NCF On The Trail: Leon McQuay III

When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.

Tee Martin is USC's secret weapon 

February, 7, 2013
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While it’s safe to say signing day didn’t quite go as planned for the Trojans on Wednesday, there are still some positives to take away from it all -- most obviously the fact that although small in numbers, USC’s class is filled to the brim with talent.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee and Robert Woods
Icon SMITee Martin is one of USC's best recruiters, opening up a pipeline into the Southeast.
With an eye toward the future, there is one more reason to be optimistic if you’re a Trojans fan, and that’s the effort and ability showcased on the recruiting trail by one of the staff’s youngest coaches, Tee Martin.

Lured away from Kentucky in late February 2012, Martin was a hit with just about every player, parent and coach he came in contact with over the past year, solidifying his standing as one of the top up-and-coming recruiters in college football.
ESPN 150 defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) is no longer in limbo.


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Signing day primer: USC 

January, 23, 2013
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Team needs: With all-conference cornerback Nickell Robey declaring for the NFL draft and the graduation of safeties T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Drew McAllister, adding depth in the secondary is a pressing need for the Trojans. Given Matt Barkley’s departure, it was imperative that USC sign another quarterback to pair with Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.

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Scouts: McQuay fills need for USC 

January, 6, 2013
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With limited scholarships and a need for talent in the back-end, USC is certainly achieving success in this 2013 class. After securing a verbal from Leon McQuay III (Seffner, Fla./Armwood), USC now has commitments from the No. 1 and 3-rated safeties, and despite some setbacks in this class, the Trojans have reloaded on defense and have secured a great overall group of talented players.

The future in the defensive backfield is very promising, as McQuay III will be paired with top prospect Su'a Cravens (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta) to give USC two big, fast and athletic safeties.


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Early enrollee McQuay sparks momentum 

January, 4, 2013
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Long overdue for positive news, the USC Trojans finally got some Friday in the form of a commitment from highly coveted safety Leon McQuay III (Seffner, Fla./Armwood), live during the Under Armour All-America Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Quite frankly, USC needed this one.

[+] EnlargeLeon McQuay
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comThe exit of Trojans defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin didn't faze four-star safety Leon McQuay.
Following a recent rough stretch -- both in recruiting and on the field -- the addition of McQuay to a dwindling class is both significant and encouraging. If the Trojans plan to regain the momentum they built in the summer, securing a pledge from the nation's No. 3 safety is a good start.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- And then there were five.

Under Armour All-America Game officials have confirmed that Pomfret (Md.) McDonough four-star offensive tackle Na'Ty Rodgers will not announce his decision tonight’s game. Kickoff for the sixth annual game is at 5 p.m. ET and is broadcast on ESPN.

Rodgers tweeted late last night that he wasn’t going to announce his decision and likely would wait until signing day.

“I've decided to not announce tomorrow,” the tweet said. “Sorry folks.”

Rodgers was expected to decide between Maryland and South Carolina at the game, but now he’s going to wait. Oklahoma and Washington have also been in contention with Rodgers, who ranks as the nation’s No. 27 offensive tackle and the No. 9 player in Maryland.

Still scheduled to announce are four-star safety Leon McQuay III, four-star defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko, four-star athlete Max Redfield, four-star linebacker Trey Johnson and four-star athlete Kendell Beckwith.

McQuay is expected to pick between Florida State and USC. Ogundeko lists Syracuse and Clemson as the favorites.

Redfield listed Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC as his finalists, but the Buckeyes aren't actively recruiting him and he should pick between the Irish and Trojans.

Beckwith will decide between LSU and Alabama. Johnson will choose from Ohio State, Tennessee and Florida, but the final pick will be between the Buckeyes and Vols.

Hackenberg, Olsen earn UA Game starts

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Black Team offense

Quarterback: Christian Hackenberg (Penn State)

Running back: Alvin Kamara

Receiver: Alvin Bailey (Florida), Robert Foster (Alabama), Damore'ea Stringfellow (Washington)

Tight end: O.J. Howard (Alabama)

Offensive tackle: Darius James (Texas), Denver Kirkland

Offensive guard: Grant Hill (Alabama), Joas Aguilar (Texas A&M)

Center: Hunter Bivin (Notre Dame)

Captains: Kelvin Taylor, Hunter Bivin, Robert Nkemdiche, Ben Boulware

Black Team defense

Defensive end: Robert Nkemdiche, Elijah Daniel

Defensive tackle: Greg Gilgmore (LSU), Kennedy Tulimasealii (Hawaii)

Inside linebacker: Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Outside linebacker: Alex Anzalone (Notre Dame), Matthew Thomas

Safety: Keanu Neal (Florida), Leon McQuay III

Cornerback: Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), Tarean Folston (Notre Dame)

Black Team special teams

Long snapper: Tyler Kluver (Iowa)

Kicker/punter: Sean Covington (UCLA)

White Team offense

Quarterback: Kevin Olsen (Miami)

Running back: Keith Ford (Oklahoma)

Receiver: Laquon Treadwell, Ryan Green (Florida State), Jalin Marshall (Ohio State)

Tight end: Hunter Henry (Arkansas)

Offensive tackle: Derwin Gray (Maryland), Dorian Johnson (Pittsburgh)

Offensive guard: Patrick Kugler (Michigan), David Dawson (Michigan)

Center: Scott Quessenberry (UCLA)

White Team defense

Defensive end: Carl Lawson (Auburn), Joey Bosa (Ohio State)

Defensive tackle: Henry Poggi (Michigan), Kelsey Griffin (South Carolina)

Inside linebacker: Reuben Foster, Yannick Ngakoue

Outside linebacker: Trey Johnson

Safety: Max Redfield, Antonio Conner

Cornerback: Gareon Conley (Ohio State), Shaq Wiggins (Georgia)

White Team special teams

Long snapper: Brendan Turelli

Kicker: Ryan Santoso (Minnesota)

Punter: Shane Tripucka

Captains: Ryan Green, Hunter Henry, Patrick Kugler, Reuben Foster

ESPN 150 S McQuay set to decide Friday 

December, 30, 2012
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- ESPN 150 safety Leon McQuay III (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) will be making his college decision at the Under Armour All-America Game on Friday.


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Visits don't sway USC commit Hawkins 

December, 21, 2012
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The top cornerback at the 2012 Cal-State Game in Visalia, Calif., has been as advertised during the South team's practices this week.

ESPN 150 CB Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga) has been a USC commit since April, but that hasn't stopped him from taking other visits and talking to other schools.

While there have been visits taken and rumors floating around for months, the No. 11 CB in the nation is still solid with the Trojans. Previous visits to Cal, Notre Dame and Washington did nothing to dissuade Hawkins from sticking with his dream school.

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DT Bigelow loves L.A., ready for impact 

December, 17, 2012
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Longtime commit Kenny Bigelow (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) got a preview of his fast-approaching move to Los Angeles over the weekend and the No. 2-rated defensive tackle described his official visit to USC as the "best experience ever."

That's hardly a surprise, given that Bigelow has been one of the more vocal and loyal Trojans supporters since he became the first member of the current recruiting class last November.

"Seeing the McKay Center for the first time since it finished was probably my favorite part of the visit," Bigelow said. "I have never seen anything like that before. Hanging with the coaches and talking with the players was great. Coach O and I talked a lot. I sat in during some position meetings and we met one-on-one in his office. He laid out plans for me and told me what he wants me to do. He needs me to come in and make a difference right away."

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USC coaches visit with Max Redfield 

December, 17, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans made a strong push for a former commit Saturday night.

USC coaches Lane Kiffin, Marvin Sanders, Tee Martin, Kennedy Polamalu and John Baxter met with four-star athlete Max Redfield (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) during an in-home visit ahead of the fast-approaching dead period. Redfield decommitted from the Trojans on Nov. 4, about three weeks after his official visit to Notre Dame, but USC has shown a willingness to continue recruiting the No. 4-rated athlete.

[+] EnlargeMax Redfield
Erik McKinney/ESPN.comUSC coaches are making a late push for ESPN 150 athlete Max Redfield, who decommitted from the Trojans last month.
The coaches left Redfield's home at around 10 p.m. on Saturday. Their main selling point during the meeting: location.

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Weekend rewind: USC 

December, 17, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- The first member of USC’s current class officially visited campus this weekend and could not have been happier.

“Best experience ever,” defensive tackle commit Kenny Bigelow said. “My host Leonard Williams was great.”

Bigelow, the No. 2-rated defensive tackle who committed to the Trojans last November, is scheduled to enroll shortly after the Jan. 5 U.S. Army All-American Game.

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DB Crawford plans visit to Boise State 

December, 16, 2012
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Defensive back James Crawford (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) would like to follow in the footsteps of his uncle Charles Woodson. And that means the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior would like to find himself in Michigan’s class on signing day.


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After flirting with the NFL last year, Chip Kelly's name has been mentioned as a top target of many pro teams again this year. If he did take an NFL job, where would that leave the Ducks' recruiting efforts?

[+] EnlargeThomas Tyner
Quavondo/ESPNHSWhat would happen with Oregon's star RB commit Thomas Tyner if Chip Kelly went to the NFL?
ESPN 150 running backs Thomas Tyner (Aloha, Ore./Aloha) and Dontre Wilson (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto) could look elsewhere. Tyner was very vocal on Twitter last year when there were reports Kelly was accepting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job. He would likely look at other schools. Wilson, meanwhile, has a great relationship with Oregon RB coach Gary Campbell, who would likely consider retirement if Kelly were to leave.

There is nothing but speculation at this point, but it is assumed the Ducks would move offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to head coach, leaving most of the staff and the Ducks' high-flying offense intact.

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