NCF On The Trail: Nick Watkins

It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. That holds true for college coaches, especially when it comes to dealing with Twitter and staying out of the NCAA’s crosshairs.

“A coach texted me this morning asking if he can send out this tweet,” said Jen Vining-Smith, Notre Dame’s assistant athletic director for compliance. “Our coaches like to ask for permission rather than forgiveness.

“It happens all the time, especially if coaches want to walk that line.”

Coaches aren’t just walking that fine line on Twitter while recruiting; they are taking up residence and setting up shop.

[+] EnlargeNick Watkins
Courtesy of IntersportWhen ESPN 300 DB Nick Watkins, above, committed to Notre Dame, assistant coach Kerry Cooks got a little overzealous on Twitter.
Coaches cannot publicly name a prospective student-athlete unless that recruit signs a national letter of intent or a financial-aid agreement with the intention of enrolling early. However, that does not prevent coach Kevin Sumlin from tweeting “YESSIR!” when Texas A&M adds to its class. Coach Mark Stoops is well within the rules to post “#YAHTZEE” if Kentucky adds to its best class in school history.

And nothing prevents Miami assistant Brennan Carroll proclaiming “#WelcomeToTheU” when Miami finds a future Cane. The commit’s name is never mentioned, so compliance and the NCAA don't bat an eye.

“It’s like being a law student and trying to find out loopholes in the law,” one recruiting assistant said. “It’s legal and OK for them to do that.”

That same coach fights an itchy trigger finger when it comes to tweeting a borderline message to the Twitterverse.

“If you’re talking on Twitter, you might as well be talking to the L.A. Times,” one BCS assistant said.

That same recruiting assistant keeps a checklist and carefully pores over every tweet before he rolls his mouse over the blue "send" button. If any part of the tweet feels as if it could be an NCAA violation, he gets out of his chair, walks down the hall and knocks on his compliance office’s door.

Not every coach plays it as safe, and some just cannot contain themselves when there is a big commitment. Michigan State recruiting assistant Curtis Blackwell tweeted the name of a couple of Spartans commitments a few months ago while he was new and unfamiliar with NCAA rules. Last fall, Kerry Cooks, Notre Dame’s recruiter in Texas, landed ESPN 300 prospect Nick Watkins, and while he did not tweet Watkins’ name, he retweeted Fighting Irish fans who guessed correctly that it was Watkins and had tweeted at the No. 123 player nationally.

A retweet is equivalent to a tweet in the NCAA’s eyes. Cook’s was a double no-no, as fans are not allowed to recruit on behalf of the university, either.

Both coaches deleted the tweets within the hour, but they did not go without notice by fans, media and others in the coaching community.

The NCAA cannot monitor everything. Its office lends tools to help coaches with the rules “but this responsibility also is in the hands of the schools to make sure their staff knows, understands and follows the rules,” NCAA spokeswoman Stacy Osburn said.

However, athletic department compliance offices also cannot keep an eye on everything their coaches are doing.

“That would be one person’s job 24 hours a day -- if it is even just one person’s job,” Vining-Smith said.

The NCAA rulebook does not specifically mention Twitter or social media, either. Instead, it considers the correspondence akin to emails.

“There’s nothing in the bylaw that says this is what you can’t do on Twitter,” Vining-Smith said. “You won’t find the word Twitter in the manual.”

Once a year, Vining-Smith sends out the Twitter modus operandi to the Notre Dame coaches. It lists the dos and don’ts of Twitter, and in educational meetings, she will bring up examples of violations from their own staff or by other coaches. If it would be a violation to send an email or talk about a player to the media, then it is a violation to send a message or post a name on Twitter.

“You have to know you’re being monitored,” the BCS assistant said, “by the friendlies and the enemies.”

On the surface, the NCAA is not all that concerned with a coach slipping up on Twitter and mentioning a prospective student-athlete. There are bigger fish to fry as far as the NCAA is concerned, and Vining-Smith said it is not something she is going to lose sleep over. If a coach is a repeat offender, the NCAA or compliance office could shut down the coach from corresponding with recruits for a week or so.

If it is a mere slap on the wrist, are maybe some of those small slipups a smart strategy?

Lane Kiffin, then the coach at Tennessee, said the name of Bryce Brown -- the No. 8 prospect in the Class of 2009 -- on a local radio station. Brown was uncommitted and unsigned, making it a violation. Kiffin’s willingness to commit a violation to impress a recruit was not lost on Brown, and the ESPN 300 recruit eventually signed with the Vols.

Would a coach do the same on Twitter?

“Does it happen? I’m sure. There’s all kinds of rules being broken,” the BCS assistant said, “but eventually they catch you and eventually the little slaps become punches and pops on the butt.”
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As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:

Top performers

WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.


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Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne) committed to Notre Dame Friday becoming the Fighting Irish's top-rated defensive recruit. Here’s a look at how the Lone Star State prospect will make an impact in South Bend:

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Irish land ESPN 300 CB Watkins 

November, 1, 2013
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Friday was decision day for ESPN 300 cornerback Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne).

[+] EnlargeNick Watkins
William Wilkerson/ESPN.comESPN 300 cornerback Nick Watkins chose Notre Dame on Friday. He's ranked No. 79 in the Class of 2014.
And by lunch time, Notre Dame fans were able to rejoice -- and finally were able to let out a sigh of relief.

In an announcement at his school, Watkins announced what many Fighting Irish fans were hoping to hear, committing to Notre Dame over offers from Alabama, Texas, UCLA and Oregon. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound cornerback became the Fighting Irish’s 18th pledge and also became its top-ranked defensive player of the 2014 class.

Ranked No. 79 in the ESPN 300, Watkins has made a couple of visits to South Bend, Ind., to take in the Notre Dame atmosphere. Watkins consistently said he was excited about what the program brought to the table, but he never publicly called them a solid favorite. He made an official visit to Notre Dame with high school teammate and high three-star safety Payton Hendrix the weekend of Oct. 18.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

October, 28, 2013
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It was only a matter of time before a big-name program took a chance on 5-foot-6, 148-pound lightning bolt/quarterback Desmon White (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto). That chance came from a Big 12 program recently, and White wasted little time taking them up on their offer.

Find out which Big 12 program he committed to as well as a big offer from Oklahoma State in this week’s edition of the Big 12 weekend wrap.

Biggest commitment: He might not be big in stature, but 2014 athlete Desmon White will bring some much-needed play-making ability to TCU. White, who plays quarterback for the undefeated DeSoto Eagles, switched his verbal pledge from North Texas to the Horned Frogs on Tuesday. This season he has completed 141 of 204 passes for 2,304 yards, 21 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also the team’s leading rusher with 95 carries for 1,009 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s a football player, plain and simple. Nice pickup for TCU, which could use him in a variety of ways but will likely start him at slot.

Biggest offer: This one goes to Oklahoma State and the offer it extended to ESPN Junior 300 offensive tackle George Brown Jr. (Cincinnati/Winton Woods). If you are going to get into the sweepstakes for Brown, you might as well get in as early as possible. The No. 208 player in the country already has more than 30 offers, including from Big 12 programs Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia. The only other 2015 offer to an OT that OSU has is to Texas commitment Maea Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller).

Best performance by a commit/target: Class of 2015 quarterback Ryan Agnew (Southlake, Texas/Carroll) completed 31 of 35 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-17 victory over Keller. Agnew doesn’t have any offers now but that won’t stay the case with more games like this. Several major programs are well aware of Agnew, including Texas. Tennessee and Texas A&M have also expressed interest.

Most important visit: There were several big names in attendance for Oklahoma’s victory over Texas Tech, but the biggest one was 2015 offensive guard Jalin Barnett (Lawton, Okla./Lawton). This was the fourth trip to Norman for Barnett, the No. 8 player in the country, No. 1 OG and No. 1 player in the Midlands region. That’s especially telling since he has yet to visit any other school.


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Most important targets: Big 12 

October, 22, 2013
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Not surprisingly, Big 12 programs have filled their rosters with ESPN 300 recruits. But, as we’ve come to learn, success on the field doesn’t always come down to how many stars you acquire each recruiting cycle. It’s about filling needs with the types of players coveted by that particular program.

Here is a look at the most important target for each Big 12 school, which features some highly ranked recruits and other recruits with no ranking at all.


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ESPN 300 CB talks Notre Dame visit 

October, 20, 2013
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After a productive official visit to Notre Dame, ESPN 300 cornerback Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne) addressed an intriguing question.

Are he and teammate Payton Hendrix, a three-star safety, a package deal?


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Big 12 recruiting mailbag 

October, 18, 2013
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Are you a recruit itching to get your name out to college scouts, but don’t know the best way to go about it? We’ll give you a few tips on how to get your name out there as well as answer questions about what Texas’ win over Oklahoma meant for recruits, what percentage we give the Sooners with Joe Mixon, and a Houston tight end’s chances of landing in Austin in this week’s Big 12 recruiting mailbag.

From Hayden Karnos: Frank Iheanacho is a guy who is flying up these recruiting boards. Do you see Texas giving this guy an offer? I know we already have six commits, but this kid is huge and could fill a playmaking tight end role for the Longhorns that we definitely need.

Hayden, don’t forget that in addition to Texas’ six WR commitments in 2014 it also has a commitment from 6-foot-7 tight end John Thomas (Bossier City, La./Trinity Valley CC). I don’t think the Longhorns are in a position to take two tight ends in this class, considering they took Geoff Swaim in 2013. However, if they were going to entertain the idea I’d think Iheanacho would be on their short list. I have a feeling he’ll end up at Texas A&M, though. He’s scheduled to visit College Station this weekend.


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Best Big 12 recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

The best college football coaches will tell you that when it comes to recruiting, their business is an art. It’s a craft you must perfect if you want to have the best players commit and ultimately sign. Recruiting isn’t for everybody, but those who are good at it -- particularly for building the 2014 class -- should be recognized, as the business is extremely competitive.

Here are 10 of the top recruiters from the Big 12.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

October, 14, 2013
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Last week wasn’t full of commitments for Big 12 programs, but it did yield an important verbal pledge for one team in Oklahoma. Speaking of Texas’ neighbor to the north, the Sooners suffered their first loss to the Longhorns in four years on Saturday. A look at why that victory was so important for UT and who exactly that commitment was is in this week’s Big 12 weekend wrap.

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Talk about needing a victory for multiple reasons.

More than 92,000 fans watched Texas on Saturday not only beat archrival Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry but also temporarily silenced all of Mack Brown’s critics. When the game ended, there was no demand for Brown to call it quits as the Longhorns’ head coach at the end of the season. There was also no talk of Oklahoma’s seniors sweeping the rivalry through their four-year span.

All that was mentioned was the final score at the historic Cotton Bowl: Texas 36, Oklahoma 20. The Longhorns, considered major underdogs, grabbed a win that put them in first place Big 12, along with Texas Tech, at 3-0 -- a half-game ahead of Baylor and a full game ahead of Oklahoma.

It was a game that several recruiting targets had marked on their calendars. With 24 commits in its 2014 class, Texas doesn’t have much room to add players. However, the Longhorns are hoping to land one or two more elite athletes. Defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell), safety Edwin Freeman (Arlington, Texas/Bowie) and cornerback Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne), all ESPN 300 players, are still considering the Longhorns.

There’s plenty of room, however, in the 2015 class, and while the Longhorns already have eight commits -- all ESPN Junior 300 players -- they are looking to add more playmakers. One player on hand who was impressed was ESPN Junior 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill), who currently has the Longhorns high on his list.


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The Big 12 has a big weekend ahead in Dallas and Texas Tech is surging. Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s top recruiting storylines.

Big names set to attend Red River Rivalry
There is never a season, regardless of what type of shape either program is in, that the Cotton Bowl won’t be filled with some of the most desirable recruits in the country.

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Oklahoma has owned the Red River Rivalry over the last three seasons, beating Texas by a combined score of 146-58.

Oddsmakers and, yes, many Longhorns fans believe the Sooners have a good chance of making it a fourth straight victory on Saturday. That would have a negative impact on recruiting south of the Red River wouldn’t it?

Here is a look at the top 10 players this game truly matters to. Some are still considering both teams, others are a commitment of one school who could be swayed by a victory from the other.

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Even for schools like Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas, who all have recruiting classes ranked in the top 40, there is still a lot of work to be done for the Class of 2014. Here is a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for every school in the Big 12.

Baylor
Best-case scenario: The Bears continue to put up gaudy numbers on offense, which allows them to round out one of their best-ever classes with a few more gems. One recruit they would love to add is Randall Cunningham II (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman). On defense, one of Baylor’s top targets is ESPN 300 cornerback Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne). Texas struggling this season sure does help BU's recruiting.


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The momentum train continues to roll right along in Lubbock, Texas, where first-year Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury has the Red Raiders off to a 4-0 start.

Their winning ways have benefited their recruiting efforts, too, as they have the No. 31 class overall in the latest ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings and have picked up three commitments in the last two weeks.

If they are to jump any of their conference foes in the rankings, it will have to be another week since there wasn’t any movement with the Big 12 schools.

Texas continues to lead the way with the No. 7 class, followed by Baylor at No. 17, Oklahoma at No. 22, Oklahoma State at No. 29 and West Virginia at No. 40.

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