NCF On The Trail: Joe Keels

Biggest flips: Big Ten 

February, 3, 2014
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The 2014 class has seen a very high number of commitment switches during this recruiting cycle. With so many flips throughout the process, here is a look at some of the biggest in the Big Ten.

Big Ten recruiting roundtable

February, 3, 2014
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National signing day is just 48 hours away. To get you ready, we checked in with our ESPN.com recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Big Ten recruiting reporter Tom VanHaaren spared time from their busy schedules to answer these questions:

Ohio State and Michigan again lead the way in the Big Ten recruiting rankings. How much late drama do you expect with those two programs?

[+] EnlargeMalik McDowell
Tom Hauck for ESPNDE Malik McDowell, No. 60 in the ESPN 300, could come down to a signing day decision between Ohio State and Michigan.
Tom VanHaaren: Probably not much for Michigan as it is really only targeting ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield). McDowell visited Ohio State Jan. 31 and has hosted every head coach in his top four of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State.

He will take his decision out to signing day, so there is a battle going on there, but there's still a chance he ends up at Michigan State or Florida State. He has kept everything close to the vest and it's anyone's guess as to where he ends up. Ohio State could have a little drama, but that happens when you land top ranked prospects.

Tom Luginbill: I really just expect to see where McDowell falls.

What other Big Ten programs have impressed you?

TL: Penn State and Wisconsin. Badgers coach Gary Andersen is adding more speed and athleticism to this class, including QB D.J. Gillins (Jacksonville, Fla./Ribault). They would love to close with CB Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation).

TVH: Michigan State has put together a good class. I really like ESPN 300 defensive back Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) for the Spartans defense. I think Northwestern has put together a really good class as well with three ESPN 300 commitments. The Wildcats added in-state defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook), which was a big get for them. Illinois did a lot to help fill immediate needs as well. The Illini lose four receivers and brought in some junior college prospects to compete right away.

How much impact has James Franklin made on Penn State's recruiting in a short time?

TVH: It seems to be all positive for now. It's not surprising that he has flipped so many Vanderbilt commitments to Penn State, because he was the coach who recruited them. The recruits, however, that have flipped will all tell you that he is the guy they want to play for. There is already some excitement in the 2015 class and in the Pennsylvania area, so I think Penn State fans are going to be very happy with what Franklin and his staff does in the near future.

TL: Significant, but it should be noted that Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown) all enrolled early prior to his hire, but after Bill O’Brien departed, which tells you of their commitment to the program. Since his hiring, Penn State has added seven verbal commits, including flipping Rutgers commit WR Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) this past week.

How much of an effect, if any, has Michigan State's on-field success had in its recruiting so far?

TL: Minimal. They do what they do. The biggest myth is that they are made up of 2- and 3-star players, which is not true. It has been 4- or 3- star players the past three to four classes The Spartans develop players as well as anyone. They don’t give in to external pressures to recruit anyone and they identify not only good players, but the right players for them.

TVH: It had some impact in the 2014 class, but because that class was already almost over by the time the Spartans won the Rose Bowl, the real affect will likely be on 2015 and 2016 prospects. Michigan State already has one of the top in-state prospects committed with Kyonta Stallworth (St. Clair Shores, Mich./South Lake) and there is a realistic chance the Spartans could land most of the top prospects from the state of Michigan. They have already heard from some prospects that they otherwise would have been out of the running for, so I think 2015 could be where you see some of those affects.

How have Maryland and Rutgers done in recruiting, and are their efforts up to Big Ten standards?

TVH: Rutgers has suffered a lot of decommitments in the 2014 class. It seems like this is a whole new class from what it used to be. The most recent was Blacknall, who flipped to Penn State. Maryland has had a better time recruiting in this class, but is still outside the top 40 in the class rankings. The Terrapins have had a lot of injuries to deal with, so I think once they get healthy and get back on track they will start to see a little more success. Now that they're in the Big Ten they can tell local recruits that they can stay close to home and still play in big stadiums and on national television, which will be a big draw.

TL: Rutgers is crumbling. At one time they had four ESPN 300 prospects and all have decommitted. This is not a good start for the Knights heading into the Big Ten. We very much like the top third of Maryland’s class, and the middle third has upside, but there is a significant drop off in talent in the bottom third, in our opinion.

What teams do you view as disappointing with this class?

TL: Rutgers. The rest have essentially been as expected for the most part.

TVH: Can I cop out and give everyone a trophy? I don't think anyone has a really disappointing class. I imagine Rutgers' coaches aren't thrilled with the way things have gone, but for the Big Ten teams from this season I think most of them have done a really nice job filling needs and getting a few big recruits in the class.

Finally, name a few players who we can expect to have an immediate impact in the 2014 season.

TVH: Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) is probably the first name that sticks out. He is the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country for a reason and could end being an outstanding college football player once he's done. I expect him to play early in some capacity. Potentially, a guy like Dominique Booth (Indianapolis/Pike) at Indiana at receiver, running back Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn) if he sticks with Minnesota, Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) at Ohio State and maybe juco defensive lineman Joe Keels (Kenosha, Wisc./Highland (Kan.) Community College) at Nebraska.

TL: Peppers, (Ohio State LB) Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and Jones, if he sticks.

Nebraska adds three-star DE King

January, 27, 2014
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Nebraska suffered a big blow along the defensive line when the Huskers lost defensive end Darius Slade (Montclair, N.J./Montclair). The three-star end decommitted on January 16, which meant his spot needed to be filled.

The coaching staff found his replacement with three-star defensive end Sedrick King (Plant City, Fla./Plant City), who switched his commitment from UCF to Nebraska.

The 6-foot-4, 211-pound end joins Peyton Newell (Hiawatha, Kan./Hiawatha), Mick Stoltenberg (Gretna, Neb./Gretna) and ESPN Junior College 50 defensive end Joe Keels (Kenosha, Wisc./Highland Community College).

King likely won’t be an immediate contributor, which is why the addition of Keels is so important. Keels flipped his commitment from Wisconsin to Nebraska and should allow time for King to develop physically and transition to the college game.

Nebraska now has 23 commitments, four of which are four-star prospects and 19 three-stars.

This was a big get for the Cornhuskers as we are less than 10 days away from signing day. Shoring up the defensive line depth was a main priority and King helps get the coaches towards that goal.

Midyear Signings: Nebraska

December, 20, 2013
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According to Huskers.com, the following players have signed with Nebraska:

Joe Keels, DE, Kenosha, Wis./Highland CC
HT: 6-4 WT: 280
Positional Rank: #4 DE Juco
Stars: 3
ESPN JC50 (No. 42)

Byerson Cockrell, S, Columbus, Miss./East Mississippi CC
HT: 6-1 WT: 190
Positional Rank: #9 S Juco
Stars: 3

Big Ten recruiting storylines: Dec. 19 

December, 19, 2013
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As the calendar year winds down, there is still plenty to talk about within recruiting. Big Ten teams have been on a roll on the recruiting trail as of late, and each program is hoping that continues into signing day.

Here are five things for fans to watch as we head into the holiday season.

Under Armour Game

There are six Big Ten teams represented in the Under Armour All-America game this year with Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State all having commitments scheduled to play in the game.

The game will be played Jan. 2 in St. Petersburg, Fla., but there will be plenty to watch before the big game. The participants will go through tough practices and skill competitions leading up to the event, which always has some interesting storylines.

The practices put the best players in the country against each other, so it’s a good measuring stick of top prospects.


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Nebraska flips Wisconsin juco commit 

December, 10, 2013
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Wisconsin’s loss is Nebraska’s gain as the Cornhuskers landed junior college defensive end Joe Keels (Kenosha, Wis./Highlands Community College) on Tuesday.

The No. 42 prospect in the ESPN JC 50 had been committed to the Badgers, but felt as though it wasn’t the right decision for him.


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Juco prospects could help Nebraska 

December, 9, 2013
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There hasn’t been more pressure on a Big Ten coach this season than Bo Pelini at Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers finished the season 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference. After the a loss in the regular-season finale against Iowa, Pelini said, “If they want to fire me, go ahead.”

He wasn’t fired, but he knows that his team needs to improve for his long-term stability.

In recruiting, unless you land college-ready players, it can take a few years to develop your prospects. That timetable can be accelerated with top junior college prospects.


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Big Ten class ranking analysis 

December, 4, 2013
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The end of the regular season means coaches will have more time to focus on recruiting and closing out their recruiting class. The Big Ten has seen plenty of movement within the last week, so here is a look at where the conference stacks up in the recruiting class rankings.


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Big Ten top juco targets 

December, 3, 2013
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Junior-college prospects are often an outstanding way for programs to fill their rosters. Because of the experience the prospects have with a higher level of play, they can immediately help at positions of need.

Big Ten schools are after plenty of juco prospects to round out the remainder of the Class of 2014. With the 2014 ESPN Junior College 50 rankings releasing today, here is a look at five junior-college targets for the conference.

OL Chad Mavety
Garden City, N.Y./Nassau community college
ESPN JC 50 ranking: No. 8


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The Big Ten Conference never rests. The proof is in another week full of headlines as Illinois and Wisconsin prepare for big official visit weekends.

Iowa is all over the recruiting trail on its bye week and Ohio State -- as it usually does -- is bringing news on almost a daily basis.


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RecruitingNation's The Early Offer gives you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: By offering the top signal-caller in the 2015 class, Texas proves it is serious about fixing its issues at the quarterback spot; Arkansas hopes to make a big impression with four key official visitors slated to visit this weekend; and a NJCAA region VI playoff game will feature some of the best junior college players in the country.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

October, 28, 2013
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The Big Ten always has plenty of recruiting storylines worthy of following.

From key commitments to intriguing attempts to flip prospects committed elsewhere, here’s what went down in a very busy week on the trail for the conference.


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Early Offer: More success for O'Brien 

September, 25, 2013
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The Early Offer is a RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: The news that Penn State is having scholarships restored by the NCAA will give Nittany Lion coach Bill O’Brien even more opportunities to showcase recruiting skills; Highland CC DE Joe Keels is quickly climbing the charts, just like his team; and FSU addressed a need at TE thanks in part to star quarterback Jameis Winston.

Big opportunity for O’Brien
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien had already proven he was one of the nation’s best recruiters when the Nittany Lions’ 2013 class finished at No. 24 in the class rankings and followed it up this year with a class that ranks at No. 25. The ability to attract talent like he has with all of the restrictions placed on his staff was impressive. But when the news broke Tuesday that the NCAA will reduce its sanctions against Penn State by gradually restoring scholarships starting next season, Happy Valley certainly became a lot happier. The news gives O’Brien an immediate opportunity to build an even better 2014 class, and I fully expect him to make the most out of it. One Big Ten assistant told me that this “makes Penn State relevant again with some of the Midwest’s top uncommitted players.”

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