April 2008 Archives

Playing the Army game

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The U.S. Army and ESPN, television sponsor of the Underarmour all-star football game, are going to war over which event will land the most talented senior players for their 2009 showcases.

Underarmour has received a commitment from USC-bound quarterback Matt Barkley of Santa Ana, Calif., the nation's top-rated player.

So Underarmour has two of the nation's top 20. The U.S. Army, which sponsors the All-American Bowl game in San Antonio in January, has 10 of the top 20 to date, including running backs Bryce Brown of Wichita, Kan., and Chris Whaley of Madisonville, Texas, and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick of Gadsden, Ala.

The skinny on Melvin Fellows

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The bloggers who touted Melvin Fellows as a great college prospect after he committed to Illinois might be playing a different tune now that the 6-5, 260-pound defensive end from Garfield Heights, Ohio, has changed his mind and decided to commit to Ohio State.

I saw Fellows on film. I didn't think he was so great and said so. Wow, some bloggers jumped all over my case. But Fellows reminded me of Michigan's Shawn Crable...same build, not as quick, not a dominating player.

One scouting service in Ohio rated Fellows as the No. 1 player in the state and a lot of bloggers accepted that information as gospel.

What's happening in Alabama?

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It isn't as good a year in Alabama as a year ago, when nine of the top 10 players in the state signed with coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. But cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Nico Johnson rank among the leading prospects in the nation at their positions.

Kirkpatrick, a 6-2, 180-pounder from Gadsden, is one of the top three cornerbacks in the country.

Johnson, a 6-3, 230-pounder from Andalusia, has 4.5 speed and rates among the top 10 linebackers in the nation.

Mississippi leads the talent parade

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Per capita, Mississippi produces more football talent than any state in the union. Not a lot of people but a lot of blue-chip athletes. I've driven through the state three times to rate the top 40 players and, so far as I can tell, Illinois coach Ron Zook hasn't been here.

Mississippi is a difficult state to evaluate because there is only one large city, Jackson, the state capitol. Brett Favre, Walter Payton, Archie Manning and Jerry Rice all came from small towns.

Another thing about Mississippi...most kids go to SEC schools, almost every one. Of course, a good number go to junior colleges first because of poor grades.

Irish land two blue-chippers

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Notre Dame got oral commitments from two outstanding prospects during its spring scrimmage Saturday in South Bend--running back Cierre Wood of Oxnard, Calif., and defensive lineman Tyler Stockton of Princeton, N.J.

Wood, a 6-0, 200-pounder, is a five-star performer who chose Notre Dame over UCLA. Last fall, he rushed for 2,600 yards and 42 touchdowns.

How good is Wood? He is ranked as the No. 3 player in the nation by Rivals.com. In my view, he is the best running back in the West and one of the top three in the nation along with Bryce Brown of Wichita, Kan., and Trent Richardson of Pensacola, Fla. Richardson plays at Escambia, the same high school that produced Emmit Smith. Last season, Wood was acknowledged as the most valuable player in his area, ahead of Colorado-bound Darrell Scott, who was rated as the No. 1 senior running back in the country.

Stockton, a 6-0, 290-pounder, is a four-star player.

How Recruiting Has Changed

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In 1978, when I began traveling around the country to evaluate football players, recruiting was in the Dark Ages. It was a cloak-and-dagger operation. There was no USA Today, no ESPN, no Internet.

Major colleges didn't release the names of their recruits until two months after signing day. They didn't want any information to leak out. Instead, they stockpiled more players. They didn't want to mention names so they could continue to recruit.

Joe Montana was one of seven quarterbacks brought in at Notre Dame in 1974. Major Ogilvie was one of several tailbacks recruited by Alabama in 1977. Later, they said they didn't know anything about the others. In those days, it was an acceptable way of doing business.

Missouri shows its talent

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It is an average year for football talent in Missouri, as it is throughout the Midwest, but St. Louis has several good prospects and the best of all is 6-2, 210-pound running back Ronnie Wingo of St. Louis University High.

A four-star player, Wingo has been offered by Illinois, Oklahoma, Tennessee and several other Big 10 and Big 12 schools.

Illinois is setting the pace

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The good news is Illinois has offered scholarships to more good prospects than any other school, especially in the traditionally fertile recruiting states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and the Carolinas.

The bad news is one of coach Ron Zook's first commitments doesn't appear to be as committed as he hoped he would be.

Illinois is leading the nation in offers, at least 150, and the list includes of the top five quarterbacks in the nation, the best player and the best offensive lineman in Pennsylvania and four highly rated prospects at the top producing football program in the Midwest.

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