Powers of Persuasion
Why some programs had surprising results on national signing day
Five recruiting questions that needed answering after the
national letters of intent rolled out of the fax machines at
Division IA schools on Feb. 5:
How did new Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione land a top 10 class
in eight weeks?
By returning to the Lone Star State with virtually the same staff
he had at TCU from 1998 through 2000 (and at Alabama for the past
two seasons) and milking his old Texas high school connections,
Franchione signed 24 players, including 16 of 18 who had made
oral commitments to R.C. Slocum before he was fired as coach on
Dec. 2. The prize catch was 6'7", 275-pound offensive lineman
Jorrie Adams, considered to be one of the top three players in
Texas. "That my guys and I had a recruiting identity in Texas was
key," says Franchione. "I didn't grow up here, but it feels like
Right after he was introduced as the new coach, Franchione set
out to visit each of the recruits who had already committed to
the Aggies and to make a late pitch to blue-chippers still on the
fence. During one five-day trip Franchione visited with Adams in
Jasper and then went to Mission, home of one of the state's top
receivers, Earvin Taylor. Both committed soon after to help make
the 2003 class the Aggies' best ever.
Several players chose A&M over 2000 national champion Oklahoma,
and two rescinded oral commitments to LSU and Colorado at the
last minute. "Now it's time to get the players who are returning
to believe in us too," says Franchione.
How did LSU coach Nick Saban sign what some recruiting gurus are
calling the top class of 2003?
From the day he arrived in Baton Rouge from Michigan State in
late November 1999, Saban declared his desire to make LSU a
dominant program again. His first priority was to keep the
state's top talent at home. For years schools such as Florida
State, Miami, Michigan and Notre Dame had raided Louisiana for
blue-chip talent. This year Saban kept nine members of the Baton
Rouge Advocate's Super Dozen in state, including eight of 10 from
the New Orleans metro area, long a dry well for LSU. "It's
important that the players in Louisiana don't feel like they need
to go someplace else to play," says Saban.
At the same time Saban maintains a nationwide recruiting base, so
the Tigers are not, as he says, "held hostage" by Louisiana
prospects. This year, for instance, LSU coveted only one in-state
receiver--beating out Miami for Craig Davis of New Orleans--but
also signed two top wideouts from Florida, Anthony (Amp) Hill and
Dwayne Bowe. In addition the Tigers landed the No. 1 quarterback
in Alabama, 6'5", 230-pound JaMarcus Russell.
"It's the persona [Saban] brings to the table more than anything
else," says coach J.T. Curtis of John Curtis High (River Ridge,
La.), which contributed four players to the Tigers' 27-player
haul. "He believes that LSU is going to be a top five program,
and he makes sure that everyone surrounding the program feels the
Why didn't reigning national champion and preseason
favorite-to-repeat Ohio State land a top 10 class?
Because the Buckeyes have a depth chart that's more crowded than
an American Idol casting call, including 18 returning starters,
many blue-chippers looking to play right away signed elsewhere,
and Ohio State ended up with a modest, 15-member class. "It would
have been really hard to come in and compete for a job there,"
says Dublin (Ohio) Coffman High All-State quarterback Brady
Quinn, who signed with Notre Dame. "It's great that they have so
many players coming back, but I had to do what was best for me."
Recruiting coordinator Bill Conley says that while many prospects
were daunted by the Buckeyes' depth, he is optimistic that the
team's success will boost recruiting efforts after next season,
when Ohio State will lose 29 seniors. For now, says Conley,
"those players who chose to forgo the draft and finish out their
Buckeye careers are the best recruits we could have asked for."
Is USC the hot spot again in California?
For the better part of the 1990s many of the best prospects in
talent-rich Southern California left the state for schools in the
Northwest and Southeast. Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who took
over an ailing program in December 2000, has stopped the
bleeding. His crop of 22 signees features 20 Californians,
including one of the nation's top running backs (Reggie Bush of
Helix High) and the state's top two receivers (Ventura's Whitney
Lewis and Woodland Hills's Steve Smith). Although Carroll failed
to sign a quarterback (USC went hard after Monte Vista High
standout Kyle Wright but lost him to Miami), the Trojans had a
consensus top three class, its best in 30 years.
While an 11-2 record, including a victory over Iowa in the
Orange Bowl, helped him on the recruiting trail, the 51-year-old
Carroll also developed an unusually strong rapport with
prospects. "Carroll will hang out with these kids at practices,
at pep rallies, anywhere and anytime the NCAA says it's legal,"
says Tustin High coach Myron Miller.
Says Inglewood defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson, who grew up 15
minutes from the USC campus but until recently thought he'd go to
Florida, "Coach Carroll was the only one who stopped whatever he
was doing when I needed to talk to him. If you can play in your
home state for a coach like that, there's no need to go anywhere
How is Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham distinguishing himself as a
Focused and organized on the sideline, Willingham displays
similar characteristics on the recruiting trail. While most
coaches invite 50 or so recruits on official visits, Willingham
hosted just 32 prospects in landing a top 10 class. "He's not
going to play salesman," says Greg Mattison, an Irish defensive
assistant since 1997. "His process is a very selective one in
which we decide on the kids we need and then go after them hard."
Willingham targets players who demonstrate what he judges to be
impeccable character. "He asks a lot of questions about the
person a recruit can become and very little about the player he
can become," says Gilman High (Baltimore) coach Biff Poggi, who
had two players sign with the Irish.
"You know to mind your manners around him," says Dwight
Stephenson Jr., a linebacker from Boca Raton, Fla., who was among
Notre Dame's 22 signees. "He makes it clear that he's looking for
a certain type of person."
Ready to Play
After rushing for a state-record 9,071 career yards, Demetris
Summers (right) became the jewel of South Carolina's recruiting
class. With more and more freshmen earning starting spots, here
are five who could make an immediate impact.
Player (Hometown) Position College
Michael Bush (Louisville) QB Louisville
The graduation of All--Conference USA quarterback Dave Ragone
opens the door for Kentucky's Mr. Football, who threw for 2,891
yards as a senior.
Andre Caldwell (Tampa) WR Florida
Following in brother Reche's footsteps, Andre becomes the next
in a long line of receivers who make Gators quarterbacks look good
by running precise routes.
Wesley Jefferson (Brandywine, Md.) LB Maryland
It may take him a while to measure up to departed All-America
E.J. Henderson, but the hard-hitting, 6'2" 231-pounder should get
an early start.
Demetris Summers (Lexington, S.C.) RB South Carolina
His 46 100-yard rushing games broke Emmitt Smith's national
record; the Gamecocks need him to move in at tailback and pick up
where he left off.
LaMarr Woodley (Saginaw, Mich.) LB Michigan
The 6'3", 250-pound bruiser can play more than one position but
will likely have the inside track to replace Victor Hobson at
No. 1 Hotbed? Texas
The Lone Star State continues to be the country's wellspring of
high school football talent, producing by far the most Division I
signees again this winter. Here are the 10 states that have
produced the most Division I-A scholarship players over the past
five recruiting seasons combined.
RANK STATE 2003* 2002 2001 2000 1999 TOTAL
1. Texas 347 366 320 334 305 1,672
2. California 290 252 233 262 250 1,287
3. Florida 262 201 195 189 182 1,029
4. Ohio 116 132 129 155 149 681
5. Georgia 123 131 108 105 92 559
6. Louisiana 90 110 90 99 108 497
7. Alabama 76 73 84 78 69 380
8. Michigan 64 71 92 67 76 370
9. Pennsylvania 62 72 66 65 66 331
10. North Carolina 38 58 65 44 51 256
*Figures as of national signing day on Feb. 5 Source for
pre-2003 numbers: Texasfootball.com