Florida coach Urban Meyer knew it was going to be a good day when he woke this morning.
“I slept through the night without a call from a nervous recruit,” he said. “That’s a first in my coaching career.”
Southern California coach Lane Kiffin didn’t find out just how superb his day would be until late, when the Trojans received a verbal committment from the nation’s No. 1 recruit Seantrel Henderson, considered the best prep offensive lineman in 30 years.
It finished off a rather remarkable recruiting process for the Trojans, who moved up all the way to No. 3 - right on the heels of No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Texas - in the day's final CBS College Sports Research Rankings. SEE RANKINGS THROUGH WEDNESDAY.
Not considered in those updates were verbal commitments late Wednesday from one the nation's top fullbacks Soma Vainuku (Eureka, Calif.) and elite junior college defensive end Marquis Jackson.
Not bad considering their most visible selling point – Pete Carroll – resigned less than a month ago.
Kiffin and staff took over just a couple days later, stabalized things and the way Henderson described it, not only kept previously committed solid, but convinced new recruits that the Trojans would be even better.
It helped sway last-day elite signees like defensive back Nickell Robey (Frostproof HS, Fla.), tight end Christian Thomas (Highland, Palmdale, Calif.), and wide receiver Markeith Ambles (Henry County, McDonough, Ga.), who decommitted from Kiffin’s previous school Tennessee to join two of the nation’s top receivers, Robert Woods and Kyle Prater.
That surprised many.
But probably not as much as Henderson (Cretin-Derham, St. Paul, Minn.), an athletic 6-foot-8, 330-pound tackle who most experts projected was going to Ohio State earlier in the week.
But Henderson lined up six caps at CBS College Sports studios in New York City for a live nationally-televised announcement and after teasing the audience for a spell, picked the USC cap.
“Coach (Lane), coach Monte (Kiffin), coach (Ed) Orgeron and coach (James) Cregg were all great,” Henderson said. “I think coach Cregg is going to come in and do some good things with the O-Line.”
According to reports, Henderson won't sign a letter of intent until after the university meets with a NCAA infractions committee on Feb. 19. Henderson hasn't yet qualified for school, also.
Even so, the Trojans were giddy. Even before Henderson made his verbal commitment, starting USC quarterback Matt Barkley was so happy with the recruiting class he tweeted this: “Three of the top TEs in the country and four 5-star receivers added to what I already have?? Feels like Christmas.”
It felt like that for many of the Pac-10 conference teams, particularly UCLA and Cal, which also made huge leaps.
Cal scored one of the biggest surprises of the day, gaining five-star defensive back Keenan Allen (Northern Guilford, Greensboro N.C.) over closer-to-home destinations Clemson and Penn State. That set the tone for the Bears, who moved from 20th to No. 13.
Southern California rival UCLA made an even bigger leap – from No. 17 to 8 thanks to a late flurry that included signatures from five-star defensive end
(David Douglas, Portland, Ore.) along with defensive back Dietrich Riley
(St. Francis, La Canada, Calif.) and athlete Anthony Jefferson
(Cathedral, Los Angeles), both four-star recruits.
Though the late flurries were impressive, no classes were better than those from Florida and Texas, which each collected nine of CBS/MaxPreps recruiting expert Tom Lemming’s top 100 players.
Both perennial powers didn’t gain much on Wednesday, but they didn’t lose much either from classes considered among among the best in both school’s rich history.
Florida’s top signees were defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (No. 11 recruit, Washington HS, Philadelphia), defensive end Ronald Powell (No. 13, Rancho Verde, Moreno Valley, Calif.), running back Matt Elam (No. 27, Dwyer, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) and defensive back Jonathan Dowling (No. 58, Southeast, Bradenton, Fla.).
Texas’ top three were defensive tackle Jackson Jeffcoat (No. 3, Plano West, Texas), defensive end Reggie Wilson (No. 18, Haltom, Texas) and linebacker Jordan Hicks (No. 22, Lakota West, West Chester, Ohio). Some believe this is Texas' finest recruiting class. SEE BLEACHER REPORT STORY.
Though Meyer wouldn’t quite call this the best recruiting he’s ever had, he was emphatic that this was the best collection of defensive linemen he's collected at once. Beyond Floyd and Powell, Meyer gushed over tackles , Dominique Easley (Curtis, Staten Island, N.Y.) and Leon Orr (Gulf, New Port Richey, Fla.).
“It’s easily the finest group we’ve ever had,” Meyer said. “Besides being good we picked up a lot of size.”
Others with big, well-rounded top-10 recruiting classes were in order: Oklahoma, LSU, Penn State, Notre Dame, UCLA, Alabama and Michigan.
Michigan moved into the No. 10 spot thanks to one of the day’s biggest surprises, the landing of Demar Dorsey (Boyd Anderson, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.), who unexpectedly decommitted from Florida just last week. Most figured he’d stay somewhere in Florida, but shocked most with his vow to the Wolverines.
Another huge surprise was defensive tackle Calvin Barnett’s flip from Oklahoma State to Arkansas. Barnett, from Washington HS (Tulsa, Okla.), is a 6-3, 330-pound load considered the No. 1 recruit in the state, one which no one expected him to leave.
Other notes from the day.
* The ultimate two steps forward, two steps back move came from four-star offensive lineman James Stone, (No. 87 recruit overall, Maplewood, Nashville, Tenn.) who decommitted from Tennessee when Kiffin left, but then on signing day decided that playing for the Volunteers was the best move for him after all.
* With Kiffin's late departure, Tennessee also pulled it together with the 12th best recruiting class that included talented wideout Da'rick Rogers (Calhoun, Ga.), the 79th top recruit overall.
* Florida State made a nice rally all the way to 16th with the help of a pair of recruits from of all places, Connecticut, a place the Seminoles don't normally roll. They were happy to land defensive tackler Bjoern Werner (6-4, 265), and tight end Will Tye (6-3, 230), both from the Salisbury School, in Salisbury, Conn. Werner, born in Germany, picked Florida State over Oregon and Cal
* There were some gigantic signing parties, the most massive at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., where – get this – 29 of 31 seniors signed college scholarships. Not all were Division I rides, obviously, but all 29 players are receiving some sort of money for tuition.
That’s twice as many signees ever for Stephenson, a perennial state power. The team went 12-1 last year, losing 22-21 in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals to Colquitt County.
New coach Corey Johnson sent up to 1,000 text messages a day to college coaches. He had cell phone numbers for coaches at more than 300 colleges and universities. SEE STORY.
* Another big party was at Mainland High (Daytona Beach), which signed 13 players to scholarship, giving the program more than 100 signees since 2000. Their prized recruit might be of all players, a kicker, Jonathan Linkenheimer, who signed a letter of intent to Purdue. SEE STORY.
* A more conventional signing-day celebration occurred at Olive Branch, Miss., where 6-foot-8, 330-pound tackle Damien Robinson inked to nearby Mississippi State as did teammate Eric Lawson (6-7, 330). Robinson is the No. 83 recruit overall, according to Lemming. Teammate Shalon Coleman, a tackle, signed to Auburn.
* Joining Henderson at CBS College Sports studios was
J.R. "Ego" Ferguson
, who surprised some by picking the school he originally had picked, LSU. After Henderson, Ferguson was the highest rated player to wait until Wednesday to sign. He's ranked No. 26 on Lemming's list. The 6-4, 260-pound defensive end from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., was absolutely dwarfed by Henderson, which probably doesn't happen very often.