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College Football's Next Big Thing: 2016 No. 1 Overall Recruit Rashan Gary

Every June, high school linemen from around the country lumber into Piscataway, New Jersey, for Rutgers University's Big Man Academy, aiming to expand their collegiate horizons and options.

Four years ago, however, the biggest splash made among a group of big people was by a middle schooler, one who has become the top recruit in the nation: Rashan Gary.

"As a recruiting staff, you sometimes hear about the potential of eighth-graders, but you really don't believe it until you see it," former Rutgers recruiting assistant Sopan Shah said. "When Rashan Gary showed up, it quickly became clear his ceiling was about as high as it gets."

And Gary was still months away from his first varsity snaps at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in New Jersey.

"He was just as big as the juniors and seniors who already had several college offers. Then he gets into drills and starts beating those guys," said Shah, who most recently served in the Philadelphia Eagles' scouting department.

Rutgers extended a verbal scholarship offer to the middle school sensation that month. It became the first college option on a list that now includes national championship contenders from every corner of America.

"It's been a journey since I got that first offer in eighth grade. I didn't think much of it until I got to high school and realized there were seniors who worked really hard and still didn't have any offers," Gary said last summer. 

Several years in the spotlight have supplied him with a strong impression of the college football recruiting landscape, in which he reigns as the No. 1 overall prospect in 247Sports' 2016 composite rankings.

"Seeing players struggle to get colleges interested at camps kind of puts things in perspective and keeps me humble. A lot of people want to be in my shoes," Gary said. 

Those shoes carry a 6'5", 293-pound defensive tackle who many believe is destined to dominate in college football and beyond. Within a few months, Gary will once again be the compelling newcomer attempting to challenge older, more established linemen.

This next chapter may take place on practice fields in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Or Clemson, South Carolina.

We don't yet know which college Gary will select on Feb. 3, when national signing day concludes a whirlwind recruitment that began well before several interested head coaches inhabited their current jobs. When he makes his choice this Wednesday, one college fanbase will enthusiastically welcome him to campus with immediate expectations for greatness.

"He is two years ahead of almost any high school lineman in the country when it comes to college-level technique," Gary's mentor and trainer, Peter Kafaf, said. "That technique builds off itself, so I expect him to be perfecting it during these next few seasons while other kids are just attempting to learn it."

Kafaf, an offseason volunteer trainer for several local New Jersey linemen, has worked with Gary since March 2014. Several marquee college coaching staffs were already chasing his young pupil, but there was room for improvement.

"His upper body was very, very tight. His chest was tight, his arms were tight and his hands were slow," Kafaf recalled. "We gave him some martial arts hand moves that translate directly into football and had him practice those repeatedly until he was ready to develop more moves off those."

Todd Huber, a former offensive lineman at Cal and current director of football at Student Sports, a company that hosts skills camps, has worked closely with Gary during several football events. He also noted how Gary's improved handwork has been crucial to his ascension.

"He's probably the one kid in my years of doing this that I had to pull out of a drill because he played with the same motor that he does now, but he was so raw and didn't know how to use his hands. It wasn't intentional, but he ended up just head-butting kids," Huber said. "It's kind of funny to look back at that and then now see the finished high school prospect he's become."

The change didn't happen overnight, but pretty close to it. Prior to his junior season, Gary received an ultimatum from Kafaf.

Even though Gary was essentially a wrecking ball as a sophomore, further enhancement would require precision few prospects ever display before college.

"He was trying to rip and bull-rush everybody because that's what he was comfortable with. At that point I said, 'Look, Rashan, I really can't work with you anymore if all you want to do is run through people,'" Kafaf said.

Gary got the message and sent one back.

"The next day, I got a text from Rashan," Kafaf said. "It was, 'I needed to hear that. I'm all in.' From that point forward, his hands just got electric."

Combined with rare speed for his stature—Gary has been timed at 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash—the sharpened technique took him one step closer toward becoming a complete package.

Two months before debuting at Paramus Catholic High School, to which he had transferred for his final two seasons, Gary traveled to Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, for The Opening, an annual invite-only football skills camp. Despite his status as the only non-senior competitor in the trenches that week, Huber hailed him as one of the top five overall performers.

"As an offensive lineman, you've got to pick your poison because of the leverage and effort he plays with. If you stop Rashan on his first move, he'll throw another one at you. If you stop his second move, he's ready to counter with another," Huber said.

The youngster's effort also drew recognition from the premier 2015 prospects in attendance. Offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt, a former 5-star recruit who started this season for Clemson as a true freshman, was among those who walked away from one-on-one showdowns with a newfound respect.

"We just assumed he was another senior, especially based on the way he competed. It was a shock for sure," Hyatt said afterward. "He's way above his level when compared to other players at that age. He's going to be fun to watch in the future because he has everything a defensive lineman needs to be dominant at the next level."

Matthew Burrell, now a freshman offensive lineman at Ohio State, offered even loftier praise.

"I think he could be the top player in our class [2015], let alone his own," Burrell said.

The momentum he gained at The Opening carried into his first campaign at Paramus Catholic, where he was coached by current Michigan Wolverines recruiting director Chris Partridge. The highlight of his 2014 campaign, which included 55 tackles and 14 sacks in 11 games, occurred in October against regional rival Bergen Catholic High School.

Gary created a nightmare afternoon for Bergen Catholic quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, sacking the Tennessee commit five times in just three quarters of a blowout win. He also blocked a punt, returning it for a touchdown:

By the end of his junior season, Gary was considered the country's top 2016 prospect by most. He would use a return trip to The Opening as a method of removing any notion of doubt.

"Last year gave me a lot of confidence because I knew I could compete against the top linemen in the country who were a year older than me," Gary said before heading back to Beaverton. "Now I'm looking to go back with that confidence and bring that defensive line MVP back home to Jersey."

That's exactly what he did, decimating America's most lauded offensive linemen in bunches:

"He went from big-time recruit to No. 1 overall recruit in the country during the year between his trips to The Opening," Huber said. "With a bigger [target] on his back and more hype around him than ever, Rashan brought even more competitiveness. He's the most complete player we've had on the defensive line since I've been around [2013]."

Simply put, Gary put on a clinic that showed consistency well beyond his years.

"I got some reps against Rashan, and they were humbling experiences for sure," 5-star offensive lineman Jack Anderson said after drills. "He's the real deal."

Despite dozens of scholarship offers, endless media inquiries and constant attention from fans on social media, Gary has impressed those around him by carrying himself the same way as when he was the oversized eighth-grader on Rutgers' campus.

"Rashan is one of the most extraordinarily humble young men I've ever met," Kafaf said. "He's quiet but incredibly focused. Once he understands what he's trying to accomplish, he comes back with a better effort every time."

Gary is known for sprinting back to his side of the line when a whistle ends one-on-one drills. He is not known to stand over his opponent and gloat, nor does he search the field for onlookers (essentially every recruiting analyst in attendance).

Instead, he pops up, bursts back behind the row of defensive linemen and waits for his next opportunity to wreak havoc.

"He attacks the more mundane items of football," Huber said. "That motor isn't just on when the lights are on."

Huber compares Gary to former Ohio State star and current Pittsburgh Steelers defender Cameron Heyward.

"His ability to play off the edge when he has a huge defensive tackle body is rare. He's powerful but has enough speed to make you stay honest," Huber added.

That versatility makes him a coveted commodity for defensive coordinators who've invested significant time, travel and phone calls in an attempt to land this recruiting cycle's biggest prize.

"If you're doing your job as a coach, you probably don't have him lined up in the same spot on every single down. You want to move Rashan around and have the offense account for him on each snap," said Todderick Hunt, an NJ.com recruiting analyst who has covered Gary as long as anyone.

Gary's mother, Jennifer Coney, also understands how valuable her son's assets are in a college attack. She made it clear that everything, including scheme, is under consideration during a midsummer conversation with Chris Kirschner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

I know [Georgia runs] a 3-4 defense, and I don’t know how good that would be for my son. In that three-person line, their job is to hold the offensive line so the linebackers can come in to make the tackle. Well, how is Rashan supposed to shine in a 3-4? A 4-3 defense is what I prefer. It’s OK for him to play in a 3-4, only if they rotate in a 4-3. I just don’t see how playing in a 3-4 defense would benefit him.

It didn't seem to matter where he lined up during the Under Armour All-America Game, held Jan. 2 in Orlando, Florida. Beforehand, Gary returned to what he calls "The Lab" and capitalized on a series of postseason sessions with Kafaf. He capped off an illustrious prep career with his most impressive performance to date.

Gary tied the All-America Game record with three sacks, tallying six total tackles in a rotational role.

"He played like I've never seen him play before," Kafaf said. "He was beating other All-Americans with a combination of hand moves. Once an offensive lineman showed his hands off the snap, Rashan counterattacked. He exceeded my expectations with that performance."

A matchup filled with highly regarded college recruits became a coronation of sorts. Within weeks, the four major recruiting industry sites—247SportsScoutRivals and ESPN—released final 2016 rankings with Gary on top.

Honor naturally comes from widespread acknowledgement. But contentment? That simply isn't Gary's style.

"Rashan is driven by his own metric, not anybody else's," Kafaf said. "That's what sustains him."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

From Junior College to 1st-Round Pick: The College Recruitment of Aaron Rodgers

Ron Souza fielded a consistent question in varying forms as the 2005 NFL draft approached. 

What was wrong with Aaron Rodgers

Professional football scouts wanted to know how the potential multimillion-dollar franchise quarterback failed to land a single Division I scholarship offer just three years earlier.

"One general manager told me, 'Guys like this don't just fall out of the sky. People find out about this kind of ability when they're 15 or 16 years old.' I got a chuckle out of that," Souza said.

Souza, Rodgers' former position coach at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, California, would politely field these inquiries while examining a photo collage of former players on his desk. 

"There's Aaron as a sophomore at about 5'6", 125 pounds. He's just a midget. How did people miss on him? Here it is," Souza said. 

Once overlooked with regularity, Rodgers now resides in the middle of the NFL spotlight.

"He's the type of person that doesn't have doubt in himself," former Pleasant Valley head coach Sterling Jackson said. "You knew that can-do attitude would take him as far as he could go. We weren't sure where that would be, but now we know."

Long before he became a Green Bay Packers icon and Hall of Fame lock, Rodgers was a football savant whose mental maturity in the sport surpassed his physical growth.

"The reality is, he arrived as a 5'3" freshman, his [junior varsity] year I think he was 5'7" and his senior year he started at 6'0", 180 pounds," Souza recalled. "But Aaron always had an incredible understanding for the game."

Rodgers' passion for football drew him to the San Francisco 49ers, who played just a few hours away from his home in Northern California. Even at a young age, he would do more than simply watch as a fan.

"He loved the 49ers, but he also studied them," Jackson said. "Aaron was one of those kids who just wanted to dive into the sport and all of its aspects. He would come in Mondays after seeing something happen over the weekend and be able to recite every dynamic of the game."

This quickly became a staple of early game-week preparation during high school seasons.

"He would talk about defenses that the 49ers saw, whether it was a nickel or dime package that he could relate to the high school level, and look at ways to create mismatches," Souza said. "He would apply that to high school competition and coordinate routes that were best suited for our personnel instead of Jerry Rice."

Rodgers stepped into the starting quarterback role at Pleasant Valley in 2000 as a junior. Despite his lack of prototypical size, he was ready for the moment.

It didn't take long for Rodgers to find his rhythm behind center, earning the trust of Pleasant Valley's coaching staff and later going on to set the school's single-season record for passing yards (2,303) during his senior campaign in 2001.

"Aaron has always handled himself well under pressure," Souza said. "He didn't get rattled and remained undaunted in situations where other players would lose focus. He has that ability to rise above and make the people around him better."

That effort warranted All-Section honors but didn't do much for the quarterback's collegiate outlook.

The only consistent contact from college coaching staffs came from lower-tier programs in the Northwest, such as Southern Oregon and Lewis & Clark College, among others.

Jackson attempted to help elevate his star's status shortly before the 2001 season, when they attended a camp at the University of Illinois. 

"We took him to this camp at Illinois and [it] felt like he was the best quarterback on their campus. The frustrating part for us was trying to convince coaches to look past his size and give him a little time to mature," Jackson said. "College coaches wanted highly rated quarterback recruits who they felt were already proven and physically prepared. We just wanted someone to give him a chance."

Rodgers added approximately two inches and 15 pounds as a senior, according to Souza, and even though he also excelled as a student, he still struggled to attract attention as a possible Division I scholarship athlete.

"Our society in sports, especially football, is so driven by the 'eye test.' At quarterback, they want you to look a certain way. I'm sure that definitely deterred some people from giving him an opportunity," Jackson said.

Souza, also the head baseball coach at Pleasant Valley, convinced Rodgers to spend his final high school spring on the mound. A natural athlete and competitor, he was hurling 90 mph pitches before long.

"He was pretty dejected about the lack of recruiting interest, so we got him to come out for baseball, and he had a lot of success that season," Souza said. "I think it was great to get his mind off football for a bit in order to help him get over that frustration. There's no doubt in my mind he could've had a future in baseball, but Aaron wasn't ready to walk away from football."

Craig Rigsbee, then the head football coach at nearby Butte Community College, reached out about the overlooked quarterback. Following a phone conversation with the Rodgers family, Rigsbee realized the quarterback lived just one cul-de-sac over from his home.

"It's amazing how things worked out like that," he said. "I was at their door in a hurry."

Rigsbee, now the athletic director at Butte College, made the short walk through a field to the Rodgers home and immediately understood he might be facing an uphill battle to bring in the quarterback.

"Aaron's mother was like, 'Hey, my son has worked too hard in school to attend a junior college.' So I really needed to take my time explaining our football program and the situation," Rigsbee said. 

Rodgers was searching for increased credibility as a college recruit, and Butte at least offered him a shot. 

"Aaron's main concern was whether he could leave after one year for a Division I opportunity," Rigsbee said. "Of course, I'm thinking he needed to slow down there because we already had a starting QB who was returning. I explained the depth chart to Aaron, but all he wanted was for me to look him in the eye and promise I would give him a chance."

By the time Rodgers enrolled at Butte College in 2002, his physical stature was beginning to match his already impressive mental makeup. He arrived as a freshman standing about 6'2", 200 pounds, immediately entering a position battle with the program's incumbent starting quarterback.

"They were actually very close during the first week of practice, and then we saw some separation," Rigsbee recalled. "The other guy had been there for years and Aaron had only been there for days, but he already knew the offense better. Aaron started making plays we weren't used to seeing at practice."

Despite a consensus among assistants that the veteran "deserved" the spot, Rigsbee simply couldn't see the season unfolding with his intriguing freshman playmaker sequestered on the bench.

Rodgers, then just 18 years old, was anointed the starter on a team featuring multiple players in their mid-20s. His competition quit the team weeks later, leaving him as the unquestioned offensive leader. 

"Once he gained that confidence as a freshman, there was no turning back," Rigsbee said.

Rodgers spearheaded a 10-1 season for the Roadrunners, who claimed a NorCal Conference championship and climbed to as high as No. 2 in the national junior college rankings. He completed nearly 62 percent of his pass attempts, compiling 2,408 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions on 265 attempts. 

The school's record book was rewritten, as Rodgers set new single-game marks for total yards and touchdowns.

Along the way, he caught the eye of Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, who established his reputation teaching eventual first-round NFL draft picks Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr and Joey Harrington. 

Kyle Boller, Tedford's first starting quarterback at Cal, would become the Baltimore Ravens' first-round pick in 2003. It was time to find his next project.

Tight end Garrett Cross, the recipient of 10 Rodgers touchdown tosses in 2002, compelled Tedford to turn on the Butte College game tape that fall.

"We were looking for a tight end, so I was watching Garrett's tape and I was really impressed by the quarterback. He jumped off the screen at me as a guy who had a lot of good things going for him," said Tedford, who most recently served as head coach of the BC Lions franchise in the Canadian Football League.

He didn't hesitate to call the school.

"Jeff Tedford gets on the phone with me and he's asking all about Aaron, saying how impressed he was by the film," Rigsbee said. "He asked me who else was recruiting him. The answer was nobody, and he said, 'Good. I'll be up there tomorrow.'"

Though he didn't meet with Rodgers during that visit as he awaited word on whether the QB could leave Butte after one year, Tedford gathered plenty of positives while watching him practice.

"He was very talented throwing the ball and athletic moving around, but I came away even more impressed by his leadership ability," Tedford said. "His team followed him, and he was in command. He was running the show."

Rodgers' attitude, combined with physical attributes that no longer failed the eye test, compelled Tedford to pull the trigger.

"Once I was there and saw his demeanor, leadership, athleticism and other characteristics that are important for a quarterback, it was an easy decision for us to offer him," he said.

Tedford called Rodgers hours later. A scholarship was formally extended before the Cal coach arrived back in Berkeley.

Less than a year after choosing between junior college and Division III possibilities, Rodgers relished the milestone moment.

"Aaron was grateful for the chance, but he's too smart to jump at something unknown," Tedford said. "It was a matter of him learning more about Berkeley and our situation. He did his research and gave us a chance to build a relationship."

Rodgers was ready to commit within weeks, though he considered coaches and teammates at Butte College before taking the plunge.

"Aaron comes in to tell me he's excited about his offer from Cal, but he's also saying he's not sure if he's going to take it because we had a chance to be really good the next year," Rigsbee said. "I told him even if I had to drive him down there myself, he was going to Cal."

Rodgers would win the starting job during his first year with the Golden Bears and ultimately play in 25 games at Cal. He threw for 5,469 yards, 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions during two seasons in Berkeley before declaring for the NFL draft as a junior. 

Just like that, the kid who couldn't convince a top-notch college coaching staff to accept him out of high school was charting his own career path.

"I got to sit and learn and be with the disappointment," Rodgers told author Bruce Feldman. "Those experiences can either strengthen your character or make you really bitter. Thankfully for me, it really strengthened my character and gave me a good resolve."

Green Bay selected Rodgers 24th overall in the 2005 NFL draft. Since replacing Packers legend Brett Favre, he has earned a Super Bowl title and two league MVPs.

"Aaron has been striving for perfection for a long, long time," Jackson said.

The scrawny teenager pictured in Souza's collage already holds dozens of Packers franchise records and is presently the NFL's all-time leader in career passer rating (104.1).

"He's always had the mental sharpness and fundamental mechanics. These are basic attributes he's built on over the years," Souza said. "What we're seeing him do now, though, it's at a Ph.D. level. He's changing the way quarterback is played."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. Recruit ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Has Trio of Impact DL in 2016 NFL Draft

The 2016 NFL draft process is in a critical stage as evaluators scurry to find potential steals in the coming event. While focusing on one team or player, it can be easy to overlook other playmakers. When focusing in on Penn State’s defensive line in 2015, there was clearly a trio of impact defenders among the front four.

The Nittany Lions defense was one of the stingiest in the nation last year. The unit allowed just 21.8 points per game, which ranked as the 26th-lowest amount of all Division 1-A teams. Penn State also had a terrific pass rush, which finished third in the country with 46 sacks.

That type of production is eye-opening because it takes significant talent to amass such a total. The majority of the disruption and production came from the dynamic trio of Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. Those three defensive linemen accounted for 30 sacks.

Projecting talent into the NFL isn’t as easy as reading the stat sheet, but production is one important aspect of it. We’re going to look deeper at each lineman and see why each can be at least a solid NFL player, if not a standout.

Let’s start with the 2015 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Carl Nassib.

 

Carl Nassib

One of the biggest storylines of the 2015 college football season was the breakout play of defensive end Carl Nassib. The former walk-on was just 218 pounds as a freshman, and he had never started a single game in high school. His intense dedication in the weight room and personal development paid off with an incredible senior season.

The 6’7”, 272-pounder totaled 15.5 sacks in his first season as a starter. He had just two sacks in his first two years, as he was buried on the depth chart. Amazingly enough, Nassib had more tackles for loss in 2015 with 19.5 than he had total tackles in 2013 and 2014 combined.

Playing in Penn State’s versatile defensive front allowed Nassib to align outside of the offensive tackle at times and also the inside shoulder. His time spent in a creative 4-3 allowed him to show an explosive skill set that will translate to the next level.

His ability to go through or around offensive tackles makes him a tough player to block. He has more length than most defenders and showed strong hands that keep him clean when he must disengage to finish a play. When Nassib has the chance to finish, he’s proven he’s a playmaker.

Maybe even most impressive from Nassib’s season was his ability to create turnovers. He led the NCAA with six forced fumbles.

Projecting Nassib to the NFL, he has a ready-made game despite just one year of extended experience. His hand usage is solid, and he has a good feel for the game. He tends to make plays when his team needs them most.

To maximize his potential, Nassib would be best served in a 3-4 defense that allows him to play in a limited space. His quickness often catches blockers off guard, so keeping him over the tackle won’t expose his lack of elite burst like the best edge-rushers have. But he will need to increase his functional lower body strength before he is ready to start.

As the season wore on, Nassib was exposed to more powerful blockers that controlled him in the run game. We know Nassib will put in the work to be great. If he can add another 15-20 pounds in his lower body, it’ll be just a matter of time until he’s a three-down player.

His draft value is projected to be Round 2, according to CBS Sports. That is where I’d put Nassib, who can be an impactful rotational player until he’s ready for a full-time role. His upside is high, and his rapid development to this point is a significant selling point.

 

Austin Johnson

The lone junior of the Penn State defensive line trio is tackle Austin Johnson. The 6’4”, 323-pound one-technique defensive tackle was the key cog for this unit to be successful. Without Johnson demanding double-teams, his teammates wouldn’t have had as much success.

Johnson is thick in his lower body, boasting mammoth thighs and rear end. His power is drawn from his impressive lower body and projects very well to the NFL. He has no size concerns as he makes the transition from college.

The former 3-star recruit wasn’t just eating blocks every play despite the deserved attention. When he had the chance to split a double team or he faced one blocker, he showed great power and surprising speed for someone his size. Johnson finished with 78 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in 2015.

While Johnson is more of a run defender than pass-rush threat, he is very active and has a terrific motor despite his size. He cleans up sacks effectively, which gives him three-down value. When he’s asked to hold his own at the line of scrimmage, he rarely disappoints.

Teams looking for a reliable man in the middle of their 3-4 or 4-3 front should be interested in Johnson. He has the ability to play either, although he is most experienced lining up between the guard and center. He commands double teams consistently, which is excellent for teams that have quality pass-rushers on the outside that need to be one on one.

The knock on Johnson is that he’s not more of an explosive pass-rusher. This limits his value and is why CBS Sports has a second-round projection for him. He should be a long-term starter with upside to develop into one of the best run-stoppers in the league.

 

Anthony Zettel

Maybe the most well-known name of the trio is defensive tackle Anthony Zettel. Zettel was the biggest prospect of the bunch from high school, coming to Penn State as a 4-star recruit. His career really took off as a junior in 2014 when he moved from defensive end to tackle.

At 6’4” and 284 pounds, Zettel is very quick to get into the backfield. He is a splash player who disrupts plays as much as he finishes them. While his production could be better, he shines on tape because of his ability to affect plays even without logging a statistic.

Zettel finished his four-year career with 119 tackles, 38 tackles for loss and 20 sacks. The emergence of his two peers may have hurt his 2015 numbers, which were considerably lower than his 2014 totals. Regardless, he stood out as a solid NFL prospect even next to Nassib and Johnson.

His greatest strength is his quickness. Zettel is tremendous against zone offenses because he routinely beats the blocker to the zone. This can single-handedly wreck a zone-running offense and force it to become more one-dimensional. When he’s paired with a solid gap-eater, Zettel can take over the game for stretches.

Although Zettel doesn’t have the lower body strength to be an NFL starter right away, 4-3 defenses should love his ability to produce as a tackle or end in sub-packages. He is too explosive to keep off the field on obvious passing downs, or when facing a zone-running team. His blend of hustle and quickness is very disruptive. As he continues to add mass to his legs, his ability to stop the run should also improve. He must hold up at the line of scrimmage better to ever start in the NFL.

CBS Sports currently has Zettel as a fifth- or sixth-round pick. That seems low for such an explosive rusher, but it does reflect that he has some room to grow before he can start. As a rotational piece, he has the talent to earn meaningful snaps early in his career.

As this group proceeds through the NFL draft process, expect to hear their names as standout performers. Each member of the Penn State defensive trio has the size, athleticism and skill to be a quality NFL player. The fact they’re all coming from the same school is highly impressive and a testament to the recruiting and coaching at the program.

Johnson, Nassib and Zettel all have NFL futures based off their excellent Penn State careers. Their NFL journeys can be very successful if they continue to improve like each did in the past few seasons. Don’t be surprised if this trio helps the Nittany Lions produce the best draft class of any collegiate program in 2016.

 

All stats used are from Sports-reference.com.

Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rashan Gary Down to Final 2: Odds on Where No. 1 Overall Recruit Lands

Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and USC can reportedly end lengthy pursuits of No. 1 overall prospect Rashan Gary.

The 6'5", 293-pound defensive tackle is focused on Clemson and Michigan as finalists, his family told Brian Dohn of Scout.com on Monday. Less than 48 hours shy of national signing day, this development sets the stage for a showdown between two of America's most recognizable college football coaches in Dabo Swinney and Jim Harbaugh.

If Gary's decision proves too difficult to reach before a scheduled 1 p.m. ET announcement Wednesday, the nation's most frenzied recruitment process may extend longer than expected.

"As it stands right now, if signing day was (Tuesday), Rashan would go on and say he hasn't decided yet," Jennifer Coney, Gary's mother, told Dohn. 

It's a late twist in a recruitment that stretches back to June 2012, when Rutgers extended a verbal scholarship to the New Jersey lineman months before he entered high school. Gary has kept his options open throughout the journey, remaining relatively tight-lipped when it comes to any favorites lists or leans.

His fifth and final official visit occurred last weekend when he went to Clemson. It followed previous official visits to Auburn, Michigan, Ole Miss and USC, while Notre Dame, Ohio State, Georgia, LSU and Alabama are among programs that also shared reciprocated interest during different stages of the 2016 cycle.

Now that we know it's a one-on-one battle for the Paramus Catholic High School senior, let's assign odds on the chances Gary lands at either campus for his collegiate career.

 

Michigan: 3-2

Despite the overall silence on the subject of a commitment from Gary on social media or in-person interviews, Michigan emerged as the perceived front-runner prior to his senior year. That sentiment has only intensified during this final stretch, especially with close friends Kareem Walker and Michael Dwumfour joining the class since December.

"[Walker, Gary and I] are like brothers," Dwumfour told Brandon Justice of Maize n Brew. "We spoke about [playing together] when we were young, and Kareem brings it up a lot now. It would be great if we could."

Wolverines coaches hope to make Gary the sixth Garden State prospect to join the signing day party in Ann Arbor. Michigan commits have also played a crucial role in the push for America's premier player.

"The Jersey Boys [are going to] bring that swag to Michigan, and there's gonna be lots of playing time between all of us," Michigan commit and fellow New Jersey resident Ron Johnson told Bleacher Report. "I believe Rashan would top off this class and would add a little to the Jersey swag."

Harbaugh is the leader of strong 2016 Wolverines recruiting efforts but it's assistant Chris Partridge who has arguably played the largest role in this instance. He served as Gary's head coach at Paramus Catholic in 2014, targeting his former pupil as a top priority since his arrival in Ann Arbor.

“They treat us like family. Coach Partridge knows how my mom is and knows how I am," Gary said following an unofficial summer visit. "He showed us everything we needed to see.”

Signs have pointed toward Gary punctuating Harbaugh's first full cycle at Michigan for a while, with the Wolverines garnering 81 percent of experts' predictions in his 247Sports Crystal Ball.

“If the No. 1 player wants to come to Michigan, then we’re going to be on top soon," early enrollee Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters said. "Something big is coming."

 

Clemson: 5-1

The separation of these odds may seem vast, but our indication is Michigan remains a firm leader based on staff and roster relationships. Still, this past season has featured a meteoric rise for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, and on-field success has translated well onto the recruiting trail.

The Tigers, like the Wolverines, currently claim a top-10 class in composite class rankings. Clemson welcomed a trio of early enrollee defenders to school in January who are considered top-three recruits at their respective positions.

Linebackers Tre Lamar and Rahshaun Smith are rated No. 2 and No. 3 nationally among inside linebackers, while 5-star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence is the No. 2 overall recruit looking up at only Gary.

"The academics, and the academic support, I was pleasantly surprised with everything at Clemson," Coney told Dohn following their most recent visit. "The staff, the whole staff, the whole student body. I'm not talking about the football players, and the football players were phenomenal, but the whole student body."

While Michigan is in the early stages of a program ascension, Clemson arrived at college football's pinnacle last month by competing in the College Football Playoff national championship. The Tigers are 56-12 since 2011 and 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson will be back under center again next fall. 

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is an extremely effective recruiter on behalf of Swinney. He and fellow Tigers staff members clearly provided a short-term and long-term outlook that commanded legitimate attention of Gary and his mother.

Sealing the deal Wednesday with this cycle's most coveted recruit looks like an uphill battle for Clemson, but the Tigers suddenly find themselves in a position certain to make plenty of programs envious during the final stages of a scintillating chase.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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PGA Tour Golfer Zach Johnson Comments on Jim Harbaugh's Recruiting Tactics

PGA Tour golfer and diehard Iowa Hawkeyes fan Zach Johnson has had about enough of Michigan Wolverines head football coach Jim Harbaugh.

After Harbaugh came in with a last-minute offer for 3-star offensive lineman and former Iowa commit Alaric Jackson, per Blair Sanderson of Rivals.com, Johnson took his frustration to Twitter, calling out the head coach by referring to his trademark khakis:

It was a harmless and humorous attack, but it speaks to what has been an interesting recruiting season for Harbaugh after his first season in Ann Arbor. Fans know him for the interesting tactics he uses to lure recruits, including sleepovers, late-night movies and jokes (presumably) about attending classes with the high schoolers, per Nick Schwartz of USA Today.

While the whatever-it-takes attitude has earned Michigan the sixth-ranked 2016 recruiting class, per 247Sports, there is also a dark side to the process.

The approach has ruffled feathers, and one former Michigan recruit claimed Harbaugh pulled his scholarship offer last month despite the fact that he had verbally committed in 2013 and had no off-field issues, per Bob Narang of the Chicago Tribune.

“They called me last week saying I should re-open my recruitment and take other visits," offensive line prospect Erik Swenson said. "My family and I were shaken by it. That’s when the whole mess started.”

Swenson subsequently committed to the Oklahoma Sooners.

Harbaugh came to his alma mater last year after leaving the San Francisco 49ers on bad terms. Despite going 44-19-1 in four seasons, reaching the NFC Championship Game three times and making it to the Super Bowl once, Harbaugh and the team brass did not get along.

Now he's in college, upsetting some while he works the recruiting trail. Johnson said what many are thinking, although there is little to suggest Harbaugh cares in any way.

Michigan fans likely won't, either. Harbaugh guided the Wolverines to a 10-3 season (their most wins since 2011) and a Citrus Bowl victory. He's just doing his job, even if it upsets a PGA Tour golfer.

 

Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Rashan Gary: Latest News and Rumors on 5-Star DT Recruit

The nation's No. 1-ranked recruit has trimmed the finalists for his services, as defensive tackle Rashan Gary has announced his final pair.

Continue for updates.

Gary's Mother Says He's Down to Clemson and Michigan Monday, Feb. 1

Gary will commit to either Michigan or Clemson on national signing day, Gary's mother told Brian Dohn of Scout.com. Gary eliminated Alabama and Auburn from his list of finalists on Monday.

His mother, Jennifer Coney, said the family appreciated how welcoming the Clemson community was.

"The football players didn't feel threatened," she said. "They were embracing him. Rashan liked that. They were giving Rashan so much love, and I liked that. There were some schools that were like, 'Oh, Rashan Gary' and knowing the [competition] would be there. But not Clemson. Those kids, oh my gosh."

He'd also be a good fit at Michigan, where head coach Jim Harbaugh is pulling out all of the recruiting stops—such as bringing Derek Jeter and Tom Brady in for a “Signing of the Stars” event in partnership with the Players' Tribune on national signing day.

Michigan and Clemson hold the sixth- and ninth-ranked recruiting classes, respectively, but each could crack the Top Five by hauling in Gary, who would bolster either defense immediately. Both were among the nation's top 10 in 2015.

Head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers will be in the thick of College Football Playoff contention again next year, and Harbaugh’s Wolverines should take another big leap from their 10-win season and contend for the Big Ten title.

Whichever school Gary chooses, he’ll be joining a winner.

 

Unless otherwise noted, recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Deshaunte Jones to Iowa St: Cyclones Land 3-Star ATH Prospect

On Monday, the Iowa State Cyclones football team received a commitment from Deshaunte Jones, a 3-star athlete from Colerain High School in Cincinnati, per Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune.

Jones made his announcement official on Twitter:

The 5'10" athlete is the 25th-best prospect in Ohio, per 247Sports, and the 45th-ranked athlete in the nation. Jones played quarterback for Colerain and was the Southwest District Division I Offensive Player of the Year last season, per Mike Dyer of WCPO.com in Cincinnati. 

Jones is known for using his legs as a signal-caller rather than his arm. He ran for 1,860 yards and 29 touchdowns in his senior year, per Dyer, while leading Colerain to its first appearance in the state semifinals since 2006.

This is a great pickup for Iowa State, which could use some playmakers out of the backfield and in the passing game. The Cyclones' best offensive player in 2015 was freshman running back Mike Warren, who ran for 1,339 yards and five touchdowns for the 3-9 Cyclones.

Iowa State can use Jones either as a read-option quarterback to create a tantalizing duo with Warren or as a speed back. New head coach Matt Campbell has a couple of unique options when it comes to utilizing the speedster from Ohio.

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Jordan Fuller to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

College football teams win national titles with stars and athletes, so Jordan Fuller's commitment to Ohio State once again has the Buckeyes headed in the right direction.

Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports passed along word that Fuller was heading to Columbus Monday evening. 

Fuller commented on his decision, per Wiltfong

I felt the most comfortable there. For a long time they’ve really been my favorite and that’s the place for me.

...The tradition, top-notch football, the competition, the way they develop their players, the way they take care of their players, the honesty, the opportunity for early playing time and networking, their alumni base is huge.

I’m just excited to be part of a program that’s been storied and so successful in history. I’m excited to be part of something that’s a lot bigger than me.

Fuller is everything a coach looks for in a high school recruit. He's a 4-star prospect and the sixth-ranked athlete in the 2016 recruiting class, per 247Sports. The 17-year-old dual-threat quarterback is listed at 6'1 ½" and 196 pounds.

Fuller's position wasn't always clear during the recruiting process. He played Wildcat quarterback and wide receiver at Old Tappan High School (New Jersey), racking up 1,665 total yards and 15 touchdowns en route to earning NJ.com's State Player of the Year award in 2015. 

Along with those positions, Scout.com lists Fuller as the nation's 10th-ranked cornerback prospect. Wiltfong said Fuller will play cornerback for the Buckeyes. 

ESPN.com noted his defensive chops have dramatically increased: 

This kid has really improved his stock in our eyes. He's become faster and more fluid. Fuller makes most of his big plays on offense, but shows really upside on the defensive side to blossom. Gives coaches lots of options. He can run, he's physical and he's versatile. Will be very attractive for power five programs.

Even though Fuller didn't have a defined position on the recruiting trail, he's one of the most exciting talents in the nation and has the potential to become a superstar at his new home. Varsity Highlights HD passed along some of his highlights and his decision Monday:

Fuller is just another example of death, taxes and a successful recruiting year for Urban Meyer. The Ohio State head coach added the dynamic Fuller to an incoming class that ranks second overall (as of Monday), trailing only LSU, according to 247Sports.

It makes sense that Fuller will be going to Ohio State as a cornerback, as Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com noted the Buckeyes need more help in the secondary after Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP Eli Apple declared for the NFL draft.

Meyer is a master of developing talent and will find the best way to use his new weapon as soon as possible. Fuller is going to be working with one of the best in the nation and will make an impact for the Buckeyes over the next few years.

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Damar Hamlin to Pitt: Panthers Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Pennsylvania cornerback Damar Hamlin has decided to make Pitt his home for the next four years after giving the Panthers his commitment. 

Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Hamlin's pledge to attend the university on Monday. He chose the Panthers over the Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions, per Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch.

Hamlin is one of the most intriguing defensive backs in this year's recruiting class. He's highly regarded, rated as a 4-star prospect and the No. 14 overall cornerback by 247Sports' composite rankings, but that's just where the excitement begins. 

Size and length are two key assets for a defensive back in football today because wide receivers are bigger and faster than ever before. Hamlin has great measurables at 6'1" with a 175-pound frame, giving him the potential to disrupt plays even when it appears he's been beaten. 

With all the pressure on his shoulders in 2015 as such a high-profile recruit, Hamlin was terrific enough to earn a spot on the Max Preps' All-American Team, and Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports threw high praise his way:

Past performance can say something about where a player is going, but recruits also need to show potential. Hamlin boasts as much of that as any cornerback in the 2016 recruiting class, as noted by ESPN.com's Recruiting Nation scouting report.

Hamlin may be a guy that rises into an upper-echelon corner in this class. He has size, hips, savvy and athleticism as well scheme and coverage versatility. Very good prospect with a high ceiling. ... Hamlin has good length for a corner with room to fill out frame and add bulk. For a taller corner is able to transition well enough to turn and run with receiver without having to waste a lot of motion and regain balance when having to make a 180-degree turn.

Adding muscle is not a concern at this stage of Hamlin's development. He's going to have plenty of time working with head coach Pat Narduzzi and a tremendous staff to get there. 

Home-field advantage seemed to work for Narduzzi, as the Pittsburgh native elected to stay close to home. The Panthers' 2016 class is holding steady with a solid ranking of fifth in the ACC and 34th overall, per 247Sports

Pitt has struggled breaking away from the middle of the pack in the ACC, winning an average of seven games during its three seasons in the conference. Recruiting has become more difficult in the conference with Florida State, Clemson and Miami with new coach Mark Richt

However, the eight games Narduzzi won in his first season in 2015 were the most for the team since the 2010 season. If he can develop all of this high-end talent being compiled, the Panthers will be a dangerous team very soon.

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Chris Black to Missouri: Latest Transfer Details, Comments and Reaction

Wide receiver Chris Black never lived up to expectations as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide, but he will attempt to resurrect his career in 2016 with fellow SEC school Missouri. 

He shared news of his transfer on Twitter Monday:

Michael Casagrande of AL.com noted Black will be a graduate transfer for the Tigers, which means he is eligible to play in 2016. The playmaker also considered Arizona State and Maryland.

David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune said Black will participate in spring football with the Tigers as well.

Black came to Alabama as a highly regarded recruit, but he only caught 25 passes for 290 yards in three seasons. His best campaign came in 2014 when he tallied 188 receiving yards, but he dealt with injuries throughout his tenure in Tuscaloosa. He redshirted his first season in 2012 and only saw the field in two games in 2015 because of various physical setbacks.

Black was actually Alabama’s leading returning receiver entering the 2015 campaign after the departures of Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones, but an ankle injury held him back.

There isn’t much room for impact pass-catchers on Alabama’s depth chart following a national title with Calvin Ridley, O.J. Howard and ArDarius Stewart all returning in 2016. Ridley racked up 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns, Howard won the MVP of the national title game as a tight end with 208 receiving yards and two scores and Stewart tallied 700 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Had Black returned to the Crimson Tide, he would have faced an uphill battle coming off an injury to even consistently see the field.

As for Missouri, it was a dismal 113th in the nation in passing yards per game in 2015 (165.6) and didn’t feature a single wide receiver with more than 350 total receiving yards all season. What’s more, 247Sports only listed one wide receiver commit among Missouri’s 2016 recruits, as of Monday, and that was 3-star Dominic Collins.

From an opportunity standpoint, Black will have a much better chance to emerge as a go-to option in the Tigers offense. Black was talented enough to draw interest from powerhouse Alabama in the first place, and he may finally have the chance to show what he can do as a healthy pass-catcher in a new uniform.

Missouri’s aerial attack must improve if it wants to compete for an SEC East crown after finishing 5-7 in 2015, and adding Black is an ideal step forward this offseason.

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Latest Buzz Surrounding Big 12 Recruiting Ahead of National Signing Day

It’s been a rough recruiting cycle for the Big 12, which has been lagging behind the other conferences in commitments from top players. But Big 12 schools are hoping for some top recruits to help close that gap by the end of national signing day.

Just four recruits in the Rivals 100 are committed to Big 12 schools—three to Baylor and one to Oklahoma. On Wednesday, however, the conference will be in contention for a few more top prospects.

The Oklahoma Sooners are in the hunt for 4-star cornerback Jared Mayden. His other choice is Alabama. He told Greg Powers of Scout.com, “It’s a real close one.”

“They’re really good schools,” Mayden said. “I really just don’t know.”

The Sooners need depth at corner with the departure of Zack Sanchez. One advantage for the Sooners is that both of Mayden’s parents went to Oklahoma. They could also pursue his younger brother, quarterback Jalen Mayden.

Another big name still available is 4-star defensive tackle D’Andre Christmas-Giles, who has TCU and Texas in his top three with LSU. Christmas-Giles tweeted that he will announce his decision Wednesday:

If Christmas-Giles were to choose the Longhorns, it would give more life to a class that sits at No. 43 in the Rivals recruiting rankings. Should he pick the Horned Frogs, he would fill their last glaring need in an already historic class.

Texas is also in the running for Nacogdoches, Texas, safety Brandon Jones. Jones is ranked as the No. 11 player overall in Texas. He has the Longhorns in his top schools with Big 12 rival Baylor as well as Arkansas and Texas A&M.

Jones visited Texas earlier this month. He went to Baylor for his last official visit over the weekend and tweeted that he had a great time:

Getting the 4-star safety would be a strong finish for an already strong class by Baylor. Barring a couple of flips from their major commits, the Bears are going to finish with a Top 20 class and possibly higher.

They currently sit at No. 11 in the Rivals team rankings. Jones would likely catapult the Bears into the Top 10.

TCU is the only other Big 12 school with a class ranked in the Top 20 of the Rivals rankings. The Frogs are 16th in the team rankings, and they have a shot at a couple other top prospects in addition to Christmas-Giles.

Kyle Porter, a 4-star running back from Katy, Texas, has the Frogs in his final three with Texas and Arkansas. He visited Arkansas last weekend and told HawgSports.com he enjoyed his time in Fayetteville. He also took official visits to TCU and Texas, according to Rivals.

Porter would give the Frogs another talented running back in a class that has two highly touted prospects at the position: Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua.

The Frogs are also waiting to hear from Tyrie Cleveland. The No. 9 player in the state of Texas is a Houston commit. He has taken official visits to Arkansas, Florida and TCU, however, and plans to announce his final decision on signing day.

Keeping Cleveland, Porter, Jones and Mayden in the Big 12 would be great for the conference. The Big 12 hasn’t done well recruiting in Texas recently. As of now, the Big 12 only has commitments from six of the top 25 players in the state for 2016.

Those four recruits are ranked among the top 32 players in Texas by Rivals. Cleveland, Jones and Mayden are all in the top 14. Commitments from any of them would be a welcome change.

Since TAMU left for the SEC and Texas began its precipitous decline, the Big 12 has struggled to keep players from Texas in the conference. The Aggies have given the rest of the SEC a bigger window to pursue players from the talent-rich state.

Combine that with the recent struggles of Texas, the state’s traditional power, and Mike Farrell of Rivals said those factors have drawn more and more Texas recruits out of Big 12 country.

“There are plenty of reasons the Big 12 is having its butt handed to it in recruiting," Farrell told Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News. "It all started with the decline of Texas and conference realignment. Those two hurt the Big 12."

Keeping these Texas players in the Big 12 would help the conference begin to take back the recruiting pipelines other conferences have taken from it. Convincing these players to play in Texas would also increase the overall quality of the league.

Right now, the national narrative says the Big 12 can’t bring in the talent necessary to compete with the other conferences. Come Wednesday, the Big 12 will have the chance to prove that idea wrong.

 

Star rankings and recruitment information courtesy of Rivals

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Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Predicting All the Recruits Who Will Sign on NSD

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Two days from national signing day, Notre Dame football is still looking for a late flurry to its recruiting class of 2016.

The Irish already have five signees—linebacker/defensive end Daelin Hayes, defensive end Khalid Kareem, safety Devin Studstill, safety Spencer Perry and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson—enrolled early in South Bend.

Seventeen other verbal commitments have already pledged to the Irish. Beyond that group of 22, which is ranked ninth nationally, who else will Notre Dame land by the end of the day Wednesday?

There are still six relevant names on Notre Dame's board as it creeps closer to signing day. Wide receiver Demetris Robertson and linebackers Caleb Kelly and Ben Davis are elite 5-star talents, while 4-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch, 4-star athlete Jordan Fuller and 3-star linebacker Jonathan Jones remain targets.

Jones appears to be the most likely to ink with the Irish on Wednesday. The Orlando, Florida, native has narrowed his focus to Michigan and Notre Dame. Jones checks in as the No. 31 outside linebacker and No. 449 overall prospect in the class. He logged his official visit to South Bend in late September for the UMass blowout.

According to Irish247's Tom Loy, "all signs point toward him committing and signing with the Irish on Wednesday."

Irish fans would certainly love to land Robertson, and the high-end wideout may be the next likeliest recruit.

The No. 1 wide receiver and No. 14 overall prospect in the nation, Robertson's recruitment has attracted plenty of attention the last few days. Robertson visited Georgia Tech over the weekend, though an Alabama visit was scrapped again.

This, of course, all comes just days after Notre Dame's in-home visit with Robertson in Savannah, Georgia, on Thursday, when the Irish made tremors with their massive equipment truck.

What does it all mean? Tough to tell.

"There is still talk of visiting Georgia this weekend, but we still believe that he could surprise some people, shut things down and commit and sign 48 hours from now," Loy wrote Monday. "If that's the case, we're confident he ends up with Notre Dame."

Right now, we have the Irish holding off the late-charging competition.

Oklahoma has long appeared to be the leader for Kelly, the No. 3 outside linebacker and No. 25 overall recruit in the class. Despite an official visit to South Bend in mid-December for Notre Dame's awards banquet weekend and an in-home visit from the Irish staff last week, we still like Oklahoma.

"Kelly looks like he's leaning toward Oklahoma over Notre Dame at this point," Loy wrote Monday. "Barring a change of heart, we expect him to suit up for the Sooners next season."

Might McCulloch stay in Big 12 country, too?

The Houston product is the No. 4 outside linebacker and No. 59 recruit in the country. McCulloch took his official visit to South Bend in mid-October and has since taken officials to Stanford, Michigan, Texas and Texas A&M. Loy still expects McCulloch to sign with Texas.

Rounding out the remaining linebackers, Davis is another top-tier 'backer. Notre Dame's equipment truck made a stop in Gordo, Alabama, to check in on the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 10 overall player. Loy expects Davis to sign with the Crimson Tide.

Fuller will make his announcement Monday night.

According to Loy, Fuller is down to Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State—with the Buckeyes as the favorite. The Westwood, New Jersey, native is the No. 6 athlete and No. 130 overall prospect.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com, and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Auburn Football: What Tigers Need to Do to Close Strong on National Signing Day

National signing day is one of the biggest days on the college football calendar for any program, but it's become monumental for Auburn in the last several years.

The Tigers are one of the top recruiting powerhouses in the SEC and, by extension, the entire country. It's virtually impossible for teams to compete for championships without winning big on signing day, and Auburn has maintained an elite level of recruiting over the past decade.

Auburn is currently No. 14 in 247Sports' composite team rankings, which is still impressive considering the Tigers' underwhelming seasons in 2014 and 2015 and recent coaching turnover. No matter the records, Auburn is still an appealing destination for some of the nation's top recruits.

The Tigers also have a chance to close inside the Top 10 of the rankings with a strong showing on national signing day. Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles named Auburn as one of nine teams that could win big Wednesday.

What do the Tigers need to do to close strong and wrap up an outstanding 2016 recruiting class? Here are three target areas to watch this Wednesday.

 

Sign two of the remaining Top 100 defensive targets

Auburn's best chance at pushing into the Top 10 of the overall team rankings—and perhaps a run at a potential Top 5 class—resides with four defensive Top 100 recruits:

These four players are the bulk of the biggest targets remaining for Auburn, and the Tigers have a strong chance with at least three of them.

Rashan Gary, the No. 1 overall player in the country, is the longest shot. Auburn had some good momentum with the New Jersey native during the 2015 season, but the departure of former defensive coordinator Will Muschampdidn't sit well with Gary's mother, who has played a vocal role in his recruitment.

Head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive line coach Rodney Garner visited Gary over the weekend—before the nation's most coveted recruit made his official visit to Clemson. The ACC's Tigers and Michigan appear to be the leaders for Gary, but one can't completely rule Auburn out.

Fellow defensive tackle and Top 10 recruit Derrick Brown, however, has a much better chance of signing with Auburn. His last three weekends were official visits to—in order—Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee.

According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, "Auburn likes its chances" of signing the elite Georgia native. Niebuhr put Auburn's chances of signing Brown at 55 percent.

Over the weekend, Auburn's chances at signing 5-star linebacker Ben Davis surprisingly rose. The nation's No. 1 inside linebacker, the son of Alabama all-time tackles leader Wayne Davis, made his official visit to Auburn and told reporters he didn't have a leader after his trip to the Plains.

"I got to see a lot of things that I was wondering about, answered a lot of questions," Davis said, per Tom Green of the Opelika-Auburn News. "Coach Malzahn and Coach Steele, they’re great coaches. I’m just glad, like I said, that I got down here to see them. It’s going to be tough on signing day for me."

As Green reported, the top factor in Davis' recruitment is his chance at early playing time. That's something Auburn can offer more than Alabama. While Davis picking anyone but the Tide would still be a signing day surprise, the Tigers are very much in the hunt for the star linebacker.

Finally, Auburn is also in the running for 4-star safety Nigel Warrior. Tennessee, where his father, Dale Carter, played, is said to be the leader, but the Tigers could snatch him from the Vols on signing day. 

Warrior officially visited Auburn on Jan. 21, and a host of Auburn coaches visited him on Jan. 19 and Jan. 27. New defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff has been a key figure in Auburn's late push for Warrior.

Signing one of these Top 100 recruits would obviously be huge for Auburn, but the best-case scenario involves the Tigers snagging at least two of them—most likely Brown and either Davis or Warrior.

If Auburn signs two of these four, it's a strong signing day finish that would put the Tigers firmly into the Top 10. If Auburn signs three of the four, it's one of the biggest hauls in recent memory. 

If Auburn signs all four, the world might stop spinning on its axis. Then again, much stranger things have happened with this program in recent years.

 

Land the Myers brothers

Offensively, Auburn's No. 1 target is a name that should already be familiar to Tigers fans—4-star wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers.

The Tampa native and former No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the 2016 class was widely expected to stay in-state after decommitting from Auburn last May. However, with just days remaining in the recruiting cycle, Craig-Myers narrowed his list down to just Auburn and North Carolina.

The 6'2", 205-pound Craig-Myers is an all-around receiver with the ideal body size to become a future No. 1 target in the Auburn offense.

The position is one of huge need for the Tigers—they've already gotten commitments from two other 4-star wideouts—and Craig-Myers has been Auburn's biggest target on this side of the ball for quite sometime.

North Carolina has made a strong push late for Craig-Myers, moving past Florida State and Ole Miss to land in the final spots with Auburn. Co-offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer is a big fan of his talents.

Auburn currently holds 70 percent of the 247Sports crystal ball predictions for Craig-Myers, and the Tigers have gotten all the experts' picks since late December.

Craig-Myers' brother, 3-star cornerback Jayvaughn Myers, is also deciding between Auburn and North Carolina. He officially visited Auburn with Craig-Myers on Jan. 15.

Myers is far from Auburn's top recruits left on the board, but he brings good size at 6'1" to the cornerback position—and the Tigers can always use additional depth in the secondary. He played at the Under Armour All-America Game and could be a high-potential pickup.

While the brothers haven't said they are officially a package deal, Myers' matching of Craig-Myers' two finalists is quite telling. It's hard to imagine one of them going to Auburn and the other one going to Chapel Hill at this point.

Auburn simply needs to close strong with these Florida siblings by edging North Carolina for their signatures on Wednesday. If that happens, the Tigers will have an instant-impact receiver and another quality defensive back for 2016.

 

Pick up another offensive lineman

After signing a large offensive line class last year, Auburn only has one current commitment along the front five for 2016—3-star tackle Brodarious Hamm.

That's not from any lack of trying on Auburn's part, though. The Tigers, who have a new offensive line coach in Herb Hand, are targeting a trio of 4-star linemen ahead of national signing day.

While the Tigers lag behind both Florida State and Tennessee at this point, they're still said to be factors in the recruitment of North Carolina tackle Landon Dickerson. A borderline 4/5-star recruit, Dickerson visited Auburn for the Iron Bowl.

Auburn has a better chance at landing Georgia tackle E.J. Price, who officially visited the Plains on Jan. 22. The Tigers are in the hunt with Georgia, who already has several offensive tackle commitments, and USC for his signature on Wednesday.

Price, a 2016 Under Armour All-American, is being recruited by Auburn to play left tackle. The Tigers lost starting tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young to the NFL this offseason, making a blue-chip pickup like Price important for the future.

"Well, I ‘m sure everyone knows Shon Coleman and Avery Young left so it’s an amazing opportunity for me to come in and play early," Price said, per Niebuhr. "I have a great relationship with Coach Malzahn and Coach Hand. It’s just a great relationship overall as far as football."

The final target is Nigerian-born Ohio recruit Prince Sammons, who can play both defensive end and offensive tackle at a high level.

Hand recruited the 6'8" Sammons at Penn State and wants him to join the Tigers—and Auburn is the only one to recruit him exclusively at offensive tackle, per Niebuhr. Sammons is raw, much like 2015 signing Prince Tega Wanogho, but his physical gifts make him a high-value target.

Again, with two star tackles leaving early for the NFL this offseason, the Tigers would love to add another recruit on the offensive line with Hamm.

Auburn most likely has the best shot at landing Sammons of the three, but a surprise pickup of Dickerson or Price would make for an exciting Wednesday on the Plains.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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4-Star DE Terrell Hall Tweets List of Final 4 Schools

With less than 48 hours remaining until the start of national signing day, it's now down to four schools for 4-star defensive end Terrell Hall, one of the nation's top uncommitted recruits.

Hall tweeted his final four of Alabama, Florida State, Maryland and Ole Miss on Monday afternoon in the new standard form of the iPhone note screenshot with team-specific emojis:

Hall, who decommitted from Ohio State last August, will announce his college decision at 2:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday at his high school, St. John's College in Washington, D.C. The decision will be televised on ESPNU.

The nation's No. 6 weak-side defensive end is a high 4-star, according to 247Sports' Composite Rankings. However, 247Sports' own list has him as a 5-star and the No. 23 overall recruit.

Hall stands at 6'5" and weighs 250 pounds. His incredible physical gifts have made him such a high-rising recruit in the class of 2016.

"Physically, Hall is the freak defensive lineman of the 2016 class," Barton Simmons of 247Sports wrote. "Though he's raw, he's got the highest defensive end ceiling in this class. An injury prevented him from playing in any All-American games which could have driven his rating even higher."

Hall also has great versatility on the defensive side of the ball. He told Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue last year he could play multiple positions at the college level.

"I can play middle linebacker, defensive end and outside linebacker. I bring a lot to the table," Hall said, per Donohue. "It makes it hard for an offense to find a way to stop me. You have to worry about where I am before the snap—whether I'm going to drop back in coverage, rush off the edge or line up over your guard."

Defending national champion Alabama is said to be the leader for Hall's signing, with 77 percent of the 22 Crystal Ball Predictions at 247Sports going the Tide's direction.

Hall officially visited Alabama on Jan. 22, and head coach Nick Sabanwent to the nation's capital last Friday with outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi to see the defensive end.

"They prepare you to be the best player and also the best person as far as pushing you to be great everyday," Hall said of Alabama, per Hank South of 247Sports. "I stayed until Monday, so I got to see their first workout since the national championship game. ... They’re gonna push you day in and day out."

The Alabama coaches visited Hall before he went to Ole Miss for his final official visit over the weekend. He also officially visited Florida State on Dec. 11 and Maryland on Jan. 16.

Maryland is the only other program that has received more than one Crystal Ball prediction for Hall.

New Terps defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, a native of Washington, D.C., recruited Hall for Alabama prior to his arrival at Maryland, per Ahmed Ghafir of 247Sports.

"Earlier this season, Maryland appeared out of the race for the prized former Ohio State commit," Ghafir wrote. "But assistant coach Aazaar Abul-Rahim, head coach D.J. Durkin and associate head coach Mike London have put the full-court press on Hall and the four-star has become increasingly more receptive to the Terrapins’ pitch."

Whether he decides to stay close to home with Maryland or heads south to SEC or ACC country, one thing is for sure—Hall is going to make one fanbase extremely happy come Wednesday afternoon.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Will Alabama Continue Its No. 1 Overall Recruiting Class Streak?

Not to be a buzzkill, but no matter how the University of Alabama fares on national signing day, Nick Saban will downplay his latest success.

He has done so every year at Alabama, including 2015, when the Crimson Tide again finished atop the recruiting rankings.

“I know there's going to be a lot of talk and speculation and everybody relates to recruiting based on how'd you get ranked,” Saban said at this time last year. “Every coach is going to stand here at this podium...and say they're pleased with the guys that they recruited. No one has a bad recruiting class.

“And we're certainly pleased with our guys, but predicting how a young person is going to do academically and athletically in college by giving them some rating when he's in high school is not very scientific.”

That’s what Saban says publicly. Behind the scenes, it’s a little different, as just about every move the Crimson Tide make—from facility upgrades to the coaching hires—is with an eye on attracting future prospects.

It’s the backbone of any program and the key to the Crimson Tide’s success.

However, Saban is correct that there are no guarantees, even with his stellar Class of 2008 that set the benchmark and helped lead to three national championships. That class included the Crimson Tide’s first Heisman Trophy winner and 12 players who would be selected in the NFL draft, including five in the first round.

Yet at the time, running back Mark Ingram Jr., defensive lineman Marcell Dareus (the No. 3 overall selection in the 2011 draft) and junior college transfer Terrence Cody (a two-time All-American nose guard) were all thought to be closer to the bottom of the recruiting class than the top.

Most recruiting services use a 5-star rating system, with five stars being the equivalent to a player who could contribute immediately, four suggesting that he’s a year away and so on.

Alabama had three 5-star players in 2008, led by wide receiver Julio Jones, who had a legendary career with the Crimson Tide. 

The other two were offensive tackle Tyler Love, who never started a game, and wide receiver B.J. Scott—who had been instrumental in drawing other standout players to join him at Alabama but eventually ended up transferring to South Alabama to get more playing time as a cornerback.

That’s the disclaimer. Now consider the broader picture:

  • 2008: Notre Dame had the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. It played for the 2012 title.
  • 2009: LSU and Alabama finished Nos. 1 and 2, and they played for the national championship in 2011.
  • 2011: Alabama and Florida State finished Nos. 1 and 2. The Seminoles won the 2013 championship.
  • 2013: Alabama and Ohio State were Nos. 1 and 2. The Buckeyes won the 2014 title.

Of course, Alabama won the 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015 national titles, and no one doubted the Crimson Tide’s level of talent this past season. Every year since 2011, Saban's team has been ranked no. 1 on 247Sports’ composite recruiting class rankings. But as of Feb. 1, Alabama's incomplete recruiting class is ranked fifth in the nation.

Consider that in college football, winning three national titles over a six-year span is certainly a dynasty. What Saban’s done in recruiting is unparalleled in college football history.

This is the backdrop to this year’s signing day, which figures to be different from 2015, when Saban said, “We didn't have a lot of drama,” because nearly every player had been committed to Alabama for a while. This time, that’s not the case.

Through Monday afternoon, it had seven early enrollees plus Christian Bell (Hoover High School, Alabama), who grayshirted last season—which means to delay enrolling for a semester—and came in as a linebacker after being a defensive lineman in high school.

Saban never discloses scholarship information or numbers, but Bell’s believed to count as part of the 2015 class.

Among the early enrollees is junior college offensive lineman Charles Baldwin (Windsor, Connecticut/ASA College), who at 6’5” and 315 pounds, could immediately challenge for the open right tackle job vacated by Dominick Jackson.

One of his biggest competitors could be Jonah Williams (Folsom, California), a 5-star player who stands 6'5", 296 pounds.

The others who were able to practice with the team in Tuscaloosa prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship were tight end Miller Forristall (Cartersville, Georgia), quarterback Jalen Hurts (Channelview, Texas), defensive back Shawn Jennings (Dadeville, Alabama), offensive lineman Chris Owens (Arlington, Texas) and wide receiver T.J. Simmons (Pinson, Alabama/Clay-Chalkville).

Hurts and Owens are rated as 4-star prospects.

The part that has Alabama fans a little nervous is that the program only has 10 other hard commits after outside linebacker Riley Cole decommitted over the weekend and claimed he had been asked to consider a grayshirt.

That leaves eight openings, which is a lot more than Alabama usually has at this point, but the tea leaves are a lot harder to read this year because so many top prospects are waiting to make an announcement on signing day—and just about all of them are considering the Crimson Tide.

Among them are the state’s top two prospects, 5-star linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson, the nation’s top recruit in defensive tackle Rashan Gary and prized wide receiver Demetris Robertson, who will likely continue his recruiting process beyond signing day.

Cole, ranked as the 33rd-best prospect in the state of Alabama, may simply be fallout from the coaching carousel with Kirby Smart leaving to become the head coach at Georgia and Jeremy Pruitt replacing him as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator.

But it also signals something important that should put fans at ease: Alabama’s coaches are confident in a full class and their ability to add an interior linebacker in particular.

The Oneonta High School product was almost certainly on the redshirt path anyway, but he had been the only committed interior linebacker. That’s the position Davis plays.

Overall, 247Sports has 25 players listed as 5-star recruits, 11 of whom have yet to announce where they’ll be playing college ball. Alabama will be watching all 11, although it isn’t considered the favorite with most of them.

Alabama got a bump on Monday from 4-star cornerback Nigel Knott, moving it up from No. 6 to fifth in the 247Sports team rankings, despite having just 17 players in the class.

All of the teams ahead of it have landed 21 or more commitments and are looking to make final touches. The only schools to have more than one 5-star commit so far are Ole Miss (three) and Georgia (two). So the door is open for Alabama to keep moving up.

Should it land Davis and Wilson in addition to players like cornerback Shyheim Carter and defensive end Terrell Hall, who are thought to be strong Crimson Tide leans, Alabama will be in the running for No. 1 again.

As for whether it can finish there, the odds seem to be a bit stacked against the Crimson Tide—sort of like they were this past season.

Saban probably needs one more big-time addition to the class to claim his sixth straight recruiting title.

But no one should bet against him.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are from 247Sports.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Will Clemson Get a National Championship Game Bump in Recruiting?

Clemson lost the College Football Playoff National Championship to Alabama last month, 45-40, but that was by no means the peak for the Tigers program. Head coach Dabo Swinney has already won too many big games and recruited too well for Clemson to suddenly drop off the face of the college football earth. 

Despite coming up just short in the biggest game of the year, could Clemson still see a recruiting bump that one would normally be associated with national championship winners?

There are still a few pieces that need to fall into place, but the short answer is yes. The more relevant question is by how much. 

Clemson has typically recruited well under Swinney, especially over the last five classes. There's no magic recruiting number that correlates to a national championship per se, but the rule of thumb is you need to consistently rank somewhere in the top 10-15 nationally, as noted by Paul Myerberg of USA Today

Dating back to 2011, Clemson has done just that, for the most part: 

But with a mere two days before signing day, the Tigers have the chance to earn their highest class ranking to date under Swinney.

It's a fluid situation, but Clemson holds down the No. 10 class nationally as of Monday afternoon. With four early enrollees and 11 verbal commits, Clemson's class is on the smaller side this year. There might be a few headlines on signing day, but the Tigers aren't hauling in a star-studded class of 25 players. 

Clemson could, however, jump up several spots if it lands No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary. According to Brandon Rink of the Independent Mail, "with Gary’s addition alone, they [Clemson] would move to as high as sixth." Keep in mind, too, that Clemson has never landed a No. 1 overall recruit under Swinney. 

According to 247Sports' Crystal Ball graph, the 5-star prospect is expected to sign with Michigan, but underdog Clemson has made the finalists cut.

Gary took an official visit to Clemson on Jan. 29 and was sent home with one heck of a recruiting cake, as tweeted by Gary's mother, Jennifer Coney: 

Gary's official visit apparently also went "even better" than expected, according to David Hood of Tigernet.com

Swinney is never one to give up on a big-time prospect. One of the things he can point to in the '16 class is how stout the Tigers D-line could be in the future. Clemson already has 5-star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who enrolled early, and 4-star defensive end Xavier Kelly as a verbal commit. 

Add Gary to the mix, and the '16 D-line class goes to an entirely different level. 

Gary isn't the only prospect who could provide Clemson's class with a late bump. Offensive lineman John Simpson, the No. 2 in-state recruit, looks like he could sign with the Tigers over Florida. Trayvon Mullen, a 4-star cornerback, reportedly has the Tigers as a top-three candidate going into signing day, according to CardinalSports.com. Another 4-star defensive back, Romeo Finley, is "very high" on Clemson, according to an interview with Phil Kornblut of the State

The smallest class Swinney ever signed at Clemson was his first in 2009, which had just 13 signees. But the '16 class is on track to have the highest number of top-end players despite not being large in size. Even if only a couple of Clemson's top targets sign with the Tigers, this class should get a nice boost. 

The prize, though, is Gary. Stealing him would put Clemson at a level in recruiting it hasn't reached under Swinney. It would only add to the momentum the Tigers program has experienced in recent years. 

 

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

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Heartwarming On-Field Moments in College Football History

Every so often, college football sheds the label of being a brutal, violent game and offers heartwarming on-field moments.

The tear-jerking times aren't always the result of a happy occasion, since injuries are a part of that brutal, violent sport.

But everyone who's ever played the sport will say something similar: It's a brotherhood. Bonds are created and meant not to be broken. And sometimes, in moments of agony, those bonds extend beyond the color of the uniform players are wearing.

From spring scrimmages to regular-season outings to bowl games, college football can become an outlet of unbridled happiness and unexpected tenderness from players, coaches and fans.

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College Football Teams That Would Be Perfect for Reality TV Shows in 2016

College football and reality television seemingly go hand in hand these days—and I'm not just referring to my Bleacher Reportcolleagues who love to live-tweet The Bachelor.

As Bachelor live-tweeter and SEC football lead writer Barrett Sallee wrote last month, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has a new web-based reality show from in-state radio host Bo Mattingly. Being Bret Bielema already has two trailers on YouTube, including one where Bielema makes the perfect pitch for year-round egg nog.

Bielema isn't the only college football figure to get the reality show treatment recently. Last year, Showtime went in-depth with college football's famous Fighting Irish on its series A Season with Notre Dame.

But why stop there? Here are 10 other college football programs that would be perfect for reality television shows heading into the 2016 season. Some have head coaches who are made for the spotlight, while others are programs with intriguing storylines as they venture into new eras.

Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list of college football programs that would be great for reality TV. Pitch your own ideas for shows in the comments below.

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Nicholas Turner, Northwest Missouri State Football Player, Found Dead in Dorm

Nicholas Turner, a junior defensive end on the Northwest Missouri State football team, was found dead in his dorm room Sunday, the school announced.

The Nodaway County coroner's office and local authorities are investigating, though no foul play is suspected. According to USA Today's A.J. Perez, the coroner's full autopsy report will be completed in 10 to 12 weeks.

Brendan Welch of the St. Joseph News-Press reported head coach Adam Dorrel informed his players of Turner's death during a celebration honoring Northwest Missouri State's Division II national championship.

Turner appeared in 12 games this past year, making 22 total tackles, including seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He also recorded a sack in the Bearcats' 34-7 victory over the Shepherd Rams in the D-II title game.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 5-Star Ready to Announce; 4-Star Choosing Between 2

It's here.

The week of national signing day is upon us, and there are still a few major college football recruiting targets still uncommitted. By Wednesday, the recruiting world will have answers for several athletes who took the recruiting process down to the wire.

Here's the latest on some of the athletes looking to finalize their college futures on Wednesday, as well as some athletes looking to add elite-level teammates to their respective classes.

 

No final official? No regrets for Hardman

This past weekend was the last for 2016 recruits to take official visits. Mecole Hardman Jr. chose to play for his country instead.

Hardman was a member of the U.S. under-19 national team that beat Canada, 33-0, in the International Bowl Sunday afternoon in Arlington, Texas. The Elberton, Georgia, 5-star athlete lined up as a wide receiver for Team USA and caught five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown in the win.

And if he had to choose between playing in the International Bowl or taking an official visit for that weekend, he'd make the same choice all over again.

"You get to represent your country. There's nothing like that," Hardman said. "Anything you can do to give back to the troops and soldiers before you, you try to do it. I think I did everything right. I came out and had some time to myself to think about my upcoming decision. I'm happy with that."

Hardman said playing for Team USA also gave him a chance to put recruiting temporarily on the shelf. Over the next few hours, however, Hardman said his focus is solely on where he'll play college football. In fact, Hardman said he's ready to make a decision.

"This week's been helpful. I definitely know what school is best for me," Hardman said. "Anything can change between now and signing day, but I think I'm about 75 or 80 percent where I know I'm going."

Among the schools that have a shot at Hardman, according to him, are Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and Ohio State. One school he said has always been a silent contender is Tennessee, a school that Hardman said "has been there from the beginning."

Hardman is expected to announce Wednesday morning.

 

Alabama or Oklahoma for CB Mayden?

For Sachse, Texas, 4-star cornerback Jared Mayden, a decision will come down to which shade of crimson he prefers. It also will come down to whether he wants to continue a legacy or start one of his own.

Mayden, who played for the U.S. U19s, reconfirmed on Sunday what he tweeted on Jan. 24: His top two schools are Oklahoma and Alabama. The one-time Oregon pledge said he'll announce his commitment at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, and that he knows what to look for in a winning program.

"Really, it's all about how comfortable I'll feel going to that school for the next three or four years," Mayden said. "With OU, I know I can go and keep a legacy going. Plus, my parents went there. With Bama, it's a good program with a winning tradition. I can't go wrong with either one."

Mayden said he's built great relationships with both Oklahoma defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks and Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. 

 

Ultimate Decider for LB Jones: Prayer

Orlando, Florida, 3-star linebacker Jonathan Jones, also a member of the U19s, has Notre Dame and Michigan as his top two schools. On Sunday, he admitted that the schools were neck-and-neck as he inches closer to national signing day.

When asked how he planned on choosing the right school, Jones kept his answer short and simple. And spiritual.

"Jesus," Jones said, chuckling but not necessarily joking. "Straight up, wherever God wants me to go, I'll follow."

Jones, who had four tackles and a sack in the International Bowl, said both schools were "50-50" as of Sunday night, and he planned on speaking to mentors for the next couple of days to make the right decision. He visited Notre Dame in September and Michigan in December.

"Right now, I'm just praying on it. I've got a couple more days to pray," Jones said. "I'm going to talk to my pastor and talk to my dad. We're all going to sit and pray about it. We'll see what my family thinks and get a decision from there."

 

Buckeyes pledge Haskins targeting No. 1 ATH

Ohio State quarterback commit Dwayne Haskins Jr. completed 12 of 16 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns for the U19s Sunday and left the International Bowl with the MVP trophy.

Playing in the game was something of a business trip for Haskins—a trip that had two objectives. First, the Gaithersburg, Maryland, 4-star prospect wanted to lead Team USA to a win and represent his country well. Second, he wanted to make sure he did his job as a player-recruiter for the Buckeyes.

"I'm out here recruiting a little bit," Haskins said. "The class is pretty much done, but Coach [Urban Meyer] is trying to get a couple more players."

One of those players high on Ohio State's list is Mecole Hardman Jr. Haskins and Hardman connected on a third-quarter touchdown pass in the International Bowl. Haskins let him know that the play could be something routine at the next level.

"I'm working hard on Mecole. I know he decides pretty soon, but I think we have a good chance with him," Haskins said of Hardman. "That dude is really fast. I've never met somebody so fast. He makes me want to throw the ball deep all the time. That's how fast he is. He really is a special talent."

 

UCLA pledge Alloway: 'I want to get Burton'

Fontana, California, 4-star all-purpose back Damian Alloway committed to UCLA on Friday via Bleacher Report video. Since then, Alloway's taken on the role of player-recruiter and has his eyes set on one player in particular.

"One guy I can name off the top is Brandon Burton," Alloway said. "I've talked to him about all of us trying to bring something special back to L.A."

A 4-star safety from Gardena, California, Burton has UCLA and USC high on his list, as well as out-of-state schools Florida State and Arizona. Burton can also play wide receiver but is ranked as the nation's No. 6 safety in the 2016 class.

Alloway, the nation's No. 3 all-purpose back, said Burton's energy would be a perfect complement to what the UCLA class currently has.

"I'm a passionate guy playing football, and you can tell he has that, too," Alloway said of Burton. "There's a focus and a fire he plays with. I can see myself competing with him in practice and us making each other better."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports.com's composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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