College football recruiting: New stars take center stage down the homestretch
The recruiting finish line may be in sight for college football programs around the country, but in a lot of individual recruitments, the race is just beginning. Around this time every year, some fresh names emerge as high priority targets for college football’s blue bloods. These guys may have been afterthoughts for the better part of their recruitments, but by January of their senior years, they’re living the five-star lifestyle as their recruitments intensify.
With the first ever Early Signing Period instituted this year, limiting January’s available prospects, the late finds have become more critical than ever before. Whether due to senior film, academic question marks clearing up, positional value or simply a late appreciation for their body of work, these 11 prospects have gone from faces in the crowd to center stage down the stretch.
1. Four-star DT Malik Langham
Where’d he come from: The only unique circumstance in Langham’s recruitment is that he’s 6-foot-5.5, 270 pounds and he put together a tremendous senior tape. Lineman bodies with like that — who can move — are rare and there’s always one or two every year that become the critical final piece to a host of major programs.
Buzz: Had Langham signed in December, there’s a good chance he would’ve ended up at Vanderbilt. But he’s since become a top priority for Alabama, Tennessee and Florida, and now he’s considering an Auburn visit after a late offer. Alabama is considered the favorite here coming off of a Florida official visit, but he will choose between Auburn and Tennessee for his last visit this weekend and the Tigers could become a real threat.
2. Three-star DT Moro Ojomo
Where’d he come from: A late developer, Ojomo was good as a junior but he earned Defensive MVP honors for his district as a senior, taking his game to a different level. He won’t turn 18 until after he hits a college campus so for a very athletic and physically gifted defensive lineman, he’s still very much on the early end of his development.
Buzz: Ojomo’s rapid rise began in part with a Texas offer in early December. Since then, Tennessee, Oregon, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Miami have all followed. He had a good official visit with Texas last weekend with TCU, Oregon and Texas A&M all jostling to get him on campus before signing day. Oklahoma may be Texas’ biggest threat, but the Longhorns appear to be holding the lead.
3a. Three-star QB Brock Purdy/3b. Four-star QB Brevin White
Where’d they come from: Because every school tries to get their quarterback committed early and signed early, the quarterback position is a barren desert beyond the Early Signing Period. After a season in which he threw for 4,400 yards, Purdy wisely passed on signing with New Mexico State or UNLV that were his options in December and immediately saw the likes of Boise State, Kansas, UCF and Iowa State come calling. Then an Alabama offered raised the stakes even more.
White had already passed on a host of major college offers from the Pac-12 and beyond to commit to Princeton, but Ivy League prospects don’t sign letters of intent which allowed White to remain available to January poachers. Alabama is one of the few that may have been able to tempt him away from that Ivy League pledge.
Buzz: Both Purdy and White took official visits to Alabama over the weekend, so we could quickly see some returns from that experience. For White, it’s either Alabama or Princeton. For Purdy, Iowa State is likely Alabama’s biggest competitor, but Boise State and UCF have also gotten official visits.
4. Three-star TE Matt Alaimo
Contenders: Texas A&M, Auburn, UCLA
Where’d he come from: Alaimo’s high school quarterback Nick Patti committed to Pitt back in May. Alaimo joined him one month later, but after electing to abstain from signing early, he parted ways with Pitt. Once back on the open market, the 6-5, 235-pounder quickly became a popular prospect.
Buzz: Auburn was one of the first elite programs to really prioritize Alaimo after the Early Signing Period and took an early lead, but it appears that Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M have since taken command. After an official visit to UCLA, Chip Kelly may have made this a two-team race between the Aggies and Bruins. Florida has also offered within the last few days and will try to get Alaimo on campus for an official visit in the final weekend before signing day.
5. Three-star CB Eddie Smith
Contenders: Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi State
Where’d he come from: Smith isn’t some new name nationally, he’s just a new priority. As some of the biggest names in college football scrape and claw for starter-worthy true freshmen at corner, Smith put together senior tape that has that kind of upside.
Buzz: After committing in the summer, Smith decommitted from TCU on Dec. 17, days before the Early Signing Period and immediately following his official visit to Fort Worth. He quickly became a major priority, particularly in the SEC. Tennessee was considered the favorite heading into last weekend’s official visit to Alabama, but Mississippi State is hanging around and new coach Joe Moorhead is making him a top priority.
6. Four-star RB Maurice Washington
Where’d he come from: Washington was one of the best running back prospects in the country after his sophomore season in California. But he was forced to sit out his junior year due to transfer rules and he transferred to a small school in Texas as a senior after falling off the recruiting radar to most. A big senior year and breakout performance in the Under Armour Game reintroduced him to college coaches.
Buzz: Ohio State was a favorite of Washington’s back after that big sophomore season and an early offer for him. Urban Meyer has continued to monitor him despite having three other running backs committed, which is an indicator of how talented the kid is. Arizona State or Nebraska are the more likely destinations at this point.
7. Three-star RB C’Bo Flemister
Contenders: Georgia Tech (committed), Tennessee, Notre Dame
Where’d he come from: Flemister was an early Georgia Southern commit who flipped his pledge to Georgia Tech in December after a 1,700-yard senior season. In a year light on running back talent, Tennessee and Notre Dame have made a priority of a kid with strong testing numbers to go with his production.
Buzz: Tennessee appeared to emerge as the favorite for Flemister after a strong official visit two weeks ago. Notre Dame has dismissed two running backs and lost another to the NFL Draft, so it has made the position a late priority in the 2018 cycle with Flemister shooting to the top of its list. He visited South Bend last weekend and that may have put the Irish in the driver’s seat.
8. Three-star DT Otito Ogbonnia
Where’d he come from: Before recently, Ogbonnia was more highly recruited as a shot-putter than a football player. He’s a top 15 shot-putter nationally and he plans on throwing shot along with playing football at the next level. But he’s another big-bodied interior defender that everyone wants, and his senior film has made him a priority on the football field.
Buzz: Tennessee may benefit from having Ogbonnia on campus last after his other official visits have been more track-focused. He has family ties to Texas Tech. but the Vols have made a strong impression as has Nebraska under Scott Frost. He will announce his decision on signing day.
9. Four-star OLB Javontae Jean-Baptiste
Where’d he come from: Jean-Baptiste was already starting to surge up recruiting boards before the Early Signing Period and his emergence was a result of senior production. He went from three sacks as a junior to 11.5 as a senior at his powerhouse New Jersey program. Still an upside projection at just a little over 200 pounds, Jean-Baptiste is bubbling with potential as a pass rusher.
Buzz: Jean-Baptiste would have likely signed with Virginia Tech or Boston College in the Early Signing Period, but by holding off, he landed offers from Ohio State, Wisconsin, Texas A&M and others. He has also become a major priority for Nebraska. Scott Frost extended an offer to Jean-Baptiste while at UCF and with his step up to Nebraska, he looks like the favorite to land him.
10. Three-star DE Fabien Lovett
Contenders: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Florida
Where’d he come from: Lovett had been committed to Mississippi State since August, but a coaching change in Starkville opened the door for some other programs to make a run at the physical, versatile defensive lineman.
Buzz: There’s always at least one wild recruitment in the state of Mississippi and Lovett’s emergence as a priority could be the best bet in this cycle for that drama. It looked at one point like the one-time Mississippi State commit would end up in Oxford, but the new staff has started to make headway in getting him back into the fold. Florida is hanging around too, and will have the final pitch to Lovett next weekend on an official visit.