Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin has built a national reputation on his ability to be dominant in recruiting. He discussed several topics on the subject this week, including giving a peek inside his program's recruiting philosophy.
Kiffin on evaluation
Recruiting in college football is like the NFL draft, in that it's the primary way teams stock their rosters with talent. Therefore, it is important to evaluate. If you sign 25 players a year and you miss (sign a guy who isn't going to help your team, is a behavioral problem, etc.) on just five each recruiting cycle, that is 20 players on an 85-man roster -- each year a few players will transfer or leave the team -- who are not going to help you.
"I think research is so critical when you are determining which prospects to offer," Kiffin said. "We treat the evaluations like the NFL in that we do the research, spend a ton of time in the film room, going to practices and really getting to know who the prospects are. You notice the NFL combine and the research that goes in it at that level and I've always thought, why can't we do it that way here? Scholarships are worth a quarter-million dollars, so we are making a large investment in who we sign."
The Trojans staff (and before his departure for USC, the Tennessee staff) spends time during the offseason and season working their recruiting board and constantly evaluating the prospects on it.
"I don't know what other schools do," Kiffin said. "I just know what we do. I've hired a lot of coaches from other big-name programs, and we just finished rounding out our staff here. The coaches that come in are kind of in awe of our board and how much time and energy we put into recruiting the highest-level players to our program."
There are reasons why Kiffin will be able to assemble massive amounts of talent during his tenure as the Trojans' head coach -- and it goes beyond his rep as a great recruiter. There is more to it. His recruiting system is as sound philosophically as it comes.
Kiffin on recruiting restrictions of head coaches
Part of the evaluation process is going out and seeing players in person. Kiffin, like many head coaches, is not in favor of an NCAA ban implemented in 2008 that bars head coaches from going on the road to evaluate prospects during the spring evaluation period.
"I really dislike the rule that head coaches can't go out on the road in the spring," Kiffin said. "I brought that up at every SEC meeting we had and brought that up to [SEC commissioner] Mike Slive. We are held accountable for the players that we bring in here and their off-the-field behavior. This takes a chance away from the head coach to go to a school and to ask questions about a young man that he is bringing into his program."
What Kiffin says is true. Head coaches are ultimately held accountable, and they should be given every opportunity to learn about the players they are recruiting and their families.
Kiffin on the future of recruiting
College football recruiting has never been more popular in terms of media coverage and fan following than it is today.
"I think everything trickles down from the NFL," he said. "National signing day is sort of like draft day, only it's the players that are doing the selecting and not the teams."
There is one trend, however, that Kiffin finds troublesome.
"I have been afraid of a trend developing where more of the top kids wait until after national signing day to decide," he said. "I was worried that this would start happening more and more after some guys started doing it, like Terrelle Pryor [Ohio State, Class of 2008] and Bryce Brown, with us [Tennessee, Class of 2009]. As coaches, we put so much energy into recruiting, and our calendar is so set by it. It takes away from coaches' getting ready for spring ball because [the previous cycle] is still ongoing."
This worked in Kiffin's favor at Tennessee with Brown. The Vols just continued to work him and ultimately landed him, but he's absolutely correct about the stress it puts on coaches. Many people don't realize that college football coaches go straight into recruiting from the season, so the reality is they are working constantly from early August to early February and in any job, there is always a need to recharge and refocus and also to move on to the next thing.
Kiffin on Florida and the Southeast versus California talent
Florida and the rest of the Southeast, California, and Texas are the top talent-producing regions in America. Kiffin has recruited the Sunshine State extensively and recruited all over the Southeast during his stint at Tennessee. Of course, he has recruited California throughout his career. As multiple coaches have said when this question is posed, there are certain areas where the talent is better at certain positions.
"All I can go on is what I've studied," he said. "There are great players in Florida and great players in California. But if you look at the NFL draft by position, the numbers will tell you there are more great quarterbacks in California. There are great running backs, wide receivers and defensive backs in both states. The defensive front seven, you have better players in Florida and throughout the Southeast. That's what you see in the SEC are the great front sevens."
Around the recruiting world
Latest on Henderson
The father of ESPNU 150 offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin Derham-Hall) said Tuesday night that there has been no change with regard to his son's recruitment. Henderson is one of those players who has waited until after national signing day to sign, though he is committed to USC.
Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) are considered the other players at this point. Henderson and his family have said that they want to wait until they know more about an NCAA investigation into USC football and the potential consequences.
Best of Florida Under Armour Combines
The past three weekends have featured three Under Armour Combines in major Florida talent areas -- Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa (we did not include the national Under Armour All-American Combine in Orlando as it is a different entity). Here's a look at the best at each position from those three events.
Kevin Sousa, Lane Nona, Fla. (Jacksonville combine): Sousa probably has more upside that any signal-caller at the Florida Under Armour events to date. He's a taller pocket passer at a new school who should see his stock rise as more schools find out about him. Miami and others are showing interest.
James Wilder Jr., Tampa, Fla./Plant (Tampa): The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Wilder is one of the country's top prospects. He's a big back with a lot of god-given size and athleticism who also projects as a big-time linebacker should he choose to play defense (he says he wants to play running back). Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Miami all are in the mix early.
Tacoi Sumler, Miami/Columbus (Miami): Sumler ran a blistering 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the Dolphins practice facility and made several defensive backs look silly during one-on-one drills. Right now, Sumler is looking out of state, and Clemson (could he be the next Jacoby Ford?) is in the strongest position.
A.C. Leonard, Interlachen, Fla. (Jacksonville): Leonard has great size and can run and catch. He was impressive with his route running and hands during one-on-one drills and also tested well. Leonard is committed to Florida and is firm in that commitment.
Tyler Moore, Clearwater, Fla./Countryside (Bradenton): The Nebraska commit measured 6-foot-5, 305 pounds in socks and then proceeded to run what was a blistering 5.07-second 40-yard dash in the wind. Now, 40-yard dash times are overrated for offensive linemen, but this gives you an idea of the athleticism that Moore has.
Derrick Mitchell, Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast (Jacksonville): The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Mitchell will play defensive tackle in college, but he worked out as an end in Jacksonville. The offensive line group was thin at this particular combine, but the way he moved and performed was more impressive than any other defensive end in the three events. Mitchell committed to Florida State the week after the event. His father played basketball for the Seminoles.
Nile Lawrence, Davie, Fla./Nova (Miami): Like Mitchell, Lawrence committed to Florida State shortly after a good showing at an Under Armour Combine. The 6-foot-1, 297-pounder ran a solid 7.65-second L-cone shuttle, a 4.9-second 40-yard dash and bench pressed a combine-high 32 reps of 185 pounds.
Kent Turene, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla./Boyd Anderson (Miami): Turene is a big inside linebacker who plays well in space. He was impressive during one-on-ones and was able to move laterally. Expect Turene's stock to really rise during the coming months, as several schools are already showing attention.
Nick Waisome, Groveland, Fla./South Lake (Tampa): Waisome has become a combine veteran and impressed again on Sunday. Waisome is a highly competitive prospect with a short memory, which is good for the position (cornerback) that he will be playing in college.
Focus on the future
There also were several standout underclassmen at the three events. Here's a look at four who really jumped out at the three events.
Avery Johnson, WR, Pompano Beach, Fla./Ely: The younger brother of LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson is a 6-foot-2, 176-pounder. He ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and a stellar 6.66-second L-cone. He also was dominant in one-on-ones. LSU is already in on him, along with UCLA and some others. If he were part of the 2011 class, he would be an ESPNU 150 candidate at a minimum -- perhaps a five-star.
Matt Jones, RB, Seffner, Fla./Armwood: This talented back is similar physically to Wilder and already has two verbal SEC offers (Georgia, South Carolina). Jones starred as a sophomore, and big things are expected for the next two years. He also plays for one of the Tampa area's top programs.
Chris Black, WR, Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast: Black first emerged as a rising sophomore at the 2009 Under Armour Combine in Jacksonville, and his encore performance was just as special. No defensive backs could cover him, and he showed excellent body control; he was able to adjust to some poorly thrown balls and make the catch. He already has 15 verbal offers.
Earl Moore, DL, Tampa, Fla./Hillsborough: Moore, who already holds a verbal offer from Florida State, is quick and has a good frame. When you watch him go through drills, you can see that one year from now, this 6-foot-1, 253-pounder could be a 6-foot-2, 275-pound dominator. Expect more programs to try to get the jump on Moore in the future.
Two still strong for Bray
Athlete Quan Bray (Hogansville, Ga./Callaway) is one of the top prospects in the country for the 2011 recruiting cycle. The versatile playmaker has scholarship offers from multiple programs, but Alabama and Clemson have had the advantage for some time.
"Those two are still at the top, but there are other schools in the mix right now, too, like Miami and Georgia," Bray said. "I went to the Georgia junior day a couple of weeks ago, and I really liked it a lot. I want to get down to Miami just to check things out at some point."
Bray, who plays quarterback for his high school team, is being recruited as a running back/slot receiver/return specialist by every school except Georgia Tech, which wants him as a quarterback.
"I am going to be looking at what program is going to get me to the next level," Bray said. "I also want to go to a place that will help me get my degree and give me a chance to get on the field early."
Bray already has been named to the 2011 Under Armour All-America game.
Big Cat weekend
Auburn will play host to several recruits on the weekend of May 28-30 as part of the second annual "Big Cat Weekend." Last year, 10 prospects who signed with the Tigers attended the event, which is similar to a junior day. The visit is unofficial, and players and their families get to "hang out" with the Auburn coaches on campus, tour the facilities, and get an up-close look at both the football and academic side of the school.
Though they ultimately landed 10 players who were on campus that weekend, Tigers recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper says that committing was never discussed during that particular visit and that the focus of the weekend was the Auburn coaches getting to know prospects and their families.
Last year, Auburn students rolled Toomer's Corner with toilet paper during the weekend. Traditionally, that is done after every Tigers home victory.
Connecticut talent and the Huskies
While there are two sides to the debate between Randy Edsall and Connecticut high school coaches, it's easy to see where he is coming from.
The state of Connecticut is one of the emerging states in New England in terms of talent. There are enough players there to make it show up on the national recruiting radar and there are going to be programs like Florida, Penn State, Florida State (which signed two Connecticut prospects), etc., coming up there to evaluate and recruit prospects. Nine prospects signed with BCS conference programs out of the state in the Class of 2010.
With that, it's never a bad idea to give the home state school a shot. Geography doesn't mean as much in college basketball recruiting, but in football, it still matters. That's not to say that an out-of-state school may not be a better fit for a young man, but to snub your nose up at an in-state program that has a chance, like Connecticut, is selling yourself short. College is not a four-year decision -- it's a 40-year decision, and things like in-state loyalty go a long way when football ends after college, as it does for most prospects.
Also, it's not as though the Huskies don't have a chance at playing for a national championship. It's understandable if you want to play at a BCS level and the local school basically has no shot. Great athletes want to compete for championships, and UConn has a shot at championships.
This past season was atypical with Alabama and Texas both going undefeated and Big East champion Cincinnati getting left out of the BCS national championship game. In just about any other year, the chances of an unbeaten Big East team playing for the title are good. The 2007 West Virginia Mountaineers are a good example of this. If it weren't for a bizarre upset loss to Pitt, West Virginia would have been playing Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl over a two-loss LSU team.
So it's reachable for Connecticut, and there's no reason not to give the school a fair shake if you are a big-time prospect from that state. That's all, just a shot.
Turner on the rise
Cornerback/athlete Josh Turner (Oklahoma City/Millwood) is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after prospects in the country.
Turner, who runs the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds, has scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Miami, Ohio State, Nebraska, USC, Ole Miss, Oregon, Florida State, Notre Dame and Stanford. The Gators and Trojans have not yet made offers but are expected to in the near future.
Jersey OL has national offers
ESPNU 150 Watch List offensive lineman Angelo Mangiro (Succasunna, N.J./Roxbury) has an impressive early offer list.
Florida, USC, Ohio State, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Boston College, Virginia and Connecticut are among the early suitors for the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder.
"[Ohio State, Florida and USC] are always up near the top of the polls at the end of the season," Mangiro said. "Florida has won two national championships in the last four years. USC is the power out West, and they got everything going under Pete Carroll, and now they have a new, good coach. [Ohio State head coach Jim Tressell] reminds me of my high school coach, and that program is another that has been in the mix for national championships."
Penn State, the program Mangiro grew up pulling for, has not yet pulled the trigger on an offer.
"They told me that I probably won't be getting an offer that early," he said. "That's just the way they do things. I am interested in them and have made several unofficial visits and plan to visit there more, though."
Mangiro says that location, playing opportunity, coaching staff stability and academics all will be factors when he goes to pick a college.
He currently is in the midst of basketball season and says he's maxed out at 320 pounds on the bench press.
Florida TE on the rise
Tight end Brandon Fulse (Fort Meade, Fla.) continues to see his stock rise. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder now has offers from Florida, Georgia, Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Auburn, South Carolina, Texas Tech, Rutgers and Stanford. He was one of the standouts at the national Under Armour Combine on New Year's Day in Orlando. Although he came into that event with offers from the Gators and Bulldogs already, he's seen his stock rise significantly since that day.
Here come the Irish
One thing to note about first-year Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his staff is that they are casting a wider net than the previous staff in recruiting. At last count, the Irish had issued 68 scholarship offers, up from the previous year.
Now, this could be a positive or a negative thing, depending on who ultimately signs with Notre Dame, but most observers of the program believe that a broader, more aggressive approach was needed.
The Fighting Irish will hold a junior day March 20, and a big turnout is expected.
Baylor running back commit Brandon Williams (Brookshire, Texas/Royal) is scheduled to make an unofficial visit to Oklahoma this weekend. Williams is highly regarded by many who scout the state of Texas, including ESPN's Gerry Hamilton. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe) was a guest on ESPNU's "Recruiting Insider" last week and mentioned six programs: South Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Alabama, LSU and UCLA. The Gators, Gamecocks and Clemson Tigers are the strongest at this point. Clowney has already been named to the 2011 Under Armour All-America game. Texas A&M is hitting the state of Louisiana hard once again in the 2011 cycle. The Aggies signed three prospects out of the Pelican State in the 2010 class and have had good success there in recent years. One SEC assistant raved about the film of defensive lineman Marquis Wright (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) recently. The 6-foot-3, 265-pounder is definitely on the rise -- Florida State, Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina State, South Carolina and others have made offers, and Florida and Nebraska are close. It was reported earlier this week that former ESPNU 150 linebacker Arthur Brown, the older brother of Tennessee running back Bryce Brown, will transfer back to his home state of Kansas and attend Kansas State. It is a big pickup for the Wildcats and should be a good fit for Brown, who never did much at Miami, where he signed out of high school. Linebacker Antoine Pozniak has enrolled at The Hun School in Princeton, N.J., and will reclassify as a Class of 2011 prospect.
J.C. Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.