Because the Buckeyes have a depth chart that's more crowded than an American Idol casting call, including 18 returning starters, many blue-chippers looking to play right away signed elsewhere, and Ohio State ended up with a modest, 15-member class. "It would have been really hard to come in and compete for a job there," says Dublin (Ohio) Coffman High All-State quarterback Brady Quinn, who signed with Notre Dame. "It's great that they have so many players coming back, but I had to do what was best for me."
Recruiting coordinator Bill Conley says that while many prospects were daunted by the Buckeyes' depth, he is optimistic that the team's success will boost recruiting efforts after next season, when Ohio State will lose 29 seniors. For now, says Conley, "those players who chose to forgo the draft and finish out their Buckeye careers are the best recruits we could have asked for."
Is USC the hot spot again in California?
For the better part of the 1990s many of the best prospects in talent-rich Southern California left the state for schools in the Northwest and Southeast. Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who took over an ailing program in December 2000, has stopped the bleeding. His crop of 22 signees features 20 Californians, including one of the nation's top running backs ( Reggie Bush of Helix High) and the state's top two receivers ( Ventura's Whitney Lewis and Woodland Hills's Steve Smith). Although Carroll failed to sign a quarterback ( USC went hard after Monte Vista High standout Kyle Wright but lost him to Miami), the Trojans had a consensus top three class, its best in 30 years.
While an 11-2 record, including a victory over Iowa in the Orange Bowl, helped him on the recruiting trail, the 51-year-old Carroll also developed an unusually strong rapport with prospects. " Carroll will hang out with these kids at practices, at pep rallies, anywhere and anytime the NCAA says it's legal," says Tustin High coach Myron Miller.
Says Inglewood defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson, who grew up 15 minutes from the USC campus but until recently thought he'd go to Florida, " Coach Carroll was the only one who stopped whatever he was doing when I needed to talk to him. If you can play in your home state for a coach like that, there's no need to go anywhere else."
How is Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham distinguishing himself as a recruiter?
Focused and organized on the sideline, Willingham displays similar characteristics on the recruiting trail. While most coaches invite 50 or so recruits on official visits, Willingham hosted just 32 prospects in landing a top 10 class. "He's not going to play salesman," says Greg Mattison, an Irish defensive assistant since 1997. "His process is a very selective one in which we decide on the kids we need and then go after them hard."
Willingham targets players who demonstrate what he judges to be impeccable character. "He asks a lot of questions about the person a recruit can become and very little about the player he can become," says Gilman High ( Baltimore) coach Biff Poggi, who had two players sign with the Irish.
"You know to mind your manners around him," says Dwight Stephenson Jr., a linebacker from Boca Raton, Fla., who was among Notre Dame's 22 signees. "He makes it clear that he's looking for a certain type of person."