Signing day for the 2010 class still is two months away. However, it's never too early to look ahead to the next class of prospects.
The nation's top juniors started receiving offers on Sept. 1. Some already have ended their recruiting process with commitments. For others, things are just heating up. Along with the offers and interest, the playoffs are wrapping up these next two weeks in many states. This weekend and next, teams in Louisiana and Texas play state championship games featuring some of the nation's top talent.
Sims in magical playoff run
Running back Herschel Sims (Abilene, Texas/Abilene) may be having the most impressive playoff run of any ESPNU 150 Watch List prospect. The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder has offers from Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor. He has put together a pair of dominating performances in the regional semifinals and final against big-time competition in Cedar Hill and Arlington Bowie.
Sims began the playoffs with an impressive 181-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 42-10 win over Arlington Lamar. One of his three scores was an 88-yard kickoff return, his second of the season.
That was just the start.
Sims totaled 178 yards (106 rushing and 72 receiving) and three touchdowns in three quarters of work in a 45-7 second-round win over El Paso Coronado.
It was a third-round matchup against top-ranked Cedar Hill in which Sims became the most-talked-about player in the playoffs. Sims dashed the Longhorns' hopes with fourth-quarter scoring runs of 29 and 95 yards. He finished the contest with 276 yards and three scoring runs on 30 carries. He added 30 yards receiving on two receptions to total more than 300 all-purpose yards.
Two weeks ago, the Big Country star rushed for 212 yards and four first half touchdowns on 35 carries in the Eagles' 35-7 win over Arlington Bowie.
Most recently, Sims rushed for 123 yards and two first-half touchdowns on 24 carries in a 29-21 state semifinal win over Klein.
All told, Sims has rushed for 898 yards and 12 touchdowns in the playoffs entering Saturday's state title game against two-time defending state champion Katy High.
Sims points to the team's attitude and his improvement finishing runs as the reasons for his success.
"We can improve every week no matter what round of the playoffs it is," Sims said. "There is always something we can get better at. I feel like we are confident knowing we are going to win the game from the beginning, and we have got a jump on the teams from the beginning. We have been letting teams know that we are going to be there for four quarters. I think I have been finishing runs a lot better than last year. Last year there were a few times I got shoestring tackled, and this year early in the season, too. As the season has progressed I was able to hit in between the tackles a little more and finish runs and not go down easily."
After averaging fewer than 20 carries per game in the regular season, Sims has seen his workload nearly double the past two games.
"Coach told me at the beginning of the year to be patient," he said. "The district we play in hasn't had a lot of competitive games. Coach kept telling me that in the playoffs my role would increase a lot. In practice, I have been preparing for that, working harder. I know I have to be in better shape than I was at the start of the season."
Sims possesses many qualities that top runners have in their repertoires.
"I think I have great vision, I make smart decisions, I can be a powerful runner and I have breakaway speed," Sims said.
On Sundays, Sims enjoys watching Texas natives Adrian Peterson and LaDainian Tomlinson tote the rock. He patterns himself after the two greats.
"Taking care of the football is the most important thing and also running hard at the same time," he said. "I like watching Adrian Peterson. He runs harder than any other back in the league. I also like watching LaDainian Tomlinson. He runs hard but knows when to go down at the same time. There are certain points in the game when you have to get the pads down and get a first down, and they do that. I look up to Adrian Peterson. I'm nowhere close to him, but I would like to be close to that one day."
Despite peer pressure and college coaches coming in droves to Abilene, the running and receiving threat plans to take his time and be thorough with the recruiting process.
"I'm keeping an open mind in recruiting. I still have all of this year and next year, so I'm trying not to think about it too much," Sims said.
Growing up, the talented runner favored Miami and Oklahoma. Those thoughts haven't changed.
"No doubt about it, I have always liked Miami and Oklahoma," he said. "I have talked to a coach from Miami a couple of times. I talk with coach [Cale] Gundy at Oklahoma almost every week, so I still have those schools in mind. I'm going to try and take a visit to Miami sometime in the summer if I can."
Sims has made the most of his free Saturdays. He has attended six college games: BYU-Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas A&M-Texas Tech in Lubbock, Colorado-Texas in Austin, Oklahoma-Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas Tech-Texas in Austin and Rice-Texas Tech in Lubbock.
Hegarty is New Mexico's best
Matthew Hegarty (Aztec, N.M.) is the top prospect in New Mexico regardless of classification. The 6-5, 265-pound left tackle spent the 2009 season dominating defensive ends. While protecting the passer, he showed quick feet, a powerful initial punch, terrific balance and knee bend and the ability to quickly react laterally. He also was stellar blocking down in the run game.
The on-the-field dominance combined with the athleticism that shows up on video has led college recruiters to Aztec by the dozens. In-state New Mexico was the first to offer a scholarship to the ESPNU 150 Watch List member, with five others having followed.
"I have offers from the University of New Mexico, Stanford, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado and Minnesota," Hegarty said. "The University of New Mexico was the first to offer."
College coaches are on the road from coast to coast until Dec. 20 and then until the days leading up to signing day. Hegarty expects a few coaches to drop in to watch basketball games in the near future.
"We have been talking to a few people about getting out to my basketball games down the stretch. I know Vanderbilt wants to come see me play a basketball game and maybe Arizona somewhere down the line, which would be a treat," Hegarty said.
Hegarty has proved to be a student of the game with an understanding of what it takes to be a successful lineman in today's era of spread offenses.
"Physically, you have to have a good wingspan, quick feet, strong and sturdy, but you have to be agile, too," he said. "I think that is where a lot of people lose sight is that they look for a guy that is a big mass, but I think today's game is becoming more about mobile and quick guys that can get low and get to the second level. You also have a lot of mental ability and want to beat your man on every snap."
In listening to college coaches describe their interest, Hegarty has a solid feel for his strengths as he inches closer to an offseason that will be key in his physical development.
"I think mostly they take a good look at my flexibility, my hips and knee bend," he said. "Before the combines and recruiting season, I didn't know if I was anything special, but they really like my flexibility in those areas. I guess my overall athleticism, too. Being a bigger guy being able to move around a little, too. Basketball helps me with that. It helps my ability to be agile."
Just as important as football, academics will play a huge part in the decision-making process.
"For me, I think it's going to come down to a couple of factors," he said. "I'm really into my education and grades. I don't want to sound like it's everything, but it's certainly a factor in there. I also want to get as much playing time as I can get. I love playing, and it would be fabulous to play a lot and early. Geographically really isn't an issue. Strength of a team also, but those are really the main factors."
DePriest has national offers
ESPNU 150 Watch List linebacker Trey DePriest (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) is one of the most versatile prospects in the Midwest and had a monster junior season at multiple positions.
"I played everywhere," he said. "I played linebacker, running back, some quarterback and punter, plus I returned kickoffs and kicked extra points."
DePriest, who projects as a linebacker and wants to play that position in college, had 101 tackles (10 for loss), seven sacks and three fumble recoveries on defense. He also had 812 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns and kicked 13 extra points this season for his team.
"It went real good this year," he said. "We ended up getting a playoff spot."
On the recruiting front, Ohio State, Alabama, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Michigan, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have stepped up with offers. This past season, he made unofficial visits to Cincinnati, Ohio State and Michigan.
DePriest was impressed with the crowd at Michigan Stadium for the Ohio State-Michigan game.
"It was live up there," he said.
In the spring and summer, he hopes to get to Alabama and many of the other programs on his list.
"I am looking for good academics," he said. "I also don't want to redshirt. I want to go somewhere I can play right away."
Small-school back sleeping no more
In Texas, players slip through the cracks on a yearly basis. Not so much in Houston or the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but many players fly under the radar in certain pockets of the state and in the smaller-school ranks. Injuries from a prior season, resulting in very little film to evaluate, can also play into the process of slipping through the cracks.
Both are the case with Brandon Williams (Pattison, Texas/Brookshire Royal). Although only a junior, the 185-pounder with 10.6 100-meter speed had been a relative unknown. That changed after a junior campaign that included his rushing for 1,815 yards and 14 touchdowns with 38 receptions for 512 yards and four scores.
Now armed with a highlight reel full of make-you-miss plays, college programs have taken notice. With programs from the Big 12, SEC, Pac-10 and Big Ten among others on the road on a daily basis in the Houston area, it was just a matter of time until the first offer was officially extended to a back who plays about 15 minutes from the outskirts of Katy, Texas.
Baylor recently extended an offer to the talented runner with explosive playmaking ability.
"It feels great and is kind of like a dream come true," Williams said. "Since I was a freshman I've dreamed about getting an offer from a D-I college."
The Bears are one of the programs that have had Williams on the radar for the majority of the 2009 season.
"I went to one of Baylor's games this year," he said. "It was against Nebraska. Even though they lost, they played hard and showed a lot of pride. I liked that."
Along with Baylor, Williams is now receiving attention from Pac-10, Big 12 and SEC programs.
"I have a lot of schools recruiting me," he said. "Oregon State, Oregon, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, there are a lot of schools. They are all sending me mail."
After a promising sophomore season was cut short by a broken collarbone two and a half games into the year, Williams attended the Texas minicamp with hopes of impressing the Longhorns staff.
"There was a lot of competition," he said. "It showed me that you have to step your game up. I knew I needed to hit the weights and build my strength up."
Kentucky was at Brookshire Royal to take a look at Williams last Tuesday, while Texas came by on Thursday.
Look for Williams to work his way up the running back lists in Texas that includes a handful of ESPNU 150 Watch List members.
Houston area stacked at defensive back
The Houston area has a number of defensive backs who will be nationally recruited in the 2011 class covering all positions within the secondary. There is a blazing-fast safety, a hard-hitting nickel/corner and a pair of corners who excel in the return game in addition to their island-coverage duties.
Leroy Scott (Houston/South Houston)
Scott stands 5-11, weighs a perfectly proportioned 192 pounds and runs consistently in the mid-4.4s. Scott has the mentality to play corner and does so with a physicality in press coverage and the run game not commonly seen in today's game.
Scott will be recruited as a corner and nickelback. Baylor has offered, and programs such as Texas, Miami, LSU, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Kansas have showed interest. Two Longhorns assistants were at South Houston on Monday.
Sheroid Evans (Sugar Land, Texas/Dulles)
Evans is the fastest of the Houston-area defensive backs with legit 4.39 speed. The 6-1, 180-pounder recorded a 200-meter time of 21.2 and finished second in the state track meet in the 400 meters with a time of 47.18. On the field, Evans is a fast, rangy, hard-hitting safety with developing ball skills.
Evans has an offer from Baylor with interest from Texas, Michigan, Texas A&M, Colorado, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, among others. Evans is being recruited as a safety and corner.
Kolby Griffin (Houston/St. Pius X)
Griffin is a pure corner featuring the confidence and competitive fire to play on an island. He stands 6 feet tall and weighs 175 pounds. That solid size is complemented by 4.5 speed and long arms. Having turned 16 in October, Griffin is a high-ceiling prospect with a body yet to fill out.
Baylor has offered the talented corner, and Texas A&M is closing in an offer. Texas, LSU, Stanford, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and many others are sending mail.
Charles Jackson (Houston/Klein Collins)
Jackson is the biggest unknown of the foursome, but he may be the best pure corner prospect of the group. At 5-9 and 175 perfectly proportioned pounds, he boasts quickness, speed and an explosive closing burst. Jackson is quickly emerging with college coaches.
He picked off four passes, recorded more than 50 tackles and returned a punt for a touchdown in what amounts to his breakout season. He possesses a fluid pedal and the ability to speed turn and track down the football at its highest point. Look for Jackson to be a hit this month as college coaches from coast to coast arrive in Houston to evaluate the 2011 class.
Gerry Hamilton has covered recruiting in Texas and the Southwest for more than a decade. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.