National Signing Day 2018: Highs, Lows and Highlights of Day 1 of the Early Period

Who will come out of the week with the No. 1 class in the country? The first day of college football's first early signing period featured intrigue from start to finish as top prospects formally chose their college destinations.
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Step aside, First Wednesday in February—the Third Wednesday in December has staked a claim to college football’s inexhaustable supply of recruiting drama. A new early signing period allows recruits to sign their National Letters of Intent between Dec. 20 and Dec. 22 for the first time this year. While every program is wading into uncharted territory, most coaches expected to have the majority of their recruiting class officially in the fold by the end of the week, at which point both player and team will know where they stand with another month and a half to round out the class of 2018.

Two teams who are feeling pretty good about their class after Day 1 could cross paths in Atlanta three weeks from now. Clemson and Georgia made the biggest splashes of Wednesday’s frenzy of activity, racking up blue-chip talent at positions where they could hardly be considered deficient in the first place. The defending national champion Tigers made official the long-standing commitments of top pro-style quarterback Trevor Lawrence and top defensive ends Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry, but their biggest victory may have come with the commitment of No. 1 offensive tackle Jackson Carman out of Ohio, who set off a minor firestorm when he mentioned that coach Dabo Swinney had cast some doubt on Urban Meyer’s longevity at Ohio State during his meetings with Carman. The outrage may continue to swirl, but Clemson can rest easy knowing it has already secured the top-ranked player in five different states: Ohio, Georgia, Florida and North and South Carolina.

The Bulldogs got greedy with linemen, adding tackle Cade Mays and guard Jamaree Salyer to a group that already including No. 2 G Trey Hill. Five-star running back Zamir White and dual-threat dynamo QB Justin Fields also sent in their paperwork, meaning Georgia will only be getting better on offense to supplement Kirby Smart’s stout defense.

As those two programs basked in the hype, a few other programs got off to comparatively quiet starts—but keep in mind, there’s plenty of time left for everyone. Florida State’s exodus continued in the aftermath of Jimbo Fisher’s exit, bringing the Seminoles down to just three signees, eight total commits and the No. 63 class in 247Sports’s composite rankings. New coach Willie Taggart will no doubt use the next few weeks to dig further into Florida’s fertile recruiting territory and bring the Seminoles back among comparable Power 5 programs.

Alabama entered the day looking up at more teams in the rankings than Nick Saban normally has to, but the Crimson Tide predictably covered a large chunk of that ground, capped off by the commitment of five-star defensive end Eyabi Anoma. After flipping Joshua Jobe from Miami just before signing day and landing an early morning commitment from four-star DT Christian Barmore, it’s clear Bama is far from finished.

Below, an hour-by-hour look back at the highlights and high-profile announcements as the fax machines heated up and the commitments rolled in.

4 p.m. ET: Texas continues to load up in the secondary

• The Longhorns already had landed three of the top four safeties for their 2018 class, and now they’ve added the fifth-ranked cornerback in Houston’s Anthony Cook, who announced on ESPNU. Earlier in the day, Tom Herman added Angleton (Texas) five-star B.J. Foster, the country’s top safety prospect.

• KJ Henry is headed to Clemson, another terrifying five-star defensive lineman for the Tigers. 247 Sports says he’s the No. 8 overall recruit, giving Clemson four of the current top 10 prospects in this class.

3:30 p.m. ET: More Georgia wins, more Clemson fallout

• The Bulldogs keep rolling: Brenton Cox, a five-star defensive end ranked 22nd overall in the 247Sports composite, has picked Georgia.

Andy Staples was in Clemson when Dabo Swinney was asked about telling new Tigers signee Jackson Carman that Urban Meyer was on the back end of his career at Ohio State. Swinney’s full response:

“We might have had a lot of conversations. I have no idea. In recruiting, you evaluate everything and where you are in a program. … I cannot recall specifically, but it sounds like something that might have come up when we were maybe talking about coaches. I’ve been a guy that’s been here for 15 years. There are obviously differences when you compare coaches and things like that. Obviously different stages in life and things like that. But in recruiting, you talk about anything and everything that a recruit wants to talk about that seems relevant.”

• New Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal has been in all-caps mode all day, this time to welcome No. 14 safety Jevon Holland to the Ducks’ top-15 class.

• One of the day’s big stories is the volume of signings: expect a fundamentally February signing day with so much settled around the country.

• Maryland’s newly signed kicker Joseph Petrino, who committed to the Terps in September, can kick with both legs.

2:45 p.m. ET: Georgia adds another top O-lineman

• Knoxville Catholic (Tenn.) tackle Cade Mays has chosen Georgia over Clemson and Ohio State. Mays had been committed to Tennessee but left the Vols out of his pre-signing day top three amid the turmoil in Knoxville. The Bulldogs already had landed the top two guards on the board in Jamaree Salyer and Trey Hill, and Mays’s decision to come to Athens is even better news for Jake Fromm, Justin Fields and any other Bulldog under center for the next three or four years. 

2 p.m. ET: Alabama makes a splash with Anoma

• Five-star defensive end Eyabi Anoma, the No. 7 recruit in the country according to the 247Sports composite, is off to Alabama. He’s the first top-50 recruit to formally sign on with the Crimson Tide, but there will undoubtedly be more.

Legendary head coach Bill Snyder says he won’t decide whether or not he’s leaving Kansas State until after the Cactus Bowl. Time will tell whether that leaves the Wildcats in flux during this early signing period.

1 p.m. ET: Florida State down to single digits

• The Seminoles have dropped out of the top 50 classes in the country as the ripple effects of Jimbo Fisher’s messy departure continue to play out. Four-star Rosendo Louis flipped from FSU to South Carolina, bringing the up-to-the-minute number of Seminoles commits to eight.

• It’s not all good news for South Carolina today. The NCAA announced that two Gamecocks assistants committed recruiting violations for improperly leveraging their relationships with a high school coach. The coach was found to have pulled three or four recruits out from practice to run separate drills for the assistants in attendance during a larger workout. South Carolina has to pay a $5,000 fine, can’t recruit the prospects involved, lost four evaluation days in this fall’s evaluation period, can’t engage in off-campus recruiting activities at that high school until September 2018 and had to suspend each assistant from off-campus recruiting activities for six weeks.

12:45 p.m. ET: Penn State making waves again

• Another intriguing get for James Franklin as WR Jahan Dotson flips from UCLA to the Nittany Lions. Dotson is the 35th-ranked receiver prospect in the country according to the 247 Composite rankings.

• Situation to monitor in Tuscaloosa: Four-star corner and Alabama commit Nabab Joseph is delaying his signing announcement. He could still end up in crimson, but it’s a reminder that any hesitation on either side in this early signing period is going to raise red flags.

• Bo Jackson’s nephew is a three-star WR, and understandably, he’s heading to Auburn.

• Make of this what you will, Georgia Tech recruits.

12:15 p.m. ET: Georgia’s future under center is fascinating

• Justin Fields, the much-hyped QB prospect who drew Cam Newton comparisons as he shot up to the top of the 2018 rankings, has officially signed with Georgia. Chris Johnson broke down his impact on the Bulldogs’ future when he committed in October. How soon will he push true freshman Jake Fromm for playing time?

• And speaking of Cam Newton comparisons ...

• Bruce Feldman has more on a big pickup for the LSU line:

11:45 a.m. ET: All eyes on Emory Jones

• Ohio State pledge Emory Jones is not going to Ohio State, and Florida and Florida State spent the morning hanging on the four-star QB’s upcoming decision. Jones reopened his commitment when the Buckeyes signed three-star QB Matthew Baldwin earlier this fall, and on Wednesday he committed to Florida, giving Dan Mullen a young quarterback to mold in Gainesville.

• Former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley’s son is going to play quarterback for Toledo.

• Zamir White, the top running back in the class and the No. 6 overall recruit, makes it official with Georgia. Don’t think the Bulldogs will be hurting from the graduation of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

11 a.m. ET: Another big win for Clemson

• No. 9 overall recruit Jackson Carman, the top offensive lineman in the class, is heading to Clemson, giving the Tigers three top-10 recruits in this class. Carman, a product of Fairfield, Ohio, said that Urban Meyer’s longevity in Columbus played a small role in his decision to head south instead.

• If you look closely enough, three-star Southlake Carroll (Texas) O-lineman Jackson Kimble gives his college choice away a little early. Bonus points for originality for the Baylor signee.

10:30 a.m. ET: Don't mess with Georgia in the trenches

No. 10 overall recruit Jamaree Salyer picks Georgia, joining Trey Hill to bring the class of 2018’s two top guards into Kirby Smart’s impressive recruiting class. With Salyer, Hill and three-star Bishop McGuinness (Okla.) tackle Owen Condon officially in the fold, D'Andre Swift and the next wave of top running backs in Athens should find plenty of holes. Among that wave of running backs will be James Cook, the younger brother of former Florida State star Dalvin Cook, who reaffirmed his commitment to Georgia on Wednesday morning after Florida State made a late push.

Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman, your thoughts?

• We have a clubhouse leader for Signing Day’s Best Name: four-star linebacker Bumper Pool has signed with Arkansas. That game is underrated, for the record.

• Kansas making waves! The Jayhawks lock in four-star CB Corione Harris out of Landry-Walker High School in New Orleans. Harris's teammate, four-star WR Devonta Jason, flipped to Mississippi State after having earlier committed to join Harris in Lawrence.

9:45 a.m. ET: The morning’s first big fish

• Harrisburg defensive end Micah Parsons, the top uncommitted prospect in the class entering Wednesday, has chosen Penn State. The No. 4 overall recruit according to 247Sports, Parsons could be an immediate impact guy for James Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry in Happy Valley, as the Nittany Lions lose several key contributors on defense.

9 a.m. ET: Adrian Peterson Cameo!

• Defensive end Xavier Thomas, this class’s No. 3 overall recruit, is locked in to Clemson, making it two of the country’s top three prospects in the fold for Dabo Swinney:

• John Tessitore, the son of ESPN play-by-play man Joe Tessitore, has signed on to kick for Boston College. Can you imagine the call if Dad happens to be on the mic for a game-winning field goal?

• Oklahoma is dropping some pretty cool videos as each recruit formally signs, featuring current and former players flipping through a stack of playing cards featuring past Sooners greats before finding a card of the new signee. Here’s how the Sooners announced the signing of IMG (Fla.) Academy athlete T.J. Pledger, who entered the day as 247’s second-highest-rated OU recruit, with help from Adrian Peterson:

• Two new QBs for Michigan in two weeks: Olympia (Fla.) four-star Joe Milton has formally signed on to join Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson as new arrivals under center in Ann Arbor.

8:30 a.m. ET: Special teams news? Special teams news

• Alabama’s first official signee of the day is ... a punter, Nation Ford (S.C.) three-star Skyler Delong. (The Tide did make an early splash in securing the commitment of four-star defensive lineman Christian Barmore, his NLI just didn’t come in right away.)

• Florida lost its most consistent offensive weapon when kicker Eddy Pineiro announced he was leaving early for the NFL on Tuesday night, but the Gators signed three-star Evan McPherson to help make up for the special teams loss.

• Big signing news from outside the class of 2018: Former Auburn defensive end Byron Cowart has officially signed on at Maryland. Cowart was a five-star recruit when he chose Auburn in 2015 but asked for his release this fall citing playing time concerns and his mother’s health.

8 a.m. ET: Rebels making noise

• Four-star DT Robert Cooper sends in the first NLI of the Willie Taggart era at Florida State. One of the week’s biggest storylines has been whether Taggart has enough juice to bring the Seminoles’ class back into the top 30 after Jimbo Fisher’s messy exit led to several prominent prospects jumping ship.

• Ole Miss has raided the SEC East for a few high-impact players in recent days, flipping five-star QB Matt Corrall from Florida last week and this morning snagging four-star St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) WR Elijah Moore away from Georgia.

7:15 a.m. ET: Setting the table for a busy day

Before we get started in earnest, a look at just a handful of the top uncommitted prospects expected to announce where they will sign today (all rankings are according to the 247Sports Composite):

• WDE Micah Parsons, No. 4 overall
• WDE Eyabi Anoma, No. 7 overall
• WDE KJ Henry, No. 8 overall
• OT Jackson Carman, No. 9 overall
• G Jamaree Salyer, No. 10 overall
• OT Cade Mays, No. 16 overall
• QB Emory Jones, No. 40 overall

And the faxes are already humming in, as this year’s No. 1 overall prospect, Cartersville (Ga.) quarterback Trevor Lawrence, makes his long-standing commitment to Clemson official:

Meanwhile, Ohio State makes it official with 247’s No. 13 overall recruit, defensive tackle Taron Vincent—the son of NFL executive VP Troy Vincent has been committed to Columbus since April. The Buckeyes entered Wednesday with the nation’s No. 1 class:

Going forward, we should see plenty more formal signings and announcements from the top recruits like Vincent who have been committed for a while, including quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Justin Fields (Georgia), as many players will take advantage of the chance to wrap up the recruiting process. Want more proof that the new early signing period is changing the way college football recruiting gets done? Andy Staples’s explainer in this week’s Punt, Pass & Pork breaks down just how drastic of a shift this is to the landscape.