"I don't know if a Georgia or Miami or Alabama had hit [Tavon Ross] at the same time" as Missouri "if he would have had any interest in Missouri," Bleckley County Coach Tracy White said. "But he's a great kid, he's loyal, he's appreciative of what Missouri did for him that early. It's going to be hard for somebody to steer him away from that."
Ross' case is emblematic of the challenges Missouri is facing as it shifts more of its recruiting focus to the Southeast, as well as a glimpse of the strategy the Tigers are using to try and counterbalance the deficiencies they face being new players in the region.
Schools such as Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Auburn still have a considerable edge in name recognition with high-school prospects in the Southeast.
But, Missouri wagers, if it can make its pitch to under-the-radar recruits before the more established schools come knocking, the Tigers have a fighting chance.
"They're doing a nice job with scouting and evaluation," Wommack said. "We've seen that, obviously, with how their team performed this year. A lot of those guys weren't highly ranked by us. It just shows the coaching staff is identifying players that fit the system."
PowerMizzou: Sunday Recruiting Rundown
The Trib (Behind the Stripes): Alabama DE Walter Brady makes 27 commits for Missouri's Class of 2014
The Trib (Behind the Stripes): MU enters final recruiting weekend before Signing Day
PowerMizzou: Brady flips to Mizzou
Brady mentioned a few days ago of Mizzou as a dream school. A lot was due to the Tigers signing another five-star receiver.
"It was because of a former No. 1 wide receiver, Dorial Green-Beckham," he said. "I always saw his name and knew he was the top player in the country. I saw where he committed to them. It made me start watching them more. He made me really start liking the program.
"It's what I want to be a part of. I want to graduate first. I feel like they can help me do that and get to the NFL better than anyone."
Five years ago last Friday, both Michael Sam and L'Damian Washington, two-star afterthoughts, committed to Missouri. Considering the impact that these two, and so many other once-overlooked prospects, had for Gary Pinkel's program, it was a rather noteworthy anniversary. And Missouri's coaching staff celebrated it in a way that only they can: by doing what they do and landing another two-star, mid-major end.
From a rankings perspective, we got a little bit of a tease in January. Thanks to Missouri's 12-2 season and top-5 finish, a lot of prospects decided to give Mizzou either a first or second look. Dewayne Hendrix, a top-100 overall prospect and defensive end from Illinois, visited Columbia last weekend despite a long-standing Tennessee commitment. Another four-star Tennessee commit, Derek Barnett, considered a visit. Four-star former Vandy commit Mikale Wilbon, a running back from Chicago, did as well. The Foreman brothers, Armanti (a four-star receiver) and D'Onta (two-star running back), were scheduled to visit Columbia last weekend despite commitments to Texas. Other four-star prospects -- tackle Michael Sawyers from Nashville, four-star safeties Jimmy Bayes (from Florida) and Emmanuel Smith (from Tennessee), etc. -- all gave Mizzou a long look in the past few weeks.
But Wilbon decided Mizzou had too many running backs. Hendrix's mother supposedly helped him to reaffirm his Tennessee commitment. Tennessee coaches convinced Barnett to stay home. Bad Texas weather prevented the Foremans from making it north, giving Texas coaches extra time to convince them to stay south (they canceled a potentially rescheduled visit).
The extra attention was nice and could very well pay off in the 2015 recruiting cycle; Mizzou is in on a lot of big names and is in pretty good standing with most of the big in-state names (Lee's Summit quarterback Drew Lock, KC running back Marquise Doherty, tackles Carlos and Khalil Davis of Blue Springs, etc. Plus, a pair of ultra-elite prospects from East St. Louis -- defensive end Terry Beckner, Jr. (No. 31 in the early Rivals rankings for the class of 2015) and running back Natereace Strong (No. 194) -- supposedly have Mizzou high on their respective lists. But before 2015 recruiting begins in full, 2014 recruiting is wrapping up in a pretty predictable, almost comfortable way.
Despite the weather, Mizzou hosted some intriguing prospects this past weekend: three-star South Carolina tackle Poona Ford (down to Mizzou, Texas, and Purdue), Cincinnati tackle Daniel Cage, Jacksonville receiver (and Louisville commit) DeSean Blair and defensive end (and one-time Cincy commit) Spencer Williams. Blair and Williams both told PowerMizzou they enjoyed their stay and have Mizzou as co-leaders (they'll announce later this week). But the week played out like so many other January recruiting weekends for Mizzou have through the years; there were two main goals: Maintain the commitments you've already gotten and perhaps flip a mid-major commit you discovered late in the recruiting process.
According to Rivals, three key Mizzou commits visited this weekend: four-star Georgia receiver Nate Brown, East St. Louis defensive back Greg Taylor, and recently-minted three-star Georgia safety Tavon Ross. Brown and Taylor are two of Mizzou's most highly-rated commits in the class. Both were considered safely in Mizzou's control heading into the weekend, and both raved about their trips. Ross, however, has turned into one of the keys of the class.
With almost no interest from either SEC schools or recruiting services, Ross committed to Mizzou in September. But as we discussed previously, he began to receive interest (and offers) from quite a few heavyweights in recent months (Georgia, Alabama, Miami) once his incredible senior highlight film began making the rounds. The home-state Dawgs are apparently Mizzou's biggest challenger at this point, and Ross didn't reveal much about his visit via Twitter.
Just landed ✔️— Tavon Ross (@BCFlight_9) January 31, 2014
This Mizzou vs. Kentucky game is popping!! 💥✔️💯— Tavon Ross (@BCFlight_9) February 1, 2014
Just walked in this bar and everyone stood up yelling our names and saying commit to Mizzou 😏🏈✔️💯— Tavon Ross (@BCFlight_9) February 1, 2014
Gumbys before the movies— Tavon Ross (@BCFlight_9) February 2, 2014
Getting ready to leave the airport ✈️— Tavon Ross (@BCFlight_9) February 2, 2014
(I know I'd have been swayed by Pokey Stix...)
The biggest (well, most entertaining) scoop from Ross' visit came from Dave Matter.
Second-hand accounts suggest that Ross enjoyed himself just like the others did, but he's evidently not going to make anything official until National Signing Day (Wednesday). A lot has been made about Ross' loyalty and how Mizzou's early, maintained interest won him over. We'll see that, and one fun weekend, are enough to secure his signature in two days. And hey ... if he's an amateur outdoorsman, that certainly doesn't hurt Mizzou's cause...
(By the way, check out Ross' mentions. Imagine being 18 years old and getting inundated by suck-up mentions from fans of multiple schools. That's overwhelming enough. Now check out his mentions again Wednesday night when he spurns one of these two schools. Actually don't; you'll hate humanity more than you already do.)
Mizzou did score one commitment this weekend. Two-star defensive end Walter Brady, once a Middle Tennessee commit, scored the Michael Sam Commemorative Commitment. Swayed by both Mizzou's recent achievements (the 2013 season, DGB's signing) and the opportunity to play in the SEC, Brady made sure that Mizzou didn't come away from the last month of DE recruiting empty-handed.
Though Hendrix and Barnett were much bigger names in the recruiting world, and Spencer Williams is ranked higher as well, Brady is exactly the type of player Mizzou has turned into a strong contributor in the past. He doesn't have film on YouTube (at least, I didn't find any), but Rivals subscribers can watch his film in the links above. He's listed at 225, but he looks bigger than that on film; he seems more like an every-down end than a pass-rush specialist, showing strength, body control, and nice pursuit. Whatever his potential is, defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski will probably coax production out of him.
The fax machines are firing up
In just under 48 hours, Mizzou will start to receive faxes from recruits. As signings are made official, we'll have posts up at Rock M Nation. Mizzou has more Signing Day irons in the fire than normal, but we still have a pretty good idea who's going to be announced as parts of the official signing class.
- Signed (5): QB Marvin Zanders (Jacksonville, FL), OL Mike Fairchild (Overland Park, KS), LB Brandon Lee (Indianapolis, IN), CB Kenya Dennis (Leland, MS), CB Logan Cheadle (Lee's Summit, MO)
- Expected to Sign With No Drama (20): RB Trevon Walters (Bradenton, FL), RB Ish Witter (Tampa, FL), WR Nate Brown (Suwanee, GA), WR Lawrence Lee (Pensacola, FL), WR Thomas Richard (Nashville, TN), WR Stepfawn Hughes (Fort Worth, TX), WR Keyon Dilosa (Round Rock, TX), WR Darnell Green-Beckham (Springfield, MO), TE Kendall Blanton (Blue Springs, MO), OL Andy Bauer (St. Louis, MO), OL Paul Adams (Nashville, TN), OL Kevin Pendleton (Lee's Summit, MO), OL Sam Bailey (Lamar, MO), DE Walter Brady (Florence, AL), LB Grant Jones (Columbia, MO), LB Roderick Winters (Arlington, TX), CB Raymond Wingo (St. Louis, MO), CB Thomas Wilson (Buford, GA), CB Finis Stribling IV (Thompson's Station, TN), S Greg Taylor (East St. Louis, IL)
- Mizzou Commits, But We Won't Know For Sure Until They Sign (2): DE Rocel McWilliams (Pensacola, FL), S Tavon Ross (Cochran, GA)
- Mizzou Is Still Supposedly In The Running (~6): WR DeSean Blair (Jacksonville, FL), DE Spencer Williams (Jacksonville, FL), DE Jaylon Ferguson (St. Francisville, LA), DT Daniel Cage (Cincinnati, OH), DT Poona Ford (Hilton Head, SC), LB Sharieff Rhaheed (Fort Pierce, FL)
(I might have missed some names on the Still in the Running list; for a better read on this, obviously, you should be subscribing to PowerMizzou. Their coverage has been as good as ever.)
Five months ago, this class was both high in volume and low in intrigue. Mizzou was scoring commitments throughout the south despite struggling for traction with bigger names, and commitments from players like Ross, Hughes, etc., were met with collective yawns . Now, with late interest from big names for everybody from Ross and McWilliams to Walters, Witter, Brown, etc., it appears Mizzou has fended off rivals for most of them. We'll just have to wait and see if Mizzou can secure the entire set with signatures from Ross and McWilliams.