NCF On The Trail: Georgia Bulldogs

Many of the West region’s best seven-on-seven teams were in Las Vegas over the weekend, joined by a few additional national squads for the Pylon Elite Las Vegas 7v7. When the dust settled, Ground Zero, a team made up of California’s Inland Empire prospects, took home the trophy after beating 702 Elite, which featured Las Vegas Bishop Gorman standouts.

The linebacker position doesn't often receive much attention during 7-on-7 events, where quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs dominate headlines. But with hundreds of players descending upon Las Vegas for the Pylon Elite 7v7 event this weekend, Caleb Kelly and Lokeni Toailoa -- the top outside and inside linebackers in the West region -- were among several must-see prospects on hand.


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PLANTATION, Fla. -- The Nike football camp in Miami is generally regarded as one of the top camps, talent-wise, in the country every year and this year’s camp held at American Heritage School didn’t disappoint.


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Jacob Eason is the No. 4 overall recruit in the 2016 ESPN Junior 300, and the top pocket-passer in the class. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound prospect has been committed to Georgia since July. Here is what makes Eason such a special talent.


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Quarterbacks are committing earlier and earlier in the recruiting process. With 15 of the 27 signal-callers in the ESPN Junior 300 already having given verbal pledges, there is increased pressure to get a top quarterback in the fold early. Five programs are ahead of the curve headed into the spring evaluation period.


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Ultimate ESPN 300: Who's next? 

February, 20, 2015
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It’s never too early to look ahead to next year. Here are seven prospects in the 2015 class who could make their mark in future editions of the Ultimate ESPN 300.

DT Daylon Mack (Texas A&M): Last year it was DE Myles Garrett who made a splash for the Aggies, and Mack is expected to do the same in 2015. While Texas A&M returns some quality young defensive tackles, none has Mack's combination of explosive power and quickness plus the ability to be a disruptive force in the backfield.

S Derwin James (FSU):

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Ultimate ESPN 300: Top surprises in the SEC 

February, 17, 2015
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When the Ultimate ESPN 300 was released on Monday, there were some noticeable surprises. Some players shot to near the top of the list early on in their careers, while other players weren’t ranked high coming out of college but now appear on this prestigious list. Here’s a closer look at some of the top surprises in the SEC.


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Roquan SmithTom Hauck for Student SportsElite players like Roquan Smith may opt to sign financial aid agreements instead of letters of intent.
Roquan Smith has made a decision, and he's sticking with it.

Or so he says.

Smith, a heralded linebacker prospect who announced his plans to attend UCLA as part of the "ESPNU National Signing Day Special" last week, announced his new choice to play at Georgia on Friday.

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SEC 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 13, 2015
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It was another incredible year of recruiting in the SEC. More than one-third (117 prospects) of the ESPN 300 signed with SEC schools. The conference also signed 12 of the 20 five-star prospects, and 218 four-star prospects. All but two of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the final ESPN class rankings. Here is a closer look at the 2015 recruiting cycle in review.


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The days of waiting for youngsters to make impact in college football are over. If you're a top freshman prospect, you're expected to come in and contribute.

So much for slacking on your training before prom.

But more and more, freshmen are proving to be up for the task of immediate playing time and immediate pressure. Coaches aren't afraid to throw these guys into the fire, and it's working out all around the country.

So who are some freshmen to keep an eye on in the SEC from the 2015 class?

Edward Aschoff: DT Trenton Thompson, Georgia
What the Bulldogs needed in this class were hefty, intimidating, athletic defensive linemen. Georgia got all of that in Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 311-pound behemoth who could see immediate playing time for a Bulldogs team in need of help at the defensive tackle spot. With only five scholarship defensive linemen returning, Thompson will have every opportunity to compete for a starting spot. The five-star was the No. 2-rated defensive tackle nationally, according to ESPN’s RecruitingNation, and was named the 2014 Maxwell Football Club’s National High School Player of the Year. Georgia needs a quality plug in the middle who can stop the run and harass quarterbacks. Thompson has everything needed to be that in 2015.

David Ching: DE Arden Key, LSU
I touched on this subject from an LSU perspective earlier this week. The first player I listed in that post was Key, ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end, because he can help address an immediate need. LSU must replace starting defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. There is some talent returning – Tashawn Bower seems to be a leading candidate to take over one of the starting spots – but nobody has proven himself as a college player yet. LSU struggled to generate sacks last season, finishing 102nd nationally with just 19. Les Miles and his assistants believe Key can help address that issue right away.

Sam Khan Jr.: S Deionte Thompson, Alabama
The ESPN 300 prospect has good size (6-2, 180) and speed and the advantage of being an early enrollee. Thompson, the nation's No. 3 safety and the No. 65 player overall in the ESPN 300, is a versatile athlete (he was a talented high school track and field athlete) and given the departures at safety for Alabama (two graduated plus Landon Collins declared for the draft) there will be spots available. Don't be shocked if Thompson works his way into one of them and plays well.

Greg Ostendorf: S Jamal Peters, Mississippi State
Peters, ranked No. 40 in the ESPN 300, is the highest-ranked player to sign at Mississippi State since Dan Mullen took over, slightly surpassing current defensive lineman Chris Jones (No. 46). Last week, Mullen was already raving about his new toy at his signing day news conference. With Jay Hughes graduating, there’s an opening at the strong safety spot that’s perfect for Peters to come in and play right away. It’s not an easy position to play early, but Peters has the size and athletic ability to do it. The rest he can learn along the way.

Alex Scarborough: RB Damien Harris, Alabama
I'm tempted to go with Kyler Murray here because I believe he could win the job outright, but the QB position is just too hard to predict. So instead I'll turn to a position that does lend itself to making an impact early: running back. I'm going way down the list of the top players in the country to No. 36 Harris. The nation's No. 2 running back has a chance to make a significant impact from Day 1 with Alabama. T.J. Yeldon and Jalston Fowler off to the NFL, remember, and Kenyan Drake is coming off an injury, Altee Tenpenny has transferred out and Tyren Jones has a history of ending up in the doghouse. If Harris, a well-rounded back, can grasp the offense, he could be a dangerous change of pace to the bruising Derrick Henry.

Derek Tyson: DE Byron Cowart, Auburn
The Auburn defense was tied for 92nd in the FBS in sacks by getting to the quarterback only 21 times last season. That was a point of emphasis for new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and no player was bigger than the No. 1 defensive end and No. 1 player overall, Cowart. The five-star prospect was absolutely dominant during the Under Armour All-America game week of practice. At 6-3, 258 pounds, he is already big and athletic enough to see the field early on in his career at Auburn.
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Quarterback Kyler Murray grabbed all of the headlines at Allen (Texas) High School over the past few seasons, but it’s actually junior offensive tackle Greg Little who is a higher-ranked prospect.


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ATHENS, Ga. -- As Mark Richt strolled up to his jet black podium to address the media about Georgia’s 2015 signing class, there didn’t appear to be a hint of angst. Richt, as laid back a coach as you'll find, simply slid to the front of the room, bright lights beaming down on behind him, and happily discussed yet another top-10 class for the Bulldogs.

"We are absolutely thrilled about these young men and can't wait to see them do their thing,” Richt said. “Some of them are already here doing their thing a little bit.”

 It was easy for Richt grin ear-to-ear and have some enthusiasm in his voice. Outside of some afternoon theatrics, Richt and his crew had a pretty stress-free day in Athens. Thanks to a stellar and steady recruiting effort from the start, Georgia had most of its class secured in the morning. By 10 a.m., the Dawgs had already secured 22 signees (eight early enrollees). At the end of the day, Georgia had signed 29 players, 18 of which were four-star players or better, including 14 ESPN 300 members

Richt, who has been criticized in the past for not keeping top players at home, had little problem securing in-state talent, as the top-seven players in this class hailed from the state of Georgia, including No. 2 overall defensive tackle -- and five-star stud -- Trenton Thompson, and No. 5 athlete Terry Godwin.

Despite a couple of late flips and the continuing saga of four-star linebacker Roquan Smith and his decision, the Dawgs made out quite well on national signing day. They even concluded the day with the unnecessarily theatrical signing from Godwin, who prolonged his ceremony until 6 p.m. ET, for, you know, dramatic effect.

While there was no real early drama for the Dawgs, this class hit on the necessary needs. In a year in which Georgia unflatteringly came in second in the SEC Eastern Division, rumors swirled and intensified about Richt’s coaching future, and long-time offensive coordinator Mike Bobo left to become the head coach at Colorado State, Georgia didn’t miss a recruiting beat.

No, the Dawgs coasted to a signing day finish line without many bumps or bruises, and could still land another big fish in Smith to cap off the school’s fifth straight top-10 recruiting class, and seventh in the past eight years.

Where Georgia really struck gold was with its defensive line class. With just five scholarship linemen returning, Richt and his crew went out and signed six players destined for the defensive line. Two -- defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter, a four-star who flipped from Alabama, and four-star defensive end Michael Barnett -- enrolled early, giving Georgia more room to rotate up front this spring.

“You've got to have the beef up front, both sides of the ball,” Richt said. “You've got to have guys that can command double teams. You've got to have guys that can hopefully put pressure on a quarterback without having to bring blitzes and things of that nature, guys that can be stout in their run gap responsibilities and not get pushed around. It's truly important to have the big men up front. I think we did a good job there."

And the thing about this defensive line haul is that it’s both quantity and quality. With so little depth coming back up front, it was imperative that Georgia’s staff go out and sign quality numbers. Georgia did just that, and might have landed the nation’s best defensive line class.

“I’m pretty glad that we’re known as one of the best defensive line groups,” Barnett said. “Hopefully, it pans out that way, as the season comes along. I’m just happy to be a part of that group.”

The headliner is Thompson, who should push for immediate playing time when he gets on campus. The 6-foot-4, 311-pound monster in the middle was a critical piece to Georgia’s class, and Richt wasn’t shy about gushing over Thompson’s talents.

“Trent is a big, massive man who has got great agility,” Richt said. “If you meet him, he's just the nicest guy you ever want to meet, but when he's playing ball, he gets after it. He's just got tremendous quickness for a big man, changes direction, plays very hard, and I think probably the reason why he got rated as high as he did is when you start taking these guys and bringing them to allstar games or combines or whatever and you start letting them compete with some of the best, the word I got from some of those kids in those situations were like, the guy just was very difficult to handle by anybody.”

And the hope in Athens is that adding a class like this will increase the Dawgs’ chances of being difficult to handle this fall. With the East still littered with questions, Georgia once again has the talent to take the division. Getting out of its own way appears to be Georgia’s biggest obstacle, but the new guys are noticing a fiery attitude early and bitterness toward last season.

“When I talk to [teammates] I get chills,” JUCO linebacker transfer Chuks Amaechi said. “When they talk, you can hear it in their voices that they’re hungry for a championship.”

2016 recruits to watch in the SEC 

February, 6, 2015
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With national signing day 2015 complete, attention will now turn to the Class of 2016. There are 33 prospects in the ESPN Junior 300 already committed to SEC schools. Here's a closer look at five players who could be grabbing headlines a year from now.


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Stop, for a moment, at the close of another wild and unpredictable signing day, and remember these eight therapeutic words: Not a single football game was played Wednesday.

Now, proceed to lose your mind.

In possibly the final signing day of its kind, college football grabbed the spotlight for its annual, offseason showcase of the bizarre. Winners and losers emerged. Mostly, though, it went off about as scripted -- and by that, we mean totally, beautifully unscripted.

[+] EnlargeSoso Jamabo
Matt Garnett/Icon SportswireSoso Jamabo helped start signing day, and UCLA's run, with his commitment to the Bruins.
Wednesday out West, signs pointed to a raising of the stakes in the Pac-12.

UCLA won the morning with big scores over Michigan for tight end Chris Clark, Texas for athlete Soso Jamabo, Georgia for No. 2 outside linebacker Roquan Smith -- more on Smith later -- and Oklahoma for offensive guard Joshua Wariboko.

The Bruins later snagged receiver Cordell Broadus, son of Snoop Dogg, but by mid-afternoon, the fireworks shifted to the USC Trojans' side of town.

USC won out for top-ranked inside linebacker John Houston Jr., No. 1 cornerback Iman Marshall and defensive tackle Rasheem Green Wednesday, along with athlete Porter Gustin, linebacker Osa Masina and defensive tackle Kevin Scott earlier in January. The Trojans' late rush helped their class finish No. 3 overall.

National champion Ohio State of the Big Ten made a morning splash by retaining the commitment of quarterback Torrance Gibson, who gave late consideration to Auburn and LSU. The Buckeyes flipped offensive tackle Isaiah Prince from Alabama's No. 1 class, which was otherwise largely put to bed weeks ago.

Texas flipped safety P.J. Locke from Oregon to punctuate Charlie Strong's 29-man, No. 9-ranked class that might signal the return to prominence of the Longhorns.

And the SEC added its share of drama, starting with the Auburn-Florida battles, in which former Gators coach Will Muschamp loomed large.

Muschamp's new program beat his old one for linebacker Jeffery Holland and the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, defensive end Byron Cowart of Seffner (Florida) Armwood.

Cowart, though, failed to fax his signed letter of intent to Auburn for some seven hours while reports bounced back and forth about his eventual decision.

Clearly, he was torn, feeling compelled to consider Florida coach Jim McElwain and his staff, on the job for two months.

"It's not their fault they're new," Cowart said. "In the recruiting process, [coaches] tell you what you want to hear, and when you get there, everything switches."

So ultimately, Cowart went with Auburn -- and the coach he trusted.

The Tigers, after the great start, lost No. 1 offensive tackle Martez Ivey and second-rated defensive end CeCe Jefferson to Florida and top-ranked defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. to Missouri.

Tennessee claimed victory with the signing of elite defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, a longtime commitment out of California, and the late flip of offensive tackle Drew Richmond from Ole Miss to secure the nation's fifth-rated class -- No. 2 in the SEC.

Ranked No. 1 nationally, for the fourth straight year, was the Crimson Tide.

"One of the very good things about this class is we didn't have a lot of drama today," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "These guys have been committed to us for a while.
"That's not the way to get the most attention from the media, but that certainly speaks highly of what a commitment means."

LSU, with its new all-star cast of recruiters headlined by Ed Orgeron, finished with good news early in the week on defensive end Arden Key, followed by the Wednesday addition of guard Toby Weathersby -- a former Texas pledge -- and the flip of receiver Brandon Martin from Missouri.

Martin punctuated his change of heart with this hashtag on Twitter.



And then there was the case of Smith, the linebacker out of Macon County High School in Montezuma, Georgia, who announced his choice of UCLA over Georgia on ESPNU but never faxed his letter of intent.

Why? Because in the moments after signing, Smith learned from reporters at his school -- as Georgia coaches furiously called with the same news -- that UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was up for a job as the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers coach.

Ulbrich recruited Smith, who plans to wait "a couple days to figure things out," Macon County coach Larry Harold told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ah, there's nothing quite like signing day, which could change considerably for the next class of recruits if a proposal is approved this spring by the Division I conference commissioners to add a three-day early signing period in December.

So, if this was the last of its kind -- with the full-on drama and star power that only a once-a-year event can provide -- then signing day as we know it went out in style.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

February, 3, 2015
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With national signing day only one day away, it is officially crunch time in recruiting. While some schools hosted several underclassmen for their junior day events, other schools hosted several official visitors in hopes of getting last-minute additions to their 2015 classes. Here is a closer look at some of the top news from around the SEC this weekend.


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