NCF On The Trail: Tee Shepard

Recruiting hits and misses: SEC West

February, 6, 2014
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Now that the fax machines are quiet, the 2014 signing classes have been announced and before we start looking ahead to 2015, let's take a moment to examine how each of the SEC schools did in filling immediate needs via recruiting.

We're checking out what all 14 teams did to fill holes, and we're looking at which holes still remain. We'll start with the SEC West (click here for the SEC East):

ALABAMA

Needs filled: It was obvious Alabama needed help at cornerback, and the Crimson Tide went out and got two of the best in the country in five-star prospects Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey. Pass rushers were also a priority, which makes five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand and four-star outside linebackers Rashaan Evans and Christian Miller key pickups. Cameron Robinson, yet another five-star prospect, could end up starting at left tackle next season on the offensive line.

Holes remaining: The Crimson Tide could have used another marquee receiver and lost out on No. 1 wideout Malachi Dupre to LSU. With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri both heading early to the NFL, the Tide also might have come up short at safety.

ARKANSAS

Needs filled: The Hogs’ passing game was in need of a jump-start, and getting an ESPN 300 player out of Miami the caliber of JoJo Robinson adds another playmaker to the equation. Arkansas’ offensive line class is equally impressive with four-star prospects Brian Wallace and Frank Ragnow and three-star prospect Jovan Pruitt joining Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper from last year’s class.

Holes remaining: The highest-ranked player in the Hogs’ class was defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, Ark., which was big considering they need help everywhere on defense. But they missed out on a pair of highly ranked defensive ends in Solomon Thomas and Demetrius Jackson.

AUBURN

Needs filled: Gus Malzahn called ESPN 300 prospect Tre' Williams the key to the class, and he should provide an immediate boost at linebacker. With Chris Davis departing, the Tigers also needed to replenish at cornerback, which is where four-star prospects Kalvaraz Bessent and Stephen Roberts come in. Both were ranked in the top 10 nationally at their position. With Greg Robinson leaving early for the NFL draft, it was good to add muscle on the offensive line with ESPN 300 prospect Braden Smith, who could play guard or tackle.

Holes remaining: The sting of losing Evans, who’s from Auburn, to Alabama could be felt for a while. He's the kind of explosive athlete who would fit on any defense, and the Tigers need more of those guys, particularly at linebacker.

LSU

Needs filled: The loss of running back Jeremy Hill early to the NFL draft was lessened by landing Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 overall prospect in this class. It only got better for the Tigers’ offense on signing day when the country’s No. 1 receiver, Dupre, said he would play his college football on the Bayou. Safety was a real sore spot on defense last season, so getting ESPN 300 prospect Jamal Adams was a major pickup. Adams is rated by ESPN RecruitingNation as the No. 2 safety in the 2014 class.

Holes remaining: Robinson would have been a nice centerpiece on that LSU offensive line, but Alabama came into West Monroe, La., and swiped the five-star prospect. The Tigers also lost five-star athlete Speedy Noil of New Orleans to Texas A&M.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Needs filled: Junior college signee Jocquell Johnson is already on campus and will battle for a starting job next season on an offensive line that’s losing two starters, including All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson. The Bulldogs also added a pair of playmakers at receiver in ESPN 300 prospects Jamoral Graham and Jesse Jackson. Flipping 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive lineman Cory Thomas from Tennessee on signing day added some more punch to an already deep and talented defensive line in Starkville.

Holes remaining: More secondary help would have been nice, which is why losing cornerback Tee Shepard to Ole Miss on signing day was a downer. A couple of the offensive linemen the Bulldogs wanted, Jordan Sims and Sean Rawlings, also opted for Ole Miss.

OLE MISS

Needs filled: The Rebels wanted to continue to stockpile talent on the offensive line after reeling in Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson a year ago and did that with four-star prospects Rod Taylor, Tyler Putman and Sims. Upgrading the defense was also a priority, which is why beating Alabama for ESPN 300 safety C.J. Hampton was so important along with getting ESPN 300 defensive end Garrald McDowell out of Louisiana. Flipping junior college cornerback Shepard from Mississippi State was a nice signing day coup.

Holes remaining: You can never have enough defensive linemen in the SEC, so losing defensive tackle Michael Sawyers to Tennessee was a blow. The same goes for ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux, who stuck with his commitment and signed with LSU.

TEXAS A&M

Needs filled: With Johnny Manziel taking his show to the NFL, Texas A&M has to find a quarterback. Early enrollee Kyle Allen is an ESPN 300 prospect and ranked as the No. 1 pocket passer in this class. Noil, another early enrollee, should help fill a void with big-play receiver Mike Evans headed to the NFL, and the Aggies also loaded up on offensive linemen, including a pair of junior college signees. Any help on defense was a priority, which makes five-star defensive end Myles Garrett one of the keys to the class.

Holes remaining: The Aggies are still thin at safety after swinging and missing on several of their top targets in this class, including Adams, Steven Parker II and Mattrell McGraw. They also had ESPN 300 safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner committed but lost him to Boise State when Marcel Yates took the defensive coordinator job there.

Signing day wrap: SEC

February, 5, 2014
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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).

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

February, 3, 2014
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This was the final weekend before national signing day, and of course, there was a ton of news around the SEC. Vanderbilt added a slew of commitments, as did Alabama and Texas A&M. There were also some key visits and a decommitment from an SEC West school. Here’s a closer look at the latest recruiting news around the SEC.

Biggest commitments: After suffering 11 decommitments after coach James Franklin left for Penn State, Vanderbilt was in desperate need of a big recruiting weekend, and it finally got it.

The Class of 2014 is almost in the books, and that includes the junior college ranks as well. While there aren’t major changes in the final 2014 ESPN Junior College 50, there are some noteworthy moves.

No longer in the 2014 class

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Pac-12 class rankings analysis 

January, 15, 2014
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Not only are there six Pac-12 programs in the updated class rankings, all six are among the top 30 in the country. Arizona State still has the conference's top class at No. 16 overall, while Arizona checks in at No. 20. Oregon and USC are back-to-back at Nos. 23 and 24, after the Ducks rose two places and the Trojans three. UCLA is a close No. 5 in the conference at No. 26 overall. The Bruins were the biggest risers among all schools this week, jumping seven places to overtake Stanford, which checks in at No. 6 in the Pac-12 and No. 29 overall.

Trending up: UCLA


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Five USC recruiting priorities 

January, 10, 2014
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As the final stretch of recruiting begins for the 2014 class, USC is limited in the amount of scholarships left to give.

The Trojans currently have 17 verbal commitments for 19 available slots, although there is speculation that there could be decommitments from current verbals coming, which would open up additional spots. Those decommitments could come from players who sense that they are not a priority for the new staff, or who think they have better opportunities elsewhere.

While it remains to be seen exactly how many slots will be left to fill, here are five remaining priorities based on recruiting needs:


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Coinciding with the emotional departure of fan favorite Ed Orgeron just over a month ago, the naming of Steve Sarkisian as USC’s new head coach wasn’t initially met with what you’d call universal enthusiasm. With what he’s accomplished on the recruiting trail in his short time back on campus, however, it’s hard not to be impressed.

Hitting the ground running from the moment he took the job, Sarkisian and the rest of his staff have done a stellar job of not only targeting some elite blue-chippers in the 2014 class -- such as recent tight end commit Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) -- he's also recognizing quality prospects who, though not necessarily possessing a five-star rating, are more than capable of filling a vital need. That’s something that former coach Lane Kiffin didn’t always appear to make a priority, choosing instead to chase high-profile superstars at any, and all costs.


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After taking official visits to Alabama, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) will stay closer to home for his fourth and fifth trips, according to Quick's assistant coach, Tony Perry.


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A recent string of commitments heading into the dead period has left USC with only five remaining slots in its 2014 recruiting class. The Trojans have 19 total spots to use, as long as four of them are mid-year enrollees.

Here's a position-by-position look at how USC could allocate those empty spots, with a projection of how many players at each position the Trojans will try to sign:

Offensive line: 6

The Trojans hold five commitments on the offensive line, two of those from mid-year enrollees who already have signed financial aid agreements. They might not be done, though, as a big fish is still out there and possibly leaning toward signing with his childhood favorite. If the coaching staff decides a scholarship would be more important at another position, the Trojans might have to part ways with a prospect from this bunch.


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The dead period runs through Jan. 15, and some recruits have said they will use that to take a break from recruiting, but that doesn't mean it will shut down for everyone. Coaches are still able to contact recruits during the dead period -- just no in-person contact -- and a number of recruits will be making commitments during this time. Over the next few weeks and through the holidays, Pac-12 recruiting fans will have a number of things to keep an eye on, including these five topics.

Who sets January visits?

With the dead period wiping out an entire weekend normally dedicated to official visits, recruits will have just three January weekends available to take visits -- the 17th, 24th and 31st -- if they'd like to commit and sign on signing day. Every Pac-12 program is looking to load up on official visits during those weekends. Stanford and USC look as though they will be very busy on Jan. 17, and Oregon is always able to grab a few late official visitors -- ESPN JC 50 WR Eric Lauderdale (Fayetteville, Ga./Saddleback College) is scheduled for Jan. 31. There are plenty of Pac-12 targets saying they will likely set up January officials to various schools.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

December, 16, 2013
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Pac-12 recruiting hit warp speed this past week, as recruits and coaches alike took advantage of the final week of in-home visits and final weekend of official visits before the winter dead period begins on Monday and the junior college mid-year signing day hits on Wednesday. Just about every conference program hosted official visitors this past weekend, and more than a few earned significant commitments.


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Most important targets: SEC 

December, 10, 2013
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Evaluating the most important recruiting targets for each school in the SEC for the Class of 2014:

Alabama
CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover)
6-foot, 180 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: 9
The Crimson Tide have already put together the No. 1-ranked class in the country, and adding a playmaker such as Humphrey would cement their status as the top recruiting class for the 2014 cycle. Humphrey is an athletic cornerback who has great size and would be a natural fit in coach Nick Saban's system. FSU is also in the picture for the five-star defensive back, and Alabama will have to fight to keep this electric playmaker from leaving the state.


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2014 junior college overview

December, 5, 2013
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The Junior College signing period is almost here, and with that is the release of the 2014 JC player rankings.

The best way to build a program is through recruiting high school prospects who can be developed in a particular program's mold and will be around for a longer period of time.

As someone who both played (Nassau) and coached (Hutchinson) at the junior college level, I have a tremendous respect for this level of football and the opportunities it can offer to young prospects and the talent it can produce. Junior colleges can provide college programs with opportunities to fill holes on their rosters with older and more experienced players while they recruit and develop high school prospects for the long term.

Junior colleges can provide a program with an impact-type player at times, the way quarterback Cam Newton was at Auburn or linebacker Lavonte David was at Nebraska. At other times and more frequently, it can provide ways for a college program to supplement and strengthen its depth chart.

Below is an overview of the 2014 crop of junior college prospects and what they have to offer for college programs.

The big catch: The battle for the top spot came down to a pair of receivers, and it was a close call. The edge went to D’haquille Williams (Laplace, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast CC), a receiver with an excellent combination of size and athleticism. A current Auburn verbal, Williams is still a bit raw in areas, but he possesses great ball skills and big-play ability and is talented enough to come in and make an impact as a receiving target.

An argument for the No. 1 spot was also made for Lavon Pearson (Quincy, Calif./Feather River College), who is close behind at No. 2. A Tennessee verbal, Pearson is arguably a little more well-rounded as a pure receiver prospect at this point than Williams, but he doesn’t possess quite the same stature or physical tools. What the fluid receiver does bring is excellent ball skills and the ability to be dangerous after the catch. Pearson could come in and have an immediate impact in a similar manner to former Volunteers receiver and juco import Cordarrelle Patterson.

Tight coverage: It is not a particularly strong crop of secondary prospects, but a pair of talented cornerbacks lead this group and landed in the top 10. Shattle Fenteng (Loganville, Ga./Hutchinson CC) is the top-rated CB. He is a physical, explosive man-to-man matchup defender. A Georgia commit, he possesses the ability to mirror quicker wide receivers. Standing 6-foot-1, he also holds up against bigger targets in red-zone/jump-ball matchups.

The other top-10 defensive back is Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Holmes Community College), likely a familiar name to many recruiting fans as he was a Notre Dame commit in the 2012 class out of high school. A corner with nice size, he displays good leaping ability and ball skills and can be a physical presence at the position.

Another cornerback outside the top 10 who we believe is worth keeping an eye on is Danzel McDaniel (Dodge City, Kan./Dodge City CC). A top-50 prospect, he is an aggressive, physical, tall (6-1) and athletic corner.

Jermaine Eluemunor
Josh Moyer/ESPNJermaine Eluemunor, the top-ranked juco offensive guard, is committed to Texas A&M.
Think big: The strength of this 2014 junior college class is within the trenches as the offensive and defensive lines are the deepest group. A dozen offensive linemen landed in the top 50, including six in the top 20. The group is led by two offensive tackles and top-10 overall prospects in 6-6, 310-pound Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo) and Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau CC). Jackson, an Alabama verbal, brings good size, strength and agility and can offer some versatility as well. Mavety needs some polish but is a big tackle prospect (6-6, 320) with the tools to be a good, well-rounded OT and come in and contribute to a program.

Jordan Prestwood (Tampa, Fla./Arizona Western) is a name that probably rings a bell to recruiting fans as he was a promising prospect in the 2011 class and bounced around some before landing in junior college. A good athlete for his size (6-6, 315), he has grown and gained some experience as he transitions back to the FBS level. The guard position features a pair of Lackawanna College teammates in Jermaine Eluemunor and Jarell Broxton. Eluemunor (6-6, 300), who is committed to Texas A&M, could contribute at offensive tackle, though we believe his best fit will be at guard. Broxton (6-5, 328) is a big man we believe is a bit underrated in this juco class. He is a nice pickup for Baylor.

The largest group represented is the defensive tackles, with 15 in the top 50. Three defensive tackles are among the top 10, including Tennessee verbal DaVonte Lambert (Milledgeville, Ga./Georgia Military College), a tough and disruptive player. Dalvon Stuckey (DeFuniak Springs, Fla./Pearl River CC) was a promising prospect coming out in the 2012 class and remains one as an active defensive tackle. One of the more interesting prospects in this class is Alfonso Hampton (Chula Vista, Calif./Southwestern College). Someone to keep an eye on, he didn't play football in high school and is a bit of an underrated prospect, but he possesses a nice combination of size, strength and agility and displays promising upside. Recent Nebraska verbal Terrell Clinkscales (Dodge City, Kan./Dodge City CC) brings very good size (6-3, 315) and strength to the trenches.

The defensive end group is not as strong as the interior group, but some good talent can be found, led by Oregon verbal Tui Talia (Pleasant Hill, Calif./Diablo Valley) and D.J. Pettway (Pensacola, Fla./East Mississippi).

An interesting prospect in this group is jumbo athlete Jeremy Liggins (Oxford, Miss./Northwest Mississippi). With an excellent blend of size (6-4, 285) and athleticism, he has played quarterback in both high school and junior college, but we believe his best long-term fit is along the defensive line. Listed as an athlete, he could contribute in more than one way, though his lack of focus at one position could be a bit of a concern.

Empty backfield: While we believe there are some good prospects to be found on the perimeter offensively, this is not a strong group for those looking for some help in the backfield.

At quarterback, we don’t see another Cam Newton, Zach Mettenberger or Nick Marshall in this group and no quarterbacks landed in the top 50.

Tyreek Hill
Jeremy Crabtree/ESPNVersatile athlete Tyreek Hill is committed to Oklahoma State.
The running back position is slightly stronger, but only one player, Ole Miss verbal Akeem Judd (Milledgeville, Ga./Georgia Military College), is ranked among the top 50. Sitting just outside the top 50 is De’Chavon Hayes (Richmond, Va./Lackawanna College), a good all-purpose back who flashes big-play ability. Listed in the athlete category but capable of making a play in more than one way offensively -- including out of the backfield -- is Tyreek Hill (Garden City, Kan./Garden City CC). An Oklahoma State verbal, Hill is ranked No. 4 overall and can be an explosive weapon with his speed, ability to make defenders miss and ball skills. He is capable of making plays as a running back, wide receiver and in the return game.

Look beyond: The ESPN JC 50 represents the top prospects in the class, but there are also some promising prospects beyond the top 50. Geronimo Allison (Council Bluffs, Iowa/Iowa Western CC) is a tall receiver who can win foot races and make plays. Dominique Robertson (Riverside, Calif./Riverside CC) is a physical and nasty offensive tackle who landed just outside the top 50. David Moala (Norwalk, Calif./Cerritos College) is a wide-bodied and surprisingly agile defensive tackle who can be a disruptive presence.

These are just a few of the prospects who didn’t make the top 50 but can still help an FBS program. You can look at the Recruiting Nation database for evaluations of more than 100 juco prospects.

SEC top juco targets 

December, 3, 2013
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Looking over the newly released ESPN JC 50, there are several recruits on that list already committed to SEC schools. There are also many that still remain undecided. With signing day quickly approaching, here’s a closer look at five prospects, who’s destination is still unknown.

[+] EnlargeD'haquille Williams
Courtesy of Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.Juco WR transfer D'haquille Williams has made a big first impression as an early enrollee at Auburn.
1. WR D'haquille Williams (Laplace, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast CC): The No. 1-ranked prospect in the ESPN JC 50 is already committed to Auburn and visited this past weekend for Auburn’s miracle win over Alabama. This talented wide receiver, however, is still considering LSU and it appears to be a neck-and-neck battle. Williams’ MGCCC teammate Derrick Moncrief is also committed to Auburn which could certainly play in the favor of the Tigers -- Auburn that is.


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Shepard focusing on health 

March, 24, 2012
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Cornerback Tee Shepard has not been heard from since he recently withdrew from the University of Notre Dame and moved back to his hometown of Fresno, Calif.

Shepard was in attendance on Saturday at a 7-on-7 passing tournament in Las Vegas and he confirmed that the reason for his departure from Notre Dame was “health-related”, as had been rumored on various social media outlets.

“I had known since high school that there was something with my heart, but I never knew it was anything serious,” Shepard said. “When I took my physical at Notre Dame, they saw it right away. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I dropped out and came home to figure out what to do next.

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