach overrides the actual school. They commit to the coach, not the program.
Clawson, who was hired in December, used the recruiting dead period to hire his staff and called it a “three-week sprint” to start from scratch on the recruiting trail. He didn't consider Bowling Green’s targets much of an option, for several reasons.
“I didn’t think it was right to do that,” Clawson said. “We didn’t want to recruit anybody who had committed to us at our previous school. There were a handful of guys we had recruited there that had not committed there, and part of the reason they didn’t commit there is they were probably above us. Some of those players were able to get on [at Wake Forest], and I think those were some of our better commits.”
Ironically, so was a former Vanderbilt pledge.
Once Franklin left Vandy, that opened the door for Wake Forest to recruit some of those pledges, too. The Deacs’ top recruit, receiver Kameron Uter, was once a Vanderbilt commit. Head coaching changes open the door for last-minute decisions and late pushes by rival coaches. Clawson said the Wake staff was careful, though, to respect solid commitments.
“What we did, quite honestly, was, if that relationship was intact -- probably not too many kids were going to switch if they had committed to a place that had the same head coach, same coordinator, same recruiting coach, all those relationships,” he said. “If there were instances that that relationship had changed because of a head coaching change, we certainly approached those players and asked if they were still committed. If they told us no, that became our opportunity to get guys we felt were ACC-level players that we weren’t now at a relationship disadvantage.”
Clawson and his staff did the best they could under the circumstances -- just as Franklin did at Penn State. They just had a different philosophy in how to get it done.
Matt in Atlanta writes: I'm officially tired of the triple option being run at Georgia Tech. Every year I feel like the teams that matter the most are more and more prepared for it (VT, Miami and Clemson, especially), and I think that it will be time to make a coaching change depending on the outcome of this year. CPJ needs at least nine wins to justify his return in the eyes of many Tech fans, and I just don't see it. The hit to recruiting is also a disadvantage, at least on the offensive end, because so few people want to run the option and those that have NFL hopes know that it hurts their chances. Do you feel that CPJ would be in a tough position if the Jackets only got, say, six wins and another bowl loss? Thanks.
HD: You guys got four four-star recruits in this class, the most athletes of that caliber under CPJ, and one player from the ESPN 300 in Myles Autry. I'm not telling Georgia Tech fans to lower their expectations, but maybe they should be a little bit more realistic. Considering the program, the academics, the facilities and fan base ... this was hardly an atrocious class -- No. 54, up 10 spots in the ESPN.com class ranking from 2013. The other thing is that Georgia Tech can't really pull in JUCOs the way some other schools can, as band-aids. If Georgia Tech can sign a four-star recruit, it can nab a five-star every now and then, but I just don't think pulling in classes like FSU and Clemson are realistic.
HD: They can and they did. 2007. #anythingispossible
HD: Georgia Tech fans need a bartender who will listen to this. I only have so much cyberspace. Yes, there is a talent gap between Clemson and ... well, just about everyone else in the ACC except Florida State. Johnson made some good points at his signing day news conference. I like this quote:
“This is my view. If you go back and look for the last six years, there’s four teams in the ACC who’ve won more games than all of the others. Those teams are Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. And that’s my view of the star system. So if our recruiting is so bad, and that is so accurate, then we must be great coaches. And from what I read from you guys (media), I don’t believe that. You can’t have it both ways. So that’s the facts."
HD: I doubt it, Greg. I talked to Dave Clawson on Thursday afternoon, and he told me that he knows his recruiting class better than the team right now. What he did was he recruited a football team -- literally. Go look at the class and you'll see just about every position on there. When guys are hired in December and only have a month or two to recruit AND hire their entire staff, you have to hold your breath and hope for the best. It's their SECOND class that should really lay the foundation for what they want to do. Look at the difference between Dave Doeren's first and second classes at NC State. It's big. Clawson likes this class, and it met a lot of needs, but he should be judged more on next year's class, after he's had an entire year to recruit his own guys.
Doeren, who reeled in the No. 38 class in the country according to ESPN.com, knows where his players stack up in the eyes of the nation’s largest recruiting outlets -- and he knows this is a good class.
“We think we’ve got a great class,” he said on Thursday. “You have to validate that now with Rivals, Scout and ESPN, but 27 of the 33 kids were ranked in the top 100 at their position by one of those services. Fifteen were in the top 50, seven were in the top 25, and three were in the top 10, so we feel like there’s validation on the quality, not just the quantity of the class.”
What a difference a year can make.
In 2013, the newly hired Doeren had just about a month to cobble together his class -- a group that was ranked No. 66 in the country according to ESPN.com. Now, after an entire year to put together his first full class, the program should receive a boost from its depth and quality -- and some consistency at the quarterback position. While it’s still a very young program, Doeren said he is confident that this group will go a long way towards getting NC State back on track after last year’s 3-9 last-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
“We had a lot of needs, obviously, having the year we had,” Doeren said. “We wanted to add depth and competition to our roster and we’ve done that across the board.”
One of the biggest priorities was adding some depth at the line of scrimmage -- an area that hurt the Pack offensively last year, and needed to reload defensively. The staff added five offensive linemen and six defensive linemen, including the prize of the class, four-star defensive end Kentavius Street. Doeren also got his top target at quarterback, Jalan McClendon, a four-star pocket passer ranked No. 20 in the country at his position. McClendon is the heir apparent to former Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.
“With Jacoby being our guy this year, we wanted to find a guy who was similar to him,” Doeren said. “Jacoby is a big guy who can throw, and he can run. He’s probably a 4.7 (40-yard dash) type guy. We wanted a guy similar to him so that if there was any reason he wasn’t in the game, we won’t have to change our offense. That’s what Jalan was, another tall guy who can run and has similar leadership characteristics. Hopefully [Jacoby] is our guy here for the next two years, and Jalen walks in right behind him and we can just keep building around that kind of player.”
And this entire recruiting class.
The last resort proved to be a stroke of genius. The group gelled and by the time the Seminoles secured the 2013 national championship, the offensive line was a strength. With five seniors projected as starters for 2014, the line promises to be the backbone of Florida State’s offense again.
Fisher clearly remembers the struggles of 2011, and he’s not eager to relive them again in 2015 and beyond. So while rebuilding the line is still a year away, the groundwork for that massive overhaul began in earnest Wednesday.
Florida State inked an impressive class on national signing day, reeling in 28 new Seminoles -- including five early enrollees -- and one quarter of that group is offensive linemen. It is one of the largest recruiting scores at the position in school history, Fisher said, and it’s a group with significant upside.
“We got size on the edges, in the middle and that can snap the football,” Fisher said. “From that standpoint, it’s a great group, and guys are just getting bigger and faster.”
There might not be room for the seven linemen FSU inked to get much bigger. The group already averages 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, including juco transfers Kareem Are (6-6, 350) and Chad Mavety (6-5, 315), who Fisher believes can step in and play immediately.
Of course, finding reps for the fresh faces won’t be easy given the veterans already in place atop the depth chart, but Fisher understands it’s necessary if Florida State wants to avoid another season of linemen learning on the job in 2015.
“If those guys play well, there will be a lot of playing time,” Fisher said. “They’ll get a lot of playing time, and that’s why it was critical we got two junior college guys.”
If game-ready talent was necessary, developmental projects were significant for Florida State, too.
Fisher has racked up big recruiting wins in virtually every segment of the roster since his arrival in 2010, but the offensive line has remained a concern throughout. Part of the struggles to recruit top talent on the line lies with position coach Rick Trickett, who is far less interested in recruiting rankings than finding players malleable enough for him to build up from scratch.
Since Trickett took over the line in 2007, Florida State has signed just three offensive linemen ranked among the top 150 recruits. Jordan Prestwood left shortly after arriving. Ira Denson, last year’s prize recruit, could be on his way out, too. (Fisher said Wednesday that Denson was “still in school,” but didn’t elaborate on his status with the team.) Of FSU’s best line recruits in the Trickett era, only Bobby Hart remains embedded on the depth chart.
In fact, if Denson leaves, FSU will have just two scholarship linemen to show for its recruiting efforts in 2012 and 2013 combined and, before Wednesday’s haul, had just three linemen on the current roster set to still be with the team in 2015. Fisher praised the potential of redshirt freshman Wilson Bell and redshirt junior Ruben Carter, but there’s no doubt Wednesday’s new additions were a necessary influx of bodies.
“The guys who put their hands in the dirt on the offensive line, that controls the game,” Fisher said. “You can have all the skills in the world you want but you’ve got to win those battles up front and protect. Getting great offensive linemen is critical.”
Just how great this group ends up remains to be seen. Strong bodies with weak constitutions have a tendency to crumble under Trickett’s demanding approach. But the potential for this group is obvious.
Roderick Johnson is 6-7, 330 pounds and ranked as one of ESPN’s top prospects at tackle. FSU snagged him out of Missouri as one of Wednesday’s late additions to the class.
"Big Rod is a very athletic guy -- bends tremendously well for a guy 6-7 and 330 pounds,” Fisher said. “Great length and can bend his lower body, great flexibility and very intelligent. Very smart guy. Works very hard. I think the sky is the limit for the guy.”
Corey Martinez ranked just a tick behind Johnson as an ESPN 300 member, too. It’s the first time FSU landed multiple ESPN 300 linemen in the same class since Prestwood and Hart came aboard in 2011.
At 6-9, Brock Ruble is one of the tallest recruits in the nation, while Are and Movety were both among the top junior college linemen in the country. The Seminoles also added three-star center Alec Eberle.
Replacing the five seniors projected to start in 2014 will be no small task, but the first step in the process was providing Fisher and Trickett with some building blocks. Wednesday’s recruiting haul did that, and Fisher hopes that means there won’t be another season like 2011 on the horizon.
“Those guys will get a lot of playing time this year, and we’ll develop them,” he said. “They’ll have been able to play, and they’ll all be sophomores and juniors [in 2015] and they’ll fit in.”
The skill positions were a huge area of need, and you seemed to have met them. How many do you think can contribute right away?
Stinespring: We hope all of them. But first off, I want to say I thought our staff from the beginning to the end did a great job being diligent in making sure we met our needs. You’re always looking for the best players you can get regardless of position, but you also need to focus on your primary needs. For us to get the skill position guys we got -- not only the quality of the player but in terms of creating depth, creating competition -- I thought we did a terrific job and we’re excited about it.
What about at running back? You already have Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie on campus and enrolled. Will they push for playing time?
Stinespring: We also have Braxton Pfaff (OL), Andrew Ford (QB) and Vinny Mihota (DE) in here early. But as for the backs, Trey Edmunds is going to be out of spring practice so we’ll get a chance to get a look at some of these younger tailbacks. Shai is still recovering from a knee injury he had in high school. He will have no contact but we’ll see some things in the spring practices. To almost rush for 5,000 yards in high school and miss three-fourths of your senior year, that’s pretty impressive.
Williams and McKenzie are similar in size. Are they similar in how they play?
Stinespring: They are somewhat different in their running styles. We wanted to get a couple bigger backs and we felt like we were able to do that. Marshawn is probably the biggest. When you think of him, you think of power and strength. You don’t want to be the first tackler on Marshawn, you want to be the second or third guy because that first one, it's hard to determine who’s the hammer or the nail. Shai has size but he relies on the ability to make people miss and he does a great job of that.
You also signed several quarterbacks, including Ford, Chris Durkin and Travon McMillian. Is the plan to keep McMillian at quarterback?
Stinespring: Initially, McMillian will concentrate on the quarterback spot, but Andrew is here and will go through spring practice and we can evaluate where he is. With Durkin and Travon, we still want to be able to see where Travon is as a quarterback. We felt like with where we are at quarterback, we needed to re-up the numbers there and we were able to do so.
Offensive line was also an area of need. How do you feel you did at that position?
Stinespring: We’ve got potentially four seniors starting up front this coming year, so it was certainly very important for us to go out and be able to get the numbers in that grouping to enable us to develop and create some depth. We also have time available to develop these guys. They all share similar qualities we were looking at this go around -- they all move around real well, they’ve got good feet, they’re athletic. We feel like our strength and conditioning program will benefit them tremendously.
There were a few guys who got away on signing day, but overall how do you feel about the class you signed and what are some area of needs headed into 2015?
Stinespring: We met our needs for the most part. We never get all that we want. We're all like 8-year-olds on Christmas, we all appreciate what's under the tree but we're not opposed to having another present no matter what. When you go into a numbers game, this year was paramount for offensive line and the skill positions. We got three defensive linemen, so we’re going to immediately turn our attention back to that area.
It might seem premature to look at the 2015 class just hours after signing day’s conclusion, but the reality is college staffs have been working hard toward Feb. 2015 for the past two years.
With signing day in the books, here are five recruits who sit near the top of a number of ACC schools' 2015 boards.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Signing day is known for the crazy. Condense an entire college football season into 12 hours and that offers a glimpse -- albeit minimally -- into the first Wednesday of February.
It began with ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), arms folded and chest out, announcing his intention to sign with Michigan State. His intention to sign. A glare from his parents and whispers in the gym let it be known this saga was not going to end at 10 a.m. in front of a microphone.
Both of McDowell’s parents would like to see their son, No. 60 in the ESPN 300, at any school in his top four not nicknamed the Spartans. Florida State is among those finalists, and several predicted the Seminoles would land McDowell considering his parents' distaste for all things Green. So Jimbo Fisher and those inside Doak Campbell are keeping the fax machine plugged in, offering a few more hours' respite from the storage closet for the condemned technology.
Ultimately, McDowell, whether of his own volition or executing his parents’ will, did not fax a letter of intent to Michigan State as of 8:00 p.m. ET, and the Noles finished signing day with the No. 3 class sans another elite lineman.
Compared to the McDowell drama, the rest of the morning was tame for the ACC. There were some tense moments, but signing day pretty much went the way most expected.
Florida State was involved with a handful of signing day flips, but none that caught the Noles’ staff off-guard. No. 7 dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) switched to Florida and Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) signed with South Carolina, but the Noles flipped Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen), No. 117 in the ESPN 300. Harrison was committed to Virginia Tech for 18 months before his signing day change of heart. Harrison, ranked as an athlete, finalized what could be the best receiver class in the country. It was one of the best classes nationally, too.
“We’ve had large numbers this year, got needs all the way across the board and filled it with great players and everyone position across the board we had somebody in,” Jimbo Fisher said at his signing day news conference. “We were excited about that.”
Miami’s flipping efforts went for naught, but it prevented one of its own from changing allegiances. Local defensive end Chad Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington), ranked No. 3 among Hurricanes commits, took late official visits to Alabama and Florida State. There was some panic from fans when Thomas’ fax did not roll through exactly at 9 a.m., but Canes coach Al Golden said Thomas’ mother reassured him the 65th-ranked player in the country would stay near South Beach.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would scoff at the claim FSU has the best receiver class. The Noles received the signing day pats on the back for landing No. 2 receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) and Harrison on Wednesday while the Tigers had three four-star receivers already on campus. ESPN 300 receivers Demarre Kitt (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek), Artavis Scott (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) and four-star Kyrin Priester (Snellville, Ga./Fork Union) enrolled in early January. ESPN 300 receiver Trevion Thompson (Durham, N.C./Hillside) signed Wednesday.
“It was a critical need for us ... and we are excited about all four,” Swinney said at his signing day news conference.
Mike London had a quiet signing day in his Charlottesville office, but that is all he could have hoped for following a winless ACC campaign. The Virginia coach did most of his 2014 recruiting work before the 2013 season, and he was able to secure the signatures of five-star Quin Blanding (Virginia Beach, Va./Bayside) and ESPN 300 recruits Jeff Farrar (Upland, Calif./Upland), Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan) and Steven Moss (Fredericksburg, Va./Chancellor High).
“Obviously keeping the class was important when the season didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to ... but the in-state kids wanted to play together and build a brand together,” London said on the ESPNU signing day telecast.
While the day was quiet for Duke, it was still most the shocking signing day Durham has ever seen. The Blue Devils, coming off a 10-win season and an ACC title game, signed its first ESPN 300 recruit and four four-star recruits overall. Between 2010 and 2013, Duke signed only one four-star prospect -- a kicker.
While the ACC did not touch the SEC in the number of teams toward the top of the class rankings, for the most part the conference as a whole improved, and Florida State went a long way in challenging Alabama to become college football’s next dynasty.
In one of the worst-kept secrets of signing day 2014, No. 2 wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) signed with Florida State on Wednesday. An official visit to Tallahassee this past weekend, the only visit he took since decommitting from Florida, sealed the deal for Lane, who is ranked No. 22 overall in the ESPN 300.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Can't get near a TV? Check out our signing day special on WatchESPN from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. ET And we'll have three online shows on ESPN3 at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Here's a full list of announcements.
Here's how the class rankings stack up heading into the day. Check back regularly, as these will be updated each hour.
Where will the nation's top uncommitted players go? Go the the Hot Board for our experts' predictions.
And if you're stuck in the office but want to follow along, join our signing day chat, which will run from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. ET. We'll have our team of experts checking in throughout the day you keep you updated breaking news.
Lee, who is ranked No. 235 in the ESPN 300, is no doubt the prize of a class that is arguably Duke's best in recent history. Since the inception of the ESPN rankings in 2006, the Blue Devils have never signed an ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 recruit -- until now.
ACC recruiting expert Jared Shanker did a great job of putting this into perspective:
In the 2014 class, Duke has four commitments rated as four-star prospects. Between 2010 and 2013, Duke’s only four-star signee was a kicker.
It's important to realize, though, that this didn't happen overnight. Sure, winning the Coastal Division title has helped on the recruiting trail, but Duke's recruiting has steadily improved every year under Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils won the Coastal Division title and made a heckuva run in the Chick-fil-A Bowl because they've been recruiting better athletes all along.
Heading into the Dr Pepper ACC championship game in December, I asked Cutcliffe what he planned on doing to make sure that the success of 2013 would not be a "flash in the pan," as he had declared it wouldn't be in November.
"Well, recruit," he said. "I mean, it's really that simple."
Cutcliffe has found a way to get it done.
It is becoming a bit cliché, but the saying holds true every year on the first Wednesday of February: Expect the unexpected on signing day.
With the direction signing day and recruiting have been going, a prospect simply signing his letter of intent to the college he has been committed to for months qualifies as a mild surprise.
Here are five bold predictions for ACC signing day.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Here is a look at five of the biggest flips in the ACC in the 2014 recruiting class.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider