NCF On The Trail: Da'Shawn Hand

Recruiting hits and misses: SEC West

February, 6, 2014
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Now that the fax machines are quiet, the 2014 signing classes have been announced and before we start looking ahead to 2015, let's take a moment to examine how each of the SEC schools did in filling immediate needs via recruiting.

We're checking out what all 14 teams did to fill holes, and we're looking at which holes still remain. We'll start with the SEC West (click here for the SEC East):

ALABAMA

Needs filled: It was obvious Alabama needed help at cornerback, and the Crimson Tide went out and got two of the best in the country in five-star prospects Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey. Pass rushers were also a priority, which makes five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand and four-star outside linebackers Rashaan Evans and Christian Miller key pickups. Cameron Robinson, yet another five-star prospect, could end up starting at left tackle next season on the offensive line.

Holes remaining: The Crimson Tide could have used another marquee receiver and lost out on No. 1 wideout Malachi Dupre to LSU. With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri both heading early to the NFL, the Tide also might have come up short at safety.

ARKANSAS

Needs filled: The Hogs’ passing game was in need of a jump-start, and getting an ESPN 300 player out of Miami the caliber of JoJo Robinson adds another playmaker to the equation. Arkansas’ offensive line class is equally impressive with four-star prospects Brian Wallace and Frank Ragnow and three-star prospect Jovan Pruitt joining Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper from last year’s class.

Holes remaining: The highest-ranked player in the Hogs’ class was defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, Ark., which was big considering they need help everywhere on defense. But they missed out on a pair of highly ranked defensive ends in Solomon Thomas and Demetrius Jackson.

AUBURN

Needs filled: Gus Malzahn called ESPN 300 prospect Tre' Williams the key to the class, and he should provide an immediate boost at linebacker. With Chris Davis departing, the Tigers also needed to replenish at cornerback, which is where four-star prospects Kalvaraz Bessent and Stephen Roberts come in. Both were ranked in the top 10 nationally at their position. With Greg Robinson leaving early for the NFL draft, it was good to add muscle on the offensive line with ESPN 300 prospect Braden Smith, who could play guard or tackle.

Holes remaining: The sting of losing Evans, who’s from Auburn, to Alabama could be felt for a while. He's the kind of explosive athlete who would fit on any defense, and the Tigers need more of those guys, particularly at linebacker.

LSU

Needs filled: The loss of running back Jeremy Hill early to the NFL draft was lessened by landing Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 overall prospect in this class. It only got better for the Tigers’ offense on signing day when the country’s No. 1 receiver, Dupre, said he would play his college football on the Bayou. Safety was a real sore spot on defense last season, so getting ESPN 300 prospect Jamal Adams was a major pickup. Adams is rated by ESPN RecruitingNation as the No. 2 safety in the 2014 class.

Holes remaining: Robinson would have been a nice centerpiece on that LSU offensive line, but Alabama came into West Monroe, La., and swiped the five-star prospect. The Tigers also lost five-star athlete Speedy Noil of New Orleans to Texas A&M.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Needs filled: Junior college signee Jocquell Johnson is already on campus and will battle for a starting job next season on an offensive line that’s losing two starters, including All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson. The Bulldogs also added a pair of playmakers at receiver in ESPN 300 prospects Jamoral Graham and Jesse Jackson. Flipping 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive lineman Cory Thomas from Tennessee on signing day added some more punch to an already deep and talented defensive line in Starkville.

Holes remaining: More secondary help would have been nice, which is why losing cornerback Tee Shepard to Ole Miss on signing day was a downer. A couple of the offensive linemen the Bulldogs wanted, Jordan Sims and Sean Rawlings, also opted for Ole Miss.

OLE MISS

Needs filled: The Rebels wanted to continue to stockpile talent on the offensive line after reeling in Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson a year ago and did that with four-star prospects Rod Taylor, Tyler Putman and Sims. Upgrading the defense was also a priority, which is why beating Alabama for ESPN 300 safety C.J. Hampton was so important along with getting ESPN 300 defensive end Garrald McDowell out of Louisiana. Flipping junior college cornerback Shepard from Mississippi State was a nice signing day coup.

Holes remaining: You can never have enough defensive linemen in the SEC, so losing defensive tackle Michael Sawyers to Tennessee was a blow. The same goes for ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux, who stuck with his commitment and signed with LSU.

TEXAS A&M

Needs filled: With Johnny Manziel taking his show to the NFL, Texas A&M has to find a quarterback. Early enrollee Kyle Allen is an ESPN 300 prospect and ranked as the No. 1 pocket passer in this class. Noil, another early enrollee, should help fill a void with big-play receiver Mike Evans headed to the NFL, and the Aggies also loaded up on offensive linemen, including a pair of junior college signees. Any help on defense was a priority, which makes five-star defensive end Myles Garrett one of the keys to the class.

Holes remaining: The Aggies are still thin at safety after swinging and missing on several of their top targets in this class, including Adams, Steven Parker II and Mattrell McGraw. They also had ESPN 300 safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner committed but lost him to Boise State when Marcel Yates took the defensive coordinator job there.

Signing day wrap: SEC

February, 5, 2014
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The Southeastern Conference had a strong finish the 2014 recruiting class. Alabama, which received a commitment from four-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) on Wednesday, finished with the top overall class by a landslide, and seven of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country are in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the SEC on national signing day.

Top class

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
AP Photo/Butch DillESPN 300 OLB Rashaan Evans, who chose Bama over Auburn, made a great class even better.
There is no question Alabama had the top overall class. The Crimson Tide finished with 27 signees, including 19 ranked in the ESPN 300 and five five-star prospects. In addition to the incredible class Alabama put together leading up to signing day, the Crimson Tide were also able to land Evans, the No. 52 player in the country. Evans chose Alabama over arch-rival and hometown Auburn Tigers.

The Alabama class was led by the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country, Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), the No. 2-ranked defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) and the No. 2-ranked cornerback in the country Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), who is already enrolled.

The SEC West alone had three schools, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M, finish in the top five of the final recruiting team rankings. In all, 13 of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the team recruiting rankings.

South Carolina, LSU and Georgia finish strong

South Carolina had arguably the best finish of any class in the SEC. The Gamecocks were able to flip ESPN 300 defensive end Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and defensive tackle Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. They were also able to land ESPN 300 defensive backs Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King) giving the Gamecocks a very athletic secondary.

If South Carolina was the best, LSU wasn’t far behind. The Tigers were able to land the No. 1 wide receiver in the country Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnat Catholic). Dupre chose LSU over UCLA, Ole Miss, Alabama and FSU. Valentine had decommitted from three different schools – Louisville, Florida and Miami -- over the course of his recruitment before finally settling on LSU. The Tigers were also able to hang on to defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine), who had been wavering on his commitment leading up to signing day.

Georgia, meanwhile, added five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), who chose the Bulldogs over LSU, FSU and Florida. They also added four-star wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage). The ESPN 300 wide receiver wasn’t even considering Georgia until earlier this week, but a late offer from the Bulldogs was enough for McKenzie to pull the trigger and sign with Georgia.

Several schools lose commits

Signing day was full of surprises, including several prospects who backed off of their commitments and signed with a different school. Three-star defensive tackle Cory Thomas (McCalla, Ala./McAdory), a long-time Tennessee commit, spurned the Volunteers and signed with Mississippi State. But not all was good news for Mississippi State. Ole Miss was able to steal junior college defensive back Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Holmes CC), the No. 22-ranked player in the ESPN JC 50. The Vols took another hit when three-star offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge) unexpectedly signed with Oklahoma. The Volunteers, however, were able to land four-star defensive tackle Michael Sawyers (Nashville/The Ensworth School), and had the No. 5 recruiting class in the country -- one that included 11 players ranked in the ESPN 300.

Quarterback Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) backed off his pledge to FSU and signed with Florida. Offensive tackle Andrew Mike (Tucson, Ariz./Sabino) was only a part of Vanderbilt’s class for one short day, but the three-star tackle flipped on Tuesday night and signed with Florida on Wednesday. Four-star Alabama safety commit Chris Williams (Kingsland, Ga./Camden Co.) flipped and signed with UCF because of personal family reasons. Four-star wide receiver DeSean Blair (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) flipped his commitment from Louisville and signed with Missouri.

Vanderbilt able to rebound

The Vanderbilt class may not be filled with four- and five-star prospects, but the job new head coach Derek Mason did to rebuild the Commodores’ class is nothing short of amazing. After James Franklin left to take the head coaching job at Penn State and a string of decommitments followed, Vanderbilt was down to eight verbal commitments. After an impressive few weeks of recruiting the Commodores finished with 22 signees, including 17 prospects ranked three stars or higher.

The class is led by ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) and four-star running back Dallas Rivers (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson). After losing ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Carta-Samuels to Washington, Vanderbilt was able to flip Pitt quarterback commit Wade Freebeck (Fort Lauderdale, Fla/St. Thomas Aquinas) and former ECU commit Shawn Stankavage (Raleigh, N.C./Cardinal Gibbons).
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It was another successful national signing day for the SEC. After all 14 schools officially announced their 2014 signing classes, the SEC finished the day with 10 schools in the top 25 and 13 schools in the top 40 of the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings.

Seven schools -- Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Georgia -- ranked in the top 10, while Alabama took home the nation's No. 1 class. The Crimson Tide signed 27 players, including 19 ESPN 300 recruits and five five-star prospects: OT Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), DE Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge), CB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), RB Bo Scarbrough (Northport, Ala./Tuscaloosa County) and CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover).

LSU ranked second, bringing in 22 signees, including 15 ESPN 300 members and one five-star prospect: No. 1 running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine). The Tigers could add No. 23 and their 16th ESPN 300 member Thursday once defensive end Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) signs his letter of intent. The four-star prospect was unable to sign his LOI after weather canceled his signing ceremony Wednesday.

As a whole, the SEC brought in 120 ESPN 300 prospects (the most of any conference) and 10 of the 15 five-star prospects in the ESPN 300.

You can check out all 14 SEC schools' 2014 recruiting classes in our ESPN RecruitingNation database:

SEC recruiting scorecard

February, 4, 2014
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And just like that, national signing day is a day away.

The future is almost here, folks, so here's one last recruiting scorecard for the 2014 recruiting season.

As of Tuesday, seven SEC teams rank in the top 10 of ESPN's recruiting class rankings. Alabama and Texas A&M lead the charge for the league, ranking first and second, respectively. Alabama has 27 verbal commitments, with 18 in the ESPN 300. Four are five-star prospects. Texas A&M has 23 commitments, including 11 ESPN 300 members and two five-star prospects.

How's the rest of the SEC doing before signing day? Let's take a look:

ALABAMA

2014 verbal commitments: 27

Spotlight: Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand of Woodbridge, Va., is a huge addition for the Crimson Tide. He's the nation's No. 2-ranked defensive end and could provide an immediate spark to a front seven that wants to generate more pressure on opposing backfields.

ESPN 300 members: 18 (Hand; OT Cameron Robinson of West Monroe, La.; CB Tony Brown of Beaumont, Texas; RB Bo Scarbrough of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; CB Marlon Humphrey of Hoover, Ala.; S Laurence Jones of Monroe, La.; OLB Christian Miller of Columbia, S.C.; WR Cameron Sims of Monroe, La., QB David Cornwell of Norman, Okla.; Ross Pierschbacher of Cedar Falls, Iowa; ATH Ronnie Clark of Calera, Ala.; ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton of Montgomery, Ala.; DT Joshua Frazier of Springdale, Ark.; C Josh Casher of Mobile, Ala., C J.C. Hassenauer of Woodbury, Minn.; WR Derek Kief of Cincinnati; DT O.J. Smith of Bossier City, La.)

Key targets: After gaining Humphrey's recent commitment, No. 1-ranked wide receiver Malachi Dupre of River Ridge, La., remains the Tide's top target.

ARKANSAS

2014 verbal commitments: 23

Spotlight: Defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, Ark., is the top player in the state and ranked as the nation's No. 6 defensive tackle. At 6-foot-2 and 334 pounds, Jackson can clog the middle for the run, but has the quickness off the line to be a threat against the pass as well.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Jackson; OT Brian Wallace of St. Louis)

Key targets: Offensive lineman Rashawn Shaw of Fort Pierce, Fla., was very much on Arkansas' radar, as the Hogs look to add much-needed depth up front, but he recently committed to Wake Forest. Florida State receiver commit JoJo Robison recently visited and could be one to watch with Arkansas, as could ESPN 300 linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed of Fort Pierce, Fla.

AUBURN

2014 verbal commitments: 21

Spotlight: Tre Mason might be gone, but Gus Malzahn hopes he has a solid replacement in running back Racean Thomas of Oxford, Ala. The nation's No. 5 running back runs hard and has the explosiveness to make some real noise in Auburn's offense. He's also elusive and strong enough to stretch plays.

ESPN 300 members: 10 (Thomas; QB Sean White of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; CB Stephen Roberts of Opelika, Ala.; CB Kalvaraz Bessent of Kingsland, Ga., ILB Tre' Williams of Mobile, Ala.; ATH Nicholas Ruffin of Atlanta; DE Justin Thornton of Prichard, Ala.; DT Dontavius Russell of Carrollton, Ga.; ATH Stanton Truitt of Monroe, Ga.; RB Kamryn Pettway of Prattville, Ala.)

Key targets: Auburn is almost done with this class, but ESPN 300 linebacker Rashaan Evans of Auburn, Ala., and defensive end Andrew Williams of McDonough, Ga., are still in the mix. Florida State quarterback commit Treon Harris is also very much in the mix for the Tigers.

FLORIDA

2014 verbal commitments: 21

Spotlight: Quarterback Will Grier of Davidson, N.C., is already on campus and gives the Gators a real quality body to work with behind Jeff Driskel. Grier appears to be he future of the position, and he totaled 4,989 passing yards with a national-best 77 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,251 yards with 13 more scores in 2013.

ESPN 300 members: 12 (Grier, CB Jalen Tabor of Washington, D.C.; OT David Sharpe of Jacksonville, Fla.; DT Gerald Willis III of New Orleans; DT Thomas Holley of Brooklyn, N.Y.; ATH J.C. Jackson of Immokalee, Fla.; WR Moral Stephens of Perry, Fla.; CB Duke Dawson of Cross City, Fla.; ATH Brandon Powell of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; DE Justus Reed of Clearwater, Fla.; S Quincy Wilson of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Key targets: ESPN 300 members Lorenzo Carter (defensive end from Norcross, Ga.), Damian Prince (offensive tackle from Forestville, Md.) and Adoree' Jackson (athlete from Gardena, Calif.) remain the Gators' top targets, while Treon Harris from Miami and former Florida State receiver commit C.J. Worton from Homestead, Fla., are very much in the mix.

GEORGIA

2014 verbal commitments: 19

Spotlight: The Bulldogs have had some recent success at the running back position and just added to it with Sony Michel of Plantation, Fla. The 5-11, 194-pound Michel is the nation's No. 2 RB and is an every-down back who can do it all. He has a chance to see the field early in his career at Georgia.

ESPN 300 members: 9 (Michel; DT Lamont Gaillard of Fayetteville, N.C.; RB Nick Chubb of Cedartown, Ga.; ATH Malkom Parrish of Quitman, Ga.; QB Jacob Park of Goose Creek, S.C.; TE Jeb Blazevich of Charlotte, N.C.; OG Isaiah Wynn of Saint Petersburg, Fla.; DE Keyon Brown of Wauchula, Fla.; WR Shakenneth Williams of Macon, Ga.)

Key targets: ESPN 300 defensive end Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga., is the top remaining target on the Bulldogs' board. Georgia appears to be in good shape for the five-star prospect. Georgia is also hoping to gain ground with Rashaan Evans and is still in the hunt for South Carolina linebacker commit Bryson Allen-Williams.

KENTUCKY

2014 verbal commitments: 28

Spotlight: After being committed to Florida State for a year, defensive end Denzel Ware of Crestview, Fla., committed to Kentucky, before decommitting, and then committing again. He appears solidly committed to the Wildcats and has tremendous upside to match his explosiveness off the line.

ESPN 300 members: 6 (Ware; QB Drew Barker of Hebron, Ky.; WR Thaddeus Snodgrass of Springfield, Ohio; RB Stanley Williams of Monroe, Ga.; CB Darius West of Lima, Ohio; CB Kendall Randolph of Tallahassee, Fla.)

Key targets: With Elam in hand, the Wildcats are looking to add to their defensive line with fellow ESPN 300 member Travonte Valentine of Hialeah, Fla.

LSU

2014 verbal commitments: 19

Spotlight: Running back Leonard Fournette of New Orleans was the recruit LSU had to have. Not only is he the nation's No. 1 overall player but he immediately fills the need at running back with Jeremy Hill's departure. His excellent combination of size, speed and strength will get him on the field early in Baton Rouge.

ESPN 300 members: 14 (Fournette; S Jamal Adams of Lewisville, Texas; ILB Clifton Garrett of Plainfield, Ill.; OG Garrett Brumfield of Baton Rouge, La.; TE Jacory Washington of Westlake, La.; S Devin Voorhies of Woodville, Miss.; WR Trey Quinn of Lake Charles, La.; QB Brandon Harris of Bossier City, La.; S Edward Paris Jr. from Arlington, Texas; DE Davon Godchaux of Plaquemine, La.; OLB Donnie Alexander of New Orleans; WR D.J. Chark of Alexandria, La.; DE Deondre Clark of Oklahoma City; WR Tony Upchurch of Pearland, Texas)

Key targets: Five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson is still on the board, as is Lorenzo Carter. ESPN 300 receiver Malachi Dupre from River Ridge, La., is in the mix and would be a major get for the Tigers.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

2014 verbal commitments: 21

Spotlight: ESPN 300 athlete Jamoral Graham of Decatur, Miss., has been committed for nearly a year and gives the Bulldogs their most versatile commitment. The 5-11, 180-pound Graham has 4.4 speed and can play on both sides of the ball. He will probably end up as a defensive back for the Bulldogs.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Graham; WR Jesse Jackson of Petal, Miss.)

Key targets: Committed ESPN 300 defensive tackle O.J. Smith (Alabama) of Bossier City, La., and three-star defensive tackle commit Cory Thomas (Tennessee) are still in the mix with the Bulldogs.

MISSOURI

2014 verbal commitments: 27

Spotlight: With the Tigers losing two starting linebackers from the 2013 team, the addition of outside linebacker Brandon Lee of Indianapolis could be big down the road. There will be a lot of competition for those open spots, and Lee has a chance to get some reps, especially with him already being on campus. He has good speed and should fit any scheme once he adds some weight.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Lee; OT Andy Bauer of St. Louis)

Key targets: ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford of Hilton Head, S.C., is one of the Tigers' top remaining targets, as is four-star linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed of Fort Pierce, Fla. Tennessee defensive end commit Derek Barnett is also still on Mizzou's radar.

OLE MISS

2014 verbal commitments: 24

Spotlight: It won't be easy to replace Donte Moncrief, but adding wide receiver Markell Pack of Purvis, Miss., to the roster will help soften the blow early. He's a natural playmaker who can get to the next level quickly with his speed. He'll need to add some weight when he gets on campus, but he's a major get at a position of need.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Pack; OG Rod Taylor of Jackson, Miss.; DT Garrald McDowell of Covington, La.; S C.J. Hampton of Meridian, Miss.)

Key targets: Yet again, Malachi Dupre is in the mix here, as are ESPN 300 members defensive end Andrew Williams, safety Steven Parker II of Jenks, Okla., and running back Dacorius Law from Haines City, Fla.

SOUTH CAROLINA

2014 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: Defensive end Dante Sawyer of Suwanee, Ga., might not be Jadeveon Clowney, but he could help ease the pain of losing that physical freak. One plus about Sawyer is that he's versatile enough to play both defensive end and outside linebacker, which should allow the Gamecocks to move him around and show different looks to opposing offenses.

ESPN 300 members: 7 (Sawyer; CB D.J. Smith of Marietta, Ga.; TE Kevin Crosby of Bamberg, S.C.; WR Shaquille Davidson of Gaffney, S.C.; OLB Bryson Allen-Williams of Ellenwood, Ga.; OG Donell Stanley of Latta, S.C.; ATH Terry Googer of College Park, Ga.)

Key targets: ESPN 300 cornerback Wesley Green of Lithonia, Ga., and former Florida cornerback commit Chris Lammons are top targets for the Gamecocks, as is Florida State defensive tackle commit Dexter Wideman.

TENNESSEE

2014 verbal commitments: 34

Spotlight: The Vols need to add more athleticism and playmaking ability to the wide receiver position, and Josh Malone of Gallatin, Tenn., could step right in and get a healthy amount of reps this spring. Having him on campus now will help him as he continues to develop into a more sound receiver.

ESPN 300 members: 11 (Malone; S Todd Kelly Jr. of Knoxville, Tenn.;RB Jalen Hurd of Hendersonville, Tenn.; OLB Dillon Bates Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.; RB Derrell Scott of Havelock, N.C.; DE Dewayne Hendrix of O'Fallon, Ill.; S Cortez McDowell of Locust Grove, Ga.; ILB Gavin Bryant of Jackson, Ala.; CB D'Andre Payne of Washington, D.C.; ATH Evan Berry of Fairburn, Ga.; DE Derek Barnett of Brentwood, Tenn.)

Key targets: Four-star defensive tackle Michael Sawyers from Nashville has become a very important target for the Vols, who need another interior linemen. Tennessee's staff is still going after Alabama commit Bo Scarbrough.

TEXAS A&M

2014 verbal commitments: 23

Spotlight: Defensive end Myles Garrett of Arlington, Texas, is a major addition to this Texas A&M class. The Aggies need more playmakers on defense, especially up front, and Garrett, the nation's No. 1-rated defensive end has a chance to compete for immediate playing time and should add more of a presence in the pass rush.

ESPN 300 members: 11 (Garrett; ATH Speedy Noil of New Orleans; QB Kyle Allen of Scottsdale, Ariz.; ATH Nick Harvey of Richmond, Texas; WR Frank Iheanacho of Houston; DT DeShawn Washington of Nederland, Texas; OLB Otaro Alaka of Houston, Texas; DE Qualen Cunningham of Chandler, Ariz.; RB Shaun Nixon of Austin, Texas; ATH Armani Watts of Forney, Texas; OLB Josh Walker of Gilmer, Texas)

Key targets: Safety has become a spot of need, so the Aggies are going after ESPN 300 safeties Steven Parker II of Jenks, Okla., and Mattrell McGraw of River Ridge, La. ESPN 300 linebacker Kenny Young from River Ridge, La., is also still on the board.

VANDERBILT

2014 verbal commitments: 17

Spotlight: Running back Dallas Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga., is the Commodores' top commitment and he's been solid with Vandy since committing last March. He's the type of playmaker Vandy needs going forward and will provide a grinder in the middle of the field, who can also stretch the field with his speed.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Rivers)

Key targets: The Commodores are in the hunt for Tennessee ESPN 300 defensive end commit Derek Barnett.

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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There have been commitments and decommitments across the board in the Big Ten, which means there has been movement among the class rankings.

As signing day approaches, teams will be looking to fill the final spots in their class. Here is a look at trends and a few items to watch within the conference:

Trending up: No Big Ten teams moved up in the class rankings for this week, but that doesn’t mean schools aren’t improving.

Penn State has been on a tear recently with James Franklin and his staff on board. Despite losing ESPN 300 defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) to Florida and defensive back Troy Vincent Jr. (Baltimore/Gilman) to NC State, the Nittany Lions have added some big pieces as well.

The most recent was three-star athlete Trace McSorley (Ashburn, Va./Briar Woods), who flipped his commitment from Vanderbilt to Penn State. McSorley was originally recruited as a defensive back by Franklin at Vanderbilt, but then the offer was switched to quarterback while he was committed to the Commodores.

McSorley will add some depth and competition at the quarterback spot for Penn State, as Christian Hackenberg and early enrollee Michael O’Connor are the only other quarterbacks on the roster.

Indiana has also been on a nice run, picking up five commitments in the past week, from linebacker Tegray Scales (Cincinnati/Colerain), running back Tommy Mister (Chicago/St. Rita), athlete Waynedriko Smith (Orlando, Fla./Orangewood Christian) and defensive backs Zeke Walker (Cayce, S.C./Brookland-Cayce) and Tony Fields (Tallahassee, Fla./Godby).

Trending down: Michigan hasn’t lost any commitments in the 2014 class, but the Wolverines lost ESPN Junior 300 running back Damien Harris (Berea, Ky./Madison Southern) over the weekend.

Harris is the No. 1-ranked running back and No. 17 overall in the 2015 class. Losing Harris and fellow ESPN Junior 300 member George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) is a big blow to the 2015 class.

Add in the fact that Michigan’s main remaining target for the 2014 class, Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) could end up not picking Michigan and could end up at rival Michigan State or Ohio State, that’s more bad news for Michigan.

The Wolverines haven’t landed a commitment since August and steadily have been moving down the class rankings. If the coaches miss on McDowell, that would mean they missed on three major targets: McDowell, five-star defensive end Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) to Alabama and in-state defensive end Jhonathon Williams (Berrien Springs, Mich./Berrien Springs) to Notre Dame.


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Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation senior analyst Tom Luginbill a question about your team? Tweet it to @TomLuginbill using the hashtag #AskLoogs.



Don’t focus on the game, the week is the most important part. Four practices, three hours each gives you a far better sample to evaluate. In the game he had a sack, but I must say that during the week, he exceeded expectations in my mind. He has gained weight, good weight, which is really important.

Also, he looked more flexible through the hips which was a concerned we have had all along with him. He was special during the week. He is so strong at the point of attack and will be a run ready player when he enters Alabama. His explosiveness impressed as well and he showed us more as an edge rusher than we initially felt he was capable of. He may be a best fit as a five-technique or “Jack” linebacker for the next level. He is smart and is only going to get better technically.

I must say, he was better than anticipated which was very pleasant to see.
Alabama’s season might not have ended the way the Crimson Tide wanted -- and let’s face it, anything short of a national championship was going to be disappointing -- but they still finished 11-2.

Off the field, Alabama has continued its recruiting dominance in the 2014 cycle. The Crimson Tide currently have the No. 1 class and still have a chance to have a strong finish. With signing a month away, here’s a closer look where the Tide stand in recruiting.


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The practices are in the books and now is the time for the nation’s top prospects to showcase their skills under the bright lights of the Under Armour All-America game (4 p.m. Thursday, ESPN). With an outstanding collection of talent taking the field, it can be easy to feel a football sensory overload. No matter where you look, you will see a promising prospect in action, but to help guide your focus, we put together a few viewing tips. You can’t go wrong wherever your eyes take you on the field, but the following could be a good place to start.

If you want to know where next year's top college freshmen will play …


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UA Game notebook: Talking a good game

December, 31, 2013
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The third day of practices for the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game, which will air live Thursday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN, was full of entertainment. Players engaged in some back-and-forth trash talk, coach Deion Sanders gave some dance lessons, there was a special guest in attendance and a linebacker hit Racean "Roc" Thomas so hard he nearly broke his face mask. Here’s a closer look at the latest news and notes from the third day of practice.

Talking the talk

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Miller Safrit/ESPNJamal Adams has drawn attention for his stellar play and unmatched trash-talking ability.
The top prospects in the country aren’t just skilled on the field but also in the art of trash-talking. Many of the players took part in verbal intimidation during practice, but there were a few who seemed to excel at it.

Defensive back Jamal Adams' (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) name has been brought up the most as one of the best trash-talkers so far. His persistence is what most, including receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), have noticed.

“Jamal is the best at it,” Dupre said. “It doesn’t get in my head anymore because I know him really well. He knows I got him a lot earlier. He’s a good friend of mine and I know he’s probably the best at it because he’s nonstop. The more you do it, the more you get under people’s skin.”

Receiver Braxton Berrios (Raleigh, N.C./Leesville Road) agreed and added that he can’t help but laugh when Adams starts talking.

Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) was often opposite Adams on the field and was brought up as another excellent trash-talker. He isn’t as constant as Adams, but he let receivers know when they made a mistake.

“One particularly play, [Peppers] batted down a pass on Ermon Lane, and Jabrill and I were ready to get at it,” Dupre said. “I never went up against him, though. Jabrill was just screaming, 'It’s not going to happen' and 'Shutdown.'”

So you think you can dance?


Former NFL great Deion Sanders was known for his celebration dances, and on Tuesday, his team got a firsthand look at how to execute the patented high step and touchdown dance from Sanders’ playing days.
Sanders showed the players how to do both dances, then let them take a test run in case they score a touchdown in Thursday's game.

 

Decisions ahead


Seven of the nation's top prospects, including three five-star players, are set to make their decisions during the game. Here’s a look at who will be making their decisions:

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNJalen Tabor is one of seven top prospects who will announce his college decision during the Under Armour All-America Game.
RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine): The nation's No. 1-ranked player will decide among LSU, Alabama and Texas.

WR Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman): A standout during practices this week, Rudolph will be choosing among Alabama, Florida, Miami, Tennessee, Auburn and Ohio State.

DT Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr): Ranked the No. 3 defensive tackle in the country, he will likely choose between LSU and Florida.

DB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen): The five-star defensive back will choose between Alabama and LSU despite a shoulder injury that will could keep him out of the game.

DB Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship): The nation's No. 15 recruit Will choose between Arizona and Alabama.

S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron): The No. 23 player in the country will choose among Florida, LSU and Ole Miss.

ATH Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr): Noil, the No. 8 player in the country, will choose between LSU and Texas A&M.

Top players


It’s one thing for scouts and evaluators to give their opinions on the top performers, but it’s always interesting to hear who the players themselves think are excelling on the field.

Here are a few of the Under Armour All-Americans talking about the best prospects they faced throughout the week:

RB Bo Scarbrough (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy): “Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover), I just think that he has great defense and you have to be really physical when you going against Marlon Humphrey. JuJu Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Poly), you really have to come with it with JuJu because if you don’t come with it, he’s going to come with it.”

[+] EnlargeMarlon Humphrey
Miller Safrit/ESPNMarlon Humphrey has impressed his fellow All-Americans with his performance this week.
DB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra): “My best matchup, well all those guys are high caliber. From Speedy Noil to [Chris] Godwin, [Cameron] Sims, Travis Rudolph, everyone was good. I just like competition, and they’re going to bring the best out of me and I’m going to bring the best out of them.”

WR Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis): “My whole defensive back corps was good. Jamal Adams, Tony Brown and Jabrill Peppers. All those guys were really good.”

OL Sam Mustipher (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel): “I went up against a lot of good guys. All those defensive linemen are good, but Da’Shawn Hand was one that stood out. He is quick off the ball and you can’t fall for his hand fakes, the way he uses his hands.”

RB Dalvin Cook (Miami/Miami Central): “Linebacker Ronnie Clark.”

QB Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South): “Oh man, I’d say Adoree' Jackson was probably the best. Him and Tre' Williams.”

Smashmouth football


Lavar Arrington did everything he could to pump up his linebackers during Tuesday’s practices with some not-so-gentle persuasion.

During inside run drills, Auburn linebacker commit Tre' Williams (Mobile, Ala./St. Paul’s Episcopal School) flung his entire body at running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) in a tackle attempt that drew a round of hoots and hollers from Arrington.

A few plays later, Florida State linebacker commit Kain Daub (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) got Auburn running back commit Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) with a clean hit so hard he broke one of several clips on Thomas’ face mask, causing it to hang from the helmet.

“That’s the way to hit, Kain,” Arrington said. “You broke his freaking face mask. Oh wow.”

Special guest


There has been a special guest in attendance during the Under Armor All-America week of practices. John Shulby, a friend of 2012 Under Armour All-America tight end Colin Thompson, has Down syndrome and has been invited back as a special guest every year since Thompson participated in the game.

Shulby has been welcomed by the coaches, players and everyone else involved in the game. In fact, Shulby was asked by linebackers coach LaVar Arrington to assist in some individual drills.

 

Bill Shulby, John's father, said he and his son never expected to receive this much attention.

“From our perspective, we’ve never imagined John having this type of experience,” Shulby said. “It’s been wonderful and unbelievable. The players and coaches have included him in every day. The way LaVar Arrington included him this morning -- you could just see the joy in his face.”

Jeremy Crabtree and Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Tuesday's Early Offering is coming to you from the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando. Here’s a sampling of some of the top news from the event so far, a look at who stood out in the second day of practices, and three-star athlete Isaiah McKenzie debates who the fastest player in the country really is.

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- When more than 90 of the top football prospects gather in the same place, like they have for the Under Armour All-America Game, the water cooler conversations can be quite entertaining.

One of Sunday’s hot topics was whether a defensive player could win the Heisman Trophy again in the near future. We asked some of the Under Armour Game participants for their opinions:

[+] EnlargeTony Brown
Miller Safrit/ESPNFive-star cornerback Tony Brown thinks a defensive player, maybe even him, will win the Heisman Trophy in the near future.
Five-star cornerback and No. 11 overall prospect Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen): Oh, 100 percent I do. It will be either my sophomore year or junior year when a defensive player wins it. You got to be a game-changer. The Heisman is about being a game changer the second you step on the field, so I have to be a game changer. Tyrann Mathieu was very close to winning it, but he missed games. You just have to catch picks, make plays in the return game and make big plays that change the outcome of games.

No. 1 overall prospect Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine): That’s kind of a hard question -- maybe in the next couple of years. Maybe one of the guys from our incoming class like Adoree’ [Jackson] or Jabrill Peppers. It’s a lot of dedication. There are a lot of offensive players that are outstanding now. They have a lot of outstanding defensive players too, but the offenses are bringing out more talent than the defense nowadays.

Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus N.J./Paramus Catholic), the No. 1 CB and No. 2 overall prospect: Absolutely. He’s going to have to have some punts and kickoff returns for TDs, six or seven picks and have more than 45 tackles. I have seen a lot of great defensive backs, but I didn’t see anybody put it all together yet. Basically all the things I just said I have to do, and I want to make it a little easier on myself if I get to play a little offense too.

Georgia tight end commit Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, N.C./Christian): No, just because everyone is so focused on the stats, who is most productive and some people don’t know football. Defensive players sort of grind it out; they are good football players but are the unsung heroes. All people see is the stats, people follow the hype … same thing with the Heisman. It will take a lot of stats and flashy stuff -- probably a defensive back with a lot of returns for touchdowns, like a Tyrann Mathieu.

Five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson {Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra): Of course. They have to do special teams. You have to do something to get the crown oohing and ahhing. You can do a lot of things on defense, but when you do special teams and show how versatile you are ... that is when a defensive player will win the Heisman again.

No. 28 overall prospect Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis): "Man, that will be difficult in this day and age. I think offensive players are becoming more explosive and are used in better ways with the spread than in the past, when a defensive player could have won it. Like last year, [Johnny] Manziel won it over [Manti] Te’o. He should have, and it wasn’t close."

Alabama commit Cameron Robinson (Monroe, La./West Monroe), a five-star offensive tackle and No. 3 overall prospect: I mean maybe so, but the player will have to do more than just play defense … maybe return kicks and play some Wildcat quarterback. Probably a corner or a safety is the best bet. The kick return game will be huge because you get to display a lot of athleticism and pure instinct. Last year, Johnny Manziel won it over a defensive player, and it wasn’t close. Actually, my guy Manziel should have won it again this year.

No. 29 prospect Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr): Yeah, me. The goal is to get three or four sacks a game and just ball out on the field the whole season. Yep, I think Landon [Collins] can win it. It's picks, taking them to the house, make a lot of tackles and having outstanding stats.

No. 106 prospect Edwin Freeman (Arlington, Texas/James Bowie): It’s possible. You got to play both sides of the ball and have punt and kick return ability. I would say a corner has the best chance. They are fast, catch picks and have the ability make a big impact in the return game.

[+] EnlargeDerick Roberson
Miller Safrit/ESPNDefensive linemen such as Texas commit Derick Roberson wish their position group got more respect from Heisman voters.
Auburn cornerback commit Steven Roberts (Opelika, Ala./Opelika): That’s a tough question, man. I say yes, though. Defensive backs go through a lot. They are sticking good receivers every play and have the chances to make big plays. It will take a lot of interceptions and being an all-around playmaker.

No. 22 prospect Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville), a safety: I don’t know if it will ever happen again. I’m going to try and go win one, but they [media] show a lot of favoritism to offensive players. You can’t just play defense. You have to play special teams. It will be a defensive back that wins it if it happens. It won’t be a defensive end or linebacker.

Texas defensive end commit Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/Brennan), the No. 78 prospect: You would have to average three or four sacks per game at my position [defensive end], probably. Usually it would be a defensive back or linebacker with the best shot, but I think a D-end can win it.

No. 23 overall prospect Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron), the No. 3 safety: I sure hope so. I hope I can say I did one day. I mean, it’s a tough thing to do as an individual goal. You have to be a straight dog on the field, making a lot of plays. Defensive backs play special teams, and if that’s one of your roles ... then you have the ability to show out. Defensive backs have the best chance because we are more versatile.

Alabama five-star DE commit Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge): It should be the best overall player that wins the Heisman, not just the best offensive player. I can see a defensive player winning it again. I think a defensive end can win it because we are the best position on the field. A lot of people don’t see what a defensive end has to go through. A quarterback, everybody sees that, but what about the end that takes on a double team that helps cause everyone else to make plays, and helps make everyone else better?

Auburn quarterback commitment Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University): Yeah, sure, if a defensive player makes a lot of plays and cause turnovers; probably like a corner or defensive back that makes a lot of big interceptions. It’s happened before, so I do think it can happen.

Wide receiver Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman), the No. 61 prospect: No. Because I feel like a defensive back is so good that teams won’t throw his way and he won’t get the chances to put up stats. It can be tough to get the chance to make enough plays to win the Heisman.

Ohio State five-star LB commit Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County): Yes, because a defensive player has the ability to make big plays just like an offensive player. It will probably be a defensive back that makes a lot of interceptions though -- a guy that also returns kicks and punts.

Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross): Yeah, a defensive player should win the Heisman. Defensive players have more impact on the game than people recognize. I think [Jadeveon] Clowney could have come real close to it. I hope defensive players keep evolving and can have the chance to win it.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- One thing is for sure for all the 2014 Under Armour All-Americans: This isn’t high school anymore. Day 1 is about gauging the competition. Some guys dive right in and some test the waters with their big toe, but by the end of the first day of practice, all those in attendance have a pretty good idea of where they stand and what they need to do to compete and get better.

Given that it is Day 1, the playbook is introduced (Team Nitro is going no huddle with wrist bands and limited plays), and there can be sloppy moments of indecision and uncertainty. With each rep, most, if not all, prospects began to get a better feel for what is expected. Most importantly, the center-quarterback exchanges were very good for the most part, which is generally the biggest worry. Upon completion of the first practice, here are some observations and things to look for over the week:

Top Performers


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SEC recruiting storylines: Dec. 12 

December, 12, 2013
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Another wild week of recruiting in the SEC is in the rearview mirror. Today, the Florida Gators take center stage with all eyes on Alabama heading into the weekend of official visits before the dead period begins Dec. 16.

Gators nab one of the nation's best

No. 18 David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School) seemed to be a Florida lean for more than a year. After trips to Georgia twice during the season and official visits to Tennessee and Florida in November, the 6-foot-6, 288-pound four-star offensive tackle made it official Thursday, committing to the Gators.

Sharpe becomes the 17th commitment for head coach Will Muschamp and his staff, including the 10th ESPN 300 prospect to select the Gators.

Speaking of Florida, the final decision of No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) likely will come following the Rockets' state title game this weekend. Florida is fighting Florida State and Miami to keep the explosive playmaker.

Make it two for Thursday


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Now that the season has finished and a contact period is open, the Michigan coaching staff has been on the road scouting prospects. Plenty of 2015 targets have had Michigan coaches in their school, and a few recently received offers from the Wolverines.


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Under Armour game storylines: SEC 

December, 5, 2013
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The seventh annual Under Armour All-America Game is less than a month away. The 2014 game, which is set for 4 p.m. ET Jan. 2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on ESPN, features 90 of the top high school football prospects in the country. Practices begin Dec. 29.

Leonard Fournette
Alex Scarborough/ESPNNo. 1 Leonard Fournette is one of several five-star prospects who haven't made a commitment.
As is usually the case, the SEC will be well represented. Here are some of the storylines:

Year of dominance: The top 15 prospects in the ESPN 300 are all scheduled to take part. That means that all 13 five-star prospects in the class will be competing, including No. 1 Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine). All told, 28 of the top 30 prospects in the ESPN 300 are on an UA All-America roster.

SEC leads the way: It comes without surprise that the SEC has the most committed prospects taking part, with 34. The Big Ten and ACC have 13 each, the Big 12 has three and the Pac-12 has two. Notre Dame has five commits in the game.

The SEC West alone has 25.


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