BRADENTON, Fla. -- The rise of top 10 NFL Draft pick Evan Neal has been tied back to his roots at IMG Academy plenty over the last few years. The apex of his rise, at least socially, came on the viral split-leg box jump video post from last summer.
The next star lineman out of IMG Academy, Francis Mauigoa, called out the former Alabama standout in attempting to duplicate the move himself this spring, as a junior at the boarding school.
The class of 2023 prospect has about as many scholarship offers as Neal did when he was coming out of high school. Unsurprisingly, Alabama is among those extensions and the program is one of three in great shape to make Mauigoa's next list cut, as he explained following IMG's spring football showcase Thursday.
"'Bama, they have two of our guys up there, T-Book (Tyler Booker) and Jihaad Campbell," Mauigoa said. "T-Book was one of the offensive linemen here and we have a strong bond. I keep in contact with him. Coach (Eric) Wolford, the O-line coach, he was here tonight. I talk to him some and he's a good man.
"And coach (Nick) Saban is the GOAT, we already know that."
Two new coaching staffs, USC and Miami, are also in position to make the upcoming cut. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound prospect has been to each campus for unofficial visits since Lincoln Riley and Mario Cristobal, respectively, took over.
"They're game-changers right there," Mauigoa said of USC. "With coach Riley, coach (Josh) Henson coming in there, they're beasts. Coach Riley recruited me when he was at Oklahoma, coach Henson recruited me when he was at Texas A&M and coach (Shaun) Nua, the defensive line coach at USC, was recruiting me at Michigan. Them coming together, they kind of boosted up.
"They've brought a whole new vibe, a whole new atmosphere. Then this class, Zach Branch, Malachi (Nelson) all over there, all they're missing is the offensive line."
There is also quite the familiarity with the new staff assembled in Coral Gables.
"The Miami staff recruited me when they were at Oregon, so I'm familiar with coach (Joe) Salave'a, he's Polynesian and one of my uncles," Mauigoa said. "Then coach Cristobal and (Alex) Mirabal, those are two offensive line coaches. When the head coach coaches the offensive line, that's something different.
"That's a whole other level for the O-linemen."
More than 30 programs have jumped in with an offer to Mauigoa to date, so attempting to pick which others are likely to make his list isn't easy. However, a pair of SEC East programs have become more involved in the race for the versatile offensive lineman's services through current football commitments to each program.
"Nico (Iamaleava) from Tennessee is one of my boys from California," Mauigoa said. "Knijeah Harris, my (IMG) teammate, is recruiting me to Florida."
The rising-senior recruit has visited Florida unofficially of late. Tennessee will get him on campus for the first time next weekend, he says.
Then the list will drop.
"I'm still taking the process slow," Mauigoa said. "I might release my top five at the end of the month. Then I will take official visits out of that top five."
Beyond the release of the top group, along with ensuing visits likely to take place in the month of June, one of the most coveted prospects in the class could close in on a decision.
Once contemplating a later decision because of the wild coaching carousel from the fall, Mauigoa could come off the board before the 2022 football season at IMG Academy begins.
"Probably in July or August," he said.
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