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Tuesday, December 1, 1998
Updated: December 2, 11:37 AM ET
Legends lead the way in '98

By Bobby Burton
Special to

"It's like having the best coach you could possibly have, and he's in your own home," said Jarrett Payton (Arlington Heights, Ill.).

Chris Simms (Franklin Lakes, N.J.), the son of two-time Super Bowl winner Phil Simms, concurred. "I learned things from him. Maybe some leadership, the know-how, that kind of stuff. That's what I've tried to copy," Simms said.

"I guess I have a feel for what's going on a total basis," countered Eli Manning (New Orleans, La.). "I guess it's just a better understanding of the whole picture."

In case you don't follow recruiting, all three -- Payton, Simms and Manning -- are unique prospects.

Each have fathers who have enjoyed incredible success on the gridiron.

Payton, the son of NFL all-time leading rusher Walter Payton, put the father-son relationship in these terms.

"It can be good or bad," said the younger Payton of his football relationship with his father.

"It has its advantages and disadvantages. The pressure can be kind of hard to deal with. You're doing something that your dad was very good at, and you're supposed to be every bit as good as him. That makes it tough."

"On the other hand, it gives me the best teacher I could have, doing something I love doing. And if there's criticism to take, who better to take it from? I mean, I think my dad knows what I should be doing on the football field as well as anybody."

Archie Manning, the father of Eli and 1998 NFL first-pick overall Peyton Manning, says the relationship can be equally tough on the parents, as well as equally fulfilling.

"I just look out there and see my boys playing. Sure, sometimes I see some small things Eli could be doing better, and I'll tell him," said Manning.

"But I think I've always pretty much left everything up to his high school coach. He (the coach) knows what he wants from Eli on the football field and what's best for the team better than me."

"Ultimately, what's most important to me is to watch him (Eli) mature as a player on the field and as a person off of it."

"If I see my son making some of the same mistakes on the football field that I've made before, I kind of cringe at first. But at the same time, it makes me smile a little bit. That way, at least I know he's learning something."

Traditional recruiting powerhouse Florida State garnered its first verbal commitment of the campaign from Kendyll Pope (Lake City, Fla.). Pope, a 6-3, 215-pound linebacker from Columbia High, committed to the 'Noles immediately following their win over the Florida Gators.

Pope was in Tallahassee for an unofficial visit for the ballgame but maintains he will still take official visits to other schools. Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee are possibilities for visits.

One of the determining factors Pope voiced as reason for selecting the 'Noles was current FSU player Bryan Allen. Allen, a back-up linebacker, also hails from Lake City's Columbia High. Pope is generally considered one of the top 20 prospects in Florida.

Without a head football coach, Clemson's recruiting efforts have been put on hold, or are at least at a standstill. The changeover of head coaches affects the high school prospects the teams, like Clemson, are recruiting.

Quarterback Brian Miller (Johnson City, Tenn.) is a perfect example. Miller's only Division-I scholarship offer comes from Clemson, but now he's uncertain if that offer will be fulfilled by the new coaching staff.

"I guess I kind of have to sit here and wait just like all the fans," said Miller of Science Hill High.

While Miller is simply favoring the Tigers, the ones who have already committed are also in a state of flux.

"I don't know what they're going to do," said defensive back Marcell Houskins (Douglassville, Ga.) of Clemson's coaching change. "It makes me kind of nervous, but I plan on going to Clemson."

Clemson currently has seven oral commitments, one of which is Houskins.

Big East
Boston College fans breathed a collective sigh of relief after nothing apparently came of running back William Green's official visit to Ohio State. Green, a 6-1, 220-pound tailback from Absecon (N.J.) Holy Spirit High, had already pledged to Boston College in late October yet made an official visit to Ohio State on Nov. 21 for the Buckeyes' clash with Michigan.

Green, widely considered the best running back in the East, is also contemplating an official visit to Penn State for December.

But according to Green's guardian, Eagle fans should not worry.

"William said he felt more comfortable at Boston College than Ohio State," said Tim Fetter, Green's guardian.

What is Syracuse going to do for a possible replacement for the soon departed Donovan McNabb? Well, McNabb served as player-host to one possibility this weekend.

Quarterback C.J. Leak (Charlotte, N.C.) from Independence High made his official visit to Syracuse for its game with Miami and was hosted by McNabb and two Orangemen receivers.

Leak, who is a pass-run quarterback and considered one of the top prospects in the state of North Carolina, is also considering Notre Dame, where he visited for the Irish's game with LSU. Michigan State, Nebraska and Kansas State are among others.

"The visit to Syracuse went real nice," said Leak. "Their offensive philosophy definitely fits my style of play."

Leak was scheduled to make his third official visit -- to Michigan State on Dec. 11. But that visit is being re-scheduled because of Leak's recent selection to the North Carolina-South Carolina High School Shrine Game which pits the top players from each state against each other for charity.

The game is not played until Dec. 19, but the players are asked to be available for the entire week preceding the game and that makes Leak's visit to Michigan State unlikely.

Big Ten
Indiana grabbed a commitment from Jeremi Johnson (Louisville, Ky.) last week. Johnson, a 6-0, 270-pound fullback from Ballard High, was also considering Florida State, Michigan, Boston College and Arkansas among others.

Many college scouts have compared Johnson's bruising style favorably to another former Midwest star fullback, Pete Johnson.

If Jeremi's half as good as Pete, then IU gets some much-needed depth in the backfield.

T.J. Duckett (Kalamazoo,Mich.), the top prospect in the Midwest, says he is favoring Michigan State.

"I think the fact that I know some of the players at Michigan State is kind of the reason I'm leaning (to Michigan State)," said Duckett.

"With Littlejohn (Flowers), Cedric Henry and Josh Thornhill (all freshmen at Michigan State), I think they're going to be a really great team in a couple of years."

Duckett, a linebacker, makes his official visit to Michigan State this coming weekend. He has already visited Florida State and is scheduled to see Michigan on Dec. 11, UCLA on Dec. 18 and Ohio State on Jan. 8.

Big 12
Aaron McConnell wants to set the record straight.

"I am committed to Oklahoma State," said McConnell, a 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman from Midwest City, Okla.

"I was never committed to Colorado, and I don't know where that rumor even got started."

McConnell had been reported by several recruiting services as committing to CU.

What is a fact is that McConnell is now a Cowboy, and he won't take any other official visits.

"Coach Simmons said making a commitment is a lot like marriage," McConnell said. "And that really struck a chord with me because my girlfriend is really important to me. I could easily relate to what he was saying, and it just made a whole lot of sense."

McConnell said he turned down scholarship offers from Colorado and Nebraska. The Cowboys have seven pledges for the campaign.

Some colleges like the whole word to know about their public commitments, while others prefer to keep it close to the vest. Texas Tech, obviously, prefers the latter.

"I committed this summer," said quarterback-defensive back Ryan Aycock (Lubbock, Tex.). "But the (Texas Tech) coaches didn't want me to say anything. They wanted me to wait until my senior season was over."

Aycock's season is over, and now he's gone public -- with a pledge to the Red Raiders.

Pac 10
Southern Cal is having a tremendous year. Of the Trojans' nine public commitments, four are among the nation's best at their positions.

Defensive lineman Bernard Riley (Los Alamitos, Calif.), cornerback Darrell Rideaux (Long Beach, Calif.) and receiver Kareem Kelly (Long Beach, Calif.) are three of the highly coveted high school prospects who have committed to USC.

The fourth player worthy of consideration is linebacker Markus Steele, a 6-3, 235-pound junior college linebacker from Long Beach City College.

While asking for recommendations for the nation's top 50 junior college prospects, one Pac-10 coach whose team tried to recruit Steele but was unsuccessful said, "I can't imagine a better linebacker than him, a better junior college prospect than him. He's one of those J.C. players you think might have a chance to go straight to the pros."

Washington State emerged as the favorite for lineman Jeremey Williams (Spokane, Wash.) after his official visit to Wazzou, which was during the Apple Cup game with Washington.

Even though Williams' father played for Washington State, the Cougars haven't been considered among the leaders since the summer.

Williams is slated to visit Washington on Dec. 4, Michigan on Dec. 11, Southern Cal on Jan. 15 and UCLA on Jan. 22.

Also on the visit to Wazzou for the Apple Cup game were quarterback Matt Kegel (Havre, Mont.), tight end Josh Shavies (Oakland, Calif.) and defensive lineman Josh Parrish (Chewelah, Wash.).

Like Williams, Kegel and Shavies also have family ties to the Cougars.

Shavies' older brother Fred signed with the Cougars last year, and Kegel is the cousin of Drew Bledsoe.

Of the group, Parrish and Kegel have committed to Washington State.

LSU has 20 known public commitments. The next closest team in the SEC is Kentucky with nine. Alabama and Georgia have eight.

But the two best teams in the conference, Florida and Tennessee, have only three and four commitments, respectively, two of the lowest totals in the conference.

The reason?

When you win as much as Tennessee and Florida have the past few years, you can afford to wait for the top blue chip prospects to make a decision.

Both the Vols and Gators are scheduled to host most of their top prospects in the month of January.

Arkansas recently scored a minor upset in the recruiting wars. Eddie "Boo" Williams, a 6-4, 225-pound wide receiver out of Coffeyville Junior College, selected the Razorbacks over Tennessee, Alabama and Purdue. Before choosing the Hogs, Williams was thought to be favoring Tennessee.

The Hogs are hoping to lure another player who was previously favoring another team. Receiver-defensive back Michael Thompson (Bristow, Okla.) committed to Oklahoma this past summer.

However, Thompson says he no longer favors the Sooners because of John Blake's dismissal, but instead prefers Arkansas.

"When they fired Coach Blake, I got kind of upset," said Thompson. "I figured it was coming, but that didn't make it any better. Arkansas is looking pretty good to me. They kept recruiting me even though I'd committed (to Oklahoma)."

Thompson says he is no longer committed to the Sooners and favors the Hogs over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Thompson makes his official visit to Fayetteville, Ark. this coming weekend, Dec.4.

We're nearing the first weekend in December, which means it's banquet time at Notre Dame, always one of the top recruiting weekends for the Irish.

The featured speaker for the banquet this year is New York Yankee principal owner George Steinbrenner.

Among the recruits planning to be in attendance are: Gary Godsey (Tampa, Fla.), Jeff Faine (Sanford, Fla.), Brian Lewis (Pattonville, Mo.), Gerome Sapp (Houston, Tex.), Cedric Hilliard (Arlington, Tex.), Ryan Gillis (Hyattsville, Mary.), Sean Milligan (Norcross, Ga.) and Justin Thomas (Oklahoma City, Okla.).

Bobby Burton is editor of The National Recruiting Advisor. To subscribe, dial toll-free 1-888-TNRA-NOW or 888-867-2669 (seven issues for $59, plus regional newsletters for an additional $20 per region). For the latest on your favorite college, dial 1-900-933-7776. The cost is $1.59 per minute (must be 18 or have parents' permission).