National Outlook

Many top high school football players are looking make their decisions made before the holidays. As a result, many college programs are receiving some early Christmas gifts.

One of those schools is Tennessee. While they wait for Harrison Smith and Chris Donald to decide between Tennessee and Notre Dame, the Volunteers recently added three names to their commitment list. On December 9 th, they received a commitment from junior college cornerback DeAngelo Willingham. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder, who is originally from Conway, S.C., will soon be graduating from the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., allowing him to enroll at Tennessee in January. He selected the Vols over Nebraska.

The next day, Chris Walker from Memphis chose Tennessee over LSU, Clemson, and Alabama. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Walker is the No. 16 middle linebacker prospect according to Scout.com, who also gives him a three-star rating. He always stated that he felt most comfortable at Tennessee and in the end that was the primary factor in his decision.

This past weekend, Tennessee landed its biggest commitment of the year to date when Scout.com's top ranked cornerback prospect, Eric Berry, decided to become a Volunteer. Because he plays all over the field on both offense and defense for Creekside High School in Fairburn, Ga., the 6-foot-0, 194-pound Berry will have to learn the nuances of the corner position once he gets to college. But when he learns the tricks of the trade, there is no doubt that he will become a top-flight defender due to his explosive athletic ability. His father, James, was once a captain for Tennessee, so his decision is hardly a surprise. But he did give serious consideration to Georgia, Auburn, USC, and Ohio State.

Ron Zook and Illinois have endured consecutive two win seasons. But if this recruiting season is any indication, you can bank on them increasing those win totals in the years to come. Since the start of December, the Illini have received seven commitments. Highlighting this group is five-star defensive lineman D'Angelo McCray of Jacksonville, Fla. At 6-foot-4, 290-pounds, McCray has the athletic ability to play tight end or defensive end. But Scout.com rates him as the No. 3 defensive tackle in the land and that is the position he will most likely play at Illinois. McCray committed to Florida back in April, but he opened his recruitment shortly thereafter. This time around, he picked Illinois over Florida State.

Illinois will be front and center over the next few weeks as five-star prospect Martez Wilson and four-star recruits Josh Brent and Robert Hughes will make their decisions known. All three have Illinois in their final two.

Down in Baton Rouge, LSU received two commitments on December 10th. Both of them had previously picked other schools and one of them may affect the decision making process of a key Notre Dame recruit. Drake Nevis is a three-star defensive tackle from Marrero, La. In February, Nevis committed to Ole Miss, but most LSU insiders have expected Nevis to switch his pledge for some time now. Nevis is very athletic for someone 6-foot-2, 290-pounds. He also considered Auburn and he still visit there before signing day.

Nevis becomes the second defensive tackle to commit to LSU this year, following Kentravis Aubrey, who committed in March. They also took two defensive tackles last year, including super-prospect Al Woods. Louisiana native Will Blackwell is being wooed by both LSU and Notre Dame, and the depth charts at both schools may be a factor in which school he ultimately selects. Another Pelican State product, Jason Peters, is a defensive lineman being pursued by both programs. However, he could play defensive end in college, a position at which LSU has yet to receive a commitment this year.

The other new Tiger is Phelon Jones of Mobile, Ala. Jones had originally committed to Miami, but due to the problems that plagued the Hurricane program this fall, the 6-foot-0, 190-pounder began to look around. After showing up at LSU for a visit on December 9 th, he committed to Tiger head coach Les Miles the next day. After playing quarterback as a junior, he switched wide receiver as a senior. But cornerback is where Jones will play on the collegiate level. He possesses blinding speed and may also factor in as a return man for the Tigers.

LSU was not the only program that enjoyed the second weekend of December. Out west, the California Golden Bears landed four big recruits that weekend, including one that was looking at Notre Dame. Four-star running back Jahvid Best of Richmond, Calif. is a speedster of the highest order and that may have killed Notre Dame's chances in the end, as their track program for sprinters is not as recognized as those in the Pac Ten. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Best rushed for unbelievable 3,245 yards and 48 touchdowns as a senior. He also considered Oregon.

The Bears also picked up a five-star commitment that weekend in Terry Mixon from Grossmont Junior College in El Cajon, Calif. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound safety's older brother, Tim, is currently applying to the NCAA for a sixth year at Cal, after missing this past year with a knee injury. Terry is a two-time NJCAA All-American that had committed to Arizona State in October.

Cal's other commits were four-star linebacker D.J. Holt of Encino, Calif. and three-star tight end Skylar Curran of Butte Junior College in Oroville, Calif.

USC only took in one commitment this past week, but it was a big one. Scout.com's top ranked center, Kristofer O'Dowd of Tucson, Ariz., picked the Trojans over the hometown Arizona Wildcats, UCLA, and Tennessee. The 6-foot-4, 312-pound O'Dowd is equally adept at run and pass blocking and has the versatility to play any of the offensive line positions. O'Dowd will join future offensive linemates Martin Coleman and James Wilson at the Army All-American Game on January 6 th.


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