NCF On The Trail: SEC

UA jersey tour: TE Hale Hentges

September, 19, 2014
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- ESPN 300 tight end and Alabama commitment Hale Hentges said receiving his Under Armour All-America jersey on Thursday wasn’t an individual honor. He believed it was an honor for everybody in the Helias High School community who pushed him to get to this point.

"It feels amazing to spend this moment with my friends, family and everybody here at this school because they’ve done so much for me,” Hentges, the nation’s second-ranked tight end and No. 2 player in Missouri, said. “It's great to give something back to them. It's a blessing.

“Helias is very different than other high schools. It is so much more tight-knit. It is really a community. Our teachers and coaches expect so much more from us, and they expect greatness from us every day. They've really challenged us, and I wouldn’t have gotten to this point without everybody at this school urging me on every day.”

Hentges is one of two Missouri players selected to play in the Under Armour Game, and while the Show Me State doesn’t have the same reputation for top-end talent like California, Florida or Texas, he and good friend Alex Ofodile of Columbia Rock Bridge plan on showing everybody there is top talent in the middle of the country.

 “Missouri always gets overlooked, even with some of the great players in Kansas City and St. Louis, it's not known as a football state,” Hentges said. “For us to get down there to the Under Armour Game and showcase our talent and hopefully open some eyes would be great. Maybe something like this helps get some recruits some exposure and coaches will say 'Hey, there are good kids in Missouri, let's go look there.'”

Coaches from all over the country did discover Hengtes, though. He was one of the nation’s most heavily-courted prospects -- receiving more than 30 scholarships from schools coast-to-coast -- before he committed to Alabama in late May. While Hentges admitted there was a lot of pressure to stay close to home and play for Missouri, the school down the road, he knew when he got the offer from the Crimson Tide, it was going to be tough to turn down.

“I was talking to Coach [Nick] Saban on the phone, and I couldn't believe it,” Hentges said. “Here I was talking to Coach Saban. He's the closest thing to God and Alabama, and here he is talking to me on the phone. He offered me a scholarship. I was in shock the rest of the day."

Once he did visit Tuscaloosa, Hentges knew it was the right place for him, and he wanted to become a part of what is being called one of the best recruiting classes in the last decade.

“Coach Saban expects a lot out of you,” Hentges said. “He's very business-like. I think everybody can see that on the field, but the amount of love and care that he gives to his players, people do not see that. I see that. Off the field, he'll tell you 'Whatever is wrong, come and talk to me about it.' Things like that are not shown by the media. He really is a father to his players. He holds them accountable, which I think is the greatest love. It really clicks with what I'm used to here at Helias.”

When did you know you were going to be a good football player?
“I thought I always wanted to play basketball. When I got to high school, I opened up some eyes going into the summer before my freshman year. I was able to make it on summer. We had a defensive line coach, Lorenzo Williams, [who] played at Mizzou and Brandon Coleman, who was a backup quarterback at MU. They said 'Hey, this kid is really good.' They knew what it took because they played in college. They said 'We have to give this kid exposure.' We just started sending my tape out, and schools like it. That made me realize maybe this football thing is for me.”

 What type of tight end are you?
“I can stretch the field really well, and with my basketball background, I feel like I can high point the ball really well. Rebdounds. Boxout. I still want to be as tenacious as possible in the run game. I want to be a threat in the passing game, but then again be a glorified tackle.

Is there a player you really pattern your game after?
“I really like Jason Witten. I feel like he just does everything right. He gets it done in the running game. He gets it done in the passing game. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he gets the job done. I feel like I'm really comparable to him.”

Was the recruiting process overwhelming?
“It did get a little overwhelming. The spring of my junior year before I made the decision, I was getting 10 or 12 calls every day. That was so daunting. It was like 'Oh, man, I'm finally home, but I have three hours of phone calls to do now.' That was extremely daunting. Fortunately, we were able to hit the road and finally figure out what I wanted to do. Once that part was over with, it calmed down a whole lot.”
A few years back, Mike Stoops told me being a college football recruiter was more complicated than being a politician trying to solve the Middle East crisis.

Stoops, the former Arizona head coach who is now the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, wasn’t trying to make light of the situation in the Middle East. He was merely trying to express how exciting, frustrating, rewarding and agonizing the life of a recruiter is.

Being a recruiter means you’re often doing 25 things at the same time, and you’re doing them while dealing with high school juniors and seniors who change their minds more often than Taylor Swift changes genres.

Stoops recalled an hour period at Arizona when he landed a star quarterback; had to try to convince a key defensive tackle commitment not to visit a rival school while also thinking about what he was going to do when that defensive tackle ended up decommitting; and then also visited with a sophomore running back who showed up unexpectedly because he was the next big thing.

Oh yeah, it was also a game week.

Thursday’s news that ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge backed away from his commitment to Texas A&M is another perfect example of the ups and downs college coaches face on the recruiting trail.

When Lodge committed to A&M June 19, it was a big, big deal. His decision cemented A&M’s claim as one of the top-five recruiting classes in the country and proved to Texas high school football observers that it was Kevin Sumlin, not Charlie Strong or Art Briles, who still ruled the roost in the Lone Star State.

But as we often see with recruiting -- too many times, if you ask coaches -- Lodge got cold feet for some reason.

He mentioned wanting to see other schools and that he committed too early. He also talked about concern that A&M has 17 receivers on its roster, that 16 players have caught passes this season and that he would not be a marquee receiver in College Station.

“As far as the receivers at A&M [go], they’re all good, and I know all will do good,” Lodge said. “Competition will be everywhere, and I am ready for it, but I need to make sure I can fit and be sure that I am happy as a player.”

Reading that, the Aggies coaches probably threw their hands up in frustration. Had Lodge not watched A&M under Sumlin? Surely, Lodge knew when he committed that the Aggies like to spread the ball around and have recruited well at the position the last three classes, with young stars like Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones already emerging.

None of that matter when Lodge committed to A&M in June.

“You don't want to be the only one who's at your level,” Lodge said back then. “You want to play with guys who will take you to that next level."

But competition matters now. Lodge honestly has every right to change his mind because he has not signed anything yet. He is making one of the biggest decisions he will make in his life. However, his reversal will be noticed by other recruits across the country and could continue to pile on to what coaches are calling the “decommitment epidemic.”

“As coaches, we can put a lot of heat on young guys,” Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Tony Alford said. “We can twist their minds a little bit with how we say things. But I'm also of the opinion, if you want me to sign on the line for you and hold true to that to our commitment to you, then there has to be some reciprocation there.

“I love being a coach, and there are so many wonderful things about recruiting young men that are going to be the foundation of your program’s future. But also at the same time, when you have decommitments and kids changing their minds more than they change a pair of shoes, it makes the job an absolute grind.”

Stoops would definitely agree.

Florida Gators have talent to compete 

September, 18, 2014
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When Alabama and Florida square off on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS), the two teams will display some of the top talent in the country. In fact, according to the expected two-deep depth charts, Alabama and Florida will showcase 56 players that were ranked in the ESPN 300 (changed from ESPN 150 to ESPN 300 in 2013) and the ESPN JC 300 coming out of high school or junior college.

ESPN 300 WR Lodge opens up recruiting 

September, 18, 2014
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Texas A&M took a rare blow in recruiting Thursday when ESPN 300 wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge announced he has decommitted from the Aggies.

Lodge, No. 70 in the ESPN 300 and the nation’s No. 9 receiver, verbally committed to the Aggies on June 19.


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Georgia has offered boxing great Evander Holyfield’s son a scholarship, and the Dawgs seem ready to deliver the knockout. Plus, Kansas State hosts Auburn in one of the biggest games ever in Manhattan, but there won’t be a lot of recruits in the stands.


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5-star DE Jefferson out for season

September, 17, 2014
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Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, the No. 7 player in the ESPN 300, will miss the remainder of his senior year after suffering a shoulder injury in a game on Friday night. Jefferson posted the news on his Facebook page and Twitter account and later confirmed the news with ESPN.com.

"I must say, I've had a pretty good career as a Wildcat over the past three years. Unfortunately things happen to the best of us, lol,” his Facebook post read. "But all jokes aside, for those of you who weren't at the game last Friday, I was injured on the fourth play which resulted in my senior season coming to an end a little bit early."



Jefferson continued on Facebook: "I just want to say thank you to the community and wildcat nation for being there for me over my high school tenure, I love y'all. I guess I can get an early start on my coaching career haha, btw all district games, lets encourage our boys to bring it home -- CJ7 wildcat for life.”

The talented athlete has visited Florida for the first three weeks of the year, including this past Saturday after he had already suffered the injury. Jefferson will take an unofficial visit to Florida State this weekend when the Seminoles take on the Hurricanes.

Jefferson is planning to visit UCLA and Alabama but is unsure of the dates for those visits. He is the No. 4 defensive end in the country behind Josh Sweat, Byron Cowart and Terry Beckner Jr.
Numbers tell us it’s USC that rules the roost over the years with the top-ranked prospects in California. Plus, UCLA has officially signed Josh Rosen, the Bruins’ most important recruit in years, to a financial aid agreement.

1. Since ESPN started ranking players in 2006, only four different schools have signed the top player in California. Those four schools are USC, Colorado, Washington and Notre Dame. You could say five if you count Eddie Vanderdoes as a Bruin signee in the 2013 class, but he did ink with Notre Dame on signing day and later transferred to UCLA. During that timeframe, though, USC has signed the top California player in the 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2014 classes. The Trojans have a good shot at doing it again in 2015 as many insiders believe five-star cornerback Iman Marshall is USC’s to lose.

[+] EnlargeDeon Cain
Tom Hauck for Student SportsClemson commit Deon Cain has 184 yards passing yards and 197 yards rushing in two games.
2. There was never, ever any doubt about how solid No. 1 ranked pocket-passing quarterback Josh Rosen was to UCLA. But Rosen, the No. 19 player in the country, took his commitment to the next level on Monday when he signed a financial aid agreement with the Bruins. Rosen remains the top-ranked prospect to commit to a Pac 12 program, and in my opinion, he is also the most important recruit in the conference with the Bruins’ quarterback race next season expected to be wide open since most UCLA observers believe Brett Hundley will depart for the NFL after his junior season.

3. How good has Clemson commit Deon Cain been in Tampa Bay (Florida) Tech’s first two games of the season? Cain, the nation’s No. 25 player, has been so good that Tech coach Jayson Roberts said he’s going to have to find somebody else to help do something on offense because he’s afraid he’s going to “break Deon’s back” from carrying the load. “Deon has been about 90 percent of our offense,” Roberts said. “The good thing is that he’s doing exactly what we want him to do, but the bad thing is that somebody else on the team is going to have to step up to help him out. But he’s been doing a tremendous job for us.” So far, Cain has 184 yards passing and 197 yards rushing in two games. He’s also caught a few passes and is returning punts and kickoffs. “He’s doing everything but driving the bus for us,” Roberts said.

Social Studies
There’s little doubt as to which school ESPN 300 quarterback Sheriron Jones is committed to. Check out the picture he posted Tuesday on his birthday.



Schools tweet posts like this one sent out by Baylor Tuesday and fans think they’re meant for them. Wrong. Tweets like these are meant to impress recruits and what’s scary is that the Bears have another good receiver in the 2015 class heading to Waco. Don’t forget about ESPN 300 receiver longtime Baylor commit Devontre Stricklin. He’s got the talent to be a huge impact player for the Bears.



The Under Armour All-America jersey tour continued on Tuesday with Auburn offensive line commitment Bailey Sharp receiving his jersey on Tuesday. To read more about the tour check out RecruitingNation’s coverage.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 16, 2014
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As always, there was a ton of recruiting news from around the SEC this past weekend. Ole Miss picked up a commitment, while the Rebels, Gators and Gamecocks all had big visitors for their games Saturday. Here’s a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.


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Early Offer: Sunderland a key get for OU 

September, 14, 2014
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Oklahoma landed two high-profile recruits this weekend, but scoring a pledge from ESPN 300 safety Will Sunderland Jr. is about as big as it gets. Plus, Boston College will be able to use its victory over then top-10 USC as a big selling point on the recruiting trail.


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UA jersey tour: Terry Beckner Jr.

September, 13, 2014
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He’s ranked as the No. 4 player in the country, the No. 1 player in Illinois and the top overall prospect in the Midwest. But there is one honor that five-star defensive end Terry Beckner Jr. said he is most proud of -- being an Under Armour All-American.

Beckner was presented with his Under Armour All-America jersey Saturday in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance at halftime of his football game at East St. Louis (Illinois) High School. Beckner, who has more than 40 scholarships from schools coast-to-coast, said this was a special moment he would never forget.



“This is a big deal,” Beckner said.

Darren Sunkett is one of the longest tenured coaches in the St. Louis area and has coached hundreds of players that have gone on to play college football, but he said Beckner is one of his best ever.

"He has great athleticism for his size,” Sunkett said. “At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, he can actually move like he's 6-foot-1 and 185. He's a very athletic kid. We move him around inside and outside depending on the team and scheme we are facing."

Beckner is the first to admit, he is a man of few words, both on and off the field, but Sunkett said to not be fooled by his star defensive lineman’s quiet demeanor.

"Terry is real quiet, not a rah-rah guy, not very vocal and is short on words,” Sunkett said. “But his actions on field speak for themselves. He leads by example. He will meet every challenge he is faced with. He steps up to meet challenges. Terry never misses a weight room session, even during basketball. He is in the weight room after and leading by his efforts as a captain."

As far as recruiting goes, Beckner said he is adamant on waiting until his senior season is over before focusing too much on favorites. At one point he said Missouri was the team to beat for him, but he’s backed off that some and says he’s now “wide open.”

“My focus is on my season now,” he said. “I won’t worry about recruiting until it’s over. I’m an East St. Louis Flyer now and that is what’s important.”

Beckner said his mind is so focused on his senior season that he couldn’t even name which five schools would get an official visit at this point. When asked if Missouri would get one for sure, he said the Tigers “maybe” would. Sunkett said Beckner would likely wait until his season is over before he takes any official visits and with four of his high school games on Saturdays, Beckner is going to have a very limited window for unofficial visits to college games.

"I think Terry wants to play in the SEC, though,” Sunkett said. “He is taking it slow and is more in a wait and see situation. FSU in the ACC is a school he is interested in, too."

LSU, Ohio State and Oregon have been other schools Beckner has talked highly about in the past.

UA jersey tour: DE Arden Key

September, 12, 2014
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HAPEVILLE, Ga. -- ESPN 300 defensive end Arden Key was presented with his Under Armour All-America Game jersey Friday afternoon in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance. The ceremony took place in the cafeteria of Hapeville Charter in front of the entire senior class, family members, the football staff, faculty members and teammates.

Hapeville Charter head coach Winston Gordon sees a bright future for his star player.

"Since Arden transferred here, he has done everything we have asked him to do," Gordon said. "He is filling out. He's gained 20 pounds since he transferred here. He has the frame to hold around 260 pounds. He has the potential to be like some of the top ends that have played in the Under Armour Game. He's an edge rusher with a motor."

After committing originally to South Carolina in June of 2013 then backing off that pledge, Key committed for good to the Gamecocks on June 3, citing his relationship with defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward with the overall comfort level he felt around him being the difference. Key considered offers from Clemson, Auburn, Michigan, Miami, Alabama and Kentucky, among others, throughout the process.

 

Eight questions with Arden Key

Who is one player you are looking forward to competing against?

Key:
Not an offensive lineman. It's Josh Sweat because he's the No. 1 ranked defensive end, and I want to show the world I am better than him.

If you were to start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be and why?

Key:
It would probably be Taj Griffin. He's elusive, he can make anything happen at any point in a game, and he fits the college game very well.

Who is the best player to ever play in the Under Armour game that you know of?

Key:
That's hard to say because there is a lot of great players to come out of the game. There is Clowney, Julio Jones ... it's really hard to say who is the best player yet.

What is your earliest football memory? What about college football?

Key:
My very first practice when I first started playing football. I was six and I got trucked. I started crying, but ever since then I have been working at it. That moment hasn't come around very often since then [laughing]. My first memory of college football was a hit by an Auburn player that knocked a Georgia receiver unconscious. I don't even remember who the players were, but it was the hit I remember.

Which football player did you idolize or want to be like when you were a kid?

Key:
Ray Lewis. He brings so much excitement to the game. When you listen to him, you are going to hear something football-wise that is going to hit you.

If you could take on any pro player in their sport, who would it be?

Key:
Aldon Smith because he gets after the quarterback. You can tell he has been working technique wise to get to the quarterback. I would like to work with him more than take any one player on.

What number do you wear and why?

Key:
Right now I wear 11. The reason I wear it is it looks good [laughing]. I always wanted to wear that number since I was a little kid. There is not any specific reason why. It doesn't matter what number I wear in college though.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Key:
I'm not a selfish guy. All these accolades and stuff that I have received, I try to use it to bring my teammates up and help them get an offer. I'm not selfish.

SEC's top recruiting visits 

September, 12, 2014
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There are much better games on tap this weekend in the SEC than last. Without question the top game this weekend happens on Saturday when the Georgia Bulldogs head to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks. There will be many recruits taking unofficial visits and even a few taking a few official visits. Here is a closer look at some top expected visitors.

Georgia at South Carolina

With 27 verbal commits South Carolina is pretty much full for its 2015 class except for maybe a few remaining spots. One big unofficial visitor this weekend will be Roquan Smith, the No. 2-ranked outside linebacker in the ESPN 300. Georgia is one of his top teams, so he could just be going to see the Bulldogs, but any chance a school gets to have a top recruit on campus, there is always a possibility he could be impressed by what he sees. With their 2015 class almost full, South Carolina will turn to their 2016 class. Three junior prospects, all ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN Junior 300, are expected to be in attendance. The trio consists of quarterback Brandon McIlwain, tight end Isaac Nauta and athlete Mecole Hardman.


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Early Offer: OU's big chance to impress 

September, 11, 2014
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Oklahoma is the place to be this weekend as the Sooners are bringing in a number of elite recruits for what is shaping up to be the biggest recruiting weekend by any program so far, and despite losing last week to Virginia Tech it looks like Ohio State is still in good shape with prospects.


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UA jersey tour: DE Andrew Butcher

September, 11, 2014
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ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- ESPN 300 defensive end Andrew Butcher was presented with his Under Armour All-America Game jersey on Thursday in a ceremony sponsored by America Family. The ceremony took place on the field at Alpharetta High School with a large crowd of family members, teammates, students, faculty members and the entire Alpharetta coaching staff looking on.

Alpharetta High head coach Jacob Nichols said the latest heavily recruited prospect out of the school is a very mature and focused athlete and student.

“He’s a great kid, a very hard working kid and his parents have done a very good job instilling all those values in him,” Nichols said. “He’s never the kind of kid you have to worry about. He’s all about business, very mature for his age and is focused on what he wants to do in the future.”

On the field, the No. 67 prospect in the ESPN 300 plays the game with a relentless attitude and motor.

“Well obviously, he’s got good size and great strength. He’s a very hard worker, but beyond that he plays like an animal," Nichols said. "He’s a very hard worker, he gets after it on every play and you never have to worry about loafing. He’s one of those kids that plays at full speed, and he only knows one speed. That is what you get out of him every time. He certainly makes my job easier, and our defensive coaches job easier because of the type of effort he plays with every down.”

Butcher committed to Tennessee in June 2013 and has remained 100 percent solid with his pledge ever since. He entertained offers from Stanford and Notre Dame seriously before deciding on the Volunteers.

Eight questions with Andrew Butcher

Who is one player you are looking forward to competing against?

Butcher: I’m probably looking forward most to going against Jack Jones so I can shut him up with all his trash talking [laughing]. We are going to be going at it in practice every day there.

If you were to start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be?

Butcher: Probably Kahlil McKenzie because it’s another defensive tackle on the defensive line that could take up a double team and allow me to wreak havoc on the outside. That would be nice.

Who is the best player to ever play in the Under Armour game that you know of?

Butcher: I would probably go [Jadeveon] Clowney because he is just a freak of nature.

What is your earliest football memory? What about college football?

Butcher: Winning the championship in my first year [youth league] at six years old. It’s my only championship, and I really want to change that. College football was Clemson games. I always went to Clemson games because my dad played at Clemson, and I grew up a Clemson fan from when I was really young.

Which football player did you idolize or be like when you were a kid?

Butcher: Probably Da'Quan Bowers. I was just starting to play defensive end when he was coming up, and I just wanted to play like him and be dominant in high school and get drafted in the NFL.

If you could take on any pro player in their sport, who would it be?

Butcher: I don’t really know offensive linemen in the NFL because they don’t get much hype. I will say I would like to sack Drew Brees and Tom Brady. That would be nice.

What number do you wear and why?

Butcher: I wear 58. I got assigned it coming in my freshman year. I didn’t have a choice, I was assigned it, but I have made it my own and if it’s available on the next level I will try to wear it.

What is the one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Butcher: I’m a member of the Georgia Big Foot society. I don’t think many people would know that. It’s just a society my dad signed me up for. There are meetings, but I have never been to one [laughing].
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has put together a top 15 recruiting class that should only get better as we head toward signing day, and Rutgers has a real chance to slow down Penn State’s recruiting momentum in New Jersey this weekend.


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