The Kiffin effect: Middle school commits from years ago now close to graduating

Lane Kiffin Tennessee

Way, way back in the summer of 2009, two brothers with the last name of Berry decided to follow in their older brother’s footsteps–and go to Tennessee.

But this wasn’t a couple of middle school kids talking to their friends during a break in a sandlot game, these boys were Evan Berry and Elliott Berry … and they were pledging themselves to new Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin.

Related: Kiffin says Alabama is a machine, SEC looks like the Pac-12

Kiffin made headlines after offering scholarships–verbally (i.e., meaningless)–to the younger brothers of then Tennessee star Eric Berry, who by 2009 was a superstar on defense for the Vols. Seemed like a safe enough bet. Then of course, within a few months, Kiffin had moved on to USC and the pledge sort of got forgotten–because the kids still weren’t even in high school yet.

Well, fast forward to Wednesday of this week. Evan and Elliott signed letters of intent with Tennessee after re-doing the recruiting process two coaches after Kiffin left. It turns out that the Berrys actually were SEC worthy prospects, a safe bet back in 2009 because of the bloodlines. So that all worked out well. Evan is listed as a four-star prospect who could play a myriad of positions, and Elliott is a three-star projected at outside linebacker/safety.

Kiffin’s next middle school splash came just a month after he departed Tennessee.

On Feb. 4, 2010–the day after the signing class of 2010 signed on the dotted line–new USC coach Kiffin verbally offered a scholarship to a 7th grade quarterback named David Sills. (Worthy of note: A written offer at that time couldn’t come until Sept. 1 of a prospect’s junior year, and would come on school letter head. It wasn’t binding, but it looked pretty). Sills promptly accepted the full ride, and then went back to playing marbles and trading baseball cards with his friends on the playground (just kidding, sort of). To put this into perspective, the 2010 signing class that inked the previous day featured future SEC stars Marcus Lattimore, Sharrif Floyd, Dee Milliner, Matt Elam and Alec Ogletree–all of whom are millionaires in the NFL already.

Related: Alabama hiring Kiffin should not be surprising 

Well, Sills is going into his senior year this fall. He’s still committed to USC, but it’s unclear if USC is still committed to him–I guess that’s what happens when you commit to a school half-a-decade early. It doesn’t appear Kiffin is interested in talking Nick Saban into bringing Sills to Alabama, so there may be no reunion there, but Michigan loves Sills–so he’ll find a big-time home, one way or another. Sills has turned out to be a solid three-star prospect, but not the five-star lock it was thought he would eventually be. His quarterback tutor, Steve Clarkson, is well known for grooming top-flight quarterbacks at young ages. He made the pitch to Kiffin just weeks after Kiffin came back to California in Jan. 2010, and Kiffin bit.

It’s sort of amazing to see Kiffin’s mighty mites of 2009 and 2010 actually turn into full-blown prospects. It might explain why LSU and Alabama were willing to offer then eighth-grader Dylan Moses last year (and he did commit to LSU). And Mississippi State has a 2017 kid already in Anthony Hines.

Love him or hate him, it appears Kiffin picked the right kids years ago.

Could football become the next basketball, when it comes to recruiting kids for five years? Might be heading that way. Elementary school playgrounds might be the next recruiting hotbeds (uggh).

NOTE: All references to rankings are to the composite rating.

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