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Behind the Scenes: 2014 recruiting

How reliable were the 'silent commitments' in the 2014 class? What role did academics play in the decision of a 4-star JUCO WR? Which schools did five-star RB Joe Mixon tell he was coming before his U.S. Army All-American Bowl announcement? We look back at those stories and more as we go behind the scenes of the 2014 recruiting cycle.

Jamal Adams told Florida he was coming before he publicly announced for LSU.

Silent commit: A lost art

Silent commits used to lead to projections. A prospect giving the head coach assurance and word that he’s coming to that school and saying he just doesn’t want it released until a certain time or announcement.

That happened with a few notable four-star prospects this cycle. One problem, the kid wound up signing elsewhere.

Four-star safety Jamal Adams called Will Muschamp in the Fall saying he was a Gator and committed silently. His name was then placed on Florida’s commit board.

Adams re-told Muschamp the same thing in person during his in-home in December.

Ultimately, LSU won over Adams and his father and flipped the Florida silent commit two days before he publicly announced at the Under Armour All-America Game.

Four-star wide receiver Jamil Kamara was a similar instance informing Wisconsin’s staff of his intentions that he was going to commit and sign with them. He told the Badgers late this past fall. So much so that Wisconsin’s staff placed his name on its commit board.

The local connections through his Thoroughbreds 7-on-7 team proved to be too much in the end and Virginia won for the four-star receiver.

Academics did end up playing a role in the Eric Lauderdale recruitment.

Travis Rudolph trolled college coaches and media alike to get his 15 seconds of fame when he announced at the Under Armour Game. He told several outlets Alabama led and he grew up liking Alabama weeks leading up to his decision. He even relayed that message to Alabama’s staff hours before announcing.

He sent a text message to one reporter who asked if he should keep his Crystal Ball prediction on Alabama, saying “keep it.”

After choosing Florida State, Rudolph was still pursued by the likes of Alabama and Florida. He told one SEC assistant the method behind his madness was to “the fool the media and other coaches.”

Four-star wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie told Brian Kelly during a late January in-home visit that he was coming to Notre Dame. Then, he and the Irish parted ways once the offer from Virginia Tech showed up last Wednesday and Notre Dame told him there was no spot for him unless he took his final official visit to South Bend. He was set to sign with Ole Miss upon returning from the Virginia Tech official until the Georgia offer arrived at 3:30 p.m. Monday. His connection with his teammate, four-star RB Sony Michel, and the support system in place in Athens for him proved to the ultimate deciding factor. 



Coincidence

One of the wilder scenarios this past cycle occurred in Jesup (Ga.) Wayne County. Four-star wide receiver Krenwick Sanders committed to Georgia on Nov. 29, 2012. Georgia reached out to Wayne County coach Jody Grooms in July and indicated they were cooling on the instate commit, hence parting ways. Sanders eventually found a new suitor in Wisconsin and committed to the Badgers on Oct. 8.

In January, Florida, reeling after a 4-8 campaign, was scrambling to find receivers and made a push for Sanders. They went in the home on Monday night Jan. 13 sending in assistants Joker Phillips and Brad Lawing.

They went around Grooms and went straight to the family’s house for the in-home. Sanders contacted his coach to join the in-home visit.

The Gerald Willis commitment included some uncomfortable moments.

Rewind seven years earlier. As the coach for Wadesboro (N.C.) Anson County, Grooms had a similar situation to that of Sanders. His wide receiver at the time, Michael Bowman, signed his National Letter of Intent with South Carolina. He was set to enroll in August and received a call from South Carolina that they were going in a different direction, saying Bowman hadn’t met the required academic requirements for admission to the university, despite him having more than the necessary core G.P.A and test. Bowman wound up having to go to East Carolina and Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier called out the school’s admissions department, threatening to leave if they did not accept NCAA-eligible athletes.

And who was on that South Carolina staff? Lawing. It was the first time Grooms had crossed paths with the assistant since that instance years ago.

Needless to say, with Sanders going through a similar type deal, Florida wound up sending in the wrong assistant to try and flip him, given the historical connection with the high school coach. Sanders signed with Wisconsin yesterday.

MAC Madness

Craziness on the recruiting trail wasn’t just on the high major level. Here’s one instance in the Mid-American Conference.

Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek standout Ikeem Allen, who helped his team to a state title, committed to Ball State on June 14. He flipped to Toledo on Jan. 18. Miami (Ohio) kept working him all the while.

Toledo conducted an in-home visit two weeks ago. He surprised them at the time he was thinking about going to Miami (Ohio) indicating that he liked Miami’s jerseys as the reason. The whole time during this in-home visit Miami (Ohio)’s staff was circling the block waiting for Toledo to leave.

When they finally got into the home they were able to close Allen. He called Toledo, less than an hour after they left his home and told them “I’m taking my talents to Miami...of Ohio.”

The Redhawks still had to withstand a late visit to Georgia State, something they encourage Allen not to take, before ultimately inking the defensive lineman.

Oregon thought it had John Smith.

Best Signing Day Quote

“I was gonna flip to Florida but they want me taking 11 units in the summer so ASU IT IS,” - four-star Junior College wide receiver Eric Lauderdale, who signed with Arizona State

Drama in San Antonio

There’s always recruiting drama at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, or any all-star game, and a trio of California prospects did not disappoint.
One college assistant took an estimated 50 incoming phone calls on Christmas from the father of five-star running back Joe Mixon.
It doesn’t stop there.

Mixon told UCLA’s staff he was coming and going to pick the Bruins two nights before the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The next day he told Oklahoma the same thing.

The day after he picked the Sooners.

Four-star tight end Bryce Dixon made a similar flip before announcing for USC publicly on the U.S. Army game broadcast. He told UCLA they were the team he was going to pick a day prior before changing his mind late the night before the game.

Linebacker Dwight Williams wanted to have hats from Clemson, Georgia, Florida and LSU on the table for his announcement. One problem. He didn’t have committable offers from any of the four schools. Williams was informed of this and inserted UCLA, where he was an instate take, and chose the Bruins.

The Hurricanes were too late for Chris Lammons.

Walton’s world





In mid-January, three-star cornerback Kiante Walton, then an Appalachian State commit, had offers from Missouri, Kansas State and BYU. He had scheduled an official visit to Kansas State for the weekend of January 24 and one to BYU on January 31. Days leading up to the Kansas State official visit, in a 24-hour window, all three Division I staffs reached out to Walton and said they were now full at defensive back.

His name recirculated to other programs. Illinois and Indiana caught drift and both starting showing interest. Walton was set to commit to whoever offered him first among those D-I schools. Illinois was slated to send two coaches in on the last Monday of the open period. Indiana got word and showed up the night before trumping the Illini with an offer first. Walton opted for the Hoosiers who he signed with yesterday.

When they gave the word

Five-star defensive tackle Gerald Willis called Florida’s staff on the Sunday night he returned from his official visit to Gainesville in November. That’s when he gave his word to Will Muschamp that he was going to be a Gator. Willis struck true to his word, surprising some in LSU when he publicly announced at the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan 3.

Willis’ mom April Justin (who also is the mother of Alabama safety Landon Collins and is one of the most notorious parents in the history of recruiting) and Willis’ step mom had a shoving contest on the stage before Gerald announced. April didn’t want her up on the stage during her son’s announcement.

Jalen Tabor gave similar assurance on his official visit. His family even told Florida’s staff they planned to move to Florida. Florida had to deal with a little more drama on his end, when he committed to Arizona for that period, but ultimately Tabor proved true on his word originally given in early December.

Dexter Wideman may have verbally committed to Florida State in July, but he gave South Carolina the word he would be signing with them a week later. The Saluda (S.C.) four-star defensive lineman signed with the Gamecocks yesterday. Now the question becomes- will he qualify?

Super Bowl Champ Russell Wilson had an interesting recruitment.

George Rushing, a three-star wide receiver that signed with Wisconsin, called the Badgers staff on the Sunday he returned from his Louisville official visit and told them he was coming.

Four-star all-purpose back Varshaun Nixon flipped to TCU from Texas A&M on Sunday and went public with it yesterday.

False Hope





-Oregon’s staff was confident it was landing five-star safety John “JuJu” Smith until signing day.

-There were varying degrees of confidence on the part of Arkansas for five-star defensive end Solomon Thomas. There was even some information he had given the Razorbacks a silent commitment.



-Crazy enough, the night before signing day, it was UCLA that was the most confidence on Thomas and the Bruins felt that four-star linebacker Kenny Young would go to Texas A&M. Thomas signed with Stanford and Young, who said he was generally torn, signed with UCLA.



Additional Nuggets





-It took the letter-of-intent from Adoree’ Jackson a while to arrive at USC, but it actually came in during USC's recruiting dinner with the boosters late Wednesday night. The coaching staff announced it to all of the crowd at the end of the event and it erupted.



There were several twists in the Krenwick Sanders recruitment.

-An offer went unreported... four-star cornerback Chris Lammons picked a tender from nearby Miami on the Friday before National Signing Day. It was too late for the Hurricanes though as Lammons signed with South Carolina yesterday.

-Florida State’s staff made a decision to upgrade in its wide receiver recruitment late this fall during its run to the National Title. The strategy was to cool on then commits C.J. Worton of Homestead (Fla.) South Dade, Ryan Sosa of Orlando (Fla.) Lake Nona and JoJo Robinson of Miami (Fla.) Northwestern, three instate prospects. The Seminoles then went full bore after Rudolph and Ermon Lane, a pair of five-star receivers that were higher on the board. The strategy worked as they signed both. Meanwhile, Worton and Sousa inked with Florida and Robinson signed with Arkansas.

-Tennessee reached out to Orlando Brown’s camp on Tuesday telling him they wouldn’t be sending him a National Letter of Intent. He was going to sign with South Carolina State, his father’s alma mater, on Wednesday afternoon before receiving an LOI from Oklahoma and signing with the Sooners.

-During the Under Armour Week while Dalvin Cook kept saying he was ‘100 percent’ to Florida and continue to do the Gator chomp he sent a text to the FSU staff of him in full Seminoles gear saying they had nothing to worry about. Cook pre-taped his announcement where he flipped to FSU and still gave Gator chomps during media pictures later that day.

-Four-star running back Roc Thomas tried to commit in the fall of 2012 and on a Junior Day last January to Alabama. Alabama was still waiting on Leonard Fournette so they couldn’t take that pledge. And they had Bo Scarbrough committed and four backs that hadn’t yet signed in the 2013 class. After his second attempt, Thomas went underground hoping for an offer. Eventually he pulled the trigger for Auburn. Alabama tried to go back in late with Lane Kiffin. No luck.

-Five-star cornerback Marlon Humphrey never tipped his hand until after the FSU visit. He showed up at Alabama for an unofficial to hang out with Malachi Dupre. During an in-home visit with Humphrey in Hoover, Alabama, Smart and the prospect went out to eat at a Steak ‘n Shake. Upon arrival, the patrons and employees went crazy and took pictures of them.

-The Saturday before Rashaan Evans announcement, his grandfather had an 80th birthday party. Kirby Smart, Bo Davis, Lance Thompson and Burton Burns went. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and some Tiger assistants showed up. Current Alabama linebacker and Auburn High alumn Reuben Foster was also there. Coaches from both staffs were interacting. They partied until they had to go and stayed well into the night.

-Evans brother was the one who filmed Nick Saban doing the electric slide and it went viral.

Miami (Ohio) eventually won out in the bizarre battle for Ikeem Allen.

-Malachi Dupre sat by LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on a flight from Louisiana to Los Angeles. Cameron was flying to California to recruit Adoree’ Jackson and Dupre was taking his official visit to UCLA. They talked to each other until Dupre fell asleep. Dupre said they planned it together. They had an in-home visit last Thursday, then went to the airport and took the same flight to L.A.

-During Evans’ official visit to Alabama, his father made the comment to several parents of other commits that while his son “liked” the Crimson Tide that the family would “probably have to move” if he came to Tuscaloosa. Back up the moving trucks?

-Davon Godchaux faxed his LOI to Ole Miss but no parents signed it and he signed with LSU.

Classic Behind the Scenes

Given he just won a Super Bowl, here’s a story few know about how quarterback Russell Wilson’s recruitment went down.

The scene was in June of 2006. John Bunting was squarely on the hot seat as head coach for North Carolina. He landed a 4-star QB commit from Mike Paulus that April.

The get landed local and regional buzz since it was from the brother of Duke’s then starting point guard Greg Paulus, big news in that part of the country.

Meanwhile, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound QB from Richmond (Va.) Collegiate School that grew up liking the Tar Heels came to camp to earn his first offer. His name: Russell Wilson.

Wilson - then without any offers - was on the short side for some. However, he had just led his team to a state championship

Tar Heels offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti put him through an individual workout and Wilson hit on 99 of 100 passes going through an NFL passing tree.

Cignetti came back to the staff and shared the story saying he’s never seen anything like that before. Wilson was on deck to commit if North Carolina offered. UNC’s defensive staff pushed for Bunting to take the kid.

Bunting had promised Paulus they wouldn’t take another QB. They reached out to him and his family in Syracuse and were told the national QB prospect would open up his recruitment if they went on another QB in the class.

The embattled coach couldn’t make the pull. Meanwhile, Cignetti told his brother, Curt, then an assistant at nearby North Carolina State they needed to look at this guy.

Wilson went to North Carolina State’s camp and did the same thing. The Wolfpack quickly offered and it wasn’t long before Wilson committed to them.

And you know how history played out. Six months later Bunting was fired. Wilson wound up going 3-0 as NC State’s starter in games against North Carolina.

And North Carolina’s staff wasn’t the only one that missed in not taking Wilson as four years later Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien elected to go with Mike Glennon over Wilson, who wasn’t going to give up an aspiring career in baseball.

Wilson later transferred to Wisconsin where he led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.

UNC and NC State and everyone else weren’t the only ones that missed on Wilson as 31 others passed on him in the NFL. And now he’s getting fitted for his first Super Bowl ring.

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