NCF On The Trail: Calvin Ridley

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.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They’re talented. So, so talented.

With 19 ESPN 300 signees -- three more than any other school and twice the average of the SEC -- there is no doubt that Alabama has the most stacked recruiting class in college football. Coach Nick Saban not only signed the country’s No. 1 passer (Blake Barnett), he signed its No. 1 receiver (Calvin Ridley), its No. 2 running back (Damien Harris) and its No. 3 cornerback (Kendall Sheffield). Not to mention the 14 other players he signed who rank among the top 10 at their respective positions.
It’s staggering really.

But there is a bigger question at play. Because it is Alabama and because it holds ESPN's recruiting title for four years running now, you have to look at things differently. Unlike Florida, which is rebuilding under a new head coach, or Auburn, which went after better personnel on defense, Alabama didn’t have to make wholesale changes or cover up obvious deficiencies on its roster. With 54 ESPN 300 recruits already on campus, the talent was there before signing day ever began.

So at what point do you move past the obvious recruiting numbers and ask whether Alabama is truly any better than it was at this time a year ago? Trading one blue-chip prospect for another doesn’t guarantee anything. It only begs the question: do any of these new recruits translate to a national championship in 2015?

In a sense, this was what Saban was getting at when he told reporters on Wednesday that, "Every coach is going to stand here at this podium ... and say they're pleased with the guys they recruited."

"No one has a bad recruiting class," he explained. "And we're certainly pleased with our guys, but predicting how a young person is going to do academically and athletically in college by giving them some rating when he's in high school is not very scientific.

"We try to use science to create things that are very subjective in terms of what someone's performance is going to be, and I don't think that's really possible. There's no scientific way to know what the achievement of any person is going to be in anything they try to do. It's impossible."

He’s right, there is no way of knowing. Just look at the quarterback position where Alabama has signed seven prospects since 2010, including Phillip Sims, who ranked No. 1 out of high school, David Cornwell and Cooper Bateman, who each ranked in the top five, and Jake Coker, who was viewed as an uber talent upon leaving Florida State. Who won the job last season? A three-star athlete. A fifth-year senior. A former running back by the name of Blake Sims.

Talent is great, but development trumps all.

It’s why the secondary took a step back last season and is not guaranteed to get better in 2015. Because though you could say that signing cornerbacks like Sheffield and four-star Minkah Fitzpatrick will help, you have to at least acknowledge the year before when five-star freshmen Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey had little impact. For that matter, neither did sophomores and former four-star recruits Maurice Smith and Anthony Averett.

That is not to say those players won’t become starters with time, only that you can’t get carried away with what happens on signing day. At least you can’t when it’s Alabama and you’ve watched it carry home the recruiting trophy four years in a row.

Saban signed the best players in the country on Wednesday. He signed the players who best fit his team’s needs. And he will probably send a few of them to the NFL in time.

But what has changed? The same things were true last year before Alabama lost to Ohio State in the playoff, and the same things were true the year before, when Alabama's championship drought began.

You have to respect the talent Saban has assembled, but when the four- and five-stars become too many to count, you move on to what it all means. And when you venture into the territory of predicting a No. 1 class will lead to the country's No. 1 team, you're not relying on science. Knowing that with certainty is impossible.

ESPN 300: Five things to know in the SEC 

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15

More than a third of the players in the final 2015 ESPN 300 rankings are committed to SEC schools. As for distribution of those 102 conference commitments, Alabama leads the way with 20, followed by Georgia with 10. Here is a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.

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The practices are in the books and the nation’s top prospects will showcase their skills under the bright lights of the Under Armour All-America Game (4 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2). With an outstanding collection of talent taking the field, it can be easy to feel a football sensory overload.

Here’s a viewer’s guide to the game:

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Nick Saban continues to dominate the recruiting landscape. The Crimson Tide are on pace for their fourth consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting class. The current No. 1-ranked recruiting class consists of 22 commitments, including an astounding 17 ranked in the ESPN 300. Playing Ohio State in the inaugural College Football Playoff will only strengthen Alabama's presence when it comes to the top recruits in the country.

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UA jersey tour: Calvin Ridley

November, 18, 2014
ESPN 300 wide receiver Calvin Ridley was presented with his Under Armour All-America Game jersey Tuesday afternoon in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance. The ceremony took place in front of friends, coaches, teammates and media members at the Monarch High School auditorium in Coconut Creek, Florida.

The No. 1-ranked wide receiver 23rd-ranked player overall in the ESPN 300 said he felt honored to be selected to one of the top All-American games in the country.

“I’m happy about being selected for the Under Armour All-America Game,” Ridley said. “I’ve always wanted to play in this game ever since I was a little kid."

Ridley has been committed to Alabama since April. The four-star pass-catcher has never wavered in his promise to the Crimson Tide and said he remains solid despite other schools continuing to pursue him.

“I’m all the way Alabama,” Ridley said. “Miami, Florida State and Georgia still contact me but I’m still with Alabama."

Ridley is one of three prospects from the state of Florida committed to Alabama. The others include his high school teammate Shawn Burgess-Becker and ESPN 300 safety Ronnie Harrison.

Six questions with Calvin Ridley

Who was the best player you ever saw play in the Under Armour game?

Ridley: I remember watching it when Stacy Coley played. He did real good in the game.

If you could go one-on-one against any other player in this class who would it be?

Ridley: It doesn’t really matter to me, I’ll go against anyone. I don’t really care.

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

Ridley: Oh, Shawn Burgess. He’s my teammate and friend. I’ve known him a long time and I’m really close to him.

What's your earliest football memory?

Ridley: Oh my first game in Pop Warner and I scored a touchdown. It was like a 60-yard run.

If you could take on a professional athlete in their sport, who would it be and why?

Ridley: I guess Patrick Peterson because he’s one of the best and he’d make me better.

What’s something about yourself that not many people know about?

Ridley: I like to play paintball. I’ve done it for a while and just really enjoy it. It’s my favorite hobby — and football.

UA jersey tour: Iman Marshall

October, 17, 2014
Cornerback Iman Marshall was the center of attention at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly on Friday morning, as he received his Under Armour All-America Game jersey. It's the second consecutive year a Jackrabbits standout will take part in the game, as Marshall follows Juju Smith, from the 2014 class.

Marshall will follow Smith's lead in another aspect as well, as the five-star cornerback and nation's No. 8 overall prospect will keep recruiting fans guessing as to his ultimate destination all the way to signing day.

While Marshall announced earlier this fall that he would take official visits to Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, those have yet to be scheduled.

"Everything is still the same," Marshall said of his recruiting plan. "I'm just enjoying the process and the season. I'm excited for my five officials."

Although, everything might not be the same for long, as Marshall added that those might not actually be the five schools he visits.

"I have a feeling I might switch one, but I'm still debating," Marshall said, declining to state what school might not actually receive a trip.

SATs have prevented Marshall from taking official visits to this point, and he said he hopes to eventually take some during the end of the season so there isn't a rush to take them all after the season ends. One thing that isn't likely to change between now and the end of the year is that the three California schools involved -- Stanford, UCLA and USC -- will all be in the race until the end.

Six questions with Iman Marshall

Who are you most looking forward to playing with at the Under Armour All-America Game?

Marshall: "First off I would love to play with Josh Rosen, Christian Kirk and Cordell Broadus. There are a lot of guys on the East Coast as well, but those are the three that come to my mind right now."

If you could start your team with any player from the 2015 recruiting class, who would it be?

Marshall: "I'd have Rosen at quarterback, Broadus on one side and Kirk on the other, with Calvin Ridley in there also. Me at cornerback, Derwin James at safety and Kevin Tolliver on the other side of me. John Houston and Jeffery Holland at linebacker."

What is your earliest football memory?

Marshall: "In my first game, I went 85 yards for a touchdown on my first carry."

What football player did you idolize growing up?

Marshall: "As a defensive back, of course, I wanted to be like Deion Sanders. Every DB wants to be like him."

If you could take on any professional at their sport, who would it be?

Marshall: "I'd take on LeBron or Kobe at basketball. You can't miss that."

Why do you wear your number (8)?

Marshall: "Nobody knows this but the reason I got eight was that in Pop Warner, my number was zero. They didn't have zero in high school, so the closest number that looks like zero is eight."

UA jersey tour: Blake Barnett

October, 16, 2014
The Corona (Calif.) Santiago High School gym was packed with well-wishers on Thursday morning, as quarterback Blake Barnett received his Under Armour All-America Game jersey in a ceremony attended by friends, family, classmates, teammates, the band's drumline, cheerleaders, office administrators, district officials, the assistant superintendent, school board member and several coaches.

It was an example of the respect and admiration Barnett receives at Santiago High School and in the Corona area. That was followed by an example of how Barnett became so well respected, as well as the No. 16 prospect in the country and an Alabama commitment.

When a video began playing, documenting Barnett's life, all eyes -- except two -- were focused on the screen. Barnett alone stayed facing away from the video.

"That the first time I really saw him a little embarrassed, when they turned on the video," said his father, Lance Barnett. "He's not a 'look at me' guy and that really helps his drive and motivation."

Barnett was an absolute unknown on the recruiting trail until late in his junior season, which his father believes helped him get to where he is today.

"He wasn't caught up in any of the hype of recruiting and it allowed him to stay focused," said the elder Barnett.

After initially committing to Notre Dame, Barnett evaluated all of his options before settling on Alabama. Now, the 6-foot-5, 200 pound dual-threat quarterback is set on the Crimson Tide and everything that comes with possibly becoming the face of one of college football's most recognizable programs.

"I think it's going to be a big transition," Barnett said. "If I'm fortunate enough to get to that point, it will be different, but I think I can adapt to it."

Humble in the spotlight, Barnett is adamant that he knows how to have fun and brings with him a great sense of humor. That was on display a few weeks ago when Barnett visited his future home and took a number of photos with Alabama fans.

He's headed there again this weekend with his father and Barnett said the trips to Tuscaloosa are enjoyable and enlightening.

"They're a lot of fun," Barnett said of the visits. "I get to see the commits that are down there, which is nice because I don't get to see them very often. And it's exciting to watch the game, obviously, and to spend time with the coaches. Another exciting thing is to see the fan base because they're so passionate about the game and it's nice to see a good support system behind the program."

Seven questions with Blake Barnett

Who is the one player in the Under Armour All-America Game you are most looking forward to playing with?

"Calvin Ridley, absolutely. Obviously we're going to the next level together so I want to get some work playing with him. I got some experience with him at The Opening but I can't wait to be on the field with him and play some actual football."

If you could start your team with any one prospect from the 2015 class, who would it be?

"It'd most likely be Calvin Ridley. I think he's going to be a tremendous player and I think he's going to be a great attribute to the team."

What is your earliest football memory?

"I can remember my first practice. It was really exciting; it was different. It was a big change for me. I'd played baseball and soccer before that, but football was always different. I was eight at the time and I had no idea what to do. My dad had no former player experience so it was kind of a transition. But it was fun and it's been a good ride."

Was there a football player you looked up to or idolized growing up?

"Not specifically. I always looked at the positive players in the NFL -- guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- players who have been dominant in football. I think those are good role models to have. I didn't necessarily try to model my game after them. I just think what they did on the field is great and they handled themselves well off the field as well."

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

"I'd take on Ronaldo in Fifa. I'd take him on in the video game."

Why do you wear your number (8)?

"I've always had it. Growing up I was either seven or eight. I picked eight and I stuck with it and I really like it. Hopefully I'll be able to play with it at the next level."

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

"I'm not the same person in the same interview every time with a monotone voice. I'm pretty funny. Everyone is kind of the same voice in interviews because you don't want to mess around too much, but in different environments I'm a fun person and not so monotone."

The Texas A&M-Alabama game on Saturday is sure to be one of the top games in the country this weekend. The teams have had much success on the field since the Aggies joined the SEC, and that success has led to tremendous success in recruiting. This year is no different as both teams rank in the top four of the RecruitingNation class rankings. Here’s a closer look at how the schools match up in recruiting and who some of their remaining targets are.

Instant Impact recruit

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SEC's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014

There are once again some big games around the SEC this weekend. The Florida at Alabama game should draw many top recruits, as will the LSU-Mississippi State game. There will be many recruits taking unofficial visits and even a few taking official visits. Here is a closer look at some top expected visitors.

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Recruiting news from the road trip 

August, 29, 2014
The 10-day road trip is coming to a close with 2,000 miles driven, 20 schools visited and a lot of news from the top players in the Sunshine State.

Miami is Alabama’s threat for No. 1 WR
There has been talk recently of Miami and Florida State’s chances of flipping ESPN 300 No. 21 and Alabama commitment Calvin Ridley. After visiting Ridley, it appears the Hurricanes are the lone true threat to the Crimson Tide. It now appears that Ridley’s recruitment will come down to family and staying close to home vs. the top recruiting power in college football.

Ridley’s teammate and good friend, No. 129 Shawn Burgess-Becker, could be less likely to flip according to a person with knowledge of the situation. While Burgess-Becker’s family very much likes the Alabama staff, expect both Ridley and Burgess-Becker to take in a Hurricanes game or two this season. The duo mentioned Florida and Auburn as Alabama home games they plan to attend this season.

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ESPN 300: 5 things to know in the SEC 

July, 29, 2014

The SEC has 77 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. The league continues to dominate on the recruiting front and there are no signs of the momentum slowing down. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.

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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The Opening presented by Nike Football took place July 7-10 at Nike World Headquarters, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects competing. With four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition, The Opening was the perfect chance for recruits in the Class of 2015 to make big jumps and shine on the national stage.

As expected, a number of prospects stood out among the best of the best. Here are the five recruits who helped their stock the most during The Opening.

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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: The word freak purposely doesn't get thrown around a lot in recruiting circles, because it can quickly become cliché. But after dominating during the SPARQ testing Tuesday, there should be no problem giving that label to five-star defensive end Josh Sweat. Plus, an Alabama commitment made the play of the day with a one-handed catch.

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BRADENTON, Fla. — There were as many as 10 games going on at the same time at the IMG 7v7 National Championship over the weekend, and at times it was difficult to determine just who the top performers were. After all, there were more than 30 prospects in the ESPN 300 who participated. Here's a closer look at several seniors who stood out during the two-day event.

ATH Deon Cain
Committed to Clemson
ESPN 300 rank: 25
Cain helped lead his team, Unsigned Preps from Tampa, to the championship game with several acrobatic catches. The trio of Cain, Ray Ray McCloud III and junior-to-be wide receiver Nate Craig proved to be too much for teams to handle. Cain is solidly committed to Clemson and said he is not considering any other schools at this time.
S Derwin James
Committed to Florida State
ESPN 300 rank: 26
James is known for his physical play, but he showed he is more than just a big hitter. James broke up several passes and just always seemed to be around the ball. Like Cain, he is solid with his commitment, but in this case to the Seminoles.
CB Iman Marshall
ESPN 300 rank: 20
Marshall played wide receiver and defensive back for his team, B2G, and excelled at both. The four-star prospect teamed with another ESPN 300 receiver, Trent Irwin, to form a dangerous pass-catching combo. Marshall is still narrowing his choices but knows he will take visits in the fall to Florida State and Notre Dame.