LSU Tigers: Thomas Holley

When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.

Four schools land ESPN 300 recruits

December, 17, 2013
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Christmas came early Tuesday for LSU, Ohio State, South Carolina and Penn State, as four of the top 100 football recruits in the country committed in a flurry of activity normally only seen around national signing day.

Coach Bill O’Brien at Penn State was first to unwrap his present when No. 87-ranked Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln), the nation’s No. 7 defensive tackle, committed to the Nittany Lions early Tuesday morning.

Holley had been leaning for a while toward the Nittany Lions over Ohio State, Florida and around 30 other scholarship offers, and his pickup was important.

O’Brien has talked at length about adding more depth along the defensive line, and Holley is the type of impact player who could help Penn State become instantly better. With Penn State losing defensive tackles DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz, it was important to land Holley. That’s why O’Brien pulled out all the stops to get him, including making an appearance at Yankee Stadium for Lincoln's 28-27 win over Tottenville in the PSAL City Conference Championship on Dec. 10.

Later in the afternoon, it was coach Les Miles’ turn to get a new toy as Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./South), the nation’s No. 3 inside linebacker, announced he was heading to LSU. Garrett, who is ranked No. 37 in the ESPN 300, also visited Florida, Tennessee and Ole Miss and was offered by virtually every school in the nation. He became enamored with the Bayou Bengals’ vaunted defense.

The addition of Garrett was key for the Tigers because inside linebacker was one of the few areas of need it hadn’t addressed yet with their 2014 class. LSU does have four-star prospect Donnie Alexander (New Orleans/Edna Karr) already on board, but he projects as an outside linebacker on the next level. If you review his scouting report, it reads like Garrett was meant to play in the LSU defense.

Tennessee certainly would have liked to have Garrett in its class as it continues to overhaul its roster. But the Vols already have commitments from eight other prospects projected at the linebacker spot, including No. 10 inside linebacker Gavin Bryant (Jackson, Ala./Jackson). Garrett wasn’t going to make or break Tennessee's class. Ole Miss is also not fretting too much missing out on Garrett, because the Rebels are also deep with commitments at the position and No. 1 junior college linebacker Christian Russell out of East Mississippi Community College should be a star in Oxford.

It wasn’t Santa Claus who delivered Urban Meyer’s present on Tuesday, it was the nation’s No. 4 receiver Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer). Dixon, who is ranked No. 39 in the ESPN 300, was the center of one of the nation’s most intense recruiting battles between Alabama, Ohio State and Miami.

It’s not often you see a prospect turn down Alabama, and there was tremendous pressure on Dixon to stay local and play for the Canes, but in the end, he thought he was the best fit in the Ohio State offense.

Dixon is right. His game -- highlighted by polished route running ability and the strength to out muscle defenders -- complements Buckeyes receivers Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and Michael Thomas, who are coming back in 2014.

For Ohio State, it was the second day in a row it landed an elite player from the South. Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), the nation's top linebacker and the No. 12 overall recruit, committed to Ohio State on Monday afternoon.

Alabama put the full-court press on Dixon because he would have been a nice complement to already-committed receivers Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish) and Derek Kief (Cincinnati/La Salle). But the cupboard isn’t exactly bare in Tuscaloosa and four-star Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) is still on the target board.

Miami has four receivers committed so far, but none of them are the home run that Dixon is. Yes, Darrell Langham (Lantana, Fla./Santaluces) and Braxton Berrios (Raleigh, N.C./Leesville Road) are quality receivers and will add needed depth at the position, but Dixon is the type of player from South Florida you just can’t let get away.

You can never have too many pass-rushing defensive ends in the SEC, which is why Steve Spurrier surely was elated with the gift of Dante Sawyer (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett), the nation’s No. 9 defensive end. Sawyer committed to the Gamecocks on Tuesday, giving them a much-needed boost from a need that hadn’t been filled yet.

With South Carolina having few scholarships available for its 2014 class, there’s not a lot of room for swings and misses, so it was vital for the Gamecocks to make sure they got their guy at the position. With Jadeveon Clowney likely bolting for the NFL and Chaz Sutton graduating, there’s gaping holes at both defensive end spots and Sawyer, the No. 91 player overall, has the talent to step in and compete with other younger players like Gerald Dixon, Mason Harris and Darius English to fill the spots.

Missouri finished runner-up for Sawyer, and landing him would have sent a significant message to the rest of the SEC that the Tigers are now major players for the top talent in the region. In reality, they already are, even with the miss. The Tigers have pledges from nine players in Florida and Georgia, and that trend is only going to continue to tick upward after the success of the 2013 season.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

December, 16, 2013
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The dead period in recruiting is now upon us and official visits will shut down until after the holidays. College coaches have done all they can as far as in-home visits and setting up and hosting official visits until after the dead period is over. Here is a closer look at some of the important in-home and official visits that have taken place recently.

SEC recruiting storylines: Dec. 12 

December, 12, 2013
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Another wild week of recruiting in the SEC is in the rearview mirror. Today, the Florida Gators take center stage with all eyes on Alabama heading into the weekend of official visits before the dead period begins Dec. 16.

Gators nab one of the nation's best

No. 18 David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School) seemed to be a Florida lean for more than a year. After trips to Georgia twice during the season and official visits to Tennessee and Florida in November, the 6-foot-6, 288-pound four-star offensive tackle made it official Thursday, committing to the Gators.

Sharpe becomes the 17th commitment for head coach Will Muschamp and his staff, including the 10th ESPN 300 prospect to select the Gators.

Speaking of Florida, the final decision of No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) likely will come following the Rockets' state title game this weekend. Florida is fighting Florida State and Miami to keep the explosive playmaker.

Make it two for Thursday


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Critical positions in SEC recruiting 

September, 3, 2013
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Each year college coaches prioritize their recruiting needs. Whether it's offensive or defensive linemen or skilled positions, there always seems to be an area that needs more attention than others. Here's a closer look at the most important position for each SEC team in recruiting this year.


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The Opening, presented by Nike, will feature 162 of the best high school football players in the country. The event, which will include linemen, 7-on-7 and SPARQ testing competitions, is set to run from June 30 to July 3 at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.

The following events from The Opening will be televised on ESPNU:

July 1: SPARQ Rating National Championship, 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. ET

July 2: 7-on-7 Pool Play, 9 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET

July 3: Linemen Challenge Finals and 7-on-7 semifinal and championship games, 9 p.m.-midnight ET

The players will be divided in to six teams -- Alpha Pro, Apocalypse, Field Generals, Land Sharks, Super Bad and Vapor Carbon. Here is a closer look at how the teams match up.

Team: Alpha Pro
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Jordan Palmer, defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson

The Alpha Pro team will have plenty of targets to spread the ball around. Ermon Lane and Tyler Luatua, the No. 1-ranked receiver and tight end in the country respectively, bring size and playmaking ability to the passing game. ESPN 300 athletes Corey Holmes, Jalen Hurd, John "JuJu" Smith, Ja'Von Harrison, and Derrell Scott are all explosive offensive weapons.

Defensively Alpha Pro is led by Andrew Brown, the No. 1-ranked defensive tackle in the country, ESPN 150 cornerback Damon Webb, defensive end Andrew Williams, Ohio State linebacker commit Dante Booker and LSU cornerback commit Chris Hardeman.

Complete Alpha Pro roster.

Team: Apocalypse
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Adam Tafralis, defensive coordinator Donovin Darius

The first thing that jumps out about team Apocalypse is the talent in the defensive front seven. Team Apocalypse will be led by five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand and inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Hand, from Woodbridge, Va., is the No. 4-ranked player in the country, while McMillan was recently bumped up to a five-star linebacker. Joining Hand and McMillan along the front seven are ESPN 300 defensive linemen Anthony Moten and Ainuu Taua, and linebackers D.J. Calhoun and Rashaan Evans.

Offensively, team Apocalypse has no shortage of playmakers. ESPN 300 wide receivers Artavis Scott, K.D. Cannon and Michiah Quick will provide explosiveness in the passing game, while athletic running backs Joe Mixon and Royce Freeman will provide athletic and reliable targets out of the backfield.

Complete Apocalypse roster.

Team: Field Generals
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Charlie Frye, defensive coordinator Michael Fletcher

Seven-on-seven events are always geared towards the offense, but with five-star defensive back Adoree' Jackson, No. 3-ranked safety Jamal Adams, and ESPN 300 cornerback Adarius Pickett in the secondary, the Field Generals should more than hold their own. New Ohio State defensive end commit Jalyn Holmes and the No. 6-ranked defensive end in the country, Solomon Thomas, will be two to watch along the defensive line.

Offensively, the Field Generals are led by ESPN 300 offensive guard Damien Mama, ESPN 300 wide receivers Austin Roberts and Thaddeus Snodgrass and explosive Notre Dame running back commit Elijah Hood.

Complete Field Generals roster.

Team: Landsharks
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Craig Nall, defensive coordinator Keith Bulluck

The Landsharks have some big-time talent along each line of scrimmage. Led by five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, the Landsharks also feature ESPN 300 offensive guard Corey Martinez. ESPN 300 defensive linemen Gerald Willis III and Thomas Holley, as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Chad Thomas, will form a very physical and athletic defensive line.

In the secondary, the Landsharks will have three defensive backs -- Arrion Springs, Chris Lammons and Tony Brown -- that are ranked among the top 85 players in the country. The defense also features ESPN 150 linebacker Nyles Morgan.

Offensively, explosive running backs Dalvin Cook, a Florida commit, and Racean Thomas form a dangerous tandem out of the backfield, and wide receivers Travis Rudolph and Jalen Harvey are solid receiving threats.

Complete Landsharks roster.

Team: Superbad
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Dennis Gile, defensive coordinator Harold Nash Jr.

The Superbad defense line is led by five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter and ESPN 150 defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson. The linebacking corp is stacked with three ESPN 300 members, including Clifton Garrett, Christian Miller and Edwin Freeman. Cornerback Jalen Tabor is the No. 19-ranked player in the country.

Offensively, Superbad has a huge advantage with the No. 1-ranked prospect in the country, running back Leonard Fournette. This team is loaded on offense, with wide receivers Drake Harris, Josh Malone and Speedy Noil all in the mix.

Complete Superbad roster.

Team: Vapor Carbon
Coaches: Offensive coordinator George Whitfield, defensive coordinator Chris Gizzi.

Vapor Carbon will be tough to throw against with defensive backs Quin Blanding, Naijiel Hale and Ed Paris roaming the field. The linebacker group is just as impressive, with Ohio State commit Kyle Berger, Kain Daub and Dillon Bates all leading the way.

The offense for Vapor Carbon could be lethal with running back Joseph Yearby and Nick Chubb in the backfield. Spreading out wide receivers T.V. Williams, Justin Brent and tight end Ian Bunting on the outside could prove to be an awesome combination for this squad.

Team Vapor Carbon has a lot of pieces to make a long run in the 7-on-7 tournament, but then again, every team is stacked in this competition.

Complete Vapor Carbon roster.

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