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.