Tuesday, December 1, 1998
Updated: December 2, 11:37 AM ET
Legends lead the way in '98
By Bobby Burton
Special to ESPN.com
"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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
McConnell had been reported by several recruiting services as committing to
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
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
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
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
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