NCF On The Trail: michael o'connor

Video: Comparing O'Connor to Bortles

March, 4, 2014
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National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert explains the ways in which Penn State quarterback signee Michael O'Connor resembles NFL draft prospect Blake Bortles.

Top position classes: QBs 

February, 10, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
The Florida Gators had a major need at quarterback in the Class of 2014, and Will Muschamp and staff more than filled it, signing two of the nation’s top signal-callers. Third-ranked dual-threat prospect Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School) is already on campus and preparing for spring practice, while No. 7 dual-threat prospect Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) was a huge signing-day flip from Florida State. Both prospects are great athletes who are accustomed to operating uptempo offenses. This should also help newly hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will install a similar scheme in Gainesville.

The Gators had the nation's best QB class; here's which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:

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.

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

January, 22, 2014
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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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Midyear signings: Penn State

January, 16, 2014
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According to ESPN's Tom VanHaaren, the following players have enrolled at Penn State:

De'Andre Thompkins, ATH (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro)
HT: 5-11; WT: 176
Positional Rank: No. 8 ATH
Stars: 4
ESPN 300: No. 73
Under Armour All-American

Michael O'Connor, QB-PP (Bradenton, Fla./IMG)
HT: 6-5; WT: 223
Positional Rank: No. 6 QB-PP
Stars: 4
ESPN 300: No. 132
Under Armour All-American

Antoine White, DT (Millville, N.J./Millville)
HT: 6-3; WT: 265
Positional Rank: No. 80 DT
Stars: 3

Chasz Wright, OT (Woodbridge, Va./Milford Academy)
HT: 6-7; WT: 295
Positional Rank: N/A (post-grad)
Stars: 3

ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Tarow Barney (Bainbridge, Ga./Northwest Mississippi CC) signed in December, according to GoPSUSports.com.

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

January, 8, 2014
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Ohio State has been on a roll on the recruiting trail in the past few weeks. The commitments the Buckeyes have landed, along with a few other happenings in the Big Ten, have impacted the class rankings.

Here is a look at the most recent trends within the Big Ten.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 6, 2014
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Despite the dead period there was still plenty of action within the Big Ten on the recruiting trail. Here is a look at what happened throughout the conference this past week.

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O'Connor's PSU decision in doubt 

January, 3, 2014
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When Penn State quarterback commit Michael O’Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) found out coach Bill O’Brien was leaving the program to join the Houston Texans, O’Connor didn’t know how to react.

O’Connor, the No. 5 pocket passer in the ESPN 300, was supposed to be an early enrollee at Penn State but without a head coach in place, his recruitment is up in the air. His former high school coach, Victor Tedondo, said O’Connor isn’t quite sure whether he will still enroll early at Penn State.


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UA Game notebook: First impressions

December, 29, 2013
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -– Team Nitro and Team Highlight took to the fields at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports on an overcast Sunday morning for Day 1 of practice for Thursday's Under Armour All-America Game (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET). There were several players who impressed, a top linebacker is feeling pressure to stay at home and the nation's No. 1-ranked player isn’t too concerned with his lack of touches on the first day.

ESPN 300 linebacker feeling the pressure


Four-star linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) was one of the most impressive-looking linebackers during individual drills. The No. 84-ranked player in the country continues to have four schools at the top of his list.

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
Miller Safrit/ESPNRashaan Evans is feeling the pressure from hometown fans off the field.
"I still have four schools -- Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and UCLA -- on top,” Evans said. “Those four schools, they are pretty even. I’m going to take this whole thing slow and pretty much I’m going to take it out to signing day.”

Evans already took an official visit to UCLA in September and is planning to take two other visits in January.

"I’ll take either Bama or Auburn on Jan. 17,” he said, "and then on the 24th maybe Georgia."

As a native of Auburn, Ala., Evans admits he feels constant pressure to stay at home.

"It’s pretty bad,” Evans said. "Most of the time my day consists of Auburn people telling me, ‘Hey, don’t go to Bama, go to Auburn.’ It’s pretty bad, because most of the people I’m around are Auburn alumni. So I hear about Auburn each and every day. So when I go on visits, everybody knows about it and they always shoot me messages about Auburn.

"I feel like I would disappoint people if I did go somewhere other than Auburn. I’m in Auburn, I love Auburn, I’ve lived in Auburn all my life. I have family at Auburn. Most of my family has graduated from Auburn. People would be curious as to why I would want to leave Auburn, but at the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for me."

Coaches impressed

Team Highlight quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke was impressed with his group of QBs during the first practice. LSU commit Brandon Harris (Bossier City, La./Parkway), Penn State commit Michael O’Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG) and Auburn commit Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School) all made nice throws during the course of the practice.

"I think the one thing is that is they have to understand, schematically, what they are doing right now,” Weinke said. "The first day always creates hesitation. I spent more time with Harris, White and O’Connor, but looking at all six guys, they all did a nice job on the first day.

"Brandon Harris spins the ball really well. The one thing with him is now he has to tie his feet in to what he’s doing. O’Connor did a nice job of being very accurate throwing the ball today. Sean White did a heck of a job making some throws in some tight spots.”



Defensively, Team Highlight linebackers coach LaVar Arrington already has a good feeling about his players, which he thinks are a special group.

“I know they’re good when I remember their names, and I remember all my guy’s names,” he said. “They have nicknames. They were balling so hard I nicknamed them. You have Jacob Pugh, so I call him J.P., Kain Daub is K.D. and Tre’ [Williams] is a nickname in itself.

“Then Rashaan [Evans], I grew up being called Shad, so he’s Shad.”

Fournette not worried about carries


Running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), the nation’s top prospect, handled the football only a few times during nearly three hours of practice.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Miller Safrit/ESPNLeonard Fournette likely will have a much busier day Monday than he did on Sunday.
On one of the opportunities designed for him to get the ball, White kept the ball on an option play when Fournette clearly had an open lane. It resulted in one of the funnier moments of the day: One of the Team Highlight assistants pointed over to Fournette and asked White, "You see him? That's the No. 1 running back in the country. You are to get the ball to him and he's supposed to run around and over people. You can't do that."

For his part, Fournette said he’s not concerned. It's not the focus of his trip to Florida.

“It’s about the decisions we have to make,” said Fournette, one of seven players who will announce their commitments during Thursday's game. “We have to focus on the decisions at the end of the day.”

Fournette slimmed his options early in the season to LSU and Alabama. Recently, he added Texas to the list of finalists at the urging of Saint Augustine teammate Jermaine Roberts, a receiver committed to the Longhorns.

Texas is considered a significant darkhorse for Fournette, who did not take an official visit to the school but made it to Austin, Texas, for an unofficial trip last summer.

Still, Fournette said, he’s not penalizing UT for its lack of a head coach as Mack Brown steps aside after the Valero Alamo Bowl on Monday against Oregon.

“Doesn’t concern me at all,” Fournette said.

He also won’t be swayed by the advice of fellow prospects here.

“Everybody’s going to go on their own path, do their own thing,” Fournette said.

Fournette said he would settle on a school after speaking with his parents, who arrive in Orlando on Tuesday.

Top social media posts


There were some great one-on-one battles Sunday. Here are some highlights:

Miami-bound offensive lineman Trevor Darling (Miami/Central), who usually plays left tackle, lined up at left guard during the one-on-one portion and more than held his own. Here’s a look at Darling winning a matchup against Georgia-bound defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard (Fayetteville, N.C./Pine Forest).



Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) also impressed on the first day of practices. Here’s Carter getting the better of Michigan commit Juwann Bushell-Beatty (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic).



Uncommitted Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville), the No. 2-ranked safety in the country, had a tremendous pass breakup on the goal line during the team portion of practice.

Speedy Noil, the No. 8-ranked prospect in the country, put on a show the first day of practice. He hauled in pass after pass and did it all while wearing a gold watch on his wrist. The five-star receiver even had an impressive one-handed catch.



Michigan-bound defensive back Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic), the nation's No. 2-ranked prospect, took on Florida-bound receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead Senior), the nation's No. 28-ranked recruit, in one-on-ones. Lane got the better of Peppers the first two reps, but the two will have plenty of time to battle it out leading up to the game.

Qualifiers for the American Family Insurance Skills Challenge


After practice concluded Sunday, several players competed for spots in the finals of the American Family Insurance Skills challenge. The finals will air on Jan. 1 (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET). Here’s a look at who has qualified for the finals so far:

Running backs/linebackers
RB Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) -- Auburn commit
LB Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) -- uncommitted
LB Melvin Keihn (Baltimore, Md./Gilman School) -- Virginia Tech commit

Wide receiver/defensive backs
TE Jacory Washington (Westlake, La./Westlake) -- LSU commit
CB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) -- uncommitted
CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover) -- uncommitted

Jeremy Crabtree, Mitch Sherman and Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.

How pocket passers compare 

December, 24, 2013
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It is becoming more and more difficult to find favorable comparisons for true pocket passers because the definition of the quintessential pocket passer has changed so much.

Even dropback guys now seem to have enough athleticism to make things happen with their feet. Offensive schemes almost always feature some form of the spread offense, even if it’s just a wrinkle.

Our top five pocket passers in this class all possess enough athleticism to be effective or make second reaction throws, but are at their best moving the ball with their arm, not their legs.


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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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Penn State lands ESPN 300 DT

December, 17, 2013
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Defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) has committed to Penn State according to his head coach. Holley, No. 87 in the ESPN 300, chose the Nittany Lions over Florida on Monday.

Holley, the No. 7 ranked defensive tackle in the class, is a huge addition to Penn State’s 2014 class. At 6-foot-4, 303 pounds, he is third defensive tackle commit for coach Bill O’Brien.

[+] EnlargeThomas Holley
Courtesy of Thomas HolleyESPN 300 DT Thomas Holley committed to Penn State on Monday. He chose the Nittany Lions over Florida.
He joins junior college lineman Tarow Barney (Senatobia, Miss./Northwest Mississippi Community College) and Antoine White (Millville, N.J./Millville) up front to add some outstanding depth to the roster.

Holley took his official visit to Penn State in October and took a trip out to Florida in late November. He also received in-home visits from both coaching staffs, but ultimately chose the Nittany Lions.

The middle of the line was important to build depth as senior DaQuan Jones is graduating and Kyle Baublitz will not be returning next season. Jones, 6-3 and 318 pounds, was awarded as Penn State’s most outstanding senior player at the annual end of the year banquet.

Holley will eventually help fill that void, as he has similar size and a similar build as Jones.

He also adds to a growing class already ranked No. 26 in the ESPN class rankings. His commitment gives the Nittany Lions eight commitments ranked as four-stars and nine three-star commitments.

Holley joins De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro), Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown) as the four ESPN 300 commits in this class.

Big Ten signing day storylines 

December, 17, 2013
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Signing day is only 50 days away and there are plenty of questions surrounding the big day. Big Ten programs still have a ton of top prospects on the board, which means there could be some impactful decisions coming in the near future.

Here is a look at some of the top storylines in the conference leading up to signing day.


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QB Wolford mulls Penn State offer 

December, 13, 2013
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It was supposed to be a normal week for 2014 quarterback John Wolford (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny), who has been committed to East Carolina since September. He thought his recruitment was over and he would just prepare for the next stage in his career.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wolford
Tim Yocum PhotographyThe chance to work with Bill O'Brien at Penn State could change John Wolford's mind about his commitment to ECU.
That all changed, though, with a phone call from the Penn State coaches on Wednesday.

“I hadn’t been talking to them at all, it all just happened last week,” he said. “They saw my film and I talked to Coach [Bill] O’Brien and Coach [Tony] Midget. He came down on Wednesday and then I talked to O’Brien that night and he offered me.”

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Big Ten recruiting storylines: Dec. 12 

December, 12, 2013
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This is the last week before a dead period, which means coaches will be hosting important targets and visiting as many schools as they can.

There is plenty to discuss within the Big Ten, so here is a look at this week’s storylines.

Waiting for Raekwon

The No. 12 ranked prospect in the country, linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), is scheduled to annouce his decision Dec. 16.

The No. 1 ranked linebacker has Ohio State in his top three with Alabama and Clemson and will receive an in-home visit from the Buckeyes’ coaching staff.

The interesting part about this is there are plenty of rumors swiring around Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas. Those rumors have likely made their way to McMillan. Whether they impact his decision, or not, is a question that remains.

Booth picking up interest


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