Recruiting goes national

Elite recruits are spurning top in-state schools more than ever before

Updated: January 23, 2014, 9:50 PM ET
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN.com

Among its top four 2013 recruits, Duke signed one apiece from Florida, California and Texas. In all, the Blue Devils snagged nine of their top 13 recruits from the trio of hotbed states.

Yes, the same Duke that won the ACC Coastal Division in 2013 and pushed Johnny Football to the brink on New Year's Eve.

The connection is clear.

David Cutcliffe, venerable coach of the Blue Devils, has waited three decades for recruiting borders to open into the talent-rich states. Suddenly, prospects are there for the taking.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesDuke's David Cutcliffe has taken advantage of recruits' willingness to leave home, with nine of his top 2013 recruits coming from California, Florida or Texas.

No longer can the top programs in Florida, California and Texas simply shepherd elite in-state recruits to their campuses. Times have changed. Prospects are more transient. They travel in the offseason to showcase events and play alongside classmates from coast to coast in January all-star games.

Cutcliffe, in a recent interview, lifted a smart phone in his right hand to explain.

"This has changed everything," he said. "We hear that the world is flat now. Well, recruiting is flat. There's more range in recruiting because of technology. It's still about communication and building relationships, but that's a lot easier for me to do with a youngster in Los Angeles than it was years ago."

Trends at the top of the recruiting rankings illustrate the movement as a whole.

Less than two weeks before signing day, of the 30-player pool composed of the top 10 committed prospects in Florida, California and Texas, 43 percent have committed to play or already enrolled at programs out of their home state.

That's an increase of more than 10 percent from 2006.

Look more closely at 2006, and you'll see that Texas signed four of the top five from its state, led by linebacker Sergio Kindle; USC grabbed four of the top seven California prospects; and quarterback Tim Tebow headlined Florida's haul that included three of the top seven players in its state.

This year, only one of the top 14 prospects in Texas has pledged to the Longhorns; USC, so far, is 0-for-7 with top prospects in California; and the Gators have secured a commitment from only one of the top 12 Florida prospects.

"I could have easily went to Texas," said cornerback Nick Watkins, No. 123 in the ESPN 300 and committed to Notre Dame out of Dallas Bishop Dunne. "That would have been easy.

"But you've got to look at the future. These four years, you're going to meet people. Most Texas kids who are just students, they go to Texas. Sometimes, you want to branch out, create new bonds and new opportunities."

Recruits no longer feel a duty to pick their local schools. Instead, they view their decisions as business opportunities.

And why not? College programs have long handled it that way.

"I'm proud to be born and raised in Texas," cornerback Tony Brown said last month. "I stand true to that."

But Brown, of Beaumont (Texas) Ozen, the No. 8 overall prospect nationally, committed to Alabama on ESPN during the Under Armour All-America Game. He recently started school in Tuscaloosa.

[+] EnlargeTony Brown
Miller Safrit/ESPNFive-star CB and Texas native Tony Brown decided to spurn in-state schools and sign with Alabama.

"As Texans, we should have more pride in going to Texas," Brown said. "But in my recruiting process, I stayed open. I wanted to make it the best decision for me. And I knew if my best decision was not in Texas, I wanted to go to a school that was the best fit for me."

Running back Dalvin Cook of Miami Central switched his pledge from Clemson to Florida, then finally Florida State. Cook, rated 21st in the ESPN 300, believes, like Brown, in loyalty.

And it meant enough for Cook to act on the emotion.

"If you've got the talent to change a program in your backyard, go ahead and do it," Cook said. "I feel like, if you're an in-state guy, you might as well stay in state."

Basically, coaches said, recruits just know more today.

"That's part of life in California," UCLA defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Angus McClure said. "We have a very strong recruiting base, and everybody in the country is going to come into Southern California. Recruits are going to listen."

Remember, though, it works both ways, said Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton. While the recruits know more about faraway college programs, the recruiters can more easily learn about distant recruits.

Game tape is available at the click of a mouse. Word travels fast about prospects.

Mostly gone are the days of a sleeper prospect.

"For us, let's find the kid who fits Auburn," Horton said.

Usually, according to Horton, the right fit is available within a three- or four-hour drive from the school, but if the Tigers have to go into Texas or Florida, they're ready. So are the recruits.

"My thing is opportunity," said receiver Travis Rudolph, a Florida State commit rated No. 40 in the ESPN 300 from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman. "If there's a better opportunity to get yourself where you want to be in your future, then go for it -- no matter where it is."

Rudolph said his cousin, Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears, knew little about the options outside the state of Florida when he signed with Miami in 2002.

"It was definitely different," Rudolph said.

Rudolph visited Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio State before settling on the Seminoles.

In the 2014 class, the top two prospects in Florida are committed to play out of state. Only one of the top four in Texas is committed to stay in state. And in California, four of the top five have yet to decide.

On signing day and beyond, college coaches said they expect the trend to continue.

It's just fine with Duke's Cutcliffe.

He has been around the game long enough to recall a time when long-distance phone calls served as a recruiting blockade.

"People don't realize how big of a deal that was," Cutcliffe said.

Many of his assistant coaches cannot identify. They know only a landscape in recruiting where distance, no matter how long, matters little.

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