Amidst all of the chaos of the transfer portal, the high school recruiting calendar also takes center stage in December. With the Early National Signing Day happening on Dec. 21, many classes from programs across the nation are already beginning to take shape.
Attempting to discern what positions are truly a need from the high school ranks has become even more challenging given the ebbs and flows of the portal, but high school recruiting will always remain the backbone of any strong program and will continue to be a major industry in the sport.
For instance, Mizzou saw freshmen such as Brett Norfleet, Marquis Johnson, Marvin Burks Jr. and Daniel Blood all play significant snaps on an experienced roster in 2023. This has become a program that puts the most talented and reliable players on the field regardless of experience, meaning that there is always potential for youngsters to see significant playing time.
This ‘24 class may not quite resemble the highly-touted ones from ‘21 and ‘22, but there are still plenty of noteworthy prospects that have the potential to be major contributors. In this series, I’ll be dealing out a handful of superlatives so Tiger fans can better get to know their new players:
The Headliner: Williams Nwaneri
6-foot-6 | 260 lbs. | Defensive Tackle/Edge
Hometown: Lee’s Summit, Mo. (Lee’s Summit North High School)
247 Sports Rating: 5-star (No. 1 DL in the country, No. 4 overall)
Former Tiger Comparison: Darius Robinson (2019-2023)
Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Kansas (!), Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas, Texas A&M and plenty more.
Eliah Drinkwitz and this coaching staff beat out all of those schools for Williams Nwaneri’s signature, placing him right alongside Luther Burden III as arguably the biggest recruiting win in Missouri football history. The proximity to his hometown of Lee’s Summit does of course play a factor, but that’s rarely stopped prominent programs like most of the ones listed above from poaching talent out of the state of Missouri.
This was a statement signing in every meaning of the phrase. This staff yet again proved that, unlike the pre-Drinkwitz era, the brand name programs of CFB can’t just waltz into the state and steal away any top prospect they deem fit. Now, Mizzou is a destination for the many talented prospects coming out of Kansas City, St. Louis, and everywhere in between.
And, of course, Nwaneri is a game-changing player on the field. His versatility is perhaps his greatest strength, as he has the power and size to play on the interior but possesses a natural burst off the edge and is violent in his pass rush. With Nwaneri’s monstrous frame, he also already looks the part of an SEC D-lineman, and that’s without an offseason where a collegiate strength and conditioning staff can get their hands on him.
There is ample opportunity on the ‘24 D-line with the departures of Darius Robinson and two defensive tackles. Johnny Walker Jr., Jayden Jernigan and Kristin Williams (pending the latter two’s offseason decision) appear to be the only defensive linemen that are set in stone as starters for next season.
At the bare minimum, Nwaneri will be a mainstay in the defensive line rotation as a freshman. But, frankly, he could be a day one starter if he lives up to lofty expectations and shows the staff that he is ready to handle a high volume of snaps during fall camp.
As for what the future holds, all signs point towards Nwaneri being the next elite member of “D-Line Zou” and following in the footsteps of Shane Ray, Michael Sam, Markus Golden, Isaiah McGuire, D-Rob and many others. It’s scary to think about what level this kid will be playing at as a sophomore and junior (I don’t think he’ll be in COMO as a senior; the NFL will beckon).