NCAA Football

Texas A&M Recruiting: Meet the Aggies' 2015 Class

The Texas A&M football coaches signed the No. 12 class in the country on February 4. This signing class will help the Aggies compete for an SEC title in 2015. 

The focus for this class was clear from the beginning. The Aggies needed to add more talent on the defensive side of the ball in order to help shore up a defense that ranked last in the SEC in 2014. 

When you play in the SEC, you have to be strong on the lines. This class will help add depth to the offensive line while giving an immediate boost in talent to the defensive line. 

The Aggies added impact players on both sides of the ball, but the defensive side of the ball is where most of the members of the 2015 class will make the biggest impact. 

 

The Defense

The Aggies signed one of the highest ranked players in the state when defensive tackle Daylon Mack picked Texas A&M on national television. Mack is a 6'1", 330-pound 5-star defensive lineman from Gladewater, Texas, and the No. 18 overall recruit in the country.

He will immediately step into the rotation at nose guard. Mack will play for the Aggies on September 5 when they open the season against Arizona State in Houston. 

Mack showed off his tremendous potential at the Under Armour All-America Game, where he was named MVP. He had 37 tackles for loss and five sacks and scored 12 touchdowns at running back as a senior in high school. Mack should provide the Aggies with a rock at the point of attack and help fortify the Aggies' run defense. 

The Aggies had a lot of issues at the linebacker position in 2014. They tried to address some of those issues by signing five linebackers in the class. Aggies fans should expect to see Richard Moore and Dwain Thomas contribute immediately. Both freshmen linebackers have tremendous instincts and have displayed the ability to play off blocks and find the football. 

The 2013 Aggies defense featured some of the worst safety play in the country. Coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff continued to add depth at that position. Rising sophomores Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson should be the starters at safety in 2015. 

The Aggies added Larry Pryor, Justin Dunning and Justin Evans at the position. Evans is a junior college transfer who enrolled at A&M in January and will compete for a starting job in 2015. 

Dunning is a 6'3", 204-pound athlete who may eventually grow into a linebacker. He has tremendous speed and could be the kind of big safety that has come to define the SEC. 

The Aggies also added two cornerbacks in Roney Elam and Deshawn Capers-Smith. Elam is a 6'3", 170-pound athlete who should help the Aggies cover the taller receivers in the SEC. 

 

The Offense

The most important recruit in the Aggies' class is quarterback Kyler Murray. The 5-star athlete from Allen, Texas, never lost a high school game and won three consecutive state titles in the biggest classification in Texas.

Murray is a dynamic playmaker who was ranked as the No. 30 overall recruit in the country. He passed for 4,713 yards with 54 touchdowns and rushed for 1,495 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior.

The Aggies added a lot of speed in the offensive backfield with running backs Kendall Bussey and Jay Bradford. Bussey ran the 100 meters in 10.33 seconds as a junior. Bradford won the 3A state title in the 100 and long jump in 2013 when he turned in a time of 10.49 and a leap of 23'11.5".

The Aggies added three wide receivers and a tight end to the team. Junior college transfer Damion Ratley enrolled in January and will participate in spring practice. The 6'1", 185-pound receiver caught 20 touchdown passes at Blinn Junior College in 2014. 

Christian Kirk is ranked the highest of any receiver recruit in the class. The 5'11", 200-pound athlete was ranked as the No. 41 overall recruit in the country. He scored 44 total touchdowns in 2014. Kirk enrolled at A&M in January and will participate in spring practice.  

Jordan Davis is a 6'5", 255-pound tight end recruit from Clear Lake High School near Houston, Texas. He enrolled in January and will give the Aggies a receiving option at the position that has not been present since Sumlin took over the program in 2012. 

The Aggies signed four offensive linemen in the 2015 class. The best of the bunch is offensive tackle Keaton Sutherland from Flower Mound, Texas. Sutherland enrolled early and will compete for the second-team spot at right tackle in 2015. He is a 4-star prospect who is ranked as the No. 67 overall recruit in the country. 

Aggies fans should keep an eye on Erik McCoy. The 3-star prospect was recruited by former Aggies offensive line coach B.J. Anderson to play center. He may move over to guard in Dave Christensen's system. McCoy excels at getting to the second level and blocking linebackers and defensive backs. He could be the steal of the class. 

 

SEC Ready

Sumlin and his staff added a number of players in the 2015 class who should help the Aggies immediately. Ratley, Kirk and Davis will see playing time on offense in 2015. 

Aggies fans should expect to see Moore, Thomas, Dunning, Mack, Capers-Smith and Pryor to help on defense and in special teams in 2015. Recruits like Dunning and Mack are physically ready to play in the SEC right now. 

This is a very good class that addressed some major needs on the team. In signing so many linebackers and safeties, the Aggies ensured they will have depth there for years to come. 

Sumlin continues to add skill-position talent to one of the deepest rosters in the country when it comes to offensive playmakers. This class will help the Aggies compete for SEC titles and a spot in the College Football Playoff for years to come. 

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Florida State Football Recruiting: Meet the Seminoles' 2015 Class

For the most part, national signing day 2015 was a quiet one for the Florida State football program. But that’s not a bad thing.

Before fax machines across the country even started buzzing Wednesday, FSU already had nearly half of its recruiting class on campus taking classes, learning the playbook and working out in the weight room.

With 5-star prospects Derwin James, George Campbell and Josh Sweat highlighting an impressive group of eight early enrollees, the Seminoles stood an excellent chance to finish with a top-rated class if they could hang on to their previously committed recruits. Anything beyond that would simply be icing on the garnet-and-gold-colored cake.

When the dust settled, the ‘Noles missed out on 5-star defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. and 4-star defensive end Shelton Johnson, but they countered by adding previously uncommitted 4-star defensive back Marcus Lewis from Washington, D.C.

FSU’s efforts were enough to garner a No. 3-rated recruiting class, according to Bleacher Report.

 

FSU Signed Arguably the Nation’s Top Wide Receiver and Defensive Back Classes

Campbell and 4-star playmaker Da'Vante Phillips will compete in spring practice as early enrollees, and Florida State added big-bodied 4-star Auden Tate and speedy 3-star Nyqwan Murray on national signing day.

This group of wide receivers is impressive, not just because of its collective 4-star average. This quartet is special because each pass-catcher brings a different skill that defines his game to Tallahassee.

Campbell boasts an impressive catch radius, making him a threat to beat a defender for any ball thrown his way, while Phillips brings a unique toughness to the position. FSU coaches are hoping that Tate will use his massive 6'5", 215-pound frame with the same success that made former wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin so good, and Murray’s incredible balance makes him a dangerous player in the slot.

“What I like about the whole class,” FSU wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey said, “is that it’s all football players.”

Dawsey has several new weapons at his disposal, and the same is true for FSU defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Charles Kelly.

Florida State inked five highly touted defensive backs as part of this class, helping usher in a new era in the defensive backfield following the early NFL departures by P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby.

James is the superstar of the class. The No. 1-rated safety in the nation is a proven playmaker, boasting cornerback-like coverage skills and linebacker-like hitting ability. FSU struggled in the back end of its secondary in 2014, and James could force his way into the lineup right away if he’s as-advertised during spring and fall practices.

In Tarvarus McFadden, the Seminoles signed the new breed of cornerback. The 6’2”, 198-pound cornerback can match up with big wide receivers but has the agility and hips to play man-to-man against smaller pass-catchers. Calvin Brewton and A.J. Westbrook are both versatile defenders with good speed and coverage skills. Lewis could play all over the defensive secondary, much like Jalen Ramsey currently does for FSU.

“All of them can run,” Kelly said. “... All of these defensive backs have great ball skills. That’s one of the most critical things you can have at this position.”

 

FSU Goes Light in the Trenches

Well, perhaps that’s a poor choice of words. Figuratively, the ‘Noles signed a huge class of offensive and defensive linemen. Literally, the class isn’t very big at all.

A season after loading up with a combined 15 offensive and defensive linemen signed as part of the 2014 class, this year’s group features just six new ‘Noles who will play with their hand in the dirt. Because the Seminoles signed so many linemen a year ago, their need to bring in a big class in 2015 wasn’t pressing. Instead, quality over quantity defines this group.

Sweat is the star of the crew and would have very likely been the No. 1-rated recruit in the country had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury during his senior season of high school. Sweat will benefit from receiving treatment from the FSU Athletics medical staff as he prepares for fall camp later this year. 

“Critical,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said, when asked about the importance of getting Sweat into school early from a rehabilitation standpoint. “Because we’ve done this so many times, and the regiment and having that right at your fingertips is very critical. And was one of the reasons I was so tickled to death that we could get him here.”

The Seminoles would have liked to ink Beckner and Johnson to infuse even more playmaking depth on the defensive line, but Taylor is a talented defensive tackle who could push for playing time.

On the offensive line, Cole Minshew may be one of the most underrated recruits in the country, and the 3-star is expected to potentially make a move on the depth right away this fall. Ethan Frith was actually part of the 2014 class but delayed his enrollment until this year so he could recover from an injury. FSU also signed David Robbins and the raw but talented Abdul Bello to round out the class.

“Two tackles and two guards in that group that are very, very talented,” Fisher said.

 

Odds and Ends

*Florida State’s ability to hang on to Deondre Francois and not let him flip to Florida was huge. After losing former verbal commitment Kai Locksley to Texas Tuesday, FSU still being able to reload at quarterback with Francois and Johnson is important.

With Jameis Winston off to the NFL, the Seminoles face the reality of finding his replacement. And while it may seem like rising redshirt junior Sean Maguire should be penciled in as the new starter because he is the only veteran signal-caller on the roster, that’s not true. Francois, Johnson and redshirt freshman JJ Cosentino will each be given equal opportunity to earn the starting job.

*There isn’t a starting job at tailback open with star Dalvin Cook set to return after a breakout freshman season, but Patrick will get his chance in the rotation this spring. Mario Pender has superstar potential but has struggled to stay on the field during his up-and-down career, and fellow returnees Ryan Green and Jay Vickers are both unproven.

Patrick has the chance to be special and could immediately provide the thunder to Cook’s lightning in the backfield.

*It’s hard to fault them because of some unforeseen offseason circumstances—leading tackler Reggie Northrup having to miss extended time following an injury he suffered in the Rose Bowl and E.J. Levenberry’s decision to transfer—but FSU could have used more than two linebackers in this class.

Granted, both Sh'mar Kilby-Lane and Lorenzo Phillips are talented—and Phillips could step into a starting role as a junior-college signee—but the Seminoles need bodies at linebacker. A class of at least four linebackers would have helped replenish depth.

It should be noted that FSU had a year-long verbal commitment from 3-star linebacker Brian Bell. But the school recently revoked Bell's scholarship, according to a statement by high school coach Randy McPherson (h/t The Valdosta Daily Times), and he did not sign with FSU Wednesday.

*Nick O’Leary is headed to the NFL, so the gaping hole at tight end for FSU will be filled by an unproven youngster. Returners Jeremy Kerr, Mavin Saunders and Ryan Izzo have the inside track for the starting job, but 3-star signee Jalen Wilkerson isn’t that far behind on the learning curve.

 

Brandon Mellor is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of Seminoles.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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USC Football Recruiting: Meet the Trojans' 2015 Class

The 2015 recruiting season could not have gone much better for USC football head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff. 

Depending on the outlet, they landed either the No. 1- or No. 2-ranked class in the nation, a program best since 2007. Rivals.com tabbed the Trojans top, while 247Sports' composite rankings had USC second behind perennial recruiting heavyweight Alabama. 

One or two, USC's success compiling this year's recruiting is obviously a huge win in the short term and a positive indicator of where the program is headed with NCAA sanctions no longer playing a role. 

"It is great to be able to sign a full class this year," Sarkisian said of USC in his signing-day press conference, via USCTrojans.com. "Had this been last year, many of the players we signed today would have had to go somewhere else."

No need to worry about USC losing out on any of its top targets. In the days leading up to and including signing day, the Trojans went on a frenzied run, pulling in one priority prospect after another. 

 

5-Star Finish 

Only Alabama, with six, signed more 5-star prospects than USC's four. Florida State matched USC. 

Offensive lineman Chuma Edoga was in the fold for several months and enrolled at USC for the current semester. Otherwise, the rest of the Trojans' 5-star recruits all committed either on national signing day or just before. 

Linebacker Osa Masina was the first, making his declaration on Jan. 23. Defensive tackle Rasheem Green and cornerback Iman Marshall followed on signing day to cap USC's recruiting season with a bang. 

This has become something of a signature for Sarkisian. He finished the 2014 signing class, his first at USC, by landing 5-star prospects Adoree' Jackson and John "JuJu" Smith on national signing day. 

Sarkisian's 2012 class, his best at Washington, made its biggest splash in the final push with the addition of Shaq Thompson. 

 

Offensive Standouts 

With Nelson Agholor, the team's leading pass-catcher each of the last two seasons, and big-play threat George Farmer both bound for the NFL draft, Sarkisian had a pressing need for impact wide receivers. 

Junior college transfer De'Quan Hampton has that kind of potential. At 6'4", 220 pounds, the 4-star prospect will be one of the biggest bodies in the Trojans' wide receiving corps. 

Hampton has the potential to be a possession-receiving complement to 2014 breakout star Smith. 

USC is in even more desperate need at running back, losing its top ball-carrier and one of only two scholarship players at the position from 2014, Javorius "Buck" Allen. 

Ronald Jones II is the most likely addition to join Justin Davis and Tre Madden in the backfield rotation.

Meanwhile, quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Ricky Town are unlikely to see any game snaps in 2015, but their participation in practices behind returning starter Cody Kessler and talented 2013 signee Max Browne will begin shaping the future of USC's offense. 

And all those skill-position players can look forward to years of strong offensive line play ahead of them. USC did not need much in the way of offensive line support, coming off a campaign in which three true freshmen started up front. 

But Edoga is a great addition to the Trojans' young line. 

 

Defensive Standouts 

Marshall, Green and Masina highlight a star-studded collection of defensive signees, with each of the 5-star prospects serving as a cornerstone for a particular unit. 

Green is the key addition on the line, which also adds 4-star tackle Jacob Daniel. Daniel could be an immediate impact player up front for the Trojans in 2015. 

Masina is the highest rated of a crop of linebackers that might be the best in the nation. Consider the talent joining him: any one of 4-stars Porter Gustin, John Houston and Cameron Smith could step into the lineup right away, but all have high ceilings for their careers. 

USC featured one of the youngest secondaries in the nation last season, playing true freshmen Jackson, John Plattenburg and Jonathan Lockett, redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins and sophomore Leon McQuay III. 

That group gets another infusion of talented youth this year, starting with Marshall but hardly stopping there. Safety Marvell Tell might have the best opportunity to break into the starting rotation immediately, while dynamic playmakers Isaiah Langley and Ykili Ross will vie for roles at cornerback. 

 

The Complete Class 

Below is the complete USC recruiting class for 2015. The six early enrollees who will participate in spring practices are highlighted. 

 

Recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com composite scores unless otherwise cited. 

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USC Football Recruiting: Meet the Trojans' 2015 Class

The 2015 recruiting season could not have gone much better for USC football head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff. Depending on the outlet, they landed either the No. 1- or No...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Can Steve Sarkisian Avoid Lane Kiffin Curse, Turn Recruiting Wins into Titles?

Alabama technically finished signing day with the No. 1 class, according to 247Sports, but it was USC that won the day. 

The Trojans already had a top-five class to begin with but closed as well as anyone on Wednesday. Among the big names to sign with USC were 5-star cornerback Iman Marshall, 5-star defensive tackle Rasheem Green and 4-star linebacker John Houston

Whether the Trojans finished No. 1 or No. 2, it matters little. USC just stockpiled major talent, especially on defense, where losses from last year's team are heaviest. Head coach Steve Sarkisian has recruiting chops, that's for sure. Since arriving at USC in December of 2013, he's landed two top-10 classes. 

But Sarkisian's predecessor, Lane Kiffin, was an ace recruiter as well. And he lasted three years and some change. 

What Kiffin could never do with the Trojans was consistently manage a game as a head coach. In three-plus seasons at USC, Kiffin compiled a 28-15 record. That's decent on paper but not what USC was looking for. 

(*Kiffin was fired after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State.)

Similarly, Sarkisian flexed his recruiting muscles when he was the head coach at Washington. From 2010-13, the Huskies finished with a top-25 class every single year. The problem, however, was that Washington never won more than eight games in a season under Sarkisian. 

Granted, Sarkisian inherited a terrible program at Washington, which went winless in 2008 and won 12 games in the previous five seasons before his arrival. Plus, the Huskies played in the more top-heavy Pac-12 North. 

All the same, Sarkisian has to show that he's different from Kiffin, who landed a lot of big-time recruits but lost even bigger games. 

2014, Sarkisian's first year, didn't help that cause. The Trojans went 9-4—one win better than Kiffin's first season—and lost in just about every imaginable fashion. USC went 3-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less, were blown out by crosstown rival UCLA and twice gave up fourth-quarter leads in the final seconds of a game. 

Finishing is the theme for Sarkisian's team in 2015 and beyond. That will be what defines his tenure at USC.

So much of the Trojans' situation has been made about reduced scholarship numbers in the post-Reggie Bush sanctions from the NCAA. According to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, USC opened the '14 season with 67 scholarship players (Division I allows 85-man scholarship rosters). That number should rise for the '15 season, per Bryan Fisher of NFL.com. 

Now that USC is close to full strength, will Sarkisian be able to turn the corner? According to Klein, reduced scholarship numbers haven't been as big of a deal as you'd think: 

The Trojans have used an average of 51 players each game — three fewer than their opponents. The most was 61 in the opener against Fresno State, the fewest 45 against Stanford. An average of about 43 recruited scholarship players have played each game.

In 2009, the last season before she NCAA imposed sanctions, USC used an average of about 56 players each game, about 49 of them recruited scholarship players. The Trojans finished 9-4 in Pete Carroll's final season as coach.

The numbers are fairly similar, but is the difference enough to impact the game? Perhaps in some respects. USC was painfully thin at cornerback last year. But when depth is described as a concern, it's typically most visible in practice.  

By Sarkisian's own admission, he has to do a better job in close- and late-game management. He's never used scholarship numbers as an excuse. 

"In my heart of hearts, I think we should be a one-loss football team right now," Sarkisian told Klein last year. "We didn't finish a couple games. If we do, we're 8-1."

Roster depth isn't as big of an issue as it's made out to be. Talent certainly isn't the issue. The reality is Kiffin wasn't the coach to pick up where Pete Carroll left off, and the jury is still out over whether Sarkisian is that guy. 

Sarkisian doesn't have to break the narrative that scholarship numbers are holding USC back. He has to break the narrative that his in-game decisions are. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.

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Can Steve Sarkisian Avoid Lane Kiffin Curse, Turn Recruiting Wins into Titles?

Alabama technically finished signing day with the No. 1 class, according to 247Sports , but it was USC that won the day. The Trojans already had a top-five class to begin with but closed as well as anyone on Wednesday...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

2016 College Football Playoff Semifinal Date Will Not Change Despite Request

After the success of the 2014 College Football Playoff tournament, the management committee has decided to maintain the same schedule for 2015.

According to ESPN.com's Heather Dinich, the 2015 CFP semifinals will be held on New Year's Eve despite ESPN's request to move them to Jan. 2, 2016. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was among the organizers who feel as though New Year's Eve is the best fit.

"We reviewed it and rejected it," Scott said. "We like the concept that we've developed for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Going forward we think that's the right model for college football."

While the CFP committee is keen on the current setup, not everyone agrees. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports believes ESPN's proposal made far more sense:

The overriding assumption is that viewership would likely be larger on Jan. 2 since many potential viewers have other plans on New Year's Eve. At the same time, staging the semifinals on New Year's Eve on a yearly basis can become something of a signature for the CFP.

Regardless of the opposition, both the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl will be contested on Dec. 31, 2015.

Even if that doesn't present an ideal scenario for ESPN and part of the viewing audience, the enormity of the event ensures that the games will reel in huge ratings regardless.

Ultimately, the CFP committee seems to feel as though the branding advantages of New Year's Eve semifinal games outweighs what may only be a negligible loss in viewership.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Roquan Smith's Change of Heart Shouldn't Overshadow UCLA's Recruiting Dominance

It looks as though UCLA may ultimately miss out on highly touted linebacker recruit Roquan Smith, but the Bruins' impressive class should be celebrated regardless of his ultimate decision.

According to ESPN College Football on Twitter, Smith announced his intention to play for UCLA on national signing day:

Smith is rated a 4-star prospect by 247Sports, and he ranks as the No. 47 overall prospect in the 2015 class as well as the No. 5 outside linebacker. Plucking him from the state of Georgia appeared to be a major coup for the Bruins, but things unexpectedly changed.

Rather than signing his letter of intent, Smith decided to reopen his recruitment, per Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

According to Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News, Smith's decision to commit to UCLA was due largely to his relationship with defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich:

That relationship also ultimately led to Smith having a change of heart. Per Alex Marvez of Fox Sports, the Atlanta Falcons have reportedly hired Ulbrich as their new linebackers coach.

Although that move has yet to become official, the possibility of it happening was enough to sway Smith. According to Carvell, Smith's head coach at Macon County High School, Larry Harold, revealed that his player is now considering three schools in addition to UCLA.

He's going to open things up with his recruiting. It's pretty much UGA, Michigan, and Texas A&M—and UCLA is still in it. Coach Ulbrich told him that he hasn't signed anything yet (with the Falcons), and that he hasn't made a decision. So I think they are still in it as well. We're going to sit back for a couple of days and see how this thing plays out.

Assuming Ulbrich does leave in favor of the Falcons, that obviously doesn't bode well for the Bruins' chances of securing Smith. Even so, there is plenty for UCLA football fans to be excited about.

As seen in this graphic, courtesy of ESPN College GameDay on Twitter, the Bruins' 2015 recruiting class is absolutely stacked regardless of Smith's status:

National signing day was especially strong for UCLA, as it garnered several high-profile commitments. Per Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com, running back Soso Jamabo, tight end Chris Clark and wide receiver Cordell Broadus were among their biggest gets.

Jamabo is a 5-star prospect and the No. 2 running back in the class of 2015, according to 247Sports. As pointed out by Greg Biggins of Scout.com, Jamabo is an elite recruit with the versatility to hurt opponents in a number of different ways:

Clark also rates a 4-star prospect and is the No. 2 tight end in the nation, per 247Sports. Clark was a great addition for the Bruins as they lured him in from the state of Connecticut. Also, UCLA managed to beat out Michigan and new head coach Jim Harbaugh, according to Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk:

UCLA's biggest commitment of the day from a name recognition standpoint was Broadus, who is the son of rapper Snoop Dogg. He also happens to be a 4-star prospect and the No. 26 wide receiver in the class, per 247Sports. Perhaps above all else, nabbing Broadus was significant since he has ties to rival USC, according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports:

Smith certainly would have had the opportunity to be a great player at UCLA, but there are times when prized recruits simply slip away.

Rather than focusing on that negative, the Bruins and their supporters should instead celebrate the fact that they put together one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.

If the bulk of those players live up to their potential, then UCLA will be in contention for Pac-12 and national titles for a long time to come.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Roquan Smith's Change of Heart Shouldn't Overshadow UCLA's Recruiting Dominance

It looks as though UCLA may ultimately miss out on highly touted linebacker recruit Roquan Smith, but the Bruins' impressive class should be celebrated regardless of his ultimate decision...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

National Signing Day 2015: Under-the-Radar Commitments to Watch

There are only so many 5-star prospects to go around on national signing day, and not every team can be Alabama. Plenty of teams across the country will rely on under-the-radar commitments to deliver over the course of the next four years.

Look no further than the NFL’s best players to find examples of recruits who outperformed their rankings.

MVP Aaron Rodgers went to junior college before attending California, while J.J. Watt was a 2-star prospect who gave up a potential scholarship at Central Michigan to walk on at Wisconsin. The rest is history for both superstars.

So who will be the hidden gems from the class of 2015? Read on for a couple of them.

 

Tristan Nickelson, Texas

Tristan Nickelson is a 2-star prospect and the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, but his ceiling is very high because of his physical ability alone. He is a monster of a player at 6’8.5” and 319 pounds and should be able to physically overwhelm opponents right away.

Nickelson is a junior college prospect, so he already has some experience beyond the high school level. That should help him find a role at Texas rather quickly.

Nickelson commented on his recruitment, via Jeff Howe of 247Sports:

Texas is a school I grew up cheering for and always dreamed about going to. I wasn't exactly sure it was going to go down with them, so when they offered it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn't pass up. They told me they need help [at offensive line] and that I was one of the guys they want to bring in. They brought be down [after the game] to meet with Coach Strong and that's when they made everything official.

Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News noted that Texas “desperately needed depth and experience” on an offensive line that simply couldn’t handle the top defenses the Longhorns faced this season. That should be music to Nickelson’s ears if he hopes to play right away because he fills a glaring need.

Nickelson enrolled in the spring, so he is already picking up critical experience with his future teammates. It’s all about the ceiling with Nickelson, which is much higher than it would be for most 2-star players based on his size, and the more experience he picks up before the season, the higher it goes.

It is impossible to talk about Nickelson without mentioning that size, which will help him steamroll opposing defensive linemen and create running lanes for Longhorns backs and playmakers. Texas was a disaster at times on offense last season, and the line will be the core of any rebuilding efforts on that side of the ball.

Landing a player like Nickelson is a good place to start.

 

Ugo Amadi, Oregon 

Ugo Amadi is a 3-star prospect and the No. 39 cornerback in the country, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. Jen Beyrle of The Oregonian pointed out that Oregon landed Amadi over some SEC competition:

Amadi checks in at 5’10” and 180 pounds, so he doesn’t exactly bring prototypical size to the table. However, his best trait is his athleticism, which helps him cover ground quickly and close on receivers while the ball is in the air. That instinctive ability will help Amadi keep receivers in check in the Pac-12 as quickly as next season.

Perhaps more importantly considering his choice to play for the Ducks, Amadi has the versatility to play a number of positions.

He mixed it up as a wildcat quarterback, wide receiver and kick returner at the high school level, and that athleticism will help him fit right in at Oregon. After all, you would be hard-pressed to find a roster with more speed from top to bottom than this one.

The ceiling on Amadi is higher than it is for a number of 3-star players because there is an opportunity to step in right away and play for a team that was one win away from a national championship. Cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill are both gone, and there is a giant need at the position for the Ducks. 

Sometimes all it takes is an opportunity, and Oregon represents exactly that. Now Amadi has to come through on that chance.

 

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Texas Football Recruiting: Meet the Longhorns' 2015 Class

It was a wild race to the national signing day finish line as the Texas Longhorns inked the No. 12 signing class in the nation.

Second-year head coach Charlie Strong had a rocky start on the recruiting front and struggled to secure early commitments from some of the nation's elite talent. The Longhorns had 10 verbal commitments following the 6-6 regular season record and looked to be heading towards another lackluster signing class.

But Strong and his staff proved their willingness to battle it out until the end and finished with the No. 1 signing class in the Big 12.

"We knew we were not going to back down. We took it all the way up to the last day," Strong said Wednesday. "It was a total team effort for everyone involved and it's so great to see the way we ended with this class. The recruiting process always starts early, but you have to remember that signing day is the first Wednesday in February, so you just have to battle until then."

 

The Marquee Recruit Changed the Game

Recruiting cannot be an easy job when your team is coming off a losing season. It is even more difficult when the program you are trying to sell has not finished in the Top 25 since these prospects were in grade school.

The Longhorns needed to land a big-name recruit in the months leading up to national signing day to help gain momentum on the recruiting trail. Strong just so happened to get his wish when Malik Jefferson, the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country, announced his pledge to Texas.

The 5-star's commitment gave Texas the push it needed to sign other highly touted prospects, which ultimately led to the Longhorns finishing with one of the top 15 recruiting classes in the country.

"Anytime you're in the recruiting process, there has got to be a marquee player and that was Malik Jefferson for us," Strong said. "He jump-started the program when he got on board. He was able to sell the program. There were recruits who were sitting on the fence, and then when they saw Malik jump on board, some of them followed."

Jefferson is the first 5-star player Texas has signed since 2012. He is one of the most well-recognized names in his class but is far from the only athlete who has the chance to make a difference on the field in the coming years.

 

Best Linebackers in 2015?

Strong is often recognized as one of the best defensive minds in college football. He believes the only way to experience a championship level of success is to have a stout defense.

13 of the 29 Texas signees are on the defensive side of the ball, and many of these athletes have an opportunity to see the field early in their careers.

Of all of the position needs Texas fulfilled, the Longhorns signed arguably one of the best linebacker groups in 2015. Jefferson's commitment may overshadow some of the other linebackers in this class, but it does not mean he is their only talented linebacker heading into next season.

One of the more underrated players is 4-star Cecil Cherry. The Lakeland, Florida native is extremely athletic, plays with ferocity and is not afraid to knock people senseless on the field. Cherry fits the mold of the ideal player Strong wants on his defense and could surprise a lot of people when he puts on his Texas jersey.

4-star Anthony Wheeler is a big-bodied linebacker who has the versatility to play both on the inside and outside. Wheeler chose Texas over Alabama, Ole Miss, Michigan and many others.

Another talented linebacker—one who offers a different skill set than the others—is Cameron Townsend. The 6'1", 206-pound athlete adds speed to the position and has the ability to drop in coverage and play nickel. 

Texas desperately needed to add talent to the linebacker position. The Longhorns will look to replace veterans Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond and there's a good possibility these youngsters could fill the void at linebacker.

 

A Flipping Good Class

Wednesday wrapped up one of the more exciting recruiting seasons in recent Texas football history. And a lot of the excitement revolved around the staff's ability to flip recruits.

Strong and Co. managed to convince nine prospects to flip from their commitments to other schools and sign with Texas. The Longhorns had successfully changed the minds of six prospects heading into the week of national signing day, and the flipping party continued through Wednesday morning.

Quarterback Kai Locksley was the first flip of the week. The 4-star athlete committed to Florida State last July, but that did not stop the coaching staff from continuing to recruit the dual-threat quarterback.

An in-home visit with the coaches sealed the deal for Texas, and Locksley announced his decision to decommit from the Seminoles and sign with the Longhorns Monday evening.

As the fax machines warmed up early Wednesday morning, a buzz began to circulate that Strong was not finished with some remaining targets that were verbally committed to other universities.

The first flip of the day came when 3-star defensive back P.J. Locke, who had been committed to Oregon since last July, announced his pledge to the Longhorns. What's interesting about Locke's decision to sign with Texas is the limited amount of time it took the Longhorns to get in the mix.

Texas extended an offer to Locke Sunday, to which he initially declined. But after speaking with people close to him, the Beaumont, Texas athlete, who had offers from 35 schools across the country, changed his mind.

Locke was one of two signing-day flips for the Longhorns. The second was 3-star wide receiver Ryan Newsome.

Texas was one of two programs in consideration for the speedy athlete. But on Jan. 23, he announced his commitment to UCLA.

Newsome looked incredibly torn when he made his decision to play for the Bruins. He was visibly upset and extremely emotional, even as he put on the UCLA cap. It was apparent the wide receiver was not 100 percent solid in his decision, so the Texas staff continued to recruit him.

Strong waited a few days before he re-opened the lines of communication with Newsome and ultimately convinced the speedster to sign his letter of intent to play for the Longhorns.

"Sometimes we forget that they're [recruits] 17 and 18 [years old]. And if they make a decision, you have to keep battling for them and sell your program and sell what you have. That's what our staff did," Strong said of his success flipping committed players. 

"Our staff was relentless. We had guys who just kept going and going, and they were not going to take no for an answer. You can't take no for an answer until the fax comes across your desk or it goes somewhere else. You can't take no. You just have to keep battling."

 

Adding Playmakers on Offense

The Texas offense was kryptonite to the Longhorns' success in 2014. Texas lacked big-play guys and had zero depth at the quarterback position.

The obvious need for the Longhorns continues to be under center. Texas has not had competition at the quarterback position for a number of years, which is why adding Locksley to the mix is huge for the Longhorns.

But a quarterback can only be so good if he doesn't have weapons around him. Strong made it a point to find talented skill players to help rebuild the struggling Texas offense.

Newsome is one of the fastest athletes Texas signed and has the potential to be that big-play wide receiver the Longhorns have not had for many years. Texas also filled the need of the long, athletic wide receiver in John Burt, Deandre McNeal and Gilbert Johnson.

One of the more overlooked players on national signing day was tight end Devonaire Clarington. A 4-star monster from Miami, Florida, Clarington was the first high school tight end Texas has signed since 2011. At 6'5" and 224 pounds, Clarington will have the chance to play immediately and could potentially revive a position that has been rather non-existent for Texas since in 2008.

Running back Kirk Johnson has the opportunity to replace Malcolm Brown on offense. Johnson is an all-purpose back who is very disciplined, has good vision on the field and can run the ball with power. He also has a great ability to block, which is a trait that can be difficult to find in elite running backs.

Joining Johnson is Chris Warren, who made his decision to sign with the Longhorns Wednesday. The 4-star running back is a big, powerful athlete and was one of the nation's most sought-after backs in 2015.

Overall, the Longhorns added much-needed talent on the offensive side of the ball and many of the signees will have the opportunity to see playing time from the moment they arrive in Austin.

 

Building the Foundation for the Future

Texas entered December with a .500 record on the field and a lack of verbal commitments for the 2015 class. It was nearly impossible not to think the Longhorns were going to struggle getting any of the nation's top prospects due to the issues Texas displayed on the football field in 2014.

But Strong and his assistant coaches were determined to fight it out until the very end in hopes of signing players who could help the Longhorns build a foundation for the future. The coaches did not focus on what happened on the field in 2014, rather they continued to stress the future on the recruiting front.

"I'm very simple. When I go into a house, I talk about our mission. Our mission number one is to see the young men graduate. Number two, we need to go win football games. The standard here is never to lose seven games. That will never be what we are looking to get done here," Strong said.

"The third thing is to talk about making them a better person. I talk about the core values all the time because I know that's how a lot of them are raised. I tell them that they have a chance to walk into the best program in the country, and they have a chance to put their footprint and handprint on it. They can watch it change and be a part of that change."

Wednesday marked the end of Strong's first complete recruiting cycle as the Longhorns head coach. The journey to the finish line had many ups and downs and featured a few big misses for the Longhorns. But Texas ultimately ended on a positive note and signed a class that could one day be recognized as the foundation of returning the Longhorns back to the top of the college football ranks.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Recruiting rankings via Rivals.com.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Meet Greg Little: The No. 1 Recruit in the 2016 Class

Gregory Little is the No. 1 overall player in the 2016 class, per 247Sports, and committed to Texas A&M.

The 5-star offensive tackle sat down with Bleacher Report to discuss his upbringing, being the top recruit in the nation and why he chose the Aggies.

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UCLA Football Recruiting 2015: Top Commits and Class Outlook After Signing Day

Although UCLA may not have landed one of the top few recruits in the 2015 class, the Bruins still walked away winners on national signing day. They did a nice job of securing some key additions as the dust settled on perhaps the most hectic day of the college football year.

Coaching staffs around the country work constantly to secure verbal commitments. It's not until signing day, when prospects start making their final decisions, that they find out where they stand, though. Head coach Jim Mora and Co. should be pleased with this year's result.

Of course, now it all comes down to player development. A high star rating doesn't mean anything if the player doesn't grow and make the most of their talent. Let's check out some of the biggest names heading to UCLA based on 247Sports' commitment tracker and then evaluate the class' outlook.

 

Top 2015 Commits

 

Class Outlook

As mentioned, the Bruins didn't land any of the biggest names available in terms of the top five players in the nation. Josh Rosen is still a strong top recruit at No. 12 and getting two players inside the top 20 is a terrific foundation.

The overall result saw UCLA finish with the seventh-best recruiting class after signing day, according to 247Sports. The site notes that was a 12-spot jump from beforehand. It was an example of a program gaining some early momentum and carrying it through the day.

Mora wasn't completely satisfied, though. Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News noted the coach felt they missed out on some key targets up front on defense:

He also wanted to make sure the Rosen addition wasn't overlooked. The quarterback has been enrolled at UCLA since January, which took away the typical attention paid to a top player at the position. Abbey Mastracco of Fox Sports West provided Mora's thoughts on him:

I think today, kind of lost in the shuffle, was Josh Rosen. It was such an exciting day because there were these new names and these new commitments. Unfortunately because of the hype, but fortunately for us, it was kind of a little bit under the radar. But you can't take away from the fact that this class includes the No. 1 ranked quarterback and the Rivals No. 1 ranked football player in the United States of America.

Overall, the class is very well-rounded, aside from the defensive front. The five players listed above are obviously major building blocks. DeChaun Holiday is of particular interest because he's got the size to become a perfect corner for today's game, assuming he stays at the position.

Edward Lewis of Rivals.com notes he could eventually make the switch to wide receiver:

There are several players outside of that top group that could make a quick impact, as well.

Josh Wariboko is a guard with massive power and solid short-area quickness. He's excelled in both pass protection and run-blocking without any serious technique flaws. He has plenty of polish for an incoming freshman and will continue to improve once he gains experience against top college linemen.

ESPN Stats & Info put the spotlight on the Bruins' struggles up front last season:

Then there's Cordell Broadus. The wide receiver is best known at this point for being Snoop Dogg's son, which is unfortunate because he can really play. A terrific route-runner with a nice burst and the moves to make defenders miss.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports points out he also has some history with Rosen:

UCLA could add another notable piece in the form of Roquan Smith. Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes he originally chose the Bruins but is waiting to see how some things with the coaching staff play out before a final decision is made.

Ultimately, the class the Bruins brought in is definitely worth it's top-10 ranking. They were able to fill crucial voids at quarterback and on the offensive line with top recruits and build a strong supporting class around them.

It's going to take a few years before the full impact of the class is felt. But if the Bruins are able to force their way into the playoff conversation, fans will likely be able to pinpoint this class as the one that jump-started the championship rejuvenation.

 

All recruiting details via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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UCLA Football Recruiting 2015: Top Commits and Class Outlook After Signing Day

Although UCLA may not have landed one of the top few recruits in the 2015 class, the Bruins still walked away winners on national signing day...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Meet Deondre Francois, the Heir to Jameis Winston's Throne

The future of the Florida State football program is nothing like Jameis Winston, and he's everything like Jameis Winston.

The young man's name is Deondre Francois, and he can currently be found behind the gates of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Francois has many of the same tools on the field that made Winston a Heisman winner, national champion and potential top pick in this year's draft, but they're kept in a very different box off the field. 

"He's a good player," Francois says of Winston. "But I like to play my own game, have my own swag."

Where Winston is outspoken and brash, Francois is soft-spoken and matter-of-fact, rarely raising his voice more than a few decibels above a murmur. But the 6'1", 190 pound quarterback's words, and more importantly his game, carry weight.  

Francois will not hesitate to say he is the man for the job in Tallahassee, regardless of who is on the depth chart. He doesn't say it brashly, but with confidence and no fear of whether it will make other quarterbacks on the Florida State roster dislike him.

"I don't think they like me," Francois told the Orlando Sentinel in late December, "but that's just what comes with competition."

IMG wide receiver K.J. Osborn has grown accustomed to Francois' matter-of-fact way of communicating. "He's always telling me, 'Get out of your break faster,' or, 'Why you running so slow,' " Osborn told Bleacher Report. "I tell him, 'We not running slow. You just throw far.' "

 

Anything you can do, I can do better

Winston was an unusual case at Florida State. Most quarterbacks take a while to pick up Jimbo Fisher's complex pro-style offense, but Winston grasped it almost instantly. His football IQ is considered the highest in this year's draft, and QB guru George Whitfield Jr. has said Winston is every bit as sharp as Andrew Luck. It is something Francois notices when he looks at film of the 2013 Heisman winner.  

"I see he expects perfection from his wide receivers and his line," Francois said. "He's calm in the pocket. I like the way he sees the field. He has good vision. I can tell by how he plays the game, he can see the whole field."

According to IMG head coach Chris Weinke, Francois possesses the same processing ability.

"Against Clearwater Central Catholic (Fla.), at the snap I thought he should go somewhere else with it, but he ended up making an outstanding touchdown pass to T.J. Chase," the former Seminole Heisman winner said. "When he came off the field, I said, 'Why did you throw it there?' He said, 'I saw the leverage on the corner, and I knew that T.J. was gonna get by him.' I said, 'Well, what about the crossing route that came wide open right across your face?' He said 'I know that was there. I could see it, but I wanted to take a shot, and I knew that I had it.' "

"I know I can trust him," Osborn said. "I'm not gonna be set up [for a big hit], I know the ball is going to be where it needs to be, and I know he's not gonna throw six interceptions."

Weinke knew what he had when Francois transferred from Orlando's Olympia high school in 2013. The feet and the arm have been special for a long time.

"When I first got to high school, I compared my arm strength to all of the quarterbacks that were older than me," Francois said. "I felt like I was better as a freshman."

The rest of Central Florida also noticed the talent, but it was Weinke who taught Francois how to harness it into the full package. He taught Francois all the nuances of quarterbacking, how to throw with more accuracy, how to identify the holes in complex defensive sets, how to throw with different speeds and arcs so he can fit it over linebackers and in front of the secondary.  

Most importantly, Weinke taught Francois an offense similar to the complex pro-style offense Jimbo Fisher runs at Florida State.

 

Coming out party

The full package was on display during the Under Armour All American game in early January. Francois spent a majority of the game running read-option and handing off the ball. However, he took advantage of his limited opportunities in the air, going 4-for-4 for 103 yards one touchdown—and two wow moments.

In his first series, he stepped up in the pocket and threw a 60-yard bomb that dropped right into the hands of his roommate for the weekend, George Campbell, also a Seminole recruit. The very next play was a 30-yard touchdown pass to former Pop Warner teammate and Clemson-bound Garrett Williams.

Francois almost instantly made a fan of his coach for the week, Herm Edwards, who said he could tell the future Florida State signal caller was especially polished after only two practices. 

"He was a little step above everyone else as far as footwork, ball security, where to have the ball to get it out of his hands." Edwards said. "He had good vision coverage. When he saw it, he knew where to go with the ball. He didn't force a lot of things where he didn't need to and made some plays with his legs."

Edwards also coached Winston in the Under Armour game and had this to say about how Francois compares to the Heisman Trophy winner.

"He's not as big—Jameis is huge," Edwards said. "He's probably a quicker footed guy...but his release point isn't as high. You want quarterbacks with poise and confidence. You could just tell right away, the game's not too big for him. Some guys you can just tell when the lights come on and they play good."

 

Cool under pressure

Most kids would be nervous for their first high school start. In Deondre Francois' first one, as sophomore at Olympia, he threw for an astounding 358 yards and two touchdowns while flashing uncommon calm that led the Orlando Sentinel to declare, "It takes a lot to get Deondre Francois riled up."

That poise is a characteristic that those who know him are quick to compliment. Edwards said it was the biggest thing that separated him from the other quarterbacks at the Under Armour game. Weinke discovered it firsthand during what may have been Francois' only moment of on-field adversity at IMG: the second game this past season, when Francois threw four interceptions and IMG got trounced 35-2.

"There were some frustrating moments," Weinke said. "[Francois] made some good throws that weren't caught and had some interceptions."

But Francois didn't let the adversity affect him and continued to battle.

"That game was probably the true indicator that we have something special here. Even though he was obviously frustrated after the game, the first thing he wanted to do is [ask himself], 'Hey, what can I do to get better?' "  

That poise was on display again in late January in an incident that set the recruiting world on fire for a couple of hours.

Francois was walking back to his dorm when his phone started to blow up. When he checked his Twitter account, he read, "I'm officially decommitting from the university of Florida State." But he says he didn't type it. He immediately deleted the tweet and reset his password, extinguishing the blaze with a tweet saying:

Then, as sports media everywhere scrambled to confirm or deny the potential bombshell tweet, Francois took a nap.

When asked where his poise comes from, Francois did not hesitate with an answer.

"I grew up with a single mom," Francois said. "She raised me well."

 

The journey continues

Francois may have become gained notoriety in Orlando, but the roots were planted in Miami. He grew up at his grandparents' house, under the guidance of his three quarterbacking uncles, all of whom parlayed stardom at Miramar high school into Division I scholarships.  He admired his uncle Patrick Julmiste, quarterback at USF, the most.

"He'd have the football, bring it home from school. I'd have it in my hand, and it would be so big," Francois said. "I had to go on YouTube and look up Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and [Aaron] Rodgers and how to throw a football. Then I'd grab a can of yams and do the same motion. As soon as I got a football in my hand, it was all natural."

He moved to Orlando with his mother permanently in the seventh grade. He experienced continued football success through his sophomore year at Olympia. After a new coaching hire and some graduations led to a tough junior season, a change was necessary. That led him to IMG, seemingly an athlete's paradise.

He transferred shortly before finals and he got a crash course in the life of a student athlete.

"Wake up about 6:45 and eat breakfast. From 7:30 to 12:30, I'd have class," Francois said. "Eat lunch at 1:00. Go to dorm and relax from 2:15 to 3:40. Team meetings and individual meeting. Then practice until 6:45. Then I thought my day was done, but it really wasn't. After practice, I'd have to get dinner, then go to tutoring from about 7:30 to 9:00. Our curfew is 10, so I'd only have an hour to socialize, then I'd have to go back to my dorm and do homework again until I go to sleep around [midnight]."

There were times when Francois questioned his decision. Was all of this sacrifice and time away from his family worth it?

"Sometimes I think it wasn't, but it really was," Francois said. "I learned that me doing the right things, it's going to pay off in the future. And I knew that me keeping my grades up and studying the playbook, that I would be happy with my decision coming here. I'm already ready for college. When I get there, I sure won't be homesick."

He won't have time to be. This is football, and just like the bounce of the oblong shaped ball, anything can happen. There will be seven quarterbacks on the Florida State roster in the fall, including incumbents Sean Maguire and J.J. Cosentino. Even Winston redshirted as a freshman.

That said, perhaps the biggest challenger to Francois will be 2016 commit Malik Henry. The California recruit is the second-ranked dual-threat quarterback in his class, according to Rivals.com, and at least an inch taller.

While admitting he was shocked when he heard Henry committed, Francois said he is not concerned about someone who won't be at the school until next year. His mindset was clear while watching the end of the Rose Bowl in a room full of Florida State recruits. While everyone else in the room grew a little agitated during the demoralizing second half, Francois was thinking, "I can't wait to get there."

Quiet and direct. Doesn't sound much like the next Jameis Winston. But that might be just what he is.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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