NCF Nation: Football Recruiting

In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Dorin Dickerson, No. 74 in 2006 class

Dickerson came out of West Allegheny High in Imperial, Pennsylvania, as one of the most highly coveted prospects in the region with offers from Iowa, Michigan, Penn State, Pittsburgh and more as a versatile athlete that was best with the ball in his hands. In June 2005, Dickerson chose Pittsburgh over Michigan in a recruitment that was always the Panthers' to lose. Dickerson’s father, Randy Dickerson, played college basketball at Kansas State.

Dickerson was a jack of all trades for Pittsburgh. As a freshman in 2006, he saw action in eight games as a wide receiver and in the return game.

Dickerson made the move to linebacker as a sophomore in 2007. He played in 12 games as a reserve, as well as being a fixture on special teams.

Another position change happened as a junior. Dickerson made the move back to offense and settled in at tight end where he played in 13 games with two starts catching 13 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns.

Dickerson’s senior campaign was by far his best at Pittsburgh. He hauled in 49 passes for 529 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games being named to various all-conference and All-American teams.

Following his senior season, the Houston Texans selected Dickerson in the seventh round (No. 227 overall) of the 2010 NFL draft. He is now in his fifth season in the NFL having been on the roster or practice squad for six teams.

Honorable mention: Nigel Carr, No. 74 in 2008 class. After signing with Florida State, Carr ran into trouble off the field and enrolled at Alabama State. In two years for the Hornets, he posted 73 tackles, three sacks and interception. Carr was a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as an undrafted free agent.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Jonathan Dwyer, No. 75 in 2007 class

Dwyer was a highly coveted running back out of Kell High in Marietta, Georgia, with offers from the likes of Florida State, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, Georgia and many others, but he decided to stay home in late August of 2006 announcing for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were the choice beause of academics, a close family friend that played at Georgia Tech, closeness to home, and the fact that then head coach Chan Gailey had an NFL background. Dwyer helped headline a Georgia Tech 2007 class that included NFL first-round draft choice Derrick Morgan and third-round draft choice Morgan Burnett.

Dwyer hit the field running in 2007 for the Yellow Jackets, rushing for 436 yards and nine touchdowns, and adding more than 300 yards in kick off returns in earning ACC All-Freshman Team honors.

As a sophomore, Dwyer took his game to another level for the Yellow Jackets, taking home ACC Player of the Year honors after leading the conference in rushing with 1,328 yards and adding 12 touchdowns. He added 209 receiving yards to top 1,600 all-purpose yards.

In Dwyer’s junior season, which would be his last in Atlanta, he finished with 1,395 yards in 14 games and 14 scores, again earning All-ACC honors.

Dwyer announced he would leave Georgia Tech early and enter the NFL draft following the season. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Honorable mention: Steve Williams, No. 75 in the 2009 class and Vadal Alexander, No. 75 in the 2012 class. Williams wasn’t as heavily recruited as teammates Mike Davis (Texas), Corey Nelson (Oklahoma) and others out of Dallas Skyline in the 2009 and 2010 classes, but was a three-year starter at California. He finished his career Berkeley with 150 tackles and six interceptions. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers. Alexander is in his third season at LSU, and has been a starter since his freshman season, playing both right tackle and guard for the Tigers. He is candidate to enter the 2015 NFL draft following the season.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Jerry “Jaye” Howard, No. 76 in 2007 class

Howard was a longtime commitment to Florida before finally choosing the Gators for good on national signing day over Auburn and Florida State. He took official visits to all three following his senior season at Jones High in Orlando. Howard’s father played at Florida State, but the Seminoles didn’t put the full-court press on until after then-Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong zeroed in on Howard. Having his cousin, Eric Sledge, as a player at Florida helped Urban Meyer and Strong secure Howard’s commitment in April 2006. Howard was a member of the Gators' stellar 2007 class that included Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Cam Newton, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Chris Rainey, Aaron Hernandez, Torrey Davis, John Brown, Major Wright, Ahmad Black and others.

After a redshirt season in 2007, Howard played in nine games and recorded eight tackles on the Gators' national championship team in 2008. He played in 12 games and made four starts in 2009.

In 2010, he appeared in 11 games with eight starts, missing time with an ankle sprain, but still managed to rack up 10 tackles for loss. His best season in Gainesville was his senior campaign. He started all 13 games and recorded 65 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 55 sacks to finish his college career with 131 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 45 games.

Howard was selected in the fourth round (No. 114 overall) by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 NFL draft. He currently plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Honorable mention: Damian Swann, No. 76 in 2011 class. Swann, a cornerback, picked Georgia over offers from Alabama, Miami, Auburn and several others coming out of Grady High in Atlanta. He’s currently finishing his career at Georgia as a three-year starter, having made 161 tackles and seven interceptions in the last three seasons. He is expected to be selected in the draft next spring.

Early Offer: Who will land Soso Jamabo? 

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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Soso Jamabo loved visits to UCLA and Notre Dame, but is it too early to count out the Texas schools? Plus, NC State added a key pledge on Wednesday that should give the Wolfpack much-needed help on the offensive line.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Benjamin Tate, No. 77 in 2006 class

Tate came out of Snow Hill High in Newark, Maryland, as a nationally coveted running back. He committed to Auburn in July of 2005, but never closed the book on his recruitment taking visits following his pledge to Maryland and others, as well as looking at Florida with the Gators never making a big push. Tate committed to Auburn due in large part to the work of then-assistant Eddie Gran. Tate rushed for over 6,000 yards in three seasons on varsity.

Tate enrolled at Auburn in January of 2006, and went through spring drills. That helped pave the way for a freshman season that included 392 rushing yards and three touchdowns in nine games.

He truly burst onto the national scene as a sophomore rushing for 903 yards and eight scores, and followed with 664 yards as a junior in 12 games, only starting two.

It was Tate’s final season at Auburn that sent him darting up NFL draft boards in Gus Malzahn’s offense rushing for 1,362 yards and 10 TDs earning second-team All-SEC honors.

Following his career at Auburn, Tate was selected in the second round (No. 58 overall) by the Houston Texans in the 2010 NFL draft. Now with the Minnesota Vikings, Tate has more than 2,000 rushing yards in his NFL career.

Honorable mention: Quentin Hayes, No. 77 in the 2010 class. Hayes is a second-year starter for Oklahoma in 2014 as a fifth-year senior. After posting 75 tackles and two interceptions as a junior strong safety, he has 47 tackles and an INT in 10 games as a senior. Also worthy of mention, No. 77 in the 2011 class, Ben Koyack, is becoming an NFL draft prospect at tight end for Notre Dame this season.
Aaron Rodgers said it to Packers fans and LeBron James said it to Cavaliers fans. And whomever winds up taking over as the next head coach of the Florida football program would assuredly want the same message relayed to Gators fans when it comes to the 2015 recruiting class.

R-E-L-A-X.

[+] EnlargeByron Cowart
Tom Hauck for Student SportsFive-star Byron Cowart is not letting Florida's coaching change affect his decision.
Losses on the field cost Will Muschamp his job and his successor will inherit a class with just nine verbal commits -- the fewest of any Power 5 program. With all that, panic has assuredly set in with Florida fans. But not only is it premature to worry about how this class will finish, those fans don't need to look far into history for some significant reassurance as to how strong the Gators class could be when it crosses the finish line.

While Florida doesn't share much in common with USC -- opposite coasts, different conferences, public vs. private, etc. -- there's one thing they share that is the only thing that matters in this situation. It's something that only a handful of college football programs can take advantage of. Because Florida -- like USC -- is one of college football's most visible power programs, a coaching change can lead to immediate positive effects, especially on the recruiting trail.

After the second game of the 2013 season, the Trojans might have had the least recruiting clout in the Pac-12. Dozens of high-profile USC recruits had just sat through a sloppy 10-7 loss to Washington State, complete with loud boos and chants to fire the coach.

“It was kind of a letdown,” said one ESPN 300 prospect following the game. “It's really thrown me off of them."

USC kept Lane Kiffin at the helm until Sept. 30, when the decision was made to let him go. Steve Sarkisian took over on Dec. 2 and the recruiting impact was felt almost immediately.

That decision was met with immediate excitement from prospects and galvanized the recruiting efforts in a hurry. After sitting outside the ESPN class rankings for months, the Trojans made their way back among the top 40 recruiting classes just two weeks after Sarkisian's hiring.

When the recruiting class was finished, only three prospects who originally committed to Lane Kiffin remained. The Trojans finished with 19 commitments, including the three Kiffin landed and four former Washington pledges that followed Sarkisian to USC. The Trojans finished with the No. 14 group in the country, and not only did the Trojans eventually sign Adoree' Jackson -- the lone five-star prospect in the region -- they also wound up signing the aforementioned ESPN 300 recruit that was so down on the Trojans following the Washington State loss.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian's hiring jumpstarted USC's recruiting efforts in the final two months of the 2014 cycle.
When Florida fans look at USC carrying only three commitments from early December through signing day last year, the idea of having nine committed at this point -- including four ESPN 300 prospects -- should be rather reassuring (provided they don't take a glance at Florida State's class at the moment). What should be even more reassuring are the prospects still left on the board for Florida. ESPN 300 prospects Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey, CeCe Jefferson, Adonis Thomas and Jeffery Holland are just a few of the names in the region still looking at the Gators following the loss of Muschamp. The talent available is even greater than what the Trojans collected in sweeping ESPN 300 prospects Jackson, JuJu Smith and Damien Mama on signing day last year.

Cowart probably said it best when he told ESPN.com's Derek Tyson: "I’m still considering Florida. At the end of the day, they will pay top dollar for whoever the next head coach will be, so whoever they get will be a top coach."

Getting out in front as the first major program to announce a coaching change will be a significant benefit to Florida, as often the rumblings of a coaching change can be far more detrimental to a recruiting class than the coaching change itself. In addition, the Gators are likely guaranteed that whoever takes over as head coach will bring with him several recruits -- either because they are committed to whatever program he is coaching for right now, or his name recognition alone will be too much to turn down.

While mention of the 2015 recruiting cycle makes it feel like this class goes through just one fluid stage from first offers to signing day, the truth is that there are a number of separate recruiting seasons for these seniors. We're about to step into the two that matter most -- the months between the end of the season and the beginning of February, and the final 48 hours leading up to signing day. What matters most is the recruiting momentum that can carry a program through those periods, and Florida -- like USC last year, or a handful of programs including Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and a few others -- is one of those programs that has the ability to become a freight train on the trail with the right hire.
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The list of reasons why the Florida head coaching job is so attractive is awfully long, but the biggest reason is recruiting.

Texas might produce more Division I prospects, and you can find high concentrations of talent in California, but if you want to find difference-makers -- the kind you need to win the SEC and the national championship -- you head to the Sunshine State. The University of Florida sits in the heart of the highest quality and quantity of high school football talent in America, and to win big the Gators must hire somebody who can tap into that local pipeline. Will Muschamp’s replacement must beat Florida State and Miami regularly for these players and also keep Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Les Miles, Urban Meyer and others from poaching players away.

It’s a tall task indeed, but here are top 10 candidates who would make sense at Florida because they have the recruiting chops to be successful.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze has proven he can win recruiting battles against the SEC heavyweights.
1. Hugh Freeze
Head coach, Ole Miss

Freeze might be tough to pry away from Oxford because of his close ties to the state of Mississippi and the fact that he still has more time left with the vaunted 2013 top-five recruiting class he brought in to Ole Miss. But from a recruiting standpoint, it’s hard to think of somebody who would be in a better position to lure talent to Gainesville. Freeze already knows how to recruit in the cutthroat SEC and has recruited against the big dogs with a lot of success in Florida since he arrived at Ole Miss.

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A few weeks ago, Adam McLean was asked what it would take to back away from his Penn State pledge, and he said “nothing can change my mind.” Well, something happened and the ESPN 300 prospect is back on the market. Plus, Zach Gentry has been committed to Texas since May, but rumors sprouted Tuesday he was considering taking other official visits.

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The top five remains steady, but Ohio State has moved a step closer to potentially breaking into that group. The Buckeyes, whose class is led by three five-star prospects, added a commitment from an eighth ESPN 300 player in offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. The top-10 OG is a big, tough and competitive player. He needs to continue to better blend technique with his aggressive nature, but with some work he can be a physical and productive presence in the trenches for Ohio State.

It has been a challenging season for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels, who have won three of their past four games, were able to score a big victory on the recruiting trail. With a commitment from ESPN 300 DE Jalen Dalton, North Carolina was able to keep the state's No. 3-ranked prospect at home. A lengthy and athletic defender with good upside, Dalton is a promising player who could grow into a potential playmaker for a team that needs major help on defense. Despite some of the struggles this season UNC has still managed to put together a strong class that now sits at No. 21 and features five ESPN 300 prospects.

Inside the rankings

The biggest challenge for Urban Meyer and his staff since he arrived in Columbus has been luring top-flight defensive front personnel and overall skill from the Midwest that is comparable to what he had at Florida. It has been a down period in Ohio for the 2014 and 2015 classes in terms of sheer numbers and caliber of players, which led to the Buckeyes going after guys like Joey Bosa (Florida), Raekwon McMillan (Georgia), Vonn Bell (Georgia) and many others to help supplement the roster. That trend is continuing with the commitment of 2015 athlete Torrance Gibson.

The good news for the Buckeyes is that the upcoming in-state 2016 class is much stronger and deeper, which hopefully will allow for them to not have to venture too far south this time around to supplement the roster. The Buckeyes already have four players committed in 2016 and all are from Ohio.



To read the full class rankings, click here.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Antoine McClain, No. 78 in 2008 class

McClain was a big recruiting win in 2008 for the Clemson Tigers. Then-Tigers wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney recruited McClain, beating out Auburn, Tennessee, LSU and Alabama for a high school offensive tackle who was destined to slide inside to guard at the college level. The Tigers made the final push leading up to national signing day in 2008, getting McClain’s mother on campus at the last minute. McClain was part of a top-10 class in 2008 for the Tigers that included No. 1 overall Da'Quan Bowers, tight end Dwayne Allen, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, running back Jamie Harper, quarterback Kyle Parker and running back Andre Ellington.

After a freshman season in 2008 as a reserve, appearing in all 13 games, McClain became one of the most reliable players in Clemson History.

He started all 14 games as a sophomore, did the same in 2010 with 13 starts and third-team All-ACC honors, and followed with 14 starts as a senior, ending his Clemson career by starting 41 straight games. He played in 54 games in four years for the Tigers, logging 2,438 snaps.

McClain went undrafted in 2012. He signed a free agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens, but is now out of the league.

Honorable mention: Darian Hagan, No. 78 in class of 2006. Hagan signed with California out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles over UCLA. He appeared in 38 games for the Golden Bears, including 26 starts, making 124 career tackles.

ESPN Junior 300: 10 things to know 

November, 19, 2014
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Here are 10 things to know about the updated 2016 ESPN Junior 300 rankings.

10. Prospects committing at a fast rate
There are currently 65 ESPN Junior 300 players who have already committed, and that number is expected to at least double by the end of July. Of the 65 committed, 31 are committed to out-of-state schools. In which states are kids staying home the most? Nine of 10 from the state of Texas are committed to in-state schools, while 11 of 13 from Florida are committed to in-state schools.


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There have been some interesting names linked to the Florida opening, but several coaches believe Marshall's Doc Holliday could be a good recruiting fit in Gainesville. Plus, many expected ESPN 300 OT Chuma Edoga to flip from USC to Georgia, but it looks like the Trojans have won the battle in the end.


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In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Darrin Walls, No. 79 in 2006 class

Walls came out of Woodland Hills High (Pa.) as one of the top defensive back prospects in the country. After making official visits to Pittsburgh, Michigan, Florida and Notre Dame, he committed to the Fighting Irish and then-head coach Charlie Weis in October 2005 because of the academics, graduation rate, overall atmosphere and distance from home. Had Florida been closer to home, the Gators would have very likely been the pick, however. Walls was one of several highly sought prospects to sign with Notre Dame in the 2006 class, including Sam Young, cornerback Raeshon McNeil, tight end Konrad Reuland and quarterback Demetrus Jones and running back James Aldridge.

Walls saw action as a true freshman in South Bend, appearing in eight games as cornerback and in the return game, but it was his sophomore year in which he made an impact. He appeared in 12 games in 2007, including 11 starts at corner leading the Fighting Irish in pass breakups with 10.

After a year away from the program in 2008, Walls returned for the 2009 season and started eight more games, appearing in all 12 contests.

As a senior, Walls recorded 41 tackles and three interceptions to finish his career with 104 tackles, five interceptions and 19 passes defended.

Walls went undrafted in 2011. He was signed as a free agent by the Atlanta Falcons, and is currently with the New York Jets, having split time with Dee Milliner at times during the 2013 season.

Honorable mention: David Snow, No. 79 in 2008 class. Snow was a nationally recruited guard out of East Texas powerhouse Gilmer High. He picked Texas over Oklahoma, Michigan, Florida and Texas A&M, and was a fixture on the offensive line for the Longhorns for four seasons. He played in 52 games in four years, including 32 starts, with 20 coming at guard and 12 at center. He went undrafted in 2012, but did spend two seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Duke has upped its recruiting efforts in ACC territory and that has helped reel in talented recruits such as ESPN Junior 300 TE Mark Birmingham. Plus, Arizona State already has three pledges from Louisiana thanks largely to the recruiting efforts of offensive coordinator Mike Norvell.

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ESPN 300 receiver Tyron Johnson said he’s “80 percent” sure of where he’s going but things could change dramatically if LSU steps up its pursuit. The battle to land Nick Brossette will be one of the biggest storylines heading into the final months of recruiting.

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