Extra Points: How much should the SEC worry about Deion Sanders, ace recruiter?
There have been others, and there will be more. None has had the impact of Travis Hunter.
“If you don’t see (HBCUs) as legitimate threats to the college football model, you’re ignoring the oncoming train,” one Power 5 coach told me nearly an hour after Deion Sanders pulled off the unthinkable in the early hours of the Early Signing Period, which started Wednesday.
The college and NFL Hall of Famer and coach at HBCU Jackson State, Sanders flipped Hunter, the nation’s consensus No.1 recruit, from Florida State (Sanders’ alma mater) to Jackson State.
But this isn’t any FCS over FBS recruiting story. This is the No. 1 recruit, a player who grew up an FSU fan and had been a solid commit for nearly a year.
Hunter was publicly recruiting for FSU over social media, trying to help Seminoles coach Mike Norvell land a top 10 class to continue the rebuild in Tallahassee. Then the shockwave hit.
Before we go further, understand that potential name, image and likeness deals certainly played a factor in the flip (though Hunter could’ve have made as much NIL money at FSU). So did the idea of being coached by the greatest cover corner in the history of football.
But that’s not the only reason Hunter signed at Jackson State, two Power 5 coaches told me Wednesday.
The cultural fit weighs heavy not only on recruits but their parents and family. For years, there was little to entice elite players to ignore playing at the highest level of college football for the grind of much less bells and whistles at an HBCU.
“The NIL rule changes everything,” another Power 5 coach said. “Let’s be honest, 99% of our players have playing in the NFL as their No. 1 priority. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The NFL will find you no matter where you play, so these kids don’t need the (FBS) right now. They just need a place where they can earn with the NIL, and more important, where they feel comfortable and learn the game of football.
“Now, do they want to play at Alabama or Ohio State or Florida State because it’s the cool thing to do and you can be in the Playoff on national television? Of course they do. But more and more, we’re going to see these elite players choose HBCUs. Young kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They see what’s going on. They see what’s important. And culturally, they feel more at home at HBCUs.”
Hunter wasn’t the first elite recruit Sanders plucked from the FBS, he was just the biggest. Last year, De’Jahn White, the No. 1 junior college cornerback, flipped from Georgia to Jackson State.
Think the leaky Georgia secondary could’ve used White?
Sanders also signed 3 4-star players who had offers from nearly every major blue blood in college football: OT Javonte Gardner, DT Katron Evans and WR Trevonte Rucker.
“But that’s Deion, and that’s a big deal,” a Power 5 coach said. “You’ve got to have a charismatic guy with an impeccable résumé to get guys to turn away from (FBS) offers. Is there another Deion-type coach who can make it work?”
The bigger question: How much longer will Sanders coach Jackson State? He interviewed for the TCU job last month, and if he continues to win big – the Tigers are 11-1 heading into Saturday’s bowl game against South Carolina State – and recruit elite players, a Power 5 school will eventually try to hire him.
Unless, that is, with the signing of Hunter, Sanders is in it for the long haul of turning HBCU’s into a destination for elite high school recruits.
Ducks moving forward
Oregon didn’t settle for Georgia DC Dan Lanning. Oregon did what had to be done in a unique set of circumstances.
Specifically: former Ducks coach Mario Cristobal showed that players win championships.
That’s not minimizing Cristobal’s coaching or organizational ability, but simply underscoring the state of college football.
Oregon tailed off when Chip Kelly left after the 2012 season because new coach Mark Helfrich – while a fantastic Xs and Os coach – wasn’t an elite recruiter. So Oregon hired a Group of 5 coach with limited experience (Willie Taggart), and another former Group of 5 coach who worked under Nick Saban at Alabama (Cristobal), and the roster was quickly rebuilt.
The Ducks hired Lanning, 35, for two overriding reasons: He’s one of the most respected young coaches in the coaching fraternity, and (more important) he was Kirby Smart’s ace recruiter at Georgia – and the architect of some truly special Georgia defenses.
Just how important are players? Think about this: Oregon hired Lanning despite the fact that he spent 2 seasons in his coaching career West of the state of Texas – and both in limited roles at Arizona State (graduate assistant, recruiting coordinator).
He has recruited the West coast (specifically, the talent-rich area of Southern California), but not at the level to compete as the head coach at Oregon. It’s a risk, no doubt.
But he’s a coach with a similar tough-guy philosophy that Cristobal instilled in the program and the same type of relentless recruiter. The hope is he’ll continue the current process because they’re all from the same coaching tree of Nick Saban.
Give it time
The uneasy rumblings began as early as October, and only got stronger as Texas failed to qualify for the postseason.
Did the Longhorns get it wrong with coach Steve Sarkisian?
First and overwhelmingly foremost, Sarkisian’s biggest job in Year 1 was getting every player buying in and pulling in the same direction. Clearly, that didn’t happen.
While that’s on him and his coaching staff, it shouldn’t be the end-all. Because the more Sarkisian recruits like has in 2 years at Texas, the quicker the turnaround will happen.
He landed the No. 15 class in the nation last year despite the short time frame to recruit – all while coaching for a team that eventually won the national title. This season, despite the 5-7 record in Year 1, he has a consensus top 5 class and had 3 significant signing day flips: ATH Xavion Brice from Oklahoma, DE Ethan Burke from Michigan and CB Terrance Brooks from Ohio State.
The flips were critical on many levels, but none more than the idea that Sarkisian is keeping elite Texas players in the state. Combine those flips with the transfer of QB Quinn Ewers of Ohio State – the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2021 class, and another state of Texas elite recruit – and Sarkisian has bought time from a fan base that has very little patience.
A year ago, Sarkisian flipped another elite Texas recruit, WR Xavier Worthy, from Michigan – and all Worthy did was catch 62 passes for 981 yards and 12 TDs.
The Longhorns lost 4 1-possession games, including bad losses to Kansas, West Virginia and Oklahoma (after blowing an 18-point lead).
“I’m not making excuses for him, but that team needs time,” an NFL scout told me. “(Sarkisian) has a few guys that can play in our league in some spots, but they’re far from a finished product. We’ll see what happens with (Ewers). The college game at that level is a lot like our league. It’s such a quarterback-driven game. They were short in that position (this season).”