Penn State Nittany Lions: South Carolina Gamecocks

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.

#CampusConnection: Primetime Live

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
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Will UCLA score enough points to somehow beat Oregon? Will Missouri all but clinch the SEC East against South Carolina? Will Ohio State remain unbeaten against the rival Nittany Lions? Head on over to Campus Connection at 7 ET and follow the evening action along with 10 of our reporters, including Mark Schlabach at UCLA-UO, Chris Low at SC-Mizzou, Max Olson at Texas-TCU, Greg Ostendorf at FAU-Auburn and Austin Ward at PSU-OSU.

Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Big Ten recruiting mailbag

August, 16, 2013
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It’s time to dip into the Big Ten recruiting mailbag and answer some of your questions. We’ll try to give everyone a chance to get their questions answered. We encourage you to send your questions by Twitter to @bbournival or @TomVH. Feel free to email us as well at brad.bournival.espn@gmail.com or TomVHESPN@gmail.com.

@UMKirwin12: Which teams are in place to pull in the best group of recruits at each position?

Tom VanHaaren: If I can use my own criteria, then I’ll give you a few answers. Right now Michigan has the No. 1-ranked cornerback in Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) and is still in the conversation with three ESPN 300 defensive backs, so I would give the secondary narrowly to Michigan because of Peppers.

Ohio State is right there with the commitment of Damon Webb (Detroit/Cass Tech) and the potential to add Cleveland Glenville teammates Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith.

I think Ohio State takes the cake for offensive linemen, but I’m going to throw a few curveballs for a few other groups. I like Northwestern’s running back haul with the 31st- 36th- and 51st-ranked backs already in the class. That’s two four-star running backs and one who's close.

I also like Penn State’s wide receiver haul led by No. 6 ranked athlete De'andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, De./Middletown), the No. 21-ranked receiver.

Michigan’s wide receiver class is also very good, so I’d include the Wolverines on the list.

There is a reason Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern are all ranked higher than the other Big Ten teams, though. They have the best classes in the conference, which means they have the best players.

@buckeyfan686: If a highly rated offensive tackle commits to Ohio State, do you think they still go after Chad Mavety since he is more likely ready to play next year?

Brad Bournival: That is an excellent question and one that really depends on the numbers. If the Buckeyes can grab ESPN 300 tackles Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) or Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mt. Lebanon), that would give them a force up front for the next four years with ESPN 300 guard Demetrius Knox (Ft. Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal) and ESPN 300 tackle Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle) in the mix already.

Add Marcelys Jones (Cleveland/Glenville) and Kyle Trout (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster) and the 2014 class is versatile as well. That said, if Ohio State can massage the numbers and still stay under the NCAA sanctions, getting an attractive piece like Mavety might be too good to pass up. He’d essentially have three seasons to play two, so yes if the piece is there and the Buckeyes can work some magic, they could still take six offensive linemen in this class.

@MeechignAdbug1: Who is winning the recruiting battle right now (for 2014), Urban Meyer or Brady Hoke?

VanHaaren: If you are judging strictly by which team gained a commitment from a prospect that held an offer from the opposing school, then it’s a tie. Both teams have seven commitments from prospects that held offers from the other team.

If you look at the rankings of those players, then it’s Michigan. Peppers is the biggest at No. 2 overall.

Ohio State has seven ESPN 300 commitments, but five of them held Michigan offers. Michigan has nine ESPN 300 commitments and six held Ohio State offers. There are still some prospects out there who have yet to make commitments, which could swing it in either direction. Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) still has Michigan in it, and could very well end up a Wolverine. We’ll have to wait until signing day for the final answer, but right now I would say Michigan is leading the race.

stevejeffers@comcast.net: Who rounds out Ohio State’s recruiting class?

Bournival: First let’s go through the locks, who I believe to be four-star athletes Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus) and Lattimore. After that, I really think inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) is part of this class, as is Erick Smith. Then you have to start looking at the numbers crunch. I think they miss on Prince and Bookser and nab Mavety. That leaves room for maybe two more, though I don’t know if the Buckeyes will use them. I still think defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Abraham Lincoln) picks Ohio State, and the Buckeyes could take either tight end Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) or wide receiver Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII) to round it out, though don’t be surprised if either comes to Ohio State.

@bmartinez51: Peyton Newell is deciding Aug. 30. Does he seem Nebraska bound?

VanHaaren: As you mentioned, the defensive tackle is announcing his decision on Aug. 30 and will be deciding at his high school at 2:30 p.m. local time.

The finalists on his list are Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska and South Carolina. Nebraska fans think they have a good chance, but a few other schools have put up a good fight.

South Carolina would be a tough school to say no to, but Nebraska would be a good fit for Newell.
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Four-star DT Ricky Walker (Bethel, Va./Hampton) recently named a top five of North Carolina, Penn State, Pitt, South Carolina and Virginia Tech -- but he also boasts two front-runners.

Out of those five schools, four of them send the most handwritten letters. And of those four, two really impressed by having multiple coaches share just how much they want him at their respective schools. And those two just happen to be his favorites.

Minkah Fitzpatrick (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's Prep) is one of the top DBs in the 2015 class, with offers from the likes of Penn State and Ohio State, but he's also an absolute pig. Just ask his coach. Or, better yet, ask Minkah.

"Oh yeah," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm a pig. Definitely."

That's not to say the 183-pound prospect stuffs his face with waffles and pancakes at the breakfast table. (Sometimes, he skips the meal altogether so he can catch a few extra Zs.) No, his coach explained, take a bacon-and-eggs breakfast for example. That hen? She was dedicated to that meal. But the pig? He was committed.

And Fitzpatrick, the stone-faced teen with the unprecedented work ethic -- work disorder is how some would likely label it -- is sure committed.


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Justin Hilliard sees the ball and runs to it. Then he delivers a crushing blow.

That is the consensus on the 2015 Cincinnati St. Xavier linebacker who already holds 20 offers.


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Ryan Bates, a 2015 offensive tackle out of Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood, often breathed heavy and was forced to wipe his glistening forehead when he first started meeting college coaches.

He was a nervous 285-pound prospect. And when Bates trotted over to two Penn State coaches on Tuesday, he was again panting and sweating -- but for a different reason.


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RN Top 10: D.C. NFTC 

April, 22, 2013
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The RN Top 10 will appear throughout the camp and combine season and rank prospects based strictly on their on-field performance at that particular event. It does not reflect their overall prospect ranking.

ASHBURN, Va. – The East Coast and mid-Atlantic states represented well on Sunday as eight players earned invites to The Opening at the Nike Football Training Camp outside of Washington, D.C. Defense ruled the day, led by two five-star prospects from Virginia.

10. Nick Scott
Fairfax (Va.) Fairfax |RB| 5-11, 180

Scott stood out among a field of backs who were overshadowed by the prospects at nearly every other position. He earned the attention of coaches for his strong play and versatility but missed the MVP award, which went to Vincent Lowe (Chesapeake, Va./Grassfield), who also posted the top SPARQ score.

Scott committed to Penn State in February over an offer from Boston College.

ESPN national recruiting analyst Craig Haubert’s take: “He’s got a great frame, and what I like about him as a Penn State verbal, he’s a versatile player. He may not run by you, but he does a good job in route-running.”


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#BlueChipBattles: ESPN 150 release edition

April, 19, 2013
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Speedy Noil, Adoree Jackson, Da'Shawn HandStudent Sports, ESPN, ESPNSpeedy Noil, Adoree Jackson and Da'Shawn Hand are three of the most coveted recruits in the Class of 2014.
#BlueChipBattles Insider: RecruitingNation summoned its writers from around the country to outline the recruiting battles for the ESPN 150's top 10 prospects.

Plus, rank the battles in SportsNation.

#TopFBMixtapes: Athlete mixtapes are all the rage in this highlight-crazed era of sports. We reached out to our Twitter followers to find out which 2014 football stars had the best highlight reels on YouTube, then had our staff rank and comment on the top submissions.

Tom Luginbill writes Insider: After talking to many coaches across the country and hearing their frustrations, here are their five biggest complaints about homemade highlight videos.

ATH Thompkins' recruitment heating up 

April, 16, 2013
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De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) can't believe fans already know his name.

He sat inside a restaurant during an NC State visit -- a two-hour drive from his home -- when a short man wearing a Wolfpack ball cap did a double-take from across the room. He approached the 5-foot-11 athlete: "Are you De'Andre?"


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DT Newell up to 32 offers and counting 

April, 11, 2013
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It wouldn't be fair to label Peyton Newell (Hiawatha, Kan./Hiawatha) forgetful or lacking in the smarts department.

He crammed for a six-hour study session Monday night in preparation of a college-level biology exam, boasts a 95 or better in all but one of his current classes and is on pace to graduate high school with enough credits to basically bypass his entire freshman year of college.

But even the heralded defensive tackle -- with a 3.95 GPA and a 21 ACT score -- can't keep track of all of his scholarship offers.


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A Watch List receiver has a new top five, and only one program from his original five finalists still finds itself among the favorite.


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Thompkins constantly reminded of PSU 

March, 6, 2013
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De'Andre Thompkins may go to school at Swansboro (N.C.), but he can't make a turn in the hallways without being reminded of Penn State.

A Nittany Lion emblem is the classroom screensaver of his math teacher, Ed Walsh, and a PSU jacket is hanging nearby. A history teacher, health instructor and his football coach also either grew up as Nittany Lions fans or went to the university.

Heck, even a custodian inside the red-brick school chats up with Thompkins about PSU and the Pittsburgh Steelers.


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Alex Bars has another offer in hand 

January, 16, 2013
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Alex Bars has another offer to consider.


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Walton schedules official to S. Carolina 

January, 4, 2013
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South Carolina continues to come on strong after Penn State commit Jonathan Walton and visited him again today at Daphne (Ala.) Bayside Academy.


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