New CFB Coaching Staffs Recruiting Well From the Jump
John Garcia, Jr.
Some college football moved on from 2019 head coaches early, like Florida State and Arkansas, while others had to wait until the New Year to replace coveted leaders who moved on.
Either way, the task of putting together a recruiting class in a short span of time is a challenge to each new coaching staff down the stretch. Some hit the ground running while others virtually start from scratch.
Ole Miss has made perhaps the biggest splash in terms of big names added to the 2020 roster. Lane Kiffin took over the first week of December and immediately reshuffled the recruiting board, parting ways with several Rebel commitments to track his own offensive targets like Texas quarterback Kade Renfro, who committed two days before the Early Signing Period began December 18. It snagged longtime Florida State defensive back commitment Derek Bermudez on the day itself.
What the coaching staff has done since the ESP may be more impressive, especially over last weekend. In addition to striking with safety Otis Reese in the transfer portal, it swiped a fellow SEC prospect in former LSU pledge Demon Clowney two days later. In between, the Rebels picked up another top prospect once committed elsewhere in running back Henry Parrish, the former Pitt pledge who led his Miami (Fla.) Columbus team to a state championship thanks to 2,319 rushing yards and 28 scores.
With room to add to an 18-man class at this point, Ole Miss is set to track some of the biggest unsigned names in the class of 2020 for the final two weeks of the cycle, and beyond, when considering wide receiver Leonard Manuel. While that Florida commitment plans on signing April 1, most of the other targets like running back Zach Evans, wide receiver Malachi Wideman, athlete Marc Britt, another UF verbal, as well as offensive linemen Marcus Henderson and Brady Ward plan to end the process February 5. Multiple signatures from this group may help the Rebels overtake rival Mississippi State and its new coach in the final rankings.
Sam Pittman and Arkansas have been able to rebound from a very slow start to the class of 2020, as it signed just nine prospects in December. Since, though, seven verbal commitments and two high profile transfers have come in. Feleipe Franks, the former Florida Gators starting quarterback, is the instant headliner but flipping Maryland running back commitment Ebony Jackson on Thursday stands a close second. Pittman and company have done well in the non-tangible buzz department, too, kicking off the official visit slate this month with the nation's top offensive tackle Broderick Jones taking the trip despite a commitment to Georgia (a move Pittman initially played a key role in).
Arkansas has made the official visit process a gaudy one in a short period, reeling in major visitors in each of the final three weekends of the 2020 cycle. This weekend, a pair of formerly committed passers in Malik Hornsby and CJ Dixon head up a list of prospects that includes at least two more prospects currently committed to SEC programs.
Think multiple quarterbacks in the same class is odd? Don't tell new USF coach Jeff Scott. The former Clemson co-offensive coordinator has verbal commitments from three of them, including two at the prep level in former Utah commitment Katravis Marsh and longtime pledge Jordan Smith, who wavered initially when Charlie Strong was let go. The headliner in this class, though, is North Carolina transfer Cade Fortin. He dodged Power Five options for the Bulls and looks to make a long term impact at the game's most important position with three years of eligibility remaining.
Scott and the new USF staff have emphasized keeping Florida players within state lines and has been consistent in reeling in pledges since he took over. The buzz has been much needed considering just seven prospects inked in December. Since, other P5 prospects have gone green in defensive lineman Tramel Logan, offensive lineman Cesar Reyes while those ranks provided more transfers in Oregon's Darrian Felix, Stanford's Bo Peek and South Carolina's Lavonte Valentine, each originally from the state.
Elsewhere in the Sunshine State it's Florida State which has been the busiest program on the trail since turning over in early December. Mike Norvell revamped the class just before the ESP, especially at quarterback as he helped flip Chubba Purdy from Louisville after kicking off the position with Tate Rodemaker as longtime pledge Jeff Sims opted for Georgia Tech. Wide receiver addition Kentron Poitier was a strong ACC win, too.
Norvell's staff also did a great job out of the gate in maintaining verbal commitments as programs chased defensive back Demorie Tate, wide receiver Bryan Robinson, offensive lineman Thomas Shrader and defensive end Josh Griffis -- who flipped to Louisville only to flip back to FSU in the end.
Since the ESP, FSU has continued to address needs through the transfer market. JUCO All-American running back Ladamian Webb jumped on board in the middle of his official visit last weekend, joining transfers Jashaun Corbin (Texas A&M), Cornel Jones (Purdue), Jarrett Jackson (Louisville) and Devontay Taylor (FIU) in heading to Tallahassee. FSU will have a chance at adding a few more pieces in the next dozen days to lock in a top 20 recruiting class, beginning with Louisianan Corey Wren, who has the Noles in the mix and announces his commitment Sunday.
Even Willie Taggart at Florida Atlantic, which built its initial class via Kiffin, has seen its stock rise some under new leadership. In addition to three new commitments, including Willie Taggart, Jr., the Owls have become savvy in the transfer portal adding former Seminoles in defensive tackle Malcolm Lamar and wide receiver D'Marcus Adams, among others.
Others Recruiting well immediately include Rutgers, with a half-dozen transfers coming in and UNLV following a run in which it scored eight prep commitments in nine days.
It hasn't been as smooth of a transition for other programs.
Memphis and Appalachian State haven't added a prospect since changing staffs.
Baylor has added just one verbal commitment since Dave Aranda left LSU to take over the Bear program.
Boston College has been slower on the trail since Jeff Hafley took over but the quarterback he helped add to the roster in Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec may be what most point to in looking back on his first month or so at the helm.
Missouri, now under Eli Drinkwitz, signed just 11 prospects in December and added a new commitment this month. But the Tiger recruiting class has fewer marquee names on it than Vanderbilt at the moment in the race for the SEC basement.