NCF On The Trail: Su'a Cravens

When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.

USC recruiting mailbag 

September, 20, 2013
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Recruiting reporter Blair Angulo answers reader questions in his mailbag every week. Have a USC recruiting question of your own? Submit it via Twitter @WeAreSCstaff or @bangulo.

Mike Reed, via @_micahsdaddy_: With rumors of linebacker commit D.J. Calhoun’s status, how long would fans have to wait before recruits decide on USC or look elsewhere?

WeAreSC: Another loss on the field could be the final straw. Still, if there were to be a coaching change, many recruits have indicated they would look at USC differently moving forward. A great hire would instill hope and perhaps provide a recruiting boost. A great season would do the trick as well. The good news for fans is that there is still plenty of time for both scenarios.

Pac-12 recruiting storylines: Aug. 15 

August, 15, 2013
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The Pac-12 has a chance to gain two big commitments over the coming days, but those won’t be the only eventual newcomers who will make an impact. And one of the conference’s heavyweights could have plenty to sell this fall.

Another Saturday commitment


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Michael Hutchings TweetChat 

February, 5, 2013
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Whether it's keeping up with his fellow commits or giving a play-by-play of his official visit, Michael Hutchings is one of the most active USC recruits on Twitter. So when we wanted to find someone to interact with fans, he was a natural pick. After receiving some great questions @WeAreSCstaff, we sent the best ones on to Hutchings for his responses.

[+] EnlargeMichael Hutchings
Blair Angulo/WeAreSC.comMichael Hutchings would have loved a chance to play against fellow USC recruit Su'a Cravens in high school.
@uscarlos: How does coach Pendergast differ from Monte Kiffin?
Michael Hutchings: "Coach Pendergast differs from Monte in scheme and also mindset. Coach Pendergast is a lot more attack style of defense, playing fast and simple. Keeping the opposing team off balanced as he likes to dictate the game and make the offense react to what they are doing on defense rather than reacting to the offense."

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ESPN 150 defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) is no longer in limbo.


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UCLA on a roll in the secondary 

January, 23, 2013
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Good news keeps rolling in for a UCLA coaching staff that has been on a recruiting tear of late.

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Signing day primer: USC 

January, 23, 2013
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Team needs: With all-conference cornerback Nickell Robey declaring for the NFL draft and the graduation of safeties T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Drew McAllister, adding depth in the secondary is a pressing need for the Trojans. Given Matt Barkley’s departure, it was imperative that USC sign another quarterback to pair with Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.

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Scouts: McQuay fills need for USC 

January, 6, 2013
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With limited scholarships and a need for talent in the back-end, USC is certainly achieving success in this 2013 class. After securing a verbal from Leon McQuay III (Seffner, Fla./Armwood), USC now has commitments from the No. 1 and 3-rated safeties, and despite some setbacks in this class, the Trojans have reloaded on defense and have secured a great overall group of talented players.

The future in the defensive backfield is very promising, as McQuay III will be paired with top prospect Su'a Cravens (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta) to give USC two big, fast and athletic safeties.


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U.S. Army Bowl: Monday notebook 

December, 31, 2012
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SAN ANTONIO -- ESPN 150 outside linebacker Mike Mitchell (Plano, Texas/Prestonwood Christian) isn’t big on speaking publicly. He’d rather let his game do the talking -- and it speaks volumes.

On Monday, the 6-foot-5, 222-pound linebacker officially confirmed that he will announce his college plans during Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Oregon, Texas A&M and Ohio State are his three finalists.


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USC coaches visit with Max Redfield 

December, 17, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans made a strong push for a former commit Saturday night.

USC coaches Lane Kiffin, Marvin Sanders, Tee Martin, Kennedy Polamalu and John Baxter met with four-star athlete Max Redfield (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) during an in-home visit ahead of the fast-approaching dead period. Redfield decommitted from the Trojans on Nov. 4, about three weeks after his official visit to Notre Dame, but USC has shown a willingness to continue recruiting the No. 4-rated athlete.

[+] EnlargeMax Redfield
Erik McKinney/ESPN.comUSC coaches are making a late push for ESPN 150 athlete Max Redfield, who decommitted from the Trojans last month.
The coaches left Redfield's home at around 10 p.m. on Saturday. Their main selling point during the meeting: location.

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Fitts ready to be a Trojan 

December, 9, 2012
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As fellow official visitors walked toward the field through the Coliseum tunnel on Saturday night, USC defensive end commit Kylie Fitts (Redlands, Calif./Redlands East Valley) looked up at the stands and envisioned a sellout crowd. He imagined himself in a USC uniform -- a thought that sent chills through his body.

Perhaps the biggest Trojans fan among USC’s verbal commitments, Fitts fulfilled a lifelong goal this weekend by officially visiting the campus.

“Stopping by the Coliseum on Saturday night was probably the best part of the whole visit,” Fitts said. “Growing up, it has always been a dream of mine to play at the Coliseum. Going through that tunnel gave me chills. I got caught up in the moment, picturing the crowd. Coach (Ed) Orgeron was there telling us to imagine taking the field and playing under these lights. ... It was amazing. I got a lot out of the visit. Being there on campus so much this year on unofficial visits, there’s not a lot of new stuff to learn. But talk to Coach O and being there this weekend gave me the feeling of already being enrolled. I can’t wait.”

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Breaking down the USC visitors 

December, 6, 2012
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The first big recruiting weekend has finally arrived for the USC Trojans.

With five of the six early enrollees and two other top targets scheduled to be on campus this weekend, the Trojans can start to put the underwhelming 2012 season behind them and focus on putting the finishing touches on the 2013 recruiting class. Here’s a rundown of who’s expected to be in Los Angeles beginning on Friday:

QB Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline) -- Fresh off capping an undefeated high school season with yet another state championship, the record-breaking Browne will step on the USC campus for the second time since summer. The signal-caller thoroughly enjoyed attending his first game at the Coliseum on Nov. 10 when the Trojans defeated Arizona State, but this three-day trip offers the opportunity to bond with fellow early enrollees.

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Isaac not enrolling early at USC 

November, 29, 2012
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A bumpy senior season for four-star running back Ty Isaac (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Catholic Academy) has gotten bumpier.

Isaac said Thursday he will not enroll early at USC as originally planned, though not by his own accord. He committed to the Trojans in May and had voiced his intent to graduate early from high school, but recent obstacles regarding Joliet Catholic's policy will not make it possible for him to enroll at USC in time for the spring semester. Classes at USC begin Jan. 14.

"Just didn't work out down the line with a couple things," Isaac said in a text message.

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USC recruiting strong despite losses 

November, 21, 2012
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An underwhelming season has hardly affected USC’s recruiting efforts, as the Trojans have maintained their standing atop the new ESPN class rankings. Preseason aspirations of a BCS championship have since been deflated, but USC commits have, for the most part, stood firm.

[+] EnlargeChris Hawkins
Erik McKinney/ESPN.comA disappointing season for the Trojans hasn't scared off ESPN 150 recruits likes Chris Hawkins.
Aside from the unsurprising decommitment of four-star athlete Max Redfield (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) earlier this month, the Trojans’ bumpy campaign has arguably helped solidify the stance of some in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

“I just want to see the Trojans win,” four-star cornerback commit Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga) said. “We’ve been fighting hard battles. I just want to see them get back on their feet and win. It was very tough to see them lose. The defense, in particular the defensive backs, haven’t played very well. It just makes me want to get there even more. Hopefully, I can get there and help my team win games.”

Redfield, who USC has recruited as a free safety, decommitted a day after the disappointing 62-51 defeat to Oregon at the Coliseum. He attended the game, but the decision to reopen his recruitment had nothing to do with the Trojans’ record.

Redfield simply wanted to give Notre Dame, Oregon, LSU and Washington clean, unbiased looks. The success of the Fighting Irish under third-year coach Brian Kelly hasn’t hurt, but it’s not entirely why Redfield has decided to weigh his options.

Apart from that, there has been minimal activity since late July when USC bagged its final commitment. Yet, that steadiness could change as the Trojans limp through the end of the regular season following a loss to rival UCLA.


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Weekend Rewind: USC 

November, 19, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans lost their fourth game of the season on Saturday, and even though it came at the hands of crosstown rival UCLA, the general reaction among the Trojans' commits was all too familiar.

“It just makes me want to come in as fast as possible to help out,” four-star running back commit Justin Davis said Sunday.

It’s a sentiment shared by the members of a tight-knit recruiting class. Yes, USC is having an underwhelming campaign, but it appears that only drastic changes to the coaching staff between now and national signing day would have an effect.

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