Robert Nkemdiche, right, reacts with his brother Denzel and his mother Beverly after he announced his decision to attend Mississippi on National Signing Day at Grayson High School.
National Signing Day is normally pretty predictable. The top college football programs reap a bountiful harvest of high school talent and the lesser-tier teams fight for the leftovers.
So when Mississippi emerged with the No. 1 recruit in the country, the top-ranked offensive tackle and the highest-rated wide receiver on Wednesday, there was a Rebel yell in Oxford.
Coach Hugh Freeze reeled in a star-studded class to Ole Miss, led by linebacker Robert Nkemdiche, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsell, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and No. 3-ranked safety Antonio Conner. By most accounts, it not only was the school’s best group of recruits in history, it was among the nation’s consensus top 10 and as high as the top five in several rankings.
“It’s unbelievable,” Freeze said. “The guys in this room (current players) have done such a phenomenal job in building relationships with these guys.”
It was no surprise, though, that reigning BCS national champion Alabama emerged with the No. 1 class in most rankings. The SEC has dominated recruiting in recent years and 2013 was no exception.
Joining the Crimson Tide and the Rebels in the top 10 were Florida (as high as No. 2), LSU and Texas A&M. Auburn also had a good day, particularly in adding five- and four-star players on defense, as did Georgia.
Outside the SEC, Ohio State and Michigan made the most noise as coaches Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke work to raise the bar in Columbus and Ann Arbor. Scout.com put the Buckeyes’ 25 signees at No. 1 and arch-rival Michigan at No. 2. The only other Big Ten school to crack the top 20 was Nebraska.
“Great day. I thought it would be a good day, but now I’ll put it in the great category,” Meyer said.
Notre Dame, last season’s BCS runner-up, also finished in the top five on all the major lists with a 23-player class that included the No. 2-ranked player, linebacker Jaylon Smith. Florida State and Clemson led the ACC with top-15 rankings.
UCLA, possibly benefiting from several late de-commitments to USC and the head coaching change at Oregon, climbed to third on the Scout.com list and finished ahead of the Trojans across the board.
--Ohio State’s ascension in recruiting is no surprise considering Meyer’s track record of success, particularly at Florida, where he won two national championships.
Meyer was expecting a strong class this year, but he received a bonus Monday when running back-wide receiver Dontre Wilson flipped from Oregon to Ohio State. Then two more surprises came Wednesday when wide receiver James Clark of Florida spurned the Gators for the Buckeyes and safety Vonn Bell of Georgia picked Ohio State over Tennessee and other SEC schools.
“I thought if we hit one out of three, it would be all right,” Meyer said. “Two out of three would be a good day. Three out of three was going to knock it out of the park. So we hit three out of three. We’re very pleased.”
Later Wednesday, the Buckeyes wrapped up their class with a letter of intent from running back Ezekiel Elliott of Missouri.
--Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher made inroads on defense by signing two five-star players who appeared headed to other schools.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey of Tennessee, ranked No. 3 in the country at his position and No. 10 overall, changed his mind about going to USC and committed to the Seminoles. Matthew Thomas, ranked second among the nation’s linebackers and 15th overall, chose Florida State over hometown Miami.
That helped the Seminoles reach the top 10 in the ESPN and 247Sports rankings.
But Florida State did lose out on offensive linemen Austin Golson, who chose Mississippi, and Devon Kirkland, who decided on Arkansas.
--Four-star running back Alex Collins failed to show up for signing day at his high school in Florida after his mother apparently confiscated his national letter of intent, refusing to let him sign with Arkansas, the Sun-Sentinel reported Wednesday.
Collins, of South Plantation High School, had announced Monday night that he would attend Arkansas. When signing day arrived, he wasn’t at the ceremony and the high school removed a tag with his name from the table where he would make it official.
“We’re going to give the family as much time as they need to make the right decision,” South Plantation athletic director Mike Collins told the Sun-Sentinel. “At this time, there’s no indication of anything other than the original plan. The family just wants more time.”
Multiple news outlets reported that Collins’ mom, who apparently doesn’t want her son to go to college that far from home, made off with the letter. A parent is required to sign the document for it to become official with the NCAA.
“The papers are not there. I’ve been told by two different sources that Alex Collins’ mom confiscated the papers and took off and ran with them. They are looking for her,” ESPN.com’s Corey Long said. “From what I understand, Alex is looking for his mom. She was quite torn up about him leaving.”
Other schools in the running for Collins were Miami, Florida State, Florida and Wisconsin.
--Like father, like son. Notre Dame is hoping that rings true with two of the 23 recruits that signed with the Fighting Irish.
Torii Hunter Jr. is the son of Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter. The younger Hunter is a wide receiver from Prosper, Texas.
And then there’s wide receiver Corey Robinson of San Antonio, the son of basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson.
They’ll join current Irish players Austin Collinsworth, the son of former NFL receiver Cris Collinsworth, and Josh and Geroge Atkinson III, sons of former NFL defensive back George Atkinson, next season.
Another son of a famous father signed Wednesday with Miami. Ray Lewis III, whose dad is retiring Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, confirmed his commitment to the University of Miami, where Lewis played.
--Alabama coach Nick Saban kept the Tide rolling with a recruiting haul ranked No. 1 by most websites.
Saban reeled in five-star linebacker Reuben Foster, a former Auburn commitment; four-star defensive lineman Dee Liner, another previous Auburn recruit; four-star running back Alvin Kamara and five-star lineman A’Shawn Robinson.
More than half of Alabama’s 25 newcomers were rated four- or five-star talents by Rivals.com.
Here’s where the top 10 recruits in the country landed:
Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Loganville, Ga./Mississippi. Nkemdiche, who has a big upside at 6-feet-4, 282 pounds, is a major coup for Ole Miss. He will step in right away to join his brother, a defensive back who led the Rebels in tackles last season.
Reuben Foster, MLB, Auburn, Ala./Alabama. Foster changed his mind late in the game and picked the Crimson Tide over Auburn. He’s ranked No. 1 at his position.
Jaylon Smith, OLB, Fort Wayne, Ind./Notre Dame. James is considered a big-time athlete who could make an immediate impact in South Bend. His brother, Rod, is a running back at Ohio State.
Su-A Cravens, S, Murietta, Calif./USC. Cravens, who showed great versatility in high school as a two-way player, is the country’s top-ranked safety by Scout.com. He enrolled early at Southern Cal, which could help him see playing time next year.
A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Arlington Heights, Texas/Alabama. Robinson is a five-star player who is considered the No. 1 defensive tackle in 2013. Pulling him away from Texas is considered a nice prize for the Tide.
Vernon Hargreaves III, DB, Tampa, Fla./Florida. Hargreaves heads an impressive list of Florida recruits. He is ranked the top cornerback on most national lists and was an MVP in the Under Armour All-American game.
Matthew Thomas, LB, Miami, Fla./Florida State. A five-star recruit, Thomas chose the Seminoles over Miami and could compete for playing time next season at the Sam linebacker spot.
Laremy Tunsil, OL, Lake City, Fla./Mississippi. The second player in the top 10 to land with the Rebels. Tunsil is literally a huge get at 6-feet-5, 295 pounds and was ranked the No. 1 offensive lineman nationally.
Kenny Bigelow, DT, Elkton, Md./USC. Bigelow went west to Southern California. Like fellow top-10 recruit Su-A Cravens, Bigelow already is enrolled at USC and should have a shot at playing right away.
Montravius Adams, DT, Vienna, Ga./Auburn. Adams checks in at 6-4, 310 pounds and is considered a strong pass rusher. He has a chance to get on the field early under a new coaching staff.
Malzahn delivers strong first class at Auburn
When Gene Chizik was fired, Auburn lost nine committed recruits, including Reuben Foster and Dee Liner to archrival Alabama.
New coach Gus Malzahn and his staff scrambled and delivered a 23-member recruiting class that’s ranked as high as 10th nationally. The class does include six junior-college players.
“We had some needs that we had to address,” Malzahn said. “This will not be the norm. I am not saying we will not recruit junior colleges every year, but I felt like we had to address some needs, and we had to have some players that we feel like are physically ready to play next year, so that was the plan.”
The class features a trio of five-star defensive linemen, led by Carl Lawson, and four-star quarterback Jeremy Johnson, whom Malzahn labeled the “centerpiece” on the offensive side.
Quarterback recruits Jason Smith and Nick Marshall also will be given a chance to compete with returners Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier.
“We’re going to give all three of those guys a shot at quarterback,” Malzahn said. “They’re all very talented at that position. As y’all have seen in the past, the dual-type threat guys that can do a lot of different things keep plays alive and can be very successful with what we do.”
Auburn flipped defensive lineman Elijah Daniel from Ole Miss, and landed defensive lineman Montravius Adams in a battle with Georgia, Clemson and Alabama.
“With a new staff coming in, we had a lot of obstacles as far as trying to develop relationships and a lot of different things,” Malzahn said. “Any time you come in and you don’t retain anybody from the previous staff and you have a lot of commitments, there are a lot of things that go with that, and I’m extremely excited and pleased with our staff.”
TOP OF THE CLASS
DE Carl Lawson (Milton High, Alpharetta, Ga.) -- The 6-2, 253-pounder is rated the No. 2 overall prospect by ESPN.com and No. 4 by Rivals.com. He dominated high school football to the tune of 26.5 sacks and 36 tackles for loss.
WR Tony Stevens (Evans High, Orlando, Fla.) -- A four-star prospect, the 6-3, 175-pounder flipped from Texas A&M after his official visit to Auburn. Stevens is a natural who has surprising speed for his size and can get deep. He should play right away, as the Tigers are desperately thin at receiver.
QB Nick Marshall (Wilcox County High, Rochelle, Ga.) -- The 6-3, 205-pounder shined at Garden City (Kan.) Community College in 2012 after being dismissed by Georgia for a violation of team rules. He threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns with 20 interceptions, and ran for 1,095 yards and 19 scores. He’s a four-star prospect who excels in the no-huddle offense.
--Tim Horton, who spent the previous six seasons as Arkansas’ running backs coach and the past five as the Razorbacks’ recruiting coordinator, joined Auburn as tight ends coach. Horton is a 23-year coaching veteran and one of the nation’s top recruiters.
--Rivals.com rated Auburn’s class No. 10 nationally, which is remarkable considering the late start by new coach Gus Malzahn and his staff. The 23-member class includes three five-star defensive linemen and features end Carl Lawson, rated the top DE in the country.
--Four-star QB recruit Jeremy Johnson might also play basketball at Auburn. “I kind of left that up to him, but he is going to concentrate on football, and that will be his first priority,” Malzahn said.
Practice priorities: The Tigers will be learning entirely new schemes under Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. The quarterback competition will be fascinating to watch, with Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier battling three elite recruits.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “They’re going to have a chance to play immediately. The three guys we have we feel like are three of the best in the entire country.” -- Coach Gus Malzahn on Auburn’s trio of 5-star defensive linemen: Carl Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Montravius Adams.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
KEY LOSSES: DE Corey Lemonier, RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, DB T’Sharvan Bell, LB Daren Bates
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:
--QB Jonathan Wallace started the last four games of 2012 and showed plenty of promise, completing 57.5 percent of his throws with four TDs and four INTs. But he’ll have to fend off challenges from Kiehl Frazier and three impressive QB recruits.
--RB Tre Mason is one of two returning tailbacks, along with Corey Grant. The sophomore ran for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He ran for 82 yards in the season finale against Alabama.
--SS Jermaine Whitehead ranked third on the team with 86 tackles and is the leading returning tackler. He also had four tackles for loss and five pass breakups. The 5-11, 202-pound junior will be counted on to lead a very young defense.
Two top defenders bolster Seminoles’ class
Florida State didn’t have to wait long for its good news to come on National Signing Day.
When Matthew Thomas, a top linebacker prospect from Miami signed with Florida State on live television a little after 9 a.m., a roar went through the conference room where coach Jimbo Fisher and his assistants gathered for the day.
And things got even better for the Seminoles when Jalen Ramsey, a star defensive back from Brentwood, Tenn., followed up on his surprise commitment from the day before, spurning USC and signing with Florida State not long after 11 a.m.
By the time their last letter of intent faxed through, the Seminoles were left with another top-10 class.
“I think it was a great day. I think we met a lot of needs in what we did,” Fisher said. “I’m very proud of our class. We hit a little bit of every position throughout the whole class and met a lot of needs.”
Fisher had plenty of reasons to be happy, particularly after losing six assistants since November, but Florida State wasn’t quite all smiles on Wednesday.
The Seminoles missed on two South Florida prospects, offensive lineman Denver Kirkland and receiver Stacey Coley, who opted for Arkansas and Miami, respectively.
Still, Florida State appeared to do a nice job loading up at thin positions.
After losing their entire starting defensive line and top reserves, the Seminoles signed three defensive linemen, including four-star prospect DeMarcus Walker, a Jacksonville native who switched to Florida State from Alabama at the 11th hour before the deadline for early enrollees.
And even after missing on Kirkland, the Seminoles landed three highly regarded offensive linemen, including Ira Denson, the state of Florida’s top offensive guard.
“I always want more big guys,” Fisher said. “I don’t think you ever have enough big guys. I would like to have had some more, but if I’ve got 10 of them, I’d still want 12. You can’t have enough big people in this game.”
TOP OF THE CLASS
OLB Matthew Thomas (Booker T. Washington High in Miami, Fla.) -- Florida State went into rival territory to pull one of the country’s most coveted defensive prospects. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Thomas is considered to be one of the top high school linebackers in the nation and bolsters a position where the Seminoles have been light on depth in recent years.
DB Jalen Ramsey (Brentwood High in Brentwood, Tenn.) -- The Seminoles pulled a bit of a coup by getting Ramsey to flip to Florida State after being committed to USC since last July. Considered to be the top overall prospect in the state of Tennessee, the 6-foot, 190-pound Ramsey played cornerback in high school but could also play safety at Florida State. He has drawn comparisons to Florida State freshman Ronald Darby, who earned freshman All-ACC honors in 2012.
RB Ryan Green (St. Petersburg Catholic High, St. Petersburg, Fla.) -- The 5-10, 195-pound all-purpose back committed to Florida State early and never wavered. Despite missing nearly all of his senior season with a torn labrum, Green still has the speed (he’s been clocked with a 4.40 second 40-yard dash) to make a big impact in the Seminoles’ backfield. He has the potential to offer the Seminoles a different look from the stronger, more bruising styles of veterans James Wilder and Devonta Freeman.