NCF On The Trail: Nifae Lealao

Signing day wrap: SEC

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
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The Southeastern Conference had a strong finish the 2014 recruiting class. Alabama, which received a commitment from four-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) on Wednesday, finished with the top overall class by a landslide, and seven of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country are in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the SEC on national signing day.

Top class

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
AP Photo/Butch DillESPN 300 OLB Rashaan Evans, who chose Bama over Auburn, made a great class even better.
There is no question Alabama had the top overall class. The Crimson Tide finished with 27 signees, including 19 ranked in the ESPN 300 and five five-star prospects. In addition to the incredible class Alabama put together leading up to signing day, the Crimson Tide were also able to land Evans, the No. 52 player in the country. Evans chose Alabama over arch-rival and hometown Auburn Tigers.

The Alabama class was led by the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country, Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), the No. 2-ranked defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) and the No. 2-ranked cornerback in the country Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), who is already enrolled.

The SEC West alone had three schools, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M, finish in the top five of the final recruiting team rankings. In all, 13 of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the team recruiting rankings.

South Carolina, LSU and Georgia finish strong

South Carolina had arguably the best finish of any class in the SEC. The Gamecocks were able to flip ESPN 300 defensive end Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and defensive tackle Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. They were also able to land ESPN 300 defensive backs Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King) giving the Gamecocks a very athletic secondary.

If South Carolina was the best, LSU wasn’t far behind. The Tigers were able to land the No. 1 wide receiver in the country Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnat Catholic). Dupre chose LSU over UCLA, Ole Miss, Alabama and FSU. Valentine had decommitted from three different schools – Louisville, Florida and Miami -- over the course of his recruitment before finally settling on LSU. The Tigers were also able to hang on to defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine), who had been wavering on his commitment leading up to signing day.

Georgia, meanwhile, added five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), who chose the Bulldogs over LSU, FSU and Florida. They also added four-star wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage). The ESPN 300 wide receiver wasn’t even considering Georgia until earlier this week, but a late offer from the Bulldogs was enough for McKenzie to pull the trigger and sign with Georgia.

Several schools lose commits

Signing day was full of surprises, including several prospects who backed off of their commitments and signed with a different school. Three-star defensive tackle Cory Thomas (McCalla, Ala./McAdory), a long-time Tennessee commit, spurned the Volunteers and signed with Mississippi State. But not all was good news for Mississippi State. Ole Miss was able to steal junior college defensive back Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Holmes CC), the No. 22-ranked player in the ESPN JC 50. The Vols took another hit when three-star offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge) unexpectedly signed with Oklahoma. The Volunteers, however, were able to land four-star defensive tackle Michael Sawyers (Nashville/The Ensworth School), and had the No. 5 recruiting class in the country -- one that included 11 players ranked in the ESPN 300.

Quarterback Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) backed off his pledge to FSU and signed with Florida. Offensive tackle Andrew Mike (Tucson, Ariz./Sabino) was only a part of Vanderbilt’s class for one short day, but the three-star tackle flipped on Tuesday night and signed with Florida on Wednesday. Four-star Alabama safety commit Chris Williams (Kingsland, Ga./Camden Co.) flipped and signed with UCF because of personal family reasons. Four-star wide receiver DeSean Blair (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) flipped his commitment from Louisville and signed with Missouri.

Vanderbilt able to rebound

The Vanderbilt class may not be filled with four- and five-star prospects, but the job new head coach Derek Mason did to rebuild the Commodores’ class is nothing short of amazing. After James Franklin left to take the head coaching job at Penn State and a string of decommitments followed, Vanderbilt was down to eight verbal commitments. After an impressive few weeks of recruiting the Commodores finished with 22 signees, including 17 prospects ranked three stars or higher.

The class is led by ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) and four-star running back Dallas Rivers (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson). After losing ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Carta-Samuels to Washington, Vanderbilt was able to flip Pitt quarterback commit Wade Freebeck (Fort Lauderdale, Fla/St. Thomas Aquinas) and former ECU commit Shawn Stankavage (Raleigh, N.C./Cardinal Gibbons).

ESPN 300 players announce decisions

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
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The nation's top players announced their college decisions Wednesday. Here's a look at where the ESPN 300 committed:

No. 9 Adoree' Jackson: USC
No. 14 Lorenzo Carter: Georgia
No. 17 Malachi Dupre: LSU
No. 22 Ermon Lane: Florida State
No. 24 John "Juju" Smith: USC
No. 25 Solomon Thomas: Stanford
No. 26 Damian Prince: Maryland
No. 52 Rashaan Evans: Alabama
No. 60 Malik McDowell: Michigan State
No. 67 Damien Mama: USC
No. 75 Michiah Quick: Oklahoma
No. 87 Chris Lammons: South Carolina
No. 120 Wesley Green: South Carolina
No. 127 Braden Smith: Auburn
No. 138 Donte Thomas-Williams: West Virginia
No. 158 Roderick Johnson: Florida State
No. 163 Treon Harris: Florida
No. 164 Travonte Valentine: LSU
No. 174 Andrew Williams: Auburn
No. 179 Dexter Wideman: South Carolina
No. 194 Mattrell McGraw: Oregon
No. 243 Nifae Lealao: Vanderbilt
No. 249 Myles Autry: Georgia Tech
No. 253 Derrick Nnadi: Florida State
No. 264 Poona Ford: Texas
No. 286 Isaiah McKenzie: Georgia

You can watch ESPNU online via WatchESPN.

To see where we think these guys will go, check out the predictions on our Hot Board.

DT Nifae Lealao joins Vandy 

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
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ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) gave some much-needed punch to Vanderbilt's recruiting class on Wednesday.

The nation's No. 243 overall prospect and No. 20 defensive tackle committed to the Commodores, helping new coach Derek Mason salvage some of a recruiting class that was decimated by the departure of James Franklin to Penn State.

National signing day is a huge day for future college football stars. It's a crazy day for fans. And it's a very important day for college coaches.

Signing days can make or break programs, as those noisy fax machines provide an early glimpse into the future.

Some coaches make a killing on signing day, some kick back because their classes are already pretty much taken care of, and others sweat and grind down those nails. On Wednesday, the SEC should yet again bathe in the glory that is a successful signing day, but there are still some coaches who need to have big days as they guide their programs forward.

Who are some of those SEC coaches this year? Let's take a look:

Bret Bielema, Arkansas: It's no secret that Bielema's first season in Fayetteville wasn't much of a success, but a strong closing on signing day could provide this program with some much-needed momentum. What Bielema needed in this class was depth up front on both sides of that ball and help at receiver, linebacker and in the secondary. Getting eight total linemen helps, and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson (El Dorado, Ark./El Dorado) could make an immediate impact.

Still, the Razorbacks are looking to secure letters of intent from ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell), who visited Fayetteville on Jan. 24. He'd be a major snag, as would be four-star linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce Central) and Florida State athlete commit JoJo Robinson (Miami/Miami Northwestern). Finding another receiver and getting any of these targets would certainly bolster a class that currently ranks No. 32 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings and would provide Bielema with the quality players he needs to help get things going at Arkansas.

Will Muschamp, Florida: The Gators have been hot on the recruiting trail since the 2013 season ended. It's almost as if last year's 4-8 record didn't even happen. But Muschamp is still holding out hope on a handful of talented prospects who could help make an immediate impact for a Florida team looking to get back to national relevancy. Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) would be a major get for the Gators, who need depth at the linebacker/defensive end hybrid Buck position. Florida is also looking for another playmaker on offense, and five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) could be that guy. Florida would let him play either side of the ball, and the Gators' track and field program is very attractive to Jackson.

Florida also needs another receiver and is looking to add depth at quarterback and on the offensive line. Former Florida State wide receiver commit C.J. Worton (Homestead, Fla./South Dade) could join this class, while current FSU quarterback commit Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) is seriously considering the Gators. ESPN 300 offensive tackle Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) is fresh off a visit to Florida and would be a big addition at a position that needs help going forward. Muschamp did really well in January, but there are still guys at positions of need that Florida needs to close with.

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: He was way behind the 8 ball before he even stepped on Vanderbilt's campus, but Mason grabbed some major momentum over the weekend with six commitments. After dipping into single digits after Mason arrived, Vanderbilt is back up to 17 verbals in this class. Mason has already done a good job of filling this class back out, but he'd like to add some more quality bodies on Wednesday.

Keep an eye on ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian), who is fresh off of a visit to Vandy. He's someone who could provide early help up front. The Commodores are also still in the hunt for Tennessee ESPN 300 defensive end commit Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy). Grabbing another wide receiver and running back would also be a nice way to close as Mason looks to provide Vandy's fan base with a little more excitement on signing day.

Most important targets: Pac-12 

January, 28, 2014
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With only eight days before national signing day, it truly is crunch time for coaches and recruits alike for the 2014 class. In the Pac-12 especially, a number of spots remain available in a majority of classes. This week, we take a look at the most important uncommitted target for each conference program.

Arizona: DT Marcus Griffin (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue)
6-2, 299 pounds
Three-star prospect

The Wildcats jumped into the process late for Griffin but made enough of an impression that the big lineman took an official visit to Tucson last weekend. Griffin will announce on signing day from a group that consists of Arizona, Cal, Mississippi State and Washington State. While the Wildcats have a full class at this point, it looks as though they'd like to add one more big body along the defensive line and Griffin is one of the top defensive tackles in the region, regardless of commitment status.


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After generating some significant momentum following its Big Visit Weekend and grabbing a commitment from ESPN 300 tight end Dalton Schultz (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham), Stanford's recruiting class took a hit on Wednesday night, when ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) announced his decommitment via Twitter.

Lealao, the nation's No. 243 overall prospect and No. 20 defensive tackle, said he will now choose between Cal, Oregon State, Utah and Vanderbilt.

The 6-foot-6, 280-pound defensive lineman, who is now exploring his other options, took an official visit to Cal this past weekend. Landing Lealao would be a huge recruiting victory for Cal, as the Golden Bears are in need of immediate help on the defensive side of the ball. Vanderbilt being on Lealao's final list doesn't come as much of a shock either, considering former Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason is now the Commodores’ head coach. His familiarity with Lealao, as well as the academic tradition at both schools, makes it a possible landing spot for the big defender.

Oregon State could use another presence along the defensive line after losing defensive end Shane Bowman (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue) to Washington recently. Oregon State's lone defensive tackle commit is three-star Kalani Vakameilalo (Kapolei, Hawaii/Kapolei).

Utah, on the other hand, already has four defensive tackles committed in the 2014 class. However, if he does land in Salt Lake City, it wouldn't be surprising to see Lealao jump up the depth chart and eventually pair with top 2013 signee Lowell Lotulelei to form the interior of the Utes defensive line.
Though the season ended on a sour note, with a 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO, 2013 was another tremendously successful season for the Cardinal. Stanford posted an 11-win season and defended its Pac-12 crown. Heading toward signing day, it's doubtful this loss will damage any of the momentum the Cardinal have built on the recruiting trail. On the heels of a small recruiting class in 2013 -- Stanford signed just a dozen prospects -- Shaw and his assistants will be able to go after more recruits in the 2014 class, though this group still likely won't approach the maximum allowable limit of 25. At this point, Stanford's 2014 class ranks No. 28 in the nation and No. 4 in the Pac-12.


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Pac-12 recruiting storylines: Oct. 31 

October, 31, 2013
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Arizona State and Oregon added to top-40 classes earlier this week, as the Sun Devils grabbed another ESPN 300 prospect and the Ducks flexed their muscles in Texas. USC softened its policy against in-season visitors, while UCLA will look to take advantage of hosting a committed visitor of its own this weekend.

Arizona State adds another

It didn't come as much of a surprise when ESPN 300 outside linebacker D.J. Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) verbally committed to Arizona State this past Sunday, but that didn't make the commitment any less important for the Sun Devils. Head coach Todd Graham's program is picking up steam on the recruiting trail as it puts together wins on the field. Calhoun joins teammate Jalen Harvey and four-star tackle Sam Jones (Highlands Ranch, Colo./ThunderRidge) as recent commitments for Arizona State, while quarterback Manny Wilkins (Novato, Calif./San Marin) continues to do an excellent job in selling the program to recruits. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Sun Devils eventually reel in California prospects Michael Lazarus (Berkeley, Calif./Berkeley), Kammy Delp (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch) and Demario Richard (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdae), as the buzz -- especially in California -- continues to grow. Arizona State now has the nation's No. 25 recruiting class -- up three spots due to the updated ESPN 300 -- and sits just behind No. 24 Stanford and No. 20 Arizona as the third-best class in the Pac-12.

Hollins hollers for Oregon


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Weekly Commitment Roundup

September, 20, 2013
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ACC
Duke

Davis Koppenhaver | TE-Y | Newhall, Calif./Hart
HT: 6-5 WT: 209
Positional Rank: #36 TE-Y
Stars: 3

North Carolina
Antonio Williams | RB | New London, N.C./North Stanly
HT: 5-10 WT: 190
Class of 2016

Big 12
Iowa State
Dedric Brinson | ATH | Lake Wales, Fla./Lake Wales
HT: 6-1 WT: 175
Positional Rank: #143 ATH
Stars: 3

Kansas
Austin Stevens | DE | Montclair, N.J./Montclair
HT: 6-4 WT: 225
Positional Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Texas Tech
Connor Wilson | S | Argyle, Texas/Argyle
HT: 6-2 WT: 205
Positional Rank: #54 S
Stars: 3

Big Ten
Wisconsin
Chris Jones | WR | Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic
HT: 6-2 WT: 188
Positional Rank: #139 WR
Stars: 3

Pac-12
Oregon State
Trent Moore | OT | Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton
HT: 6-4 WT: 245
Positional Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Bright Ugwoegbu | S | Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes
HT: 6-2 WT: 190
Positional Rank: #107 S
Stars: 3

Stanford
Nifae Lealao | DT | Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian
HT: 6-6 WT: 280
Positional Rank: #22 DT
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (299)

Utah
Brandon Snell | WR | Miami/Garden City CC
HT: 5-11 WT: 175
Positional Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

SEC
Missouri
Nate Brown | WR | Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett
HT: 6-2 WT: 197
Positional Rank: #97 WR
Stars: 3

Thomas Wilson | ATH | Buford, Ga./Buford
HT: 5-11 WT: 175
Positional Rank: #104 ATH
Stars: 3

Conference USA
East Carolina
John Wolford | QB-PP | Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny
HT: 6-0 WT: 193
Positional Rank: #71 QB-PP
Stars: 3

Florida Atlantic
Derius Davis | ATH | Tampa, Fla./Alonso
HT: 6-1 WT: 200

Jefferson Vea | CB | Mount Dora, Fla./Mount Dora
HT: 5-11 WT: 173

North Texas
Andrew Jones | CB | Mesquite, Texas/North Mesquite
HT: 5-11 WT: 170

Tulane
Niguel Veal | WR | New Orleans/G.W. Carver
HT: 5-11 WT: 175
Positional Rank: #125 WR
Stars: 3

Mid-American
Northern Illinois
Ryan Graham | QB-DT | Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton-Warrenville South
HT: 6-2 WT: 190

Mountain West
Boise State
Jaylen Johnson | DE | Corona, Calif./Centennial
HT: 6-3 WT: 232
Positional Rank: N/A
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Hawaii
Harris Ross | RB | Pittsburg, Calif./Pittsburg
HT: 5-10 WT: 190

San Diego State
Ajene Harris | QB-DT | Los Angeles/Crenshaw
HT: 5-10 WT: 176

Pac-12 recruiting storylines: Sept. 19 

September, 19, 2013
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Three Pac-12 programs added commitments in the past week, while several more appear poised to close this class in a big way. A number of Pac-12 programs are off this weekend, but one program in particular looks to be in line for a busy recruiting weekend.
Cardinal closing strong

There was only one team that made any kind of movement in Wednesday's updated team recruiting rankings, and it was a big jump for the Stanford Cardinal. On the strength of a commitment from ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian), Stanford moved up four places, from No. 28 to No. 24 overall. It seems to be only a matter of time before Stanford is sitting atop the Pac-12 conference, as ESPN 300 prospects Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) and Dalton Schultz (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham) appear to be strong leans to the Cardinal. Several other four-star prospects across the country are giving the program a long look.

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Pac-12 class rankings analysis 

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
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There was movement from only one program in the newly-released 2014 class recruiting rankings, and it was a big jump forward for a Pac-12 heavyweight. The Stanford Cardinal moved up four spots to No. 24 overall, just one behind Pac-12 leader Arizona at No. 23. The conference still has just three teams ranked in the top 40, with Arizona State coming in at No. 35.

Trending up: Stanford. The Cardinal added defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) last Friday and were rewarded with a big move in the rankings.


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Stanford adds to ESPN 300 tally 

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
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In one of the least surprising developments of the 2014 recruiting cycle, ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) announced his commitment to Stanford on Friday afternoon.

Lealao made the announcement on the Tom Lemming Report on CBS Sports Network.

The 6-foot-6, 280-pound tackle had a dominant showing at Stanford's summer camp before his junior year and quickly became a top target of the Cardinal. In turn, Stanford jumped to the top of Lealao's list and that position appeared set in stone for much of the past year. On Friday, the talented lineman made public what most anticipated happening.

But the fact that this commitment was expected doesn't make it any less important.


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Critical positions in Pac-12 recruiting 

September, 3, 2013
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Recruiting for the 2014 class bumped up another notch this past Sunday, when college coaches could begin making their one phone call per week to high school seniors. Today, we take a look at what position group those Pac-12 coaches might consider their most important position to add talent with this class.


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Pac-12 class rankings analysis 

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
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video
Though several Pac-12 teams gained commitments over the past week, Stanford stole the show with a huge pickup on Saturday. Wednesday’s class rankings reflect the Cardinal’s big day, as David Shaw’s program jumped several spots and widened the gap between its top class and Arizona, which holds firm at No. 2 in the conference.

Trending up: Stanford

The Cardinal moved from No. 30 to No. 27, thanks to the commitments of three-star defenders Joey Alfieri (Portland, Ore./Jesuit), Kirk Tucker (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) and Bobby Okereke (Tustin, Calif./Foothill). Stanford already holds the Pac-12’s top recruiting class and could be poised to close in a big way, as ESPN 300 prospects Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Tex./Coppell), Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), Dalton Schultz (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham), Garrett Dickerson (Oradell, NJ/Bergen Catholic) and Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) all have the Cardinal on their short lists.

Trending down: Oregon

Don’t expect the Ducks to stay down for long, as they are sure to shoot up the rankings when official visits begin and that high-powered attack and those flashy uniforms hit the field this fall. But for now, things haven’t been going the Ducks' way on the recruiting trail. They lost a big commitment two weeks ago when ESPN 300 linebacker Jordan Hoiem (Wailuku, Hawaii/Baldwin) made the decision to quit football. In state, the Ducks weren’t able to lock up the top talent, as Alfieri is headed to Stanford while ESPN 300 defensive end Connor Humphreys (Portland, Ore./Central Catholic) never received an Oregon offer.

One to watch: Connor Humphreys


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Previewing the Oakland NFTC 

May, 16, 2013
5/16/13
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A number of USC recruiting targets are expected to put their skills on display this weekend when the Nike Football Training Camp tour hits the Bay Area.


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