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February 5, 2004

Heard It On Signing Day

Notes, quotes and anecdotes heard from coast to coast on National Signing Day…

n Dream Season for USC: Safe to say it's been a fruitful 12 months for USC and coach Pete Carroll.

The Trojans reeled in the nation's No. 3 signing class last February, rolled to the Pac-10 title, whipped Michigan in the Rose Bowl, claimed a share of the national championship and put the icing on the cake of their unforgettable season by landing the nation's No. 1 recruiting class on Wednesday.

Keep it coming, Carroll said.

"I have a great feeling about the players in this class," he said. "I'm excited about their competitive nature and how they've accepted the challenge of keeping us at a high level…

"This whole process has been exciting and the perfect ending to what has been a dream season. Our coaches worked really hard, and we feel that we've taken some great strides to keeping this program at the national championship level."


n Something Special: Oklahoma's been no stranger to success in recent years, and to hear Sooners coach Bob Stoops describe his No. 8 national signing class, you haven't seen anything yet.

"When you look at quality, I'm more excited about it than any we've ever had," he said. "We had a small group of seniors, just 10, so we didn't have a big class to offer. But what these guys have shown in high school and what we've seen them do, they are a special group… our most talented (group). Just to remind everyone, I pull up our 1999 class that nobody thought much of, and it's a pretty special group. Let's face it, when you look at the quality of the group, it's really, really special."

Did we mention this is a special group?


n Solid Gold: Some coaches wouldn't lose much sleep if they did away with the traditional signing day press conferences with the media.

N.C. State's Chuck Amato, however, has always had fun with the moment. One year, he entered his press conference on the back of a motorcycle. Another, he had songs played on a tape recorder during the event.

He was a little more low-key on Wedensday, but stated he was sending a message with his choice of attire.

"I wore this suit because I really feel like it was a golden recruiting class," Amato said. "It was solid gold, man."

The Wolfpack charted at No. 28 nationally with this year's haul.


n Not Always In The Stars: Several coaches noted that, while it's nice to land commitments from the four- and five-star prospects, there are always "can't miss" players who do miss and little-known players who make it big.

In describing his No. 4 national class, Miami coach Larry Coker said, "On paper it probably ranks higher than those (1997 and 1999) classes as far as just Parade All-American and those kind of things. But the thing now, people have to come in and play. You look at the Ed Reeds and Santana Mosses, they were just 'kind-of' guys. So you don't know until they actually come in and do it. But we are certainly very pleased with the class."

Said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr: "I was talking to somebody this morning. I can remember when Dave Pearson committed to Michigan. There were people who asked me, 'Well, why are you recruiting Dave Pearson? Nobody's recruiting him.' Well, Dave Pearson had a great career here. Why? Well, he's smart. He's extremely smart. He's tough. He's competitive, and he loves the game. Over a period of four or five years, those qualities of competitiveness, mental and physical toughness, will enable a guy to outlast people who maybe don't have those qualities. It's interesting, because as I said, there are always surprises and always disappointments."

West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez landed only one player ranked four stars or higher - wide receiver Brandon Barrett - and seven players rated three stars, but he's not ready to concede anything.

"The four- and five-star players, some are legit and some are all hype," Rodriguez said. "There are some four-star guys that can't play dead in a Western (movie) and others are worth every bit of the hype. But most of the five-star guys are usually can't-miss players. I don't care about all the rankings. Tell me what you think in three years."

Michigan and West Virginia were No. 5 and No. 47, respectively, in this year's final team rankings.


n Vengeance Will Be Mine: Illinois coach Ron Turner described a heart-stopping late conversation he had with talented Chicago wide receiver Bryant Creamer.

"Last night the cell phone rings. It is Bryant's number," he said. "I answer it and Bryant gets on the phone very somber and says, 'Hi coach. How are you doing?' … Then says, 'Coach, I have to tell you this. I have been thinking long and hard about this, I have made a tough decision. I just want to say that you guys have been the best - probably the best - to me of anyone, and I really appreciate that, but…'

"Then he paused, and I'm thinking we are losing him and want to throw the cell phone out. But then he says, 'I'm coming to Illinois, coach,' and starts laughing. I said, 'You know, that isn't funny,' and Bryant was laughing. I said, 'You got me this time, but I will get you back.'"

Wind sprints, anyone?


n Conference Shuffle Fallout? The father of five-star Pennsylvania quarterback Anthony Morelli explained that part of his son's decision to switch from Pittsburgh to Penn State in the late stages of the recruiting process was the ever-changing face of the Big East Conference.

"The whole situation with the Big East always concerned me," Greg Morelli said. "I still don't think it was resolved, and I still don't know if they'll be part of the BCS in the future. They brought in some schools that are not the big time college programs that Anthony wants to play in front of. He's a big time player who loves the big college atmosphere. How can you beat playing in front of 110,000 every home game and playing in a conference like the Big 10? Penn State is on T.V every weekend and just being there on his official visit, it was an amazing experience to be a part of."

The addition of Morelli helped the Nittany Lions reel in a No. 15 class while the Panthers came in at No. 48.

n Heated Battle: Florida coach Ron Zook discussed how much effort it took to keep four-star Alabama running back Markus Manson to stick with his early - and somewhat surprising - commitment to the Gators.

The pressure to stay in state and play at Alabama was intense, Zook said.

"What that guy went through was unbelievable," he said. "I was there last Friday, and coach Locksley was there open week, and everybody talked about that they didn't know if he could hold on.

"I talked to Markus about every day. I'm going to tell you, it was hard… What he did, because he got it at church, he got it at school, he got it in McDonald's, walking through the hallways, in the coaches office. He got it everywhere. For him to be able to withstand that onslaught like he did says a lot about how he felt about the Gators.

"I made a comment to him last Friday. 'I'm asking you to trust me.' And he said 'My aunt and my mom would like me to go to the University of Alabama to visit.' So I said to him, 'You know, I'm asking you to trust me, so I'm going to trust you.' And he was rock-solid. He withstood a lot. And he's still withstanding it."

Zook brought in his second Top 10 class in three years with the Gators.

n Efficiency Champs: Texas coach Mack Brown said the Longhorns managed to wrap up their No. 10 national class by focusing upon a group of players who made it clear they wanted to wear the orange.

"You never get all the guys that you want, but we felt like our evaluation was even better this year than in the past," he said. "Of the 56 guys that you can bring in for official visits, we only brought in 24 and signed 19. We felt like those numbers were pretty phenomenal if we evaluated the right guys."


n Recruiting Relief: The nation's top-ranked player is always going to be the focus of some intense attention during the course of the recruiting process.

That was certainly the case for Oklahoma signee Adrian Peterson, who was the subject of more juicy rumors during his recruitment than a periodical in the supermarket checkout line.

As her son signed with the Sooners on Wednesday, Bonita Jackson expressed relief that it's all over.

"He's handled this so much better than I could have hoped, but it's nice that he'll be able to just be a kid again," she said. "The maturity he has shown makes me think he'll be ready to head off to college in the fall."


n Sentimental Moment: Signing day marked an emotional transition for the father and coach of the nation's top-rated quarterback.

"It is really a milestone in his life," Jerry Bomar said of Rhett Bomar's signing with Oklahoma. "I can remember giving him the basic pointers about where to carry the ball. I remember pee-wee football, then starting high school. You see him always growing, and it is surreal when he is finally going off to college, and going to play for a great program."


n Name Brand Recognition: Asked why some higher-rated prospects show strong interest during the recruiting process but wind up signing with other schools, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz had an interesting analogy.

"If I had to generalize, it is just that we are not a brand name yet," he said. "We are not a Mercedes or Tommy Hilfiger or whatever. We are not that. There are sometimes that you can put a very logical argument down on paper and it just gets discounted because we are not so and so. That is just part of recruiting. Perception always figures very strongly and always will. That is just our society."

The Hawkeyes finished No. 38 in the national team rankings.


n Starting Fast vs. Closing Strong: Kansas State has generally been one of the nation's best in the latter stages of the recruiting process, but this season Bill Snyder & Co. had several early commitments.

The Wildcats' veteran coach said it's often a fine line when it comes to forming a strategy.

"Sometimes when you jump in and get all kinds of commitments before sun-up, when it's sun-down you look back and say, 'I wish I had some of those scholarships back,' because you have someone who is better or who you'd rather have," Snyder said. "We're very fortunate that wasn't the case."

The Big 12 champs closed with the No. 18 class in the nation.


n More Than Physical: Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said four-star South Carolina prospect Leon Hart may be able to contribute early on the Tigers' offensive line… and for some reasons that might not be apparent to some recruiting observers.

"Leon Hart is probably the best prospect on the offensive line in the country," Tuberville said. "Not just because of athletic ability, but because he's going to be an electrical engineering major. He has a very high grade point average. The biggest thing about bridging the gap from high school to college is technique… He has a lot of learning to do before he can help this team, but with his ability to learn and with his size and speed and everything that he's got going for him, if anybody can play on the offensive line early it's him."

The late addition of Hart, as well as that of four-star safety Tony Bell and four-star defensive tackle Pat Sims, helped the Tigers salvage a No. 21 class after struggling to build momentum most of the year.

n Sleeper Watch: Texas Tech coach Mike Leach brought in one of the best classes the Red Raiders have ever assembled, but saved one of his strongest comments on signing day for a player who was not highly regarded.

Asked about two-star linebacker Marcus Smith, Leach said: "The best physical highlight tape I've ever seen in my life is Marcus Smith's. Marcus Smith played running back and linebacker and is an extremely physical guy. He can floor a guy with one arm and does it repeatedly, and whacks people all over the place."

The Red Raiders capped the year with a No. 33 class.


n Mind Games: We got a kick out of a blurb in Nebraska's signee bios which gave a brief explanation of why each player chose the Cornhuskers.

Said athlete Santino Panico: "I picked Nebraska for three reasons - Coach Callahan's honesty; the kind of players I met on my visit; and because of my meeting with psychology professor Calvin Garbin."

In all seriousness, however, we have seen an increasing number of athletes citing relationships with non-football faculty members as key factors in their decisions.


n Poker Face: The nation's top-rated defensive tackle, N.C. State signee DeMario Pressley, was asked how he managed to keep the suspense surrounding his decision until signing day.

"People tell me that I have a good poker face," he said. "I can keep a secret. It was hard, but I got through it."

Pressley noted that during the recruiting process, his home phone rang from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. "just about every night."


n Getting To Know You… And Your Pets: South Florida assistant coach Rick Kravitz praised one of his fellow assistants for his thorough approach to recruiting a key school in the Bulls' area.

"I think he knew their dogs' names, their girlfriends, everything. I think he was Uncle Rich by the end," Kravitz said of Rich Rachel's relationship with three Armwood High School signees.

South Florida put together a very respectable No. 43 national class as they prepare for their entrance to the Big East.


n What's Next?

"I'm looking forward to finally getting some sleep," Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said.


Mississippi State NEWS

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