NCF On The Trail: Saeed Blacknall

Top position classes: WR 

February, 12, 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)
While the Baylor Bears had an exceptional wide receiver class, the nod here goes to LSU. Not only did the Tigers sign the nation's No. 1 receiver in Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), but also the No. 3 ranked receiver in Trey Quinn (Lake Charles, La./Barbe) and ESPN 300 No. 271 D.J. Chark (Alexandria, La./Alexandria Senior) and No. 283 Tony Upchurch (Pearland, Texas/Dawson). In Dupre, LSU snagged the No. 17 prospect overall on signing day. He has a tall, lengthy frame with a near ideal size-and-speed combination and elite high-point ball skills. Quinn will enter LSU as an advanced route-runner with separation skills and the ability to pluck the ball outside of the framework of his body. Chark brings initial quickness and the vertical speed to take the top off a defense, and Upchurch is a big body who continues to add bulk and could eventually transition to a flex type of position.

The Tigers had the nation’s best wide receiver class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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Bold predictions: Big Ten 

February, 4, 2014
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National signing day is less than 24 hours away and there's still plenty of recruiting action that could take place in the final hours. The Big Ten still has some big questions and storylines leading up to the big day.

College decisions are often unpredictable, but here are five signing day predictions for the Big Ten.


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Biggest flips: Big Ten 

February, 3, 2014
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The 2014 class has seen a very high number of commitment switches during this recruiting cycle. With so many flips throughout the process, here is a look at some of the biggest in the Big Ten.


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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.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 27, 2014
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There is only one weekend left for visits before signing day. Things are getting down to the wire, which means we are set to see a lot of activity in a short amount of time.

Here is a look at what happened within the Big Ten this past week.


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If James Franklin wanted to make a statement on the recruiting trail at Penn State, he has done just that. Franklin and his staff flipped athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame High School) from Cal while on a visit on Saturday, then flipped another prospect to Penn State on Sunday.

ESPN 300 wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Manapalan, N.J./Manalapan) switched his commitment from Rutgers to Penn State. He gives the Nittany Lions three ESPN 300 receivers in the 2014 class.



The No. 118-ranked prospect took a visit to Penn State on Jan. 17 and had been thinking about making the switch ever since.

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Blacknall will complement De’Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin, the two other ESPN 300 receiver commitments in this class. Both Godwin and Blacknall are bigger, physical receivers whereas Thompkins is a more athletic player who could even be a wildcat quarterback in certain plays.

Blacknall hails from New Jersey, which is an area Franklin and his staff are going to make a priority. This was a good commitment to start with for the new staff as Blacknall is now the second highest ranked commit in the class.

The ESPN 300 receiver gives the Nittany Lions 23 commitments for 2014 and some outstanding options at receiver going forward.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Why Rutgers should be more than able to hold its own recruiting in the Big Ten, how we should look for even more Class of 2016 commitments, and when one of the nation’s top running backs will make his selection.

Rutgers reeling them in
Rutgers likely won’t dethrone Michigan and Ohio State from the top of the Big Ten recruiting rankings when its move is official, but the way the Scarlet Knights have been recruiting for the Class of 2014 certainly has to give fans reason for excitement.


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Big Ten class rankings analysis 

August, 14, 2013
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The latest ESPN recruiting class rankings are out, and seven Big Ten teams are ranked among the top 40 classes.

With movement happening across the board, trends and stories are developing. Big Ten recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren give you a look at what to watch within the conference:


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Official Visit video: Loading up

August, 12, 2013
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Top five wide receiver K.D. Cannon finally made his much rumored commitment to Baylor official. Damon Sayles stops by to discuss his commitment as well as Chris Hardeman to Oklahoma State. Plus, Tom VanHaaren offers his thoughts on Rutgers loading up on ESPN 300 receivers.
Rutgers has landed its biggest catch yet for the Class of 2014 with ESPN 300 wide receiver Saeed Blacknall.


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Summer recruit wrap: Alabama 

July, 23, 2013
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The summer is almost over. The majority of camps are complete as schools have turned their focus to the beginning of the season. For Alabama, the camp season resulted in a handful of new commitments as well a plethora of new scholarship offers extended to 2014, 2015 and even some 2016 prospects.

This week, we take a look at the top 10 storylines and trends from the summer and look ahead to what’s next for the Crimson Tide.

[+] EnlargeCameron Robinson
Tom Hauck for Student SportsAlabama is battling for OT Cameron Robinson who put on a dominating performance at The Opening.
1. Camps focus on rebuilding the line

The camp season affects all positions, but the best evaluation comes from the 1-on-1 drills between the offensive and defensive linemen. Alabama used its camps to find talent up front as the staff looks to rebuild both lines. ESPN 300 offensive guard Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) committed to the Tide in late May before the camps began. Since that point, Alabama has added three more offensive linemen including center prospect J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge), one of the stars of The Opening. On defense, Johnny Dwight (Rochelle, Ga./Wilcox County) was one of the top performers from the first camp. He earned an offer and committed on spot.


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A New Jersey receiver now finds himself in the middle of the most heated recruiting rivalry in the country.

Manalapan (N.J.) High and ESPN 300 receiver Saeed Blacknall is coming off visits to Alabama and LSU on back-to-back days. He thought he was closing in on a decision before the visits -- likely to LSU -- but he now is further away from a commitment.


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Ohio State had several areas of need in the 2014 class, chief among them being the offensive line and linebacker. Here’s a look at their top five areas of need and what they’ve done to address them so far.


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NoleNation takes a quick look at five positions of need in this 2014 recruiting class.

Offensive tackle

Florida State enters this 2013 with only one certain starter at offensive tackle. Cam Erving, the starting left tackle, is a redshirt junior and could very well jump to the NFL draft after this season, given his high projections. Bobby Hart has played a lot in his first two seasons and could end up being the right tackle. From the Class of 2013, just Wilson Bell is capable of playing tackle, but could just as well end up on the interior depending on how things shake out.

Commitments: Ethan Frith (Summit, Miss./North Pike)

Top targets: Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara), Roderick Johnson (Florissant, Mo./Hazelwood Central)


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With the 2014 recruiting class filling up, which committed and uncommitted prospects would likely make the earliest impact? Here are the 10 most likely candidates:

1. Damon Webb (Detroit/Cass Tech)
5-foot-10/174 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: 57

The top commitment in the Buckeyes’ class and the No. 57 player in the country, it is no surprise Webb has the potential to make an early impact for Ohio State. Urban Meyer is not afraid to play freshmen, especially at the skill positions. The defensive back recruiting at Ohio State has been strong under Meyer, but Webb will come in with an opportunity to compete for a spot in the nickel and dime packages.

2. Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross)
6-5/228
ESPN 300 rank: 10

The five-star defensive end visited Ohio State this past weekend, and while the Buckeyes have a lot of catching up to do in Carter’s recruitment, a visit to Columbus is a start. The top player in Georgia and the No. 3 defensive end nationally, Carter has the pedigree to be a player who sees the field often as a freshman. And Meyer showed in 2012 that he is willing to play his young guys along the defensive line as Noah Spence (also a former five-star recruit) and Adolphus Washington played extensively as freshmen.

3. Jalyn Holmes (Norfolk, Va./Lake Taylor)
6-5/219
ESPN 300 rank: 293

One of the Buckeyes’ most recent commitments, the ESPN 300 recruit is in the same boat as Carter as a potential candidate to play as a freshman along the defensive line. While Holmes is one of the best tight ends in the country, the Buckeyes have him pegged as a defensive end in Columbus.

4. Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius)
6-2/220
ESPN 300 rank: 299

The Ohio State coaches were not able to see it, but some of his future teammates -- and opponents -- saw Berger dominate at the Columbus NFTC earlier this month. Ohio State had some attrition this offseason at the position, so there is an opportunity for Berger to earn a spot in the rotation once he makes it back to Ohio State’s facilities, but as a member of the team this time.

5. Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau Community College)
6-6/320
ESPN 300 rank: Not ranked

Meyer did not recruit the juco ranks heavily while he was at Florida, but a few junior college linemen sparked his interest in this 2014 class. The Buckeyes have an offer to Mavety, who some believe is a Buckeyes lean. As a juco player, the expectation is for him to have an immediate impact, possibly as a backup in 2014 with an opportunity to earn a starting role.

6. Sean Nuernberger (Buckner, Ky./Oldham County)
6-2/220
ESPN 300 rank: Not ranked

Special teams will also be an area of emphasis on a Meyer-coached team, so it is not a surprise he is giving a scholarship to a specialist. Nuernberger had other BCS interest, but Meyer gave him an offer after watching him kick in person. Nuernberger could become a valuable piece to the Buckeyes’ 2014 season as a kicker, and when he committed, Nuernberger said he does not like watching other players do his job.

7. Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County)
6-2/249
ESPN 300 rank: 13

The Buckeyes’ class will not hinge on McMillan’s recruitment, but it will be a tough blow if the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker does not land in Columbus. There is sense the Buckeyes lead for McMillan, and the five-star prospect would provide an immediate presence at linebacker in 2014. The 6-foot-2, 249-pound linebacker is a strong run defender, a necessity when playing in the Big Ten. He also has the speed to remain on the field when opponents try to stretch the field horizontally.

8. Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan)
6-3/205
ESPN 300 rank: 111

The ESPN 150 receiver is a physically imposing threat at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. Blacknall has the body to defeat defenders for contested throws, but he also has the speed to beat defensive backs vertically. Freshmen receivers make an impact annually in college football, and at the very least Blacknall could be a red-zone threat to begin his career.

9. Austin Roberts (Carmel, Ind./Carmel)
6-2/217
ESPN 300 rank: 166


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