NCF On The Trail: SEC

video Carver High in Montgomery, Alabama, will be home to one of the top recruiting battles in the Southeast in the 2016 cycle. Problem is, only Alabama and Auburn fans may be tuned in on a daily basis to see which program is the favorite for ESPN Junior 300 No. 7 Lyndell Wilson. That’s because the nation's No. 1 outside linebacker known as “Mack” is going to be tough to pull out of state, as has been the case in Alabama in the last three classes with arguably only one of 24 prospects coveted highly by the Crimson Tide and Tigers having inked with an out of state program.
BUFORD, Ga. -- Auburn and Georgia have been battling over top prospects in the Peach State for many a year. In the class of 2016, it’s an uber talented collection of defensive linemen who will lead to what are sure to be bloodbath recruitments, and there is none bigger than 6-foot-6, 325-pound Julian Rochester. The No. 32-ranked prospect in the ESPN Junior 300 has been considered an Auburn lean for some time due in large part to a very strong relationship between the dominant defensive lineman and Auburn assistant Rodney Garner.

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Let’s be clear, it’s very tough to go into the state of Alabama right now and beat both Alabama and Auburn for a prospect either university covets. Need proof? In the class of 2015 the top six prospects in the state signed with the two in-state powers. That was the year after the top 10 from the state inked with the Crimson Tide and Tigers. In the class of 2013, only one, Austin Golson, of the top eight picked an out-of-state school. Golson since has transferred to Auburn from Ole Miss.
[+] EnlargeJohn Broussard
Scott Fink for Student SportsJohn Broussard has visits set for FSU and Mississippi State, but Auburn will be hard to beat.
On May 7, ESPN Junior 300 No. 56 John Broussard is set to announce his decision. While the 5-foot-11, 173-pound cover corner still has schools he wants to continue to look at before making a decision, his mom is sold on the school just thirty minutes from home.

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BUFORD, Ga. - Despite the cold and rainy weather conditions, more than 400 prospects from all over the Southeast made the trip to Buford High School for the Nike The Opening Regional Camp on Sunday.
[+] EnlargeMalik Henry
Miller Safrit/ESPNFlorida State quarterback pledge Malik Henry was among the prospects earning invitations to The Opening.
With less than ideal conditions for throwing the ball, several quarterbacks and wide receivers -- including Malik Henry, David Moore, Josh Imatorbhebehe, Freddie Swain, Tre Nixon and several other players -- had standout performances at the camp. Swain, the No. 214 prospect in the ESPN Junior 300, was one of the most impressive receivers and took home the wide receiver MVP as well as an invitation to The Opening. The 6-foot, 170-pound athlete from Citra (Florida) North Marion High School took advantage of his trip to Atlanta by visiting the University of Georgia on Saturday before attending the Nike camp. The visit turned out to be a success for the talented receiver. “I just got offered by Georgia yesterday on my visit,” Swain said. "It was a lot of fun and I got to meet with coach Richt. He just said to keep working hard and he’ll see me in the spring.”

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The state of Florida is generally loaded with playmakers at wide receiver. In fact, over the last five years, the state has produced at least eight ESPN 300 prospects in every class. This year’s group of wide receivers just might top them all. An astounding 15 wideouts from the Sunshine State are listed in the ESPN Junior 300. It’s the deepest wide receiver class to come out of Florida in recent memory.

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D.X. Bible LetterCourtesy of Mark F. Barnes and Harrison J. Allen

Nearly a century before Kevin Sumlin introduced the Swagcopter and Twitter hashtags to College Station, Texas A&M was still at the cutting edge of the recruiting game.

Harrison J. Allen, whose late great grandfather, Dr. Richard Henry "Chicken" Harrison Jr., played for Texas A&M as early as 1917, recently discovered a recruiting letter that then-Aggies coach Dana X. Bible sent to Harrison.

Written Aug. 20, 1919, Bible wrote to Harrison in hopes he would return to the A&M football team for the 1919 season. Allen said Harrison played for the Aggies in 1917 but not in 1918 as many members of the team served the United States in World War I. Harrison served in both World War I and World War II, and Allen said it is his understanding, though he's not 100 percent certain, that 1918 was one of his years of service.

Every one is expected to put politics, business and even their best girl aside and report September 15th, for duty at College Station.

- 1919 Texas A&M recruiting letter

In the letter -- which Allen found in a scrapbook Harrison compiled in the early 1960s -- Bible requests that Harrison report for training camp and says that "Every one is expected to put politics, business, and even their best girl aside and report September 15th, for duty at College Station."

Allen, a 2011 Texas A&M graduate, said Harrison played quarterback, halfback, defense and drop-kicked field goals for the Aggies. The 1919 team went undefeated (10-0) and unscored upon, outscoring its foes a combined 275-0. Bible notes his high expectations in his recruiting letter, stating "I am convinced that the team that beats us will be the champion of the Southwest."

Nobody did.

Bible closed his letter by stating "This is the motto for 1919: 'They Shall Not Pass.'"

"It's truly incredible," Allen said of the letter. "I grew up attending Texas A&M football games more so than any other sporting event. When I saw the letter and read it a couple times, it took a minute to sink in how important it was. The fact that he actually recruited my great grandfather to come back and play and be a part of that undefeated and unscored upon team is quite remarkable."
[+] EnlargeRichard Henry
Courtesy of Harrison J. AllenRichard "Chicken" Harrison was highly sought after by Texas A&M back in 1919.

Harrison graduated Texas A&M in 1920 and was among the first Aggies to earn a doctorate of veterinary medicine. He later became the team doctor for Texas A&M football for 25 years, which spanned the Aggies' 1939 national championship team and Paul "Bear" Bryant's coaching stint in College Station (Harrison is even named in Jim Dent's book, "The Junction Boys," about Bryant's legendary 10-day training camp in 1954).

History and tradition is a pillar of numerous college football programs across the country and those things are especially cherished at Texas A&M. Finding a tangible piece of that history has been particularly special for Allen.

"This letter was an incredible find for me," Allen said. "As a fifth-generation Aggie, I knew that my family had some remarkable ties to Texas A&M but this letter was a surprise."

No. 14 Trayvon Mullen names a leader 

February, 28, 2015
Feb 28
PLANTATION, Fla. -- The 14th-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, Trayvon Mullen, was one of only four players to get invited to The Opening at the conclusion of the Nike regional football camp on Saturday afternoon.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound athlete from Coconut Creek (Florida) High School was impressive and won several one-on-one battles against an extremely deep and talented group of receivers at the Nike Football The Opening Miami Regional.

Mullen arrived to the camp decked out in an LSU back pack, jacket and gloves. So is it safe to assume that the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the country has the Tigers on top?

“Right now, yes LSU is my leader,” Mullen said. “I just like the people, coaches and just the atmosphere there. Coach [Corey] Raymond is a great dude. I talk to him everyday actually. He’s just a great guy. We just talk about everything; we barely talk about football. Mostly we just talk about life and things like that.”

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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With such a talented group of players on one list, the Ultimate ESPN 300, it was difficult to narrow things to three favorites. After all, these are some of the best ever to play college football. With that being said, here are three of my favorites:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesFew players have come off the edge like Jadeveon Clowney in his South Carolina heyday.
1. I've covered recruiting for several years, but watching defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (No. 1) go up against offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio at the 2011 Under Armour All-America game and practices was something I'll never forget. Clowney is the best athlete I have seen, and watching him go up against another five-star prospect was incredible.

Kouandjio more than held his own that week against the top player in the country, but there was no doubt Clowney was on another level. Clowney went on to have an incredible career at South Carolina, and who could forget the devastating hit he laid on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl?

2. Quarterback Tim Tebow (No. 2), with his unusual throwing mechanics and bruising style of play, had his doubters coming out of high school. Tebow, however, went on to have one of the most prolific careers in the history of college football by winning two national championships, two SEC championships and a Heisman Trophy.

To sum up Tebow's leadership ability and team-first mentality, I recall watching Tebow's high school team, Nease, play in the Florida state championship game against Armwood High School. Armwood had the ball and was driving for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown and a defensive lineman for Nease had to leave the game because of an injury. Tebow races out to the field and lines up at nose tackle. Though he didn't make the play, Nease won, and it displayed what kind of person he was. He was willing to do whatever it took to help his team win, and that's how he played throughout his college career.

3. Running back Derrick Henry's (No. 202) high school team, Yulee, didn't play in a very strong division in Florida, so the ridiculous stats (11,182 rushing yards and 153 rushing TDs) Henry put up in his high school career seemed to be somewhat inflated.

Henry's senior season, I had a chance to watch Yulee take on Belle Glade Glades Day School, which had Kelvin Taylor (No. 174), another five-star running back. I assumed that because of Henry's size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) he would likely move to another position on the next level. But after watching him play in person and seeing how athletic and nimble he was, Henry convinced me he had the tools to be a top running back. Watching both running backs rush for more than 200 yards on the night and seeing two future stars at their brightest was one of the most memorable games I've ever had a chance to cover.
Some players flipped their commitments while other’s had memorable signing-day moments. Here is a closer look at the five most intriguing recruitments from the SEC.

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Many believe ESPN Junior 300 defensive Nick Bosa will be an even better college football player than his brother. That’s saying a lot because his brother is Joey Bosa, star defensive lineman for national champion Ohio State and one of the top projected picks for the 2016 NFL draft.

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SEC signing day roundtable: Most important 2015 class

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
Wrapping up our weeklong, post-signing day series, we look at which coaches signed the most important -- not necessarily the best -- classes of 2015. For some, such as Mississippi State, that meant building on the momentum of a big year. For others, such as Florida, it meant closing strong in the first year under a new coach.

Click here for the rest of the series:
Key storyline | Coach under pressure | Instant-impact recruit | Under-the radar talent

Edward Aschoff: Mississippi State
It took Dan Mullen five years to get to this point and it isn’t exactly easy to recruit to Mississippi State. But Mullen and his coaches did a tremendous job in signing the nation’s No. 16 recruiting class, equipped with seven ESPN 300 members. When you’re at a program like Mississippi State, you can’t get caught behind, ever, if you want to build off any sort of positive momentum. Mullen signed the No. 2 safety (Jamal Peters), No. 2 inside linebacker (Leo Lewis), No. 2 juco receiver (Donald Gray) and No. 1 juco offensive tackle (Martinas Rankin). He hit needs with top talent and signed five of the state of Mississippi’s top six players. That’s called reloading, and its exactly what Mississippi State needed to continue to trend upward.

David Ching: Missouri
Missouri has never been known as a national recruiting juggernaut, but Gary Pinkel’s staff has earned a well-deserved reputation for developing talent as effectively as any group of coaches in the country. Now what might the Tigers accomplish after landing their first top-20 recruiting class since ESPN began compiling team rankings in 2006? The star of Mizzou’s class is obviously Terry Beckner Jr., the No. 2 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and top defensive tackle. But the Tigers also landed perhaps their next star quarterback in Drew Lock, addressed a glaring need at wide receiver after losing their top four pass-catchers (Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Darius White and running back Marcus Murphy) and added a couple of instant-impact junior college transfers in defensive end Marcell Frazier and running back Chase Abbington. Seven SEC teams finished higher in the class rankings than Missouri, but that’s nothing new. If Pinkel’s crew does its usual solid work with this crop of signees, the Tigers should be able to remain among the top SEC East contenders.

Sam Khan Jr.: Tennessee
Butch Jones is trying to bring back the winning tradition to Rocky Top and he and his staff have done a wonderful job of recruiting so far. Adding a top-five class for a second consecutive year is huge – and necessary – to build the depth of talent needed to compete with the best of the best in the SEC. When it comes to the Vols' highest-rated recruits, this class was heavy on the line of scrimmage, with five of their seven top prospects playing on the defensive or offensive lines. That's the way to build a winner.

Chris Low: Auburn
When the final recruiting rankings were tallied, Auburn wound up third in the SEC behind Alabama and Tennessee, but few classes anywhere in the country were more important than the one the Tigers put together this year. For one, they were coming off a disappointing finish to the 2014 season and needed some momentum, especially with Alabama reeling in its fourth straight No. 1 class. They desperately needed pass-rushers, too, and got them in Byron Cowart and Jeffery Holland. What's more, the Tigers were confident that new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp would make a big impact on the recruiting trail, and it's safe to say he delivered in his first year on the Plains with the way he helped land several players late.

Greg Ostendorf: Mississippi State
Mullen just signed his best class ever at Mississippi State, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Bulldogs lost 14 starters from last year’s team, and several signees from the 2015 class will be asked to contribute early. For Mullen to compete year in and year out in the SEC, he needed a class like this. Without it, there’s a chance Mississippi State would have fallen off next season and maybe more so the following year, when Dak Prescott is gone. Now, there’s a foundation to build upon. The future is bright.

Alex Scarborough: Auburn
No team met it needs more on signing day than Auburn, which closed strong and finished with the nation's No. 7 class. After watching his defense implode during the second half of the season and subsequently firing its coordinator, coach Gus Malzahn clearly focused on improving personnel. Including the nation's No. 1 player in DE Cowart, four of Auburn's top five signees will play defense. There's even a chance that the fifth, athlete Kerryon Johnson, spends time at safety. With so much talent coming in and Muschamp now leading the charge, there are no more excuses why defense should be Auburn's weakest link.

Derek Tyson: Florida
It has to be Jim McElwain's new team. A week-and-a-half before signing day, the Gators had only 10 verbal commitments but finished with 21. Florida landed two five-star prospects in offensive tackle Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson, two other ESPN 300 prospects D’Anfernee McGriff and Antonio Callaway and four-star running back Jordan Cronkite — all on signing day. The Gators needed offensive line help desperately and landed five linemen, led by Ivey and ESPN 300 center Tyler Jordan.

SEC 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
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.
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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