NCF On The Trail: Montae Nicholson

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.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin hasn't even spent one night in Happy Valley, but Penn State's new head coach has already thrown down the recruiting gauntlet against Pittsburgh and other teams in the northeast.

"Our recruiting philosophy," Franklin said Saturday afternoon during his introductory press conference, "we are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region.

"I'm going to call all the high school coaches. I'm calling all the people in the state that we need to come together like never before."

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsJames Franklin didn't mince words when talking about recruiting, say that it's his mission for the Nittany Lions to dominate within the state of Pennsylvania.
Franklin emphasized every line about recruiting and spoke passionately during his first-ever news conference as the Penn State head coach. He's been widely regarded as an incredible recruiter -- he reeled in 22 four-star commits during his time at Vanderbilt -- and he didn't hesitate when asked about his high recruiting hopes.

The new coach's bold statement comes after years of PSU routinely losing out in western Pennsylvania. Sure, Penn State has earned commitments of some prospects such as wideout Troy Apke, but it's missed more than it's hit. PSU fell out of favor with ESPN 300 targets such as WR Tyler Boyd (2013 commit; Pitt), ATH Dravon Henry (2014 commit; West Virginia) and DB Montae Nicholson (2014 commit; Michigan State).

Beating Pitt out for recruits in its own backyard is a daring statement. So, a few minutes after answering his first recruiting question, Franklin was given a chance to soften his words. This time, he was asked where his recruiting focus lay -- but he again wasted no time in reinforcing his original point.

"I don't know if I mentioned this before, but we're going to dominate the state," he said matter-of-factly. "That's the first thing we're going to do."

And after that? Well, Franklin said next comes the region, in such states and areas as New Jersey, New York, New England, Virginia and Delaware. And, then, comes the nation.

"I think you sell yourself short when you don't do that," said the coach who got three commitments from California in Vanderbilt's last class.

Of course, Franklin never specifically mentioned Pitt at that point in the press conference. Maybe he'd back down if that was spelled out to him, maybe he'd try to soften up all this talk of dominating and controlling. It was an interesting thing to say, after all, for his first day on the job.

But Franklin just doubled-down on those statements when Pitt was specifically mentioned in one reporter's question.

"When I say Pennsylvania, when I say Penn State, that's the whole state," he said. "That is the whole state. We will recruit every corner of this state, every school of this state, every neighborhood of this state.

"And when I say recruit, not only just the student-athletes. I mean the people of the great state of Pennsylvania. We will recruit everybody, and that is with tremendous respect for the University of Pittsburgh. But we are ... Penn State."
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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Michigan State capped off an outstanding season with a 24-20 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. The Spartans finished 13-1 after playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1988.

This was a dream season, but the team loses some key performers. With the No. 40 ranked class, the recruiting efforts will help fill some of those voids.


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Early Offer: UA Game around corner 

December, 20, 2013
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Friday's offerings: We’re getting closer and closer to the start of festivities for the Under Armour All-America Game, and there are plenty of major questions heading in; Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has to be happy with class he’s assembling; and we’re going to take a break next week because of the holidays.

Many questions entering UA Game week
Next Friday the first batch of players will begin to arrive in Orlando for the Under Armour All-America Game. Official player registration begins on the 28th and RecruitingNation will have coverage of all the arrivals and practices, leading up to the game on Jan. 2. There are some tremendous story lines heading to the week I’m excited to learn more about. How solid is Jabrill Peppers with the Wolverines? What’s Marlon Humphrey thinking, and is there a good chance he could truly end up at FSU? What does Keller Chryst think of Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Sanford’s expected departure to Boise State? And what’s going to happen with Dalvin Cook and Laurence Jones?

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Scout's Take: Nicholson to Spartans 

December, 19, 2013
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ESPN 300 defensive back Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) surprised some when he chose Michigan State over Pitt.

How will he fit with the Spartans? Let's break it down:


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Few prospects did a better job of keeping their recruitment under wraps than Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway). While the ESPN 300 athlete granted interviews, his comments were always guarded and never alluded to one school being ahead of the others.

The answer finally came Thursday, when the four-star Nicholson, No. 249 in the ESPN 300, committed to Michigan State at a ceremony at his high school. Florida State, Oregon, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech were his other finalists.

The Spartans received Nicholson's first official visit in September, but then not much was spoken of Michigan State. It was not until the days leading up to Nicholson's announcement that the Spartans once again were considered a possible landing spot for the 6-foot-2, 210-pound athlete.

The commitment should not come as too much of a surprise, as Michigan State has extended its recruiting radius to Western Pennsylvania the last few years. Four-star Dede Cox from Jeannette signed in 2012 and four-star recruits Damion Terry and Delton Williams of Erie Cathedral Prep signed with the Spartans in February. Nicholson is ranked No. 4 in Pennsylvania in the 2014 class.

Most likely destined for the defensive backfield in college, Nicholson is another significant addition to one of the country's premier secondaries. Few programs had success moving the ball on the Spartans on the ground or through the air, and Nicholson is a rangy playmaker who could make it very difficult on quarterbacks in the middle and deep parts of the field.

Fellow ESPN 300 defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) has Michigan State as a finalist, as well, so the Spartans could have one of the country's best secondaries for the next several years.

Nicholson is the second ESPN 300 commitment for Michigan State and the fifth rated as a four-star prospect. The Spartans' class of 18 commits is not ranked nationally.

ACC class rankings analysis 

December, 18, 2013
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This week is starting to look a lot like the week leading up to signing day. Four of the country’s premier ESPN 300 prospects committed Tuesday and a handful more will make decisions in the coming week.

Naturally, it has caused a few shakeups, so here is a breakdown of the updated class rankings, and how it affects the ACC.

Trending up: Once again this distinction belongs to Florida State after two commitments last week and another one Wednesday with junior college lineman Kareem Are (Fort Scott, Kan./Fort Scott CC) deciding Wednesday morning The Noles have added two juco linemen over the last 10 days; Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau) pledged to the Noles Dec. 9. Three-star Brock Ruble (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic) also joined the offensive line class with a commitment Friday. As for the rest of the class, things still look good to flip ESPN 300 running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/ Central) and landing five-star cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover). There is still a chance for No. 1 cornerback Adoree' Jackson and No. 1 receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis), too.


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ACC signing day storylines 

December, 17, 2013
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Signing day and Feb. 5 still might feel far away (50 days away to be exact), but for coaches the sense of urgency has officially set in. The offseason dead period was extended and began Sunday. It will last a month into mid-January, leaving coaches with only a few weekends left to host recruits on campus visits and meet prospects and their families inside their homes.

So with signing day closer than it appears in college football’s mirrors, here are 10 storylines in the ACC to watch between now and Feb. 5.

1. Who will sign the ACC’s top class?


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Montae Nicholson was planning to commit in early December. The timetable for the four-star Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway athlete and ESPN 300 prospect has been pushed back, but just slightly.


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There has been movement on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten conference, so it's time once again to take a look at a few trends and changes among the teams. Here is a look at the latest for the Big Ten class rankings.

Trending up:

Tom VanHaaren: Michigan State has a chance to move up in the rankings if it can close strong. ESPN 300 prospects Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan Catholic) and Kiy Hester (Wayne, N.J./DePaul Catholic) recently added the Spartans to their top list, while Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) are still listing Michigan State in their top group as well. The strong defensive play on the field has Michigan State in position to play for a Big Ten championship, which could further help this recruiting class.


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Questions for signing day: ACC 

November, 12, 2013
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It is a chicken or the egg argument. Has the SEC ruled college football for much of the last decade because the conference annually places five or more teams among the top 10 of the recruiting rankings? Or is the SEC’s recruiting dominance a result of seven straight national championships?

The ACC, though, could be the David to the SEC on the field and in recruiting. In the 2014 cycle, two ACC schools have top-five classes. Will that remain the same come signing day?

We look at that question and nine others as we examine the most pressing ACC recruiting questions leading up to signing day.

1. Will FSU and Miami remain in the top five of the class rankings?
Both classes are close to completion, so it could be tough for the Noles and Canes to finish in the top five of the rankings. Alabama is at No. 1 and could end up running away with another recruiting title. The rest of the SEC will charge hard come signing day, too. Tennessee should be a safe bet to finish in the top five, and programs such as Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss and more could break into the exclusive group come February. Tennessee recently jumped both schools, pushing Florida State to No. 3 and Miami to No. 4.

2. Can Miami surpass Florida State for the ACC’s top class?
If both were to fall out of the top five, there is still some pride in finishing with the top class in the conference. The Noles are ahead of the Canes at the moment, and it will be tough for the Canes to jump FSU. It looks as if Miami has two spots left and should finish with Johnnie Dixon and Anthony Moten. But the Noles could sign more than 30, and some of the country’s truly elite prospects have Florida State among their finalists. It looks doubtful that Miami -- or any ACC team -- will catch and pass Jimbo Fisher’s class.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Featherston
Courtesy of IntersportESPN 300 DE Lorenzo Featherston is a Clemson lean whose pledge would help the Tigers close strong.
3. Will Clemson finish in the top 10?
Sitting at No. 12 in the rankings, the Tigers have a good chance to finish in the top 10 and even an outside chance to crack the top seven. Defensive end Lorenzo Featherston (Greensboro, N.C./Page) is No. 27 in the ESPN 300 and a Clemson lean. It would be a surprise to see him land anywhere but with the Tigers. Cornerback D.J. Smith (Marietta, Ga./Walton), No. 88 in the ESPN 300, also looks to be leaning Clemson’s way, and the same could be said for defensive end Andrew Williams (McDonough, Ga./Eagles Christian Landing), No. 168 in the rankings. The prize of the defensive class would be five-star inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan, however. He is slated to visit officially later this month, and the No. 12 player and top linebacker in 2014 has the Tigers among his top three.

4. Can Pitt close out with three of its four Western Pennsylvania targets?
For Pitt’s class to be considered a success, Paul Chryst needs to do just that. The Panthers are struggling some with Pittsburgh-area prospects in 2014, but the same happened in 2013 before Pitt landed Dorian Johnson and Tyler Boyd. In February, the Panthers hope to land Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mt. Lebanon), Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and Shai McKenzie (Washington, Pa./Washington); Henry, Bookser and Nicholson are all in the ESPN 300 and have Pitt among their finalists. Henry is a Pitt legacy. Bookser looks to be focused on Ohio State and Pitt; Nicholson will decide in December and is projected to Pitt.

5. Will Duke sign an ESPN 300 prospect?
The Blue Devils have never signed an ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 prospect since the rankings began almost a decade ago. That was going to change in 2014 with quarterback Nicodem Pierre (Miami/Coral Reef), but the dual-threat dropped from the ESPN 300 in October. However, Trevon Lee (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Cardinal Gibbons) could be leaning Duke’s way with the Blue Devils on a roll this season. With a guaranteed winning regular season -- their first in nearly two decades -- Lee is thinking hard about Duke. Academics are big for the 241st-ranked player, so a decision could come down to Duke and Vanderbilt.


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It's never too early to talk about signing day, especially with so many questions currently unanswered on the recruiting trail. Big unknowns remain for the Big Ten conference, so here are 10 questions leading up to signing day.

1. Last year, Ohio State finished with the No. 3 class in the nation. Can it happen again?


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It was the first defining win of Paul Chryst’s head-coaching career. It could be the defining moment of Pittsburgh’s future recruiting classes, too.

In front of one of the best atmospheres since the Panthers moved to Heinz Field, they upset No. 23 Notre Dame -- and made an impression on a number of key recruits who were at the game.


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Pittsburgh would like to get to where Miami is. Two programs down on their luck for much of the last decade, Miami has climbed out of ACC mediocrity as a conference contender. Pittsburgh is the newest middling program to leave the Big East for the ACC.

Miami has made its way to the top third of the ACC behind the success of a new coach and his recruiting, and Pitt hopes to do the same under second-year coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers are looking to finish strong in 2014, and this weekend could go a long way toward doing that.

The Hurricanes are still not where they want to be following a second-half shellacking at the hands of rival Florida State last weekend. A win Saturday night, however, and the Hurricanes essentially lock up a rematch with the Seminoles in the ACC title game, which would help regain some power in the three-way recruiting tug-of-war in Florida.

Here are five recruits who will be keeping a close eye on the Notre Dame-Pitt game and five more who will be watching Virginia Tech-Miami.

Notre Dame at Pitt

ATH Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa): It is not often the Panthers miss out on prospects from nearby Aliquippa, and Henry is related to former Pitt standouts Darrelle Revis and Sean Gilbert. The two-way star is a West Virginia lean, however. The Mountaineers have been out front for Henry for quite some time and the lead is expanding. This could be the type of game that finally brings Pitt a little bit closer to the top spot. Henry, No. 136 in the ESPN 300, will take official visits after the season, and he acknowledges the pressure to go to Pitt will increase as signing day nears. A positive showing by the Panthers on Saturday could go a long way in easing some of that pressure on the state’s top player. One problem: Henry will be at West Virginia.


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