National Signing Day 2016: 50 facts, notes and things to know about this recruiting class (Part II, Nos. 26-50)
National Signing Day is a little more than a week away. That means schools are scrambling to finalize their 2016 recruiting classes. While star ratings and team rankings will understandably get most of the attention, now is also a good time to get know many of this cycle's most coveted prospects.
To help fans get up to speed on the facts, highlights and anecdotes that have made this group so special, Campus Rush has assembled 50 notes for fans to know. This is Part II of the list. Click here for Part I.
26. David Long caused Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to climb a tree
Defensive back David Long hosted Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh for an in-home visit early last week. This wasn't any old visit, though; Harbaugh was so determined to impress Long that he attempted to climb a tree. Apparently the stunt paid off, because Long committed to the Wolverines a few days later.
The No. 5 cornerback in the class of 2016, per Scout.com, Long decommitted from Stanford last month before choosing Michigan over Washington. The Loyola (Calif.) High standout subtly hinted at his decision earlier by wearing Wolverines armbands at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
27. Quinn Nordin and Connor Murphy also received memorable visits from Harbaugh
Quinn Nordin, the nation's top kicker prospect, has been committed to Penn State since last July, but that hasn't stopped Michigan from pursuing him. Harbaugh went so far as to sleep over Nordin's home. Nordin's kicking coach noted on Twitter that it was the "most unique recruiting strategy ever," and Harbaugh's overnight stay preceded a visit to Nordin's high school in Rockford, Mich., and a trip to Ann Arbor.
Whether the sleepover will pay dividends remains to be seen. Nordin has not officially reneged on his pledge to the Nittany Lions, and he reportedly plans to take an official visit to USC. In any event, Harbaugh's ploy certainly wasn't a one-time deal: He recently slept over the home of four-star defensive end recruit Connor Murphy. The Brophy College (Ariz.) Prep product and younger brother of former Stanford star Trent Murphy called it a "Netflix & Chill kind of night."
28. Offensive lineman Erik Swenson says Michigan abruptly pulled his offer
Four-star offensive tackle Erik Swenson verbally committed to Michigan in November 2013, more than a year before the school hired Harbaugh. Swenson had stayed true to that pledge and was set to formalize his place in the Wolverines' 2016 recruiting class on signing day. But he wrote in a message posted to Twitter last week that he was reopening his recruitment "due to unforeseen circumstances."
Swenson then told MLive.com that the Wolverines revoked his scholarship offer and called off an upcoming official visit to Ann Arbor. In a subsequent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Swenson provided more details about what transpired. "A month ago, I had a great talk with coach Tim Drevno, and he said, 'Get ready to play for us,'" Swenson said. "They called me last week saying I should reopen my recruitment and take other visits. My family and I were shaken back by it."
Swenson also told the Tribune that Drevno, Michigan's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, told him there were "no spots left," that Harbaugh "didn't want to talk to me" and that he "just felt used" after assisting the Wolverines in recruiting other 2016 prospects. Swenson, who attends Downers Grove South (Ill.) High, lists scholarship offers from Illinois and Northwestern, among several other programs.
29. Running back Kareem Walker spurned Ohio State for Michigan
This prospect flipped from one side of the Big Ten's fiercest rivalry to the other. When Kareem Walker, a five-star running back from Wayne, N.J., made his commitment to Ohio State, the Buckeyes were hours away from celebrating the program's fifth national title. He pledged to the Wolverines nearly a year later.
Walker's decommitment from the Buckeyes in November wasn't totally unexpected. The previous month he took an official visit to Michigan, which had already secured commitments from three prospects in Walker's home state and features a star safety (Jabrill Peppers) whom Walker referred to in an interview with SI.com as "like my big brother, honestly." Plus, Ohio State had already covered its bases by picking up a pledge from another touted tailback, four-star recruit Antonio Williams.
When Harbaugh formally introduced Walker to the program over social media in December, it sort of felt like the Wolverines had evened the score with Ohio State after last year's Mike Weber recruiting saga.
30. Michael Onwenu and Jonathon Cooper could become integral parts of the same rivalry
Offensive guard Michael Onwenu and defensive end Jonathon Cooper made for an intriguing one-on-one matchup at The Opening in Beaverton, Ore., last summer. Here's why: Not only are they two of the best prospects at their respective positions, but Onwenu is bound for Michigan while Cooper is headed to Ohio State. On one repetition, Cooper charged at Onwenu, only to be tossed to the ground.
Cooper exacted revenge on two subsequent reps, including one in which he rocked Onwenu slightly off balance before running to the tackle dummy untouched.
31. Trayvon Mullen, Dontavious Jackson and Caleb Kelly released a lot of lists on social media
Many top recruits have taken to releasing lists of their top schools over social media. These are sometimes preceded by a brief message, and they often include emojis. However, three prospects in the class of 2016—Coconut Creek (Fla.) High defensive back Trayvon Mullen, Alief Elsik (Tex.) High linebacker Dontavious Jackson and Clovis West (Calif.) High linebacker Caleb Kelly—got a bit carried away with the practice.
Each released so many lists that it was difficult to keep track of them all. Embedding every example would be exhausting, so here's a sample from Mullen (six total lists):
And Jackson (five total lists):
And Kelly (five total lists):
32. Baylor commit Kameron Martin wasn't happy about a Texas assistant's recent move to USC
Why would a four-star tailback who has been committed to Baylor for more than a year express displeasure about former Texas running backs coach Tommie Robinson's recent decision to take a similar position at USC? Kameron Martin seemed to be taking a shot at Robinson last week when he wrote in a tweet, "You leaving but was just in my dm telling me too [sic] come to Texas." (The tweet has since been deleted.)
The Beaumont Enterprise reported earlier this month that Robinson visited with Martin, who told the paper, "I'm not saying I'm going to Texas, but things are opening up." The day after those quotes were published, USC announced Robinson would join Clay Helton's staff as running backs coach and run game coordinator.
33. Shane Simmons showed James Franklin exactly how excited he is about going to Penn State
Penn State's head coach won't soon forget his in-home visit with Shane Simmons, a four-star defensive end, according to Scout.com. When Franklin opened Simmons's door, he was greeted by two rows of people shaking navy and white pom-poms. Franklin and assistant coach Charles Huff then made their way inside, giving high-fives along the way. Simmons posted a video of the moment to Twitter.
A DeMatha Catholic (Md.) High product, Simmons has been committed to the Nittany Lions since July 2014.
34. Darius Whitfield committed to South Carolina the day after Steve Spurrier retired
It may have seemed strange when Darius Whitfield, a three-star offensive guard, per Scout.com, committed to South Carolina less than a day after it was reported that Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier was retiring. But Whitfield had long planned to make his college decision on Oct. 13. That date would have been the birthday of his cousin, Darryl "Tang" Casher, who was shot to death outside of a nightclub in downtown Mobile, Ala., in September 2011. In a tweet announcing his pledge, Whitfield wrote, "Cuzzo This For You."
"I think of my cousin every day," he told AL.com. "All I could do when I walked out of coach [Steve] Mask's office after I made my decision was smile and just look up and tell Darryl that I did it. It's a big relief."
35. Keyshawn Young is ready to create separation from college defensive backs
There are ankle-breaking cuts, and then there is what Keyshawn "Pie" Young did to this poor defensive back at the B2G Elite Camp last June. Young sprinted forward, then planted his left foot and turned inside, only to watch the player guarding him fall down as if he had backpedaled on to a patch of ice. Uncovered, Young easily hauled in the pass.
A three-star wide receiver from Miami, according to Scout.com, Young lists offers from Michigan, Alabama, Florida State and Clemson. The nephew of former Seminoles and current Atlanta Falcons tailback Devonta Freeman visited Tallahassee this weekend.
36. Oluwole Betiku's path to major college football was unconventional
Before he became the No. 3 defensive end and No. 13 player in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com, Oluwole Betiku was playing sports like boxing and soccer in his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. He was then identified at a sports camp by a former Maryland linebacker who helped him get acquainted with former NFL star LaVar Arrington. Arrington, who also facilitated class of 2015 Florida State recruit Abdul Bello's move to the United States, became Betiku's legal guardian. Betiku first attended Bishop McNamara High in Forestville, Md., but he moved to California when Arrington was hired by the NFL Network.
Betiku, who enrolled early at USC, is still learning the game, but he is already capable of dominating opposing offensive linemen. As a senior at Junipero Serra High in Gardena, Calif., he recorded 70 total tackles, including 28 for loss and 17 sacks. Scout.com's evaluation of Betiku notes that he is "naturally strong, plays with a non-stop motor and is a high-level athlete."
37. One of the quarterbacks from last year's Elite 11 is not like the others
The Elite 11 is the nation's most prestigious high school quarterback competition, one that has produced Heisman Trophy contenders and NFL draft picks. Ten of the 11 signal-callers who emerged on top last year are big-time prospects. The exception? Anthony Russo, a three-star passer from Archbishop Wood Catholic (Pa.) High who committed to Temple earlier this month after previously decommiting from Rutgers.
The other 10 passers—Ole Miss commit Shea Patterson, Texas commit Shane Buechele, Stanford commit K.J. Costello, Georgia commit Jacob Eason, Florida commit Feleipe Franks, Tennessee commit Jarrett Guarantano, Ohio State commit Dwayne Haskins, Florida State commit Malik Henry, South Carolina commit Brandon McIlwain and Michigan commit Brandon Peters—made the latest version of the Scout 300, as well as the top 13 of Scout.com's quarterback rankings.
38. Stefon Diggs's brother likely won't follow in his footsteps at Maryland
Stefon Diggs was a five-star receiver recruit coming out of Our Lady of Good Counsel (Md.) High who went on to star at Maryland before being selected in the fifth round of last year's NFL draft. His brother, Trevon, a four-star athlete in the 2016 class who attends The Avalon (Md.) School, was a key target for the Terrapins.
However, after listing Maryland, LSU, Alabama, Penn State and West Virginia as his finalists, Diggs rebuffed the local school in favor of committing to the Crimson Tide. Yet there is now speculation he could consider changing mind, particularly after new Maryland coach D.J. Durkin hired Aazaar Abdul-Rahim—Alabama's former assistant director of player personnel and the former coach of Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington, D.C.—who played a role in Diggs's commitment to the Tide. "I'm trying to deal with it day by day, but anything could happen," Diggs told the Washington Post last month. "I do have a close relationship with [Abdul-Rahim]. I am committed to Alabama, but I am talking to Aazaar about some things."
39. Mike Panasiuk is a weight-room champion
Michigan State-committed defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk set a record at The Opening last July with his impressive performance on the bench press. He banged out 43 repetitions of 185 pounds a year after Texas Tech defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko recorded 42 reps. Panasiuk, a three-star prospect from Lake Park (Ill.) High who is listed at 6' 3" and 280 pounds, notes on his Hudl page that he can bench 405 pounds.
"They told me the record, so going in that was my goal,'' Panasiuk told MLive.com after his record-setting lift. "When I got that 40th rep, I was thinking, 'There's no way I can let up.' Then I got to 42, and that last rep was hard, but all the D-linemen around me were screaming in my face, so I had to get it done.''
40. Quarterback Shea Patterson executed a brilliant all-star game trick play
A great trick play requires creativity, unpredictability and precise execution. It also helps when the player responsible for its most crucial element is a top-flight quarterback who can rifle passes into tight windows.
In the first quarter of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Ole Miss commit Patterson—the top-rated passer in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com—handed the ball off to a player running across the backfield, who then tossed it to another guy heading in the opposite direction. The ball made its way back to Patterson, who set his feet before launching a pass to Stanford receiver commit Simi Fehoko in the end zone.
41. The nation's top-ranked outside linebacker could see playing time on offense
Want to know who could help orchestrate some really effective trick plays? Mique Juarez. The top-rated outside linebacker and No. 8 player in the class of 2016, per Scout.com, Juarez played on offense and defense as a senior at North (Calif.) High. He was named the Los Angeles Times high school player of the year after passing for 23 touchdowns, rushing for 36 more and recording 146 tackles, including five sacks.
Juarez listed Ole Miss, UCLA and Alabama as his top three schools earlier this month and visited Tuscaloosa last weekend. Scout.com recently described him as a "strong UCLA lean."
42. Quarterback Brandon McIlwain is a high-level baseball prospect
McIlwain officially became a member of South Carolina's 2016 recruiting class when he signed a financial aid agreement with the school last month. But the Newtown, Pa., product nearly eschewed a college football career in favor of entering the MLB draft. He announced in December that he would bypass the draft, enroll early and play both football and baseball for the Gamecocks.
McIlwain was a Perfect Game All-American, competed in the prestigious Area Code Games and was ranked eighth on ESPN's list of 2016 MLB draft prospects in November. Of course, he is a talented football player, too. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania after passing for 1,720 yards with 17 touchdowns and rushing for 1,545 yards with 30 scores as a senior at Council Rock (Pa.) High North. Along the way, McIlwain has drawn comparisons to an NFL star who used to play on the diamond: Russell Wilson.
43. Receiver N'Keal Harry boasts some serious basketball skills
N'Keal Harry, a 6' 3", 210-pound four-star receiver, committed to Arizona State's football recruiting class in November. However, he could probably provide some solid minutes off the bench for the school's basketball team. Below is a clip of Harry shattering a backboard with a powerful, two-handed dunk during a December contest between his Chandler (Ariz.) High and opposing Mountain View (Ariz.) High.
When Harry isn't dunking basketballs, he is very good at catching footballs. He reeled in 48 passes for 802 yards with seven touchdowns as a senior.
44. USC commit Josh Imatorbhebhe has major ups
Josh Imatorbhebhe recorded a vertical jump of 47.1 inches at The Opening last year. To put that number into perspective, former Georgia standout and current Kansas City Chiefs receiver Chris Conley tied the NFL combine record with a 45-inch leap in 2015. Imatorbhebhe finished with the third-highest SPARQ rating at The Opening, behind only class of '17 receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and four-star corner Nigel Knott.
Imatorbhebhe, a Suwanee, Ga., native and the younger brother of USC tight end (and Florida transfer) Daniel Imatorbhebhe, describes his game as "explosive, meticulous and creative." The four-star receiver, according to Scout.com, is renowned for his consistency and sure hands, but Trojans offensive coordinator Tee Martin could use him simply by throwing the ball in his direction and allowing him to jump up and grab it.
45. Do not interview Rashard Lawrence when he's hungry
During an interview last summer, Lawrence was asked to look at the camera and was told he would be asked questions. He responded with a simple request: "Can I eat still?"
Lawrence, the No. 6 defensive tackle in the country and No. 1 player in Louisiana, per Scout.com, is listed at 6' 3'' and 300 pounds. He recorded 91 tackles, including 15 for loss and eight sacks, as a senior at Neville High in Monroe, La. He committed to LSU over Ohio State last week.
46. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins was leading The Movement, until he flipped
When quarterback Dwayne Haskins committed to Maryland last May, it was viewed as a seminal moment for "The Movement," a push for local recruits to spurn more high-profile programs and stay home with the Terrapins. Haskins, who passed for 2,209 yards with 20 touchdowns as a senior at Bullis (Md.) School, was viewed as the unofficial leader of "The Movement," and at his announcement he rattled off a list of 20 guys he hoped would join him in College Park. Haskins stuck with the Terrapins even after they fired Randy Edsall and scuttled to a 3–9 finish, but new coach Durkin—whom Haskins described as a "good hire"—couldn't keep him on board through signing day.
Earlier this month, after former Ohio State quarterback commit Tristen Wallace flipped to Oregon (as a wide receiver), Haskins rescinded his pledge to Maryland and announced he would attend Ohio State. Haskins's move came with more bad news for the Terps: Linebacker Keandre Jones would also flip to the Buckeyes.
47. Washington is bringing in another small tailback with loads of potential
Last year the Huskies signed a four-star running back who made a massive impact during his freshman season. Myles Gaskin ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 1,302 rushing yards and scored 14 touchdowns. Now, Washington coach Chris Petersen is set to sign another four-star tailback, Sean McGrew, who could play a big role in his freshman campaign with the Huskies.
What do Gaskin and McGrew have in common? They are both extremely undersized for their position.
McGrew, a product of California powerhouse St. John Bosco, is listed at 5' 7" and 172 pounds. Gaskin, who attended O'Dea High in Seattle, checks in at 5' 9'' and 192. While McGrew is more highly touted than Gaskin was coming out of high school—he was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in California as a senior and ranks eighth among tailbacks in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com—he embraces the similarities to his predecessor. From the Seattle Times: "This guy," McGrew recalled thinking to himself last summer, "is like the exact same player as me."
48. Ben Cleveland likes to eat squirrels and deer jerky
Ben Cleveland, a four-star offensive guard who enrolled at Georgia earlier this month, has an interesting story about the breakfast he ate one morning. According to Cleveland, he was hungry and couldn't locate anything to eat, so he grabbed his rifle, went outside, shot two squirrels … and ate them. Cleveland relayed the story last year to a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Another staple of Cleveland's diet? Deer jerky. In December 2014, the Stephens County (Ga.) High standout discussed bringing close to 10 pounds of it to a football event. "I had to bring my food," Cleveland said.
49. Florida's scoring savior? It could be Eddy Piniero
The Gators fielded one of the worst offenses in the SEC last season. They ranked 12th in the conference in yards per play (5.1) and 11th in points per game (23.2). With quarterback Will Grier transferring and Treon Harris having consistently underwhelmed, there is a chance that unit won't be much better next season. Fortunately for Florida, it may be able to score points even if it can't mount long touchdown drives.
As part of their 2016 recruiting class, the Gators are bringing in juco prospect Eddy Pineiro, a former soccer player who reportedly practiced with the football team of ASA College in North Miami Beach, Fla., after he failed to become eligible as a soccer commit to Florida Atlantic. Piniero joined Florida as a mid-year enrollee after decommitting from Alabama last month. How much do the Gators need Pineiro? Even if their offense does improve, they ranked last in the SEC with a 41.2% field goal rate last fall.
Below is a clip of Pineiro knocking home what he says is a 77-yard field goal.
50. The class of 2016 has no shortage of fantastic names
Finally, it is time to honor five recruits in the class of 2016 with outstanding names. There is no definitive criteria here, but make no mistake: These prospects have been thoroughly vetted by the Sports Illustrated Institute for Gridiron Nomenclature.
• Eddie McDoom (uncommitted receiver): Any defensive back who tries to stop McDoom will incur his wrath.
• Lil'Jordan Humphrey (uncommitted athlete): Basketball had Michael Jordan. Football now has Lil'Jordan.
• Divine Deablo (Virginia Tech-committed receiver): His first name and surname are at odds with each other.
• Raleigh Texada (Baylor-committed cornerback): His first name is a major city and his surname is an island.