The Best and Worst of Recruiting in the 2000s - Whether or not you think the new decade has already started or will start in 2011, this is a good time to hop in the DeLorean and take a look back at the decade that was, the highlights & the lowlights…and also a look into the future.
Best Recruiting Class – USC 2003
The Trojans had three recruiting classes ranked No. 1 during the 2000s, but their first top-ranked class was definitely their best. That year Troy signed five five-star players, ten four-star and 11 three-star recruits as part of the unanimous No. 1 class in the country. Two of the most prominent names were running backs Reggie Bush and Lendale White. They also plucked the No. 1 signal caller in the country from Louisiana, John David Booty. Additionally, four signees that year ended up going in the first round of the NFL draft: defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, offensive tackle Sam Baker, defensive end Lawrence Jackson and Bush. Other difference-makers in that special class were wide receiver Steve Smith, cornerback Eric Wright, defensive tackle Fili Moala, cornerback Terrell Thomas, offensive lineman Ryan Kalil and cornerback Will Poole. Ironically, one of the most celebrated recruits during that time was five-star wide receiver Whitney Lewis, who gained serious weight, never made the grade and transferred after his sophomore season. Not that the Trojans even noticed. That core group went on to win two national championships, play in four BCS bowls, produce a Heisman Trophy winner (Bush) and end up 48-4.
Best Recruiting Year – 2006
Tim Tebow, shown here at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl practices, ended up one of the best in the Class of 2006.
The years 2004-2007 were full of top-notch players, but the wealth of talent that came out of the 2006 class was stupendous. You know it’s special when guys like RB Toby Gerhart (Stanford), LB Navorro Bowman (Penn State) and QB Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) are only considered supporting cast. But when you’re part of the same group as QB Tim Tebow (Florida), OL Andre Smith (Alabama) and DL Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma), it’s not surprising. While it’s easy to say now that Tebow is the cherry-on-top of the ‘06 cake, at the time he was ranked as only the third-best quarterback prospect by Scout.com, behind Mitch Mustain (who signed with Arkansas, then transferred to USC, where he’s been riding pine) and Matthew Stafford (who signed with Georgia and was the No. 1 NFL draft pick in 2009).
That year USC finished with the No.1 recruiting class in the country according to most, but just as Tim Tebow turned out to be Tebow the Great, the Gators actually signed the superior ’06 class. In addition to Tebow, Urban Meyer signed five-star linebacker Brandon Spikes and five-star wide receiver Percy Harvin, as well as SuperPrep Elite 50 wide receiver Riley Cooper and four-star defensive tackle Brandon Antwine. Fortunately for the rest of the country, there was plenty of talent to go around in ’06. Other notables include linebacker Sergio Kindle (Texas), cornerback A.J. Wallace (Penn State), defensive back Chykie Brown (Texas), running backs Beanie Wells (Ohio State), Knowshon Moreno (Georgia), C.J. Spiller (Clemson), Michael Goodson (Texas A&M), LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh), Charles Scott (LSU), Demarco Murray (Oklahoma), Stafon Johnson (USC) and Evan Royster (Penn State), fullback Stanley Havili (USC), wide receivers Ray Small (Ohio State) and Damian Williams (Arkansas, transferred to USC), offensive lineman Eric Olsen (Notre Dame), linebacker A.J. Jones (Florida), safeties Taylor Mays (USC) and Myron Rolle (Florida State), tight end Anthony McCoy (USC) and quarterbacks Jevan Snead (Texas, then transferred to Florida and finally to Ole Miss), Jake Locker (Washington), “Juice” Williams (Illinois), Josh Freeman (Kansas State) and Greg McElroy (2009 national champion with Alabama).
Best Recruiting Coach – Pete Carroll (USC)
On December 15, 2000, with little fanfare and some downright animosity from many its fans, USC hired Pete Carroll, and few people knew or could imagine the amazing and quick impact he would have not only on the Trojans, but also on college football in general. Naturally, Carroll wasn’t even close to being the Trojans’ top choice. Athletic Director Mike Garrett tried to woo then-Oregon State Head Coach Dennis Erickson, and also was denied by Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti and Chargers Coach Mike Riley. It’s been reported that USC received 2,500 emails, faxes and letters calling for Carroll’s removal before he even coached one game.
But the one thing Carroll had going for him that couldn’t be measured by wins and losses was personality – a personality perfectly suited for the college game, especially recruiting. With charisma and enthusiasm, Carroll was able to immediately win over recruits and their parents, long before the Trojan juggernaut fully took shape in the mid-2000s. Although he got a late start in 2000, Carroll managed to hold on to commitments from quarterback Matt Leinart and defensive lineman Shaun Cody. That class was ranked No. 19 by SuperPrep Magazine, Carroll’s lowest-ranking class by far. Carroll also marked a new style of recruiting coach: youthful, energetic, all the while espousing the “Win Forever” mantra. And in his own forward-thinking way, Carroll quickly embraced the new media that so many of his peers ignored. With his own website, Facebook page and Twitter account, Carroll created a new mold for what a devastatingly effective college football recruiter could use to his benefit. Runners-up: Mack Brown and Urban Meyer.
Best Recruiting School – USC
It’s not surprising that USC dominated the Pac-10 in the 2000s and was considered the “National Team of the Decade” by many publications, especially when you consider how well they recruited. From 2006-2010, the Trojans were usually ranked among the top 5 recruiting classes. And between 2003-2007, they were never ranked lower than No. 3, and finished ranked No. 1 in 2003, 2004, and 2006, while finishing No. 2 in 2007, No. 3 in both 2005 and 2009 and No. 4 in 2010. Only twice in the last nine years did they finish out of the top five. That’s consistent greatness in recruiting.
Consistently Great In-State – Texas
It sure must be nice to be Mack Brown. Every year he seems to have the majority of his class in place before the first kickoff in the fall. UT has always ruled the roost with many of the elite in-state prospects. It’s as if the name “Longhorn” is emblazoned within many a Texas recruit’s genetic code. Brown averages signing nearly one-half of the state’s top 10 recruits every year. According to SuperPrep Magazine, during the past 10 years, the Longhorns recruiting classes were ranked No. 4 in 2000, No. 5 in 2001, No. 1 in 2002, No. 15 in 2003, No. 12 in 2004, No. 18 in 2005, No. 3 in 2006, No. 5 in 2007, No. 14 in 2008, No. 7 in 2009 - and back up to No. 2 in 2010. While programs like USC and Florida may be splashier and create more drama and intrigue during the recruiting process, Texas always quietly delivers with a massive accumulation of early, dominant in-state commitments.
Most Overrated Recruiting Class – Tennessee’s No. 1 2005 Class
It’s not that this 2005 Vols class turned out terribly, it just didn’t nearly live up to the expectations of that early Wednesday in February 2005. When then-coach Phillip Fulmer finally announced his class, it looked like a new era at Tennessee would emerge. The Vols’ faithful had good reason to believe the SEC championship and another national championship were within grasp, considering the talent they had pulled in since 2002. With five-star quarterback Jonathan Crompton, cornerback Demetrice Morley, running backs LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty, wide receiver Slick Shelley, tight end Jeff Cottam and linebacker Rico McCoy all donning Orange, everyone had good reason to believe the Vols’ drought without a conference title since 1998 would come to an end. Instead, an unexpected end came into view. Crompton never lived up to his SuperPrep Elite 50 status, and didn’t lead the Vols to anything but mediocrity, while the tenures of Morley, Shelley and Coker in Knoxville were short-lived. Fulmer was fired Nov. 2, 2008. Crompton’s best season came in 2009, when he finished with 26 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. The Vols went 7-6, losing to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, where Crompton was a mediocre 15/26 for 235 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Interestingly, with all the hyped recruits that Tennessee signed that year, it almost didn’t seem to matter that they lost out on Elite 50 wide receiver Patrick Turner (USC, drafted in the third round by the Miami Dolphins in 2009) and offensive lineman and Sandra Bullock’s new best-friend Michael Oher (Ole Miss, drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens).
Remember This Overhyped Recruit? – Lorenzo Booker (Florida State)
In 2002, the entire recruiting world was abuzz about a 5-11, 175-lb. running back who was supposed to be the next Barry Sanders. No, wait, better than Barry Sanders. The amount of hype heaped on Lorenzo Booker made him an easy target. After all, anything less than a Heisman Trophy, a national championship and an NFL career would classify him as a disappointment. Of course, Booker didn’t help himself, either. Enjoying the limelight and dragging out the recruiting process, Booker’s signing-day press conference was one of the first covered by ESPN, which just fed the hype machine even more. But it’s not like there wasn’t reason for excitement. Booker finished his high school career with a staggering 8,502 yards rushing and 137 touchdowns for a team that went 42-0, and won every award imaginable. After initially committing to Notre Dame, Booker surprisingly spurned the Irish on signing day, inking instead with Florida State after also considering USC. Booker redshirted his freshman year as a Seminole, but became a starter as a sophomore, and posted decent numbers (173 carries for 887 yards and four touchdowns). Although he led the ’Noles in rushing seven times as a junior, his numbers were still less than stellar (119 carries for 552 yards and four touchdowns). Booker was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the third round of the 2007 draft, but was traded to the Eagles in 2008 and waived in 2009. While most recruiting publications had Booker as the No. 1 prospect in the nation, SuperPrep Magazine listed him behind quarterback Vince Young (Texas) and defensive lineman Haloti Ngata (Oregon).
Other Overhyped types: QB Kyle Wright (Miami), WR Fred Rouse (Florida State, UTEP, Concordia), RB Marcus Houston (Colorado, Colorado State), RB Darrell Scott (transferring from Colorado), RB Herschel Dennis (USC), DL Callahan Bright (Florida State, Shaw Univ.), QB Ryan Perrilloux (LSU, Jacksonville State), QB Mitch Mustain (Arkansas, USC) and QB Brock Berlin (Florida, Miami)
Recruiting Going Mainstream (sort of)
While it used to be a niche market for college football fanatics, recruiting has clearly crossed over to the legitimate sports industry. Signing day has become a media spectacle, with ESPN devoting over eight hours of coverage to high school kids putting pen to paper. Not only is the media getting into the spirit of signing day (Christmas Day for recruitniks), but also the recruits themselves are juicing up a rather banal event and making it into an all-day hype-fest. From hats to jerseys, and surrounded by friends and family, recruits are coming up with unique ways to let the world know where they intend to play ball. A proliferation of post-season All-America games, pitting the best prospects in the nation against each other, also now provides a serious platform for the big announcement. There is no off-season in recruiting anymore, as Scout.com posts dozens of new stories on high school recruits daily, all year long. While it’s not exactly the Super Bowl, college football signing day and recruiting in general is still growing in popularity - which could make the next 10 years very exciting indeed.
Not everything was sunshine and roses in recruiting during the double-zero decade. Let’s take a look at two recruiting underbelly stories.
Saddest Cautionary Tale – Willie Williams (Miami 2004)
Top Miami football recruit Willie Williams is shown in a courtroom in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before being sentenced, Tuesday, July 6, 2004. Williams was sentenced to three years' probation
(AP Photo/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Lou Toman)
Sure, Lorenzo Booker didn’t pan out quite the way everyone hoped, but no one epitomized “bust” more than Williams. His story became a cautionary tale for recruits and the schools that pursue them - and caused the NCAA to alter some of their rules restricting the use of private planes, hostess groups, swanky hotel suites and meals. Ranked as the No. 1 linebacker prospect in 2004 and No. 2 overall according to SuperPrep, Williams was asked to chronicle his recruiting in the Miami Herald. The idea seemed promising enough. Recruiting was growing in popularity, so why not let the public in on some of what a top-ranked recruit really goes through. Unfortunately for the Herald, they picked the wrong guy. Pulling the curtain back on that particular recruiting scenario was akin to being in the locker room of any major league baseball club in the ‘90s. Sure, you like the product, but what’s going on behind the scenes might cause a double-take. Williams entertained the public with stories about Auburn having “farmer girls” and eating four lobster tails at Florida State, as well as private jets, police escorts and squads of cheering coeds. None of this was remotely criminal, but Williams’ trip to the Florida Gators proved to be his undoing. The day after he committed to Miami, the Gainesville police brought three criminal complaints against him. Then the floodgates burst open, as it was discovered that 19-year-old Willie Williams had been arrested 11 times for a variety of felonious and misdemeanor transgressions, and was on probation because of a 2002 burglary.
Eventually, Williams made it to Miami, but he failed to crack the starting lineup as a true freshman and posted only 17 tackles in 10 games in 2005, causing him to ditch The U. He spent some time at West Los Angeles College before ultimately transferring to Louisville, where he hoped to re-ignite his career. However, Williams survived only three games with the Cardinals before being arrested for marijuana possession. He tried to transfer to Div. II Glenville State, but was told he’d have to sit out a year, so he went to Union College in Kentucky, where he led the team with 150 tackles, 19 for loss with 11 sacks. Williams tried unsuccessfully to get picked up by an NFL team last year, and once again was arrested, this time on charges of burglary and reckless driving in Sept. 2009.
Most Bizarre Recruiting Story – The Curious Case of Bryce Brown (Tennessee 2009)
The long recruiting saga of Wichita, KS, running back Bryce Brown had to make many earnest followers of college football shake their heads in laughter, disgust or disbelief. Easily viewed as the best runner to come out of Wichita since Barry Sanders, Brown seemed to end his recruiting derby quickly by deciding to join older brother Arthur Brown (himself a huge recruit), orally committing to Miami in early 2008, long before his senior season even started. However, after committing to the 'Canes, Brown reportedly still visited Clemson, Missouri, Oregon and Kansas State. Oregon actually began to look like the team to beat, while USC also was rumored as a dark horse.
But the race for Brown was really just beginning. Brown's so-called trainer and mentor/advisor, Brian Butler, began exclusively selling updates of Brown's convoluted recruiting journey on Butler's website, and questions arose regarding Butler's relationship with Brown and his status in the eyes of the NCAA – possibly jeopardizing Brown's amateur status. In the meantime, Brown, who supposedly had over 50 offers, began tossing around the notion that a quick jump to the Canadian Football League might be the way to go. Eventually Miami publicly reconsidered its scholarship offer to Brown, as he and his handler stretched the recruiting game to its limits. The Feb. 4, 2009, letter-of-intent day came and went with Brown refusing to sign anywhere. This dog-and-pony show continued into mid-March, when Brown finally accumulated sufficient information and decided to bless Tennessee and new Head Coach Lane Kiffin with his signature. By now, Kiffin found himself fending off a myriad of publicity and potential SEC problems as the new coach of the Volunteers, and one had to wonder if he had just run into another headache, this one long-term. In mid-January 2010, Kiffin suddenly departed for the USC head job, leaving Volunteer fans burning mattresses in the streets.
Biggest Change in Recruiting – Social Networking
Nothing has changed more in the world of recruiting in the 2000s, and perhaps the world in general, than the proliferation of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Even coaches got into the act, as high-profile head honchos Mark Richt, Dan Hawkins, Rich Rodriguez, Pete Carroll and Ron Zook all embraced the new media. Of course, all this has the NCAA scratching their heads trying to figure out how to govern something as inherently ungovernable as the Internet. The Internet is by far the most powerfully impactful new phenomenon to affect football recruiting since the advent of the forward pass made receivers important.
The Wait-and-See Trend – Signing After Signing Day
Possibly this year’s No. 1 offensive prospect, tackle Seantrel Henderson, surprised the country and committed to USC during a much-anticipated and nationally televised press conference on signing day. This was great news for Trojan fans, but the excitement was dampened when Henderson revealed he wouldn’t be sending in his letter-of-intent quite yet. Instead, Henderson said he wanted to wait until after the NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing on February 19-21. Henderson has reserved the right to wait until he’s satisfied with how the NCAA handles the Trojans before deciding to officially become a Trojan, or put himself back on the market. Of course, Henderson isn’t the first player to wait, and at least his is a valid reason. In 2006, USC also had to wait on Vidal Hazleton, whose dad refused to sign his LOI. He didn’t become a Trojan until February 23. Ohio State, along with the entire Big 10, was kept in suspense during the winter of 2008 when quarterback Terrelle Pryor did his best Brett Favre impersonation, keeping everyone in the dark about his decision until nearly the spring. Also, there was the Bryce Brown 2008-2009 recruitathon. Whether it’s truly a kid who can’t make up his mind or someone who is simply trying to get the most of his 15 minutes of fame, not signing on the first Wednesday in February could be a sign of the future.
Bryce Brown went weeks after signing day before making his announcement of Tennessee at a press conference.
(AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Do We Need A New System? – Decommitting Gone Wild
In 2000, SuperPrep printed the names of 56 Div. I recruits who decided to “decommit” after originally verballing to another school. That’s less than 5% of the recruits covered by SuperPrep that year. By 2005, that number jumped to 93 “decommitments” – nearly doubling what it had been five years prior. In 2009, 144 players were considered decommitments, and this year that record is going to be shattered once again. The worthlessness of the so-called commitment is most certainly a growing trend. Speaking of growing trends…well, maybe it’s finally time for a complete makeover. The current signing-day arrangement should be totally changed, so prospects and schools don’t need to worry about commitments, which were never more than an informal way of keeping track. Just let the kids sign whenever they want after October 1 of their senior year. No muss, no fuss. Just signatures authorized by parents and actual binding commitments.
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