February 16, 2004
Miami, Florida State Again Stood Far Above The Rest, But Terps, Pack, Heels, Cavs, Hokies Also Fared Well
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By Dave Glenn
ACC Area Sports Journal
February 16, 2004 Over the last decade, ACC football recruiting results could be boiled down into a single, only slightly oversimplified, description: Florida State at the top, Duke and Wake Forest at the bottom, and everyone else flip-flopping year by year in between. During the same time frame, the results on the field typically have followed the same exact pattern. Coincidence? Uh, no. "Coaches don't worry about (recruiting rankings). That's for the fans. But coaches worry about if we're getting the best on our (coaches') list, and sometimes our lists looks like (the analysts') lists," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "It's competitive. If it wasn't important, it wouldn't be (so competitive). If (another coach) is getting all the ones we both want, it's going to be tough to beat him on Saturday. If I'm getting all the ones we both want, I like my chances. Of course, nobody gets 'em all." "If we want to compete nationally in the fall, then we have to compete nationally in recruiting," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said. "We lost a few (high-profile targets this year), but we are recruiting the right people." While football recruiting rankings remain far less accurate than basketball recruiting rankings everyone has his favorite examples of prep All-American busts and super-successful sleepers in both sports, but the error rate is much higher on the gridiron only clueless media members desperate for a poorly researched signing-day column suggest that they're meaningless. The fact remains that everyone (including the ACC Sports Journal) who has examined such things in an intelligent manner has learned that a significantly higher percentage of prep All-Americans turn out well (as defined by career starts, all-conference honors, NFL draft choices, etc.) at the college level, and a significantly lower percentage of high school sleepers excel as they take a step up in competition. So what does this mean for the soon-to-be 12-team ACC? Well, recent recruiting results suggest that the conference will maintain its three-tiered structure. Miami, a modern-day superpower on the field and the recruiting trail, appears poised to join FSU at the top. Boston College and Virginia Tech may fit nicely into the crowded middle, where over time other issues (attrition, character, coaching, injuries, stability) tend to separate the contenders from the pretenders. At the bottom, Duke and Wake still figure to face an uphill battle on the field. Of course, nobody believes that it's impossible to jump from one group to another, especially on a short-term basis. But history suggests that it's very, very difficult to do so over the long haul without planting the necessary seeds on the recruiting trail.
There are a handful of programs that recruit at such a high level that the numerical team rankings issued by analysts can be very misleading, and Miami is one of those programs. A fan's impulse may be to see his favorite team's 15th-ranked class and think it's pretty close to someone else's fifth-ranked group, and that's simply not the case. In most years, the gap between No. 5 and No. 15 is Grand Canyon-like, whereas the gap between No. 15 and No. 25 (or 25-35, 35-45, 45-55, etc.) may be inconsequential. The Hurricanes signed no fewer than 12 consensus All-Americans this year, from all over (Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin) the nation, plus another half-dozen players who earned national recognition from at least one major recruiting service. And those numbers don't include elite-level prospects from the junior college ranks and Canada, two talent pools Miami has used sparingly but very successfully over the last decade or so. The Canes did sign an unusually high (for them) number of academic risks, and the program didn't need the ugly publicity surrounding 10-arrest Willie Williams, but even with some attrition this clearly ranks as one of the best classes in the nation. The biggest names: Oak Creek (WI) High DE Rhyan Anderson, Reading (PA) High LB James Bryant, Denver (CO) South DE Calais Campbell, Brownwood (TX) High QB Kirby Freeman, Millville (NJ) High DT/DE Dwayne Hendricks, Pittsburgh (PA) North Hills RB/DB Andrew Johnson, Homestead (FL) South Dade RB Charlie Jones, Arlington (TX) Grace WR Lance Leggett, Lackawanna (PA) Junior College OL Tyler McMeans, Reserve (LA) East St. John RB Derron Thomas, Miami (FL) Killian RB Bobby Washington, Miami (FL) Carol City LB Willie Williams.
Florida State: A
Florida State: A
The Seminoles built their top-five class much closer to home, with a whopping 19 products (including one from a Virginia prep school) of the Sunshine State. They did particularly well in Jacksonville, which has been very good to them in recent years, and in talent-rich South Florida, a region they utilized heavily to build their dynasty in the 1990s but failed to tap in more recent years. They even took a rare trip to Orlando and returned home with a pair of consensus All-American teammates. The garnet and gold continues to be extremely popular nationally, as FSU also nabbed elite-level prospects from four other states California, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina plus some promising pickups from Alabama and Louisiana. The only reason FSU's class is ranked a hair below Miami is that the Seminoles (as usual) took a large number of prospects who still have some work ahead to qualify academically, and in a couple of high-profile cases the players almost certainly won't be in Tallahassee this fall. The biggest names: Miami (FL) Killian DB J.R. Bryant, Jacksonville (FL) Mandarin DB Tony Carter, Greensboro (NC) Dudley RB Jamaal Edwards, Miami (FL) Northwestern DB Trevor Ford, Orlando (FL) Edgewater DB Kenny Ingram, Orlando (FL) Edgewater DT Aaron Jones, Daytona Beach (FL) Seabreeze QB Xavier Lee, Oakland (CA) Skyline WR Kenny O'Neal, Florence (SC) Wilson LB Lawrence Timmons, Land O' Lakes (FL) High QB Drew Weatherford.
Most veteran analysts called this bunch the school's best-ever on signing day, and Ralph Friedgen didn't hesitate to agree. A Maryland alum with an appreciation for the history of the program, Friedgen admitted that he and his staff were able to compete in and often win high-level battles for regional prospects who in the past routinely turned their noses up at the idea of playing in College Park. The Terps again lost a few of their top in-state targets, but they had a pretty good batting average on the home turf nevertheless, and they also landed highly recruited targets from Connecticut, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. The biggest names: Woodlawn (MD) High OL Scott Burley, Greenbelt (MD) Roosevelt DE Trey Covington, Elizabeth (NJ) High DT Carlos Feliciano, Culpeper (VA) County S Kent Hicks, Norwich (CT) Free S J.J. Justice, Lancaster (PA) Conestoga Valley QB Jordan Steffy, Harrisburg (PA) Bishop McDevitt OL Jaimie Thomas.
N.C. State: B
N.C. State: B
Nobody recruits more aggressively than Chuck Amato, and that fact represented good news and bad news for the Wolfpack this year. On one hand, the small class N.C. State did sign was filled with big-time talents, again from the staff's four favorite fishing areas: Florida, North Carolina, the prep schools and the junior colleges. On the other hand, Amato's extraordinary patience with his first-tier targets, and his unwillingness to accept commitments from second-tier prospects while he waited, left the Pack holding a lot of empty bags after more than a dozen late decisions went against it. Of course, the six or seven available scholarships the coach never filled just might mean that much more good news next year. The biggest names: Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military RB Darrell Blackman, Greenville (NC) Rose RB Andre Brown, Vanceboro (NC) West Craven DT/DE Gerard Miller, Greensboro (NC) Dudley DT DeMario Pressley.
North Carolina: B
North Carolina: B
If the conference handed out an Overachievement Award on signing day, John Bunting would have received the honor for the second year in a row. In the aftermath of a 3-9 season in 2002, UNC signed a consensus top-15 class. Coming off a 2-10 disaster this year, the Tar Heels bagged a bunch that earned some top-20 rankings and clearly ended up in the top half of the new ACC. In addition to signing highly regarded talents from Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, the Heels believe they found some much-needed immediate help for 2004. That arrived in the form of an All-American kicker, two mega-talented prep school linemen who enrolled in January, and a well-seasoned pair of East Tennessee State transfers who also will be available for spring practice. The biggest names: Wilmington (NC) Hoggard PK Connor Barth, Tallahassee (FL) Lincoln OL Calvin Darity, Robersonville (NC) Roanoke DB Trimane Goddard, Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military DE Terry Hunter, Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military DT Khalif Mitchell.
Al Groh's first full recruiting effort at Virginia came in 2002, when the "best class in program history" tag followed a small army of prep All-Americans to Charlottesville, and the Cavaliers' subsequent exciting play and impressive records helped illuminate the reasoning behind all of the excitement. The Wahoos' star since has faded a bit on the recruiting trail, but that's not too difficult to explain. Groh's selling points two years ago included the availability of immediate playing time, and the modest talent already on hand didn't scare any prospects away. The sales pitch is different and more difficult now that UVa's cupboard has some pretty impressive items on the shelves, but that didn't prevent the Cavs from landing four consensus All-Americans and a solid bunch mainly built close to home. The biggest names: Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military DB Philip Brown, Fairfax (VA) Robinson LB Olu Hall, Charlottesville (VA) St. Anne's-Belfield OL/DT Chris Long, Chicago (IL) Hubbard DB Nate Lyles, Nashville (TN) Bell TE Tom Santi.
Virginia Tech: B-
Virginia Tech: B-
The Hokies' signing-day numbers were skewed a bit by the presence of in-state prep powers Fork Union Military Academy and Hargrave Military Academy, but it's hard to imagine a class built any closer to home. Of Tech's 19 signees, 15 played their high school or prep school ball last season within the boundaries of the Commonwealth. Even the other four, from the District of Columbia, New Jersey (two) and North Carolina, couldn't have involved many frequent-flyer miles. As usual, the Tech coaches had one of the cleanest recruiting boards anywhere small numbers, a few re-signs, plenty of early commitments, very few late decision-makers and thus very few true misses and their eye for talent is well-proven. At the same time, two big de-commitments from prominent Florida prospects really hurt, and a few more big names would have been nice to see. The biggest names: Fayetteville (NC) Britt RB George Bell, Richmond (VA) Hermitage LB Andrew Bowman, Chantilly (VA) Westfield QB Sean Glennon, Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military LB Maurice Reevey, Chantilly (VA) Westfield WR Eddie Royal.
Boston College: B-
Boston College: B-
While Virginia Tech and Miami officially join the ACC this summer, the Eagles won't arrive until 2005. Nevertheless, all of their 2004 signees will spend the majority of their careers in the school's new conference, and anyone who redshirts this fall will have an all-ACC experience on the field. Under Tom O'Brien, the former offensive coordinator for George Welsh at Virginia, BC's recruiting results usually look much like the Cavaliers' did under Welsh: lots of early commitments, a few prep All-Americans, a handful of sleepers, plenty of outstanding students, very few academic question marks, built mainly close to home. As the Eagles celebrated the signing-day announcement of all-world linebacker Brian Toal, O'Brien said he didn't think it would have been possible without the lure of the ACC. The biggest names: Ramsey (NJ) Bosco WR/DB Marquise Liverpool, Minneapolis (MN) Breck WR Brandon Robinson, Ramsey (NJ) Bosco LB Brian Toal, Mansfield (MA) High DT/DE Jerry Willette.
Georgia Tech: C+
Georgia Tech: C+
Under Chan Gailey, the Yellow Jackets have instituted a significant shift in the academic makeup of their signees, and only time will tell if that translates into desired results or unwanted problems on the field. Former coach George O'Leary often spoke of the need to be able to sign "a healthy share" of borderline students, rather than watching them all play at neighboring schools in the ACC and SEC, and Gailey clearly is not being given the same latitude. The academic profile of Tech's football signees now ranks second in the conference behind Duke, and facts are facts: It's very difficult to find a consistently successful program that admits classes with an average SAT score over 1,000. The Jackets did land all-world receiver Calvin Johnson, but their other high-profile newcomers signed on the dotted line only after the heavyweights chasing them ran into scholarship crunches near signing day and opted for their higher priorities. The bottom half of Tech's class looked a lot like what you normally find in Durham or Winston-Salem on signing day. The biggest names: Madison (AL) Jones DT/DE David Brown, Tyrone (GA) Sandy Creek WR Calvin Johnson, Destrehan (LA) High DT Darryl Richard, Jonesboro (GA) High DE Darrell Robertson.
It's hard to remember a Clemson signing class that generated less fanfare on signing day than this one. In fact, the biggest news for the Tigers on Feb. 4 came when their highest-profile commitment shocked and angered coaches by signing with Florida without a word of warning. Some analysts didn't even include Clemson among their top 50 classes nationally has that ever happened before? and the Tigers landed just one consensus prep All-American. Many fans resorted to the fallback position often used at low-profile programs on signing day, that some of the current team's best players (see Leroy Hill, etc.) weren't heralded coming out of high school, and it sure was strange hearing that logic emanating from Clemson in early February. If there was a silver lining, it came in the form of two heady quarterbacks and a bunch of athletic linemen, although several of the latter still have plenty of work ahead to qualify academically. The biggest names: Southwest Mississippi (MS) Community College DT Corey Groover, Canton (GA) Sequoyah QB Cullen Harper, Greenville (SC) High OL Cory Lambert, Columbia (SC) Ridge View DT Dorell Scott.
He started too late to be able to produce any earth-shattering results this year, but first-year head coach Ted Roof may have generated more excitement for Duke football on the recruiting trail over the last two months than predecessor Carl Franks managed to inspire in the previous five years. Roof, whose personal history is loaded with connections to talent-rich Georgia, signed 10 prospects from that state, which was part of his assigned territory when he was an assistant. The Blue Devils also were able to significantly upgrade their team speed, although as usual about half of their signees didn't have many (if any) other offers from programs in the BCS conferences. The bottom line: Roof and a handful of his newcomers provided a historically horrendous program with a much-needed ray of hope. The biggest names: Brooklyn (NY) Poly OL Izzy Bauta, Kennesaw (GA) Harrison RB Justin Boyle, Seattle (WA) O'Dea WR Chancellor Young.
Wake Forest: C-
Wake Forest: C-
It's a good thing Jim Grobe is an outstanding coach, because he's still not landing many players who generated much interest from his competition on the recruiting trail. Consider this: The Demon Deacons made at least eight early scholarship offers to quarterbacks, hoping to sign one, and didn't really come close to getting any of them to sign on the dotted line. Later in the recruiting cycle, when two QB reserves on the current team unexpectedly announced transfer plans, Wake had to scramble just to land someone whose only other offers even as late as early February were from Division I-AA programs. The Deacs did register some scores, including a talented trio of prep teammates from Florida, but it's hard to imagine them moving very far up the ACC ladder without winning more of these head-to-head battles off the field. The biggest names: Columbia (SC) Spring Valley DE Anthony Davis, Pahokee (FL) High CB Alphonso Smith, Charlotte (NC) Christian DE Jeremy Thompson.