NCF On The Trail: Derek Barnett

SEC signing day roundtable: Coach under pressure

February, 10, 2015
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There is only one new face among SEC head coaches this year -- Florida’s Jim McElwain -- but a number of the league’s head honchos face increased pressure to perform in 2015.

Continuing this week’s SEC series of post-signing day roundtable discussions, today we’ll examine the conference coaches who are under pressure to make something happen after signing their newest class of recruits.

Edward Aschoff: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Year 4 of the Freeze era is beginning, and expectations are about to explode in Oxford. After being on the cusp of an SEC West title and a spot in the first College Football Playoff, Ole Miss now has to stay in the thick of the title hunts. While Freeze has been enormously successful during his time at Ole Miss, he has now signed three straight top-20 classes, and now the 2013 class (the crown jewel of Freeze’s tenure) will be all grown up. If the bulk of that class is going to bring a championship to Ole Miss, the time is now because the heavy hitters, like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, will likely head to the NFL after this coming season. There’s too much talent in Oxford for Ole Miss not to compete for a spot in Atlanta, and anything else will be considered a failure.

David Ching: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
I was tempted to focus on Mark Richt or Les Miles because the natives seem to be getting restless at Georgia and LSU, but let’s go in a different direction. Mason probably needs to get more out of this 2015 class immediately than those two SEC veterans. Last season was a mess at Vandy, with the Commodores failing to put up a good fight in most of their nine losses. Their three wins came against UMass (by three points), Charleston Southern (by one) and Old Dominion (by 14), and they lost by an average of 18 points per game in SEC play. Now Mason enters his second season with two new coordinators (actually he’ll be his own defensive coordinator) and a recruiting class that ESPN ranked No. 44 nationally, dead last in the SEC. Mason told reporters on signing day that he staked his reputation on the quality of this class, which is all well and good. But if the Commodores don’t start looking like a more competent team this fall, I’m not sure Mason’s reputation as a head coach will be too great.

Sam Khan Jr.: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
I think Travis Haney said it best Insider that Sumlin must begin to reap the fruits of the recruiting labor he and his staff have put in over the last three years. The Aggies' classes ranked eighth, fourth and 12th nationally in Sumlin's first three full recruiting cycles, and the team now enters its fourth year in the SEC. He made significant coaching staff changes (including paying a pretty penny for former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis), and overall the Aggies have recruited better than any team in their own state -- which is talent-rich -- since Sumlin has been there. It's time for the recruiting hauls to translate to the standings.

Chris Low: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
As it turns out, the sky didn't fall at Kentucky after the Wildcats lost six commitments in a span of eight days leading up to signing day. Thanks to some hustle by Stoops and his staff, Kentucky was able to plug some of the gaps late and finish with the nation's 43rd-ranked class. The problem was that Stoops reeled in the 20th-ranked class the year before, so expectations were lofty. As Stoops enters his third season at Kentucky -- with a brand-new contract that will pay him an average of $3.57 million per year -- expectations will be equally high on the field. Kentucky will be aiming for its first winning season since 2009. The Wildcats looked like they were on their way in 2014 after starting out 5-1, but wound up losing their last six games.

Greg Ostendorf: Jim McElwain, Florida
All things considered, McElwain deserves credit for this class. He took over two months before signing day and closed with a top-20 class that included five-star prospects Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson. But this class had a chance to be more than solid. It had the potential to be great. Florida missed on a number of homegrown prospects, including Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland, who both decided to leave home to play at Auburn for the man McElwain replaced. The first-year coach deserves a pass for this class, but he can’t keep letting the top players out of the state. Losing battles to Florida State is one thing. Losing battles to Will Muschamp and Auburn is another.

Alex Scarborough: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The great thing about Steve Spurrier is that you can take him at his word. But this time I think his openness hurt him. By telling reporters he thought he'd stay at South Carolina 2-3 more years, he had to turn some recruits off. I mean, who would commit to a program knowing the head coach wouldn't be there the whole way through? Though his 31-man signing class was solid, coming in at No. 21 overall in the country, it was what was missing that Gamecocks fans should find troubling -- most notably, four-star defensive players Damon Arnette and Arden Key, who both decommitted heading down the stretch. While you have to appreciate Spurrier’s honest assessment of himself, reading a head coach say this has to be jarring: "I don't think I did a very good job of maybe going full-speed as much as we needed as it turned out."

Derek Tyson: Butch Jones, Tennessee
After two top-five recruiting classes in a row, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones now has the talent on his roster to make a move in the SEC East. With Josh Dobbs showing promise last season and several other freshmen having standout years, including Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr., the talent is in place to have a big season on the field this year. Another 7-6 season could have Tennessee fans getting a little restless.

Youth a recruiting pitch for Vols, Cats 

September, 25, 2014
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Either Tennessee hit a home run with its 2014 recruiting class or the Volunteers are playing with fire. Either way, the Volunteers are taking a big gamble with their freshmen.

Head coach Butch Jones has played 71 percent (22 of 29) of his true freshmen — an incredible stat that some coaches might be scared to advertise for fear that future opponents might try to take advantage of inexperienced players. Jones, however, has taken the opposite approach and is using the fact as a recruiting tool.



The official Tennessee football Twitter account has tweeted out several stats about how many freshmen have played, and behind the scenes, the Volunteers' staff is not shy about telling recruits they are young and need more talented prospects to play early and add depth to an improving roster.

Tennessee assistant athletic director Jason Yellin appeared almost proud to share how many freshmen have played this year.

"We have played the most in the nation, 22,” Yellin said in an email. "For comparison, last year’s high was 18 by UCLA. We have started seven so far and could potentially start two more on Saturday at Georgia."

SEC coaches who need to close well

February, 4, 2014
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National signing day is a huge day for future college football stars. It's a crazy day for fans. And it's a very important day for college coaches.

Signing days can make or break programs, as those noisy fax machines provide an early glimpse into the future.

Some coaches make a killing on signing day, some kick back because their classes are already pretty much taken care of, and others sweat and grind down those nails. On Wednesday, the SEC should yet again bathe in the glory that is a successful signing day, but there are still some coaches who need to have big days as they guide their programs forward.

Who are some of those SEC coaches this year? Let's take a look:

Bret Bielema, Arkansas: It's no secret that Bielema's first season in Fayetteville wasn't much of a success, but a strong closing on signing day could provide this program with some much-needed momentum. What Bielema needed in this class was depth up front on both sides of that ball and help at receiver, linebacker and in the secondary. Getting eight total linemen helps, and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson (El Dorado, Ark./El Dorado) could make an immediate impact.

Still, the Razorbacks are looking to secure letters of intent from ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell), who visited Fayetteville on Jan. 24. He'd be a major snag, as would be four-star linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce Central) and Florida State athlete commit JoJo Robinson (Miami/Miami Northwestern). Finding another receiver and getting any of these targets would certainly bolster a class that currently ranks No. 32 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings and would provide Bielema with the quality players he needs to help get things going at Arkansas.

Will Muschamp, Florida: The Gators have been hot on the recruiting trail since the 2013 season ended. It's almost as if last year's 4-8 record didn't even happen. But Muschamp is still holding out hope on a handful of talented prospects who could help make an immediate impact for a Florida team looking to get back to national relevancy. Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) would be a major get for the Gators, who need depth at the linebacker/defensive end hybrid Buck position. Florida is also looking for another playmaker on offense, and five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) could be that guy. Florida would let him play either side of the ball, and the Gators' track and field program is very attractive to Jackson.

Florida also needs another receiver and is looking to add depth at quarterback and on the offensive line. Former Florida State wide receiver commit C.J. Worton (Homestead, Fla./South Dade) could join this class, while current FSU quarterback commit Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) is seriously considering the Gators. ESPN 300 offensive tackle Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) is fresh off a visit to Florida and would be a big addition at a position that needs help going forward. Muschamp did really well in January, but there are still guys at positions of need that Florida needs to close with.

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: He was way behind the 8 ball before he even stepped on Vanderbilt's campus, but Mason grabbed some major momentum over the weekend with six commitments. After dipping into single digits after Mason arrived, Vanderbilt is back up to 17 verbals in this class. Mason has already done a good job of filling this class back out, but he'd like to add some more quality bodies on Wednesday.

Keep an eye on ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian), who is fresh off of a visit to Vandy. He's someone who could provide early help up front. The Commodores are also still in the hunt for Tennessee ESPN 300 defensive end commit Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy). Grabbing another wide receiver and running back would also be a nice way to close as Mason looks to provide Vandy's fan base with a little more excitement on signing day.

ESPN 300 WR Malone picks Vols

December, 4, 2013
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Since arriving in Knoxville, Tennessee coach Butch Jones has focused intently on keeping the best prospects in the state at home. The Vols took another step toward that goal Wednesday after Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp), the top-rated player in the state, committed to Tennessee. Malone is the No. 48 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and the No. 6 wide receiver.

The 6-foot-2, 191-pound Malone chose Tennessee over Clemson and Georgia in a recruitment that kept many on the edge of their seats.

The talented playmaker began his official visits on Sept. 27 with a trip to Athens to visit Georgia, which was once considered the favorite. Following the visit to Georgia, Malone made official visits to Tennessee on Oct. 5, Ohio State on Oct. 26, Florida State on Nov. 1 and Clemson on Nov. 22. Many thought the SEC would dominate Malone’s list, but Clemson proved to be the toughest competition for Tennessee.

The Vols now have four of the top six prospects in the state committed. In addition to Malone, Tennessee has reeled in ESPN 300 prospects No. 59 overall Todd Kelly Jr. (Knoxville, Tenn./Webb School of Knoxville), No. 62 Jalen Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn./Beech Senior High) and No. 296 Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy).

Currently ranked No. 2 in the RecruitingNation class rankings, the Vols have 33 commitments, including 11 ESPN 300 commitments and 17 four-star prospects. The Vols also boast five junior college transfers ranked in the recently released ESPN JC 50. The class features prospects from 11 states, plus the District of Columbia.

But Jones is not done yet. The Vols are still in the hunt for three-star lineman Charles Mosley (Brighton, Tenn./Brighton), with a decision likely at the end of this week, as well as No. 7-ranked Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), No. 37 Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South), No. 61 Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) and No. 108 Derrell Scott (Havelock, N.C./Havelock), among others.

SEC recruiting storylines: Oct. 10 

October, 10, 2013
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Taking a look back at the week that was in SEC recruiting and looking ahead to future visits as teams build toward signing day:

Banner week for Tennessee

While Tennessee couldn’t pull out a victory over Georgia Saturday, the Vols had more success in the minds of prospects. The Volunteers have picked up a pair of commitments since Saturday, and both are significant. Defensive end Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy), the No. 298 player in the ESPN 300, helps fill a serious need on the defensive front. Junior college offensive tackle Dontavius Blair (Anniston, Ala./Garden City Community College) has the ability to be an impact player at a key position that will be hit by graduation. The 6-foot-7, 307-pound Blair was a huge recruiting win over SEC programs Auburn and Texas A&M. The Vols look like a lead-pipe cinch to sign a top-10 class at this point.


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SEC 2014 recruiting scenarios 

October, 8, 2013
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With signing day still several months away, schools will add and in some cases lose committed prospects. Here is a look at the best and worst case scenario for each SEC school.


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Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy) might already know what it’s like to play for Ohio State.

The 6-foot-3, 269-pound defensive end can’t help himself because he received an earful from his grandfather Gerald Kasunic growing up. See, Kasunic played for the Buckeyes in the early 1960s so the scarlet and gray has always been a topic of discussion in the Barnett household.

A fan of the Buckeyes, Barnett has heard the stories. Just how many, he’s not sure.

So when Ohio State called with an offer on Wednesday, it took him back a bit.


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Vols, Vandy, Ole Miss impress Barnett 

April, 17, 2013
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Defensive end Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy) looked forward to a meeting this offseason with Drew Richmond (Memphis, Tenn./Memphis University School).

After all, Richmond’s team ended the season for Barnett last November with a one-point win the state-playoff semifinal round.

Barnett said he thought he earned a victory over Richmond on Sunday at the Nike Football Training Camp on the home turf of the coveted 2015 offensive tackle.

“I want to go up against the best,” Barnett said, “so I was like, ‘Come on, let’s battle.’ It went well. I got the best of him. He got me a few times, but I think I won that one.”


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Atlanta SPARQ All-Combine team

March, 5, 2013
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videoATLANTA -- More than 1,730 athletes gathered Saturday, March 2, at Lakewood Stadium for the Atlanta stop of the Nike Football SPARQ Combine tour, making it the largest Nike combine in history despite the freezing temperatures. Here is a look at the 25 standout performers who make up the Atlanta All-Combine team.

Note: Selections are based upon combine performance as well as past and projected on-field performance. Athletes must have completed two of the four combine tests to be eligible for selection. Athletes are in the Class of 2014 unless otherwise noted.

OFFENSE

QB: Penny Smith, 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Knoxville (Tenn.) Fulton
Results: 4.64 40-yard dash, 4.03 shuttle, 35-foot power ball throw, 33.2-inch vertical jump, 100.89 SPARQ Rating
Breakdown: Passed for 1,494 yards and 22 scores as a junior.

RB: Nick Chubb, 5-11, 216, Cedartown (Ga.) High
Results: 4.10 shuttle, 34’ PB, 37.1” VJ
Breakdown: More than 15 offers already have come in for this ESPN Watch List prospect, who ran for over 2,700 yards as a junior.

RB: C.J. Fuller, 5-9 , 204, Easley (S.C.) High
Results: 4.69 40, 4.31 shuttle, 33’ PB, 32.6” VJ, 91.02 SPARQ
Breakdown: Ran for 2,040 yards and 22 TDs as a junior. Clemson, North Carolina and NC State have offered.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Scott Fink for Student SportsWatch List running back Nick Chubb ran a 4.10 shuttle at the Atlanta SPARQ Combine.
RB: Taj Griffin (2015), Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern
Results: 4.43 40, 4.15 shuttle, 28.5’ PB, 40.0” VJ, 105.42 SPARQ
Breakdown: Rising junior reports early offers from UCLA and UNC.

RB: Daryl Rollins, 5-8, 163, Fulton (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Results: 4.41 40, 4.00 shuttle, 32.5’ PB, 35.3” VJ, 111.21 SPARQ
Breakdown: 2012 Class 4A All-Tennessee pick finished with the event’s top 40-yard dash and shuttle run times and best SPARQ Rating.

RB: Racean Thomas, 5-10, 202, Oxford (Ala.) High
Results: 4.62 40, 4.50 shuttle, 31’ PB, 33.7” VJ, 84.87 SPARQ
Breakdown: Oregon, Alabama, USC and Auburn are among the offers for this ESPN Watch List prospect.

WR: Omar Black, 6-1 , 183, Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove
Results: 4.57 40, 4.40 shuttle, 36’ PB, 31.7” VJ, 91.65 SPARQ
Breakdown: Caught 19 passes for 279 yards and three scores last fall.

TE: Luke Lewallen, 6-2, 205, Marietta (Ga.) Dominion Christian
Results: 4.76 40, 4.25 shuttle, 37’ PB, 32.4” VJ, 97.71 SPARQ
Breakdown: Small-school standout had 1,100 yards and 12 receiving TDs as a junior.

OL: Chuma Edoga (2015), 6-4, 275, Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern
Results: 5.04 40, 4.85 shuttle, 32.5' PB, 26.5" VJ, 70.98 SPARQ
Breakdown: Posted the fastest 40 for an OL at the event.

OL: Christian Harris, 6-5, 275, Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill
Results: 5.08 40, 4.84 Shuttle, 34.0' PB, 26.7" VJ, 73.26 SPARQ
Breakdown: Harris has offers from North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia State and South Alabama.

OL: Tra Malloy, 6-1 , 283, Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview
Results: 5.56 40, 4.65 Shuttle, 40.5' PB, 25.7" VJ, 85.20 SPARQ
Breakdown: Posted the highest SPARQ Rating for an offensive lineman on the day and the second-longest power ball toss for the entire event.

ATH: Hanson Guice, 5-9, 169, Clayton (Ala.) Barbour County
Results: 4.53 40, 4.19 shuttle, 32’ PB, 38.9” VJ, 102.21 SPARQ
Breakdown: Had to miss junior year because of transfer, but helped get his name back on radar Saturday.

ATH: Tez Parks, 6-0, 199, Hogansville (Ga.) Callaway
Results: 4.77 40, 4.41 shuttle, 36.5’ PB, 29.4” VJ, 84.60 SPARQ
Breakdown: Athletic quarterback reports offers from Georgia Tech and South Carolina.

DEFENSE

DL: Derek Barnett, 6-2 , 263, Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy
Results: 4.89 40, 4.56 shuttle, 35.5’ PB, 28.6” VJ, 86.76 SPARQ
Breakdown: FSU, Tennessee and others are among Barnett’s early offers; totaled 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks as a junior.

DL: Collin Giesey, 6-3, 261, Douglasville (Ga.) Alexander
Results: 5.17 40, 4.53 Shuttle, 42.0' PB, 25.8" VJ, 91.38 SPARQ
Breakdown: A virtual unknown after missing most of his junior season, Giesey had the top SPARQ Rating among linemen.

DL: Hunter Knight, 6-2, 272, Dothan (Ala.) Providence Christian
Results: 5.29 40, 4.72 Shuttle, 38.0' PB, 24.9" VJ, 75.66 SPARQ
Breakdown: Walker, another breakout performer, had one of the more impressive overall performances for an interior defensive lineman.

DL: D'Andre Walker (2015), 6-3, 210, Fairburn (Ga.) Langston Hughes
Results: 4.63 40, 4.38 Shuttle, 28.0' PB, 30.9" VJ, 80.43 SPARQ
Breakdown: Coming off a 21-sack sophomore season, Walker has pulled in early offers from Georgia and North Carolina.

DL: Darian Yancey, 6-0, 213, Auburn (Ala.) High
Results: 4.79 40, 4.25 Shuttle, 32.5' PB, 31.6" VJ, 88.98 SPARQ
Breakdown: The other bookend for the Auburn High School defense had the fastest shuttle for a lineman on the day.

LB: Dillon Bates, 6-3, 213, Ponte Vedra (Fla.) High
Results: 4.79 40, 4.28 shuttle, 39’ PB, 37.0” VJ, 109.05 SPARQ
Breakdown: Son of former Dallas Cowboy Bill Bates locked up an invite to The Opening with his big day.

LB: Rashaan Evans, 6-2 , 211, Auburn (Ala.) High
Results: 4.72 40, 4.43 shuttle, 29’ PB, 33.6” VJ, 81.30 SPARQ
Breakdown: Georgia, Auburn and Alabama are among the early offers for this Watch List prospect.

LB: Petera Wilson, 6-2, 210, Memphis (Tenn.) White Station
Results: 32’ PB, 35.8” VJ
Breakdown: Class 6A all-state pick as a junior has more than 20 early offers.

DB: Khari Blasingame, 6-0, 196, New Market (Ala.) Buckhorn
Results: 4.66 40, 4.39 shuttle, 39’ PB, 37.8” VJ, 106.89 SPARQ
Breakdown: Missed most of his junior season with injury but was back in a big way Saturday.

DB: Lorenz Griggs, 5-9 , 163, Lithonia (Ga.) Martin Luther King
Results: 4.58 40, 4.47 shuttle, 35.5’ PB, 37.5” VJ, 92.97 SPARQ
Breakdown: King is always loaded, and Griggs is a new name to watch there.

DB: Blaise Taylor, 5-7, 157, Auburn (Ala.) High
Breakdown: Auburn, Tennessee and Nebraska already have offered this dynamic athlete.

ATH: Austin Leach, 6-1, 199, Sarasota (Fla.) Cardinal Mooney
Results: 4.62 40, 4.28 shuttle, 35.5’ PB, 28.9” VJ, 92.07 SPARQ
Breakdown: Playmaker at both defensive back and receiver for Cardinal Mooney in the fall.
ATLANTA -- More than 1,700 student-athletes took part Saturday in the Nike SPARQ Combine here, a record for the event. Players from across the Southeast braved freezing conditions, snow flurries and significant wind chill to compete and test their athletic ability in the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, vertical jump and power ball throw. Below are the standouts from the event, which includes several prominent recruits and some off-the-radar prospects for the 2014 and 2015 classes.

Top SPARQ Ratings

Daryl Rollins, RB (Knoxville, Tenn./Fulton) - 111.21
Dillon Bates, LB, (Ponte Vedra, Fla./Ponte Vedra) - 109.05
Nick Chubb, ESPN Watch List RB (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown) - 107.16
Khari Blasingame, DB (Huntsville, Ala./Buckhorn) - 106.89
Taj Griffin, 2015 RB (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern) - 105.42

Top 40-yard dashes

(Read full post)

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