With national signing day in the rearview mirror (except for Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Oregon), several programs are already off to fast starts in shaping their recruiting classes for 2009. Texas, USC and Ohio State continue their tradition of building early foundations in the spring with several key verbal commitments at this point.
It should come as no surprise as each school is the premier program in large states stocked deep with talented prospects, many of whom grow up aspiring to play for their home-state football team and require little enticement in terms of recruitment. These prominent programs also share the common bond of boasting widely attended camps where the majority of these early in-state pledges have attend for the last four years, giving them great familiarity with the program, campus and coaches. It's a reciprocal process as the coaching staffs of these elite schools have also had opportunity to watch these homegrown prospects develop over the years both on and off the field at their camps or down the road on Friday nights.
The final step before an early offer -- and usually a subsequent commit in these in-state cases -- can also occur on "junior days," which are very popular this time of year. This informal meeting/program information session between the coaching staff and a large group of prospects may appear just like a meet-and-greet on paper, but in reality, it is often the staff's first or final in-person view before an offer; an "eyeball test," in coach speak, of a prospect both physically and socially before they pull the early trigger.
So what may often appear like a premature or rash commitment this time of year has actually been a well-thought-out, formulated decision.
Here is a look at a few schools who have hit the recruiting trail fast in 2009 -- but remember it's only March and a marathon not a sprint.
Texas: Looks like Mack Brown will not need to buy many airline tickets once again as the talent is outstanding in Texas, and he has already swept up 15 prospects with a whopping 13 on the ESPN 150 Watch List. De-committing is not a word in Brown's vocabulary; expect this early talent to stick around until February. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis) committed shortly after signing day and possesses the size, arm strength and athleticism to develop into a great one.
USC: Pete Carroll also does not need to venture far to land some of nation's top talent, and when he does step out of state, it's usually because that 17 or 18 year-old possesses future first-round talent in his eyes. Ten commits, ten ESPN Watch List prospects all from California -- not too shabby. Signal caller Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) could be one of the more highly-touted prospects to commit during Pete Carroll's tenure.
OSU: Back-to-back BCS National Championship game losses have not tarnished the Buckeyes' reputation around Ohio, at least from a recruiting perspective. The collective talent of its eight total commits does not appear overly strong from the film we have viewed at this point, but all are ESPN 150 Watch List prospects with seven residing in-state. Corner C.J. Barnett (Clayton, Ohio/Northmont) blends coveted size and speed at the position.
LSU: Riding the wave of its BCS National Championship win, the Tigers boast verbals from seven prospects, including six 150 Watch List candidates. Les Miles went out of state for the majority; athlete Russell Shepard (Houston/Cypress Ridge) could be one the program's biggest recruits ever out of the state of Texas.
Florida State: With six ESPN 150 Watch List prospects already committed, Bobby Bowden's future uncertainty is not deterring any 2009 prospects to this point; the coach labeled as the closer is starting out strong like he did in 2008. The Seminoles continue to do well in the Tallahassee area; defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel (Greenville, Fla./Madison County) may be a tad small but could develop into a disruptive playmaker in the ACC.
Georgia: A top-five class from a year ago, the Bulldogs are starting strong with four out of their five pledges sitting on the ESPN 150 Watch List. Georgia continues to add great depth to the tailback position with a verbal from Washaun Ealey (Twin City, Ga./ECI), the state's most decorated player after rushing for 2,982 yards and a Georgia record 58 touchdowns.
North Carolina: Butch Davis appears to have the Tar Heels bouncing back on the recruiting trail after a substandard class in '08. He has closed well down the stretch in recent years but is off to a fast start in '09 with 10 committed prospects, seven in-state and five on the 150 Watch List.
Miami (FL): The Canes and Randy Shannon look to build off ESPN's No. 1 recruiting class in '08. Four total prospects, including three on the Watch List, comprise the class so far. Top running back prospect Bryce Brown (Wichita, Kan./East) will join his older brother Arthur, ESPN's top-rated linebacker prospect from a year ago who signed with Miami.
Huge pickup for TCU
Casey Pachall (Brownwood, Texas) may not have regularly donned a Horned Frogs' hat as a kid, but the Texas native quickly became a big fan when TCU started recruiting him this year. Pachall, an ESPN 150 Watch List quarterback with the great size and physical tools needed to succeed at the next level, surprised many with his commitment to TCU over more traditional programs like Notre Dame last weekend. The 6-foot-4 gunslinger was impressed with the effort set forth by the Horned Frogs' staff when we caught up with him on Thursday night.
"To be honest, they were never a real favorite growing up in Texas but really recruited me hard, really hard. Coach Patterson and my area recruiting coordinator both came to my school recently and that really made an impact on me," explained Pachall.
"For the head coach to take that amount of time out of his busy day just to recruit me meant a lot," Pachall continued.
Pachall said his commitment to TCU is solid, but we expect many more coaches to visit Brownwood High School this spring. This kid possesses all the physical and mental intangibles needed to develop into a productive college quarterback, and his upside is exciting. The modest Pachall did admit he was not born with the live arm and the quick release we currently see on film and was quick to give recognition.
"I threw very side-armed as a freshman, but my high school coaches worked hard to fix it and squeezed me into extra sessions with a quarterback coach the past few summers."
Pachall still needs a bit of polish, but his ability to beat you with both his arm and legs is rare and highly coveted. Keep an eye out for this kid as his stock should continue to soar.
Sunshine State sleepers
Word is spreading fast, very fast, on Florida running backs Jaamal Berry (Miami/Palmetto) and Trent Richardson (Pensacola, Fla./Escambia). Both ESPN 150 Watch List backs currently have their evaluations posted in Recruit Tracker, and it appears college recruiters across the country are starting to become enamored with the same impressive running traits we witnessed on their junior game films.
"Jaamal's tapes went out and now every week there seems to a few big offers; coaches are seeing he can do it all as a runner," said Palmetto head coach Larry Coffey.
This week, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound back picked up an offer from Auburn adding to a soaring list of schools including Florida and LSU. Auburn has a reputation for only offering special backs out of state, and Berry is indeed special with his rare burst through the hole and speed in the second level.
Richardson might not be as sudden through traffic but possesses a bit more bulk and power as runner.
"Trent is a very special player and a great kid on top of it," Escambia coach Jimmy Nichols told us Thursday.
With recent offers from Florida State and Texas, word is traveling fast and wide on the 205-pound Richardson. The Longhorns rarely have to look outside the state for top prospects, particularly for players to carry the rock, a sign of how special this back out of Escambia may actually be.
The official nominations for the 2009 Under Armour All-America game are already out; catch an early peek next week for the first round of accepted invites.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level. Tucker has served as a recruiting coordinator for two nationally ranked Division II colleges. Most recently, he was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator for Merrimack College, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Division II playoffs.