Big East Report

<b>WEST VIRGINIA</b><br><br> Like most coaches, West Virginia coach Rich Rodriquez told the assembled media that he just landed the best recruiting class he's ever had.<br><br> In Rodriguez's case, it might not have been a tall tale.

The Mountaineers' focus on the recruiting trail in 2004 was on strengthening both forward walls and getting some playmaking receivers and runners. Mission accomplished. Among WVU's 22 recruits are four offensive linemen, four wide receivers and at least 10-12 players who could help an undersized D.

Among the highlights were rare recruiting wins over Ohio State, LSU and Florida State.

Wide receiver Brandon Barrett, widely considered the best player in the state of West Virginia, selected West Virginia over Ohio State, while quarterback Pat White from Alabama de-committed from co-national champion LSU to go to West Virginia instead.

Wide receiver Darius Reynaud raised eyebrows by picking the Mountaineers over Florida State.

Signees
WR Darius Reynaud -- This Boutte, La., product chose WVU over Florida State and figures to play early in his career. The 5-11, 190-pounder was a high school running back who will be shifted to wideout by the Mountaineers to take advantage of his game-changing speed in the school's spread offense. Reynaud had 236 carries for 1,889 yards and 37 touchdowns as a high school senior.

DT Tyree Suber -- A powerful player, Suber could see time as a true freshman if he has his life in order after spending the past couple years at the Glen Mills School, a school for court-adjudicated youth in suburban Philadelphia. Suber reminds WVU coaches of former Mountaineer star John Thornton.

QB Pat White -- Give the Mountaineers kudos here. White originally gave a commitment to co-national champ LSU before changing his mind and signing with West Virginia. He'll redshirt this year, but is an important recruit with Rasheed Marshall and Charles Hales both entering their final season. If as good as advertised, White could be a four-year starter in Morgantown, beginning in 2005.

Glance at 2004
The Mountaineers enter the 2004 season as one of the favorites in 2004 Big East race. The key will be how consistent starting quarterback Rasheed Marshall can be in his throwing and decision-making. The ground game will be in good hands with Kay-Jay Harris taking over for Quincy Wilson. If Marshall can throw the ball well in WVU's spread offense and the defensive line recruits can make an immediate impact, then WVU could win the Big East this fall.

Quote to Note
"You never get everyone you want, but we have a strong and versatile recruiting class." -- Head coach Rich Rodriguez.


BOSTON COLLEGE

Boston College coach Tom O'Brien has a pretty attractive sales pitch to present to high school stars.

"We sell three things here: Academics, the city of Boston, and the chance to play football at the highest quality level (as the Eagles move into the ACC in 2005)," said O'Brien, whose Eagles were 8-5 in 2003 and won the San Francisco Bowl over Colorado State. O'Brien's three-pronged sales approach worked well as he signed 19 players, including four in-state studs (Ron Brace, Robert Francis, Keith Willis and Jerry Willette). O'Brien also continued a trend of recruiting well in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, something made possible by Joe Paterno's advancing age and the sorry state of Big East programs Temple and Rutgers (although the 5-7 Scarlet Knights were improved last fall).

Included in this year's impressive New Jersey and Pennsylvania haul is inside linebacker Brian Toal from Don Bosco Prep, who is considered the best high school prospect in the state of New Jersey. How big a fish is Toal? The 6-2, 230-pounder Toal, whose older brother Greg played for the past four years for BC, chose the Eagles over Miami and is expected to start at linebacker as a true freshman.

O'Brien didn't close every deal. Fork Union (Va.) Military star wideout Dorien Bryant, who signed with BC in the spring of 2003, seemed like a good bet to choose the Eagles again after a year in prep school. Instead, Bryant opted for Purdue at the 11th hour.

While losing Bryant hurts, landing Toal softened the blow. A first-team USA Today All-American, a Parade All-American, and New Jersey's Gatorade Player of the Year, Toal led Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep to a 43-2 record and consecutive state championships his junior and senior years.

Signees
LB/RB Brian Toal -- Toal, regarded as one of the top three high school linebackers in the country, is expected to step right into the starting spot left vacant by the graduation of 2003 leading tackler Josh Ott (128 tackles). Toal is blessed with 4.45 speed in the 40 and was considered the top player in New Jersey. Toal had over 40 scholarship offers and chose the Eagles over Miami. Coach Tom O'Brien said on national signing day that he hasn't ruled out short-yardage running situations for Toal, who rushed for 3,678 yards and scored 79 touchdowns at Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep.

WR Brandon Robinson -- The 6-foot, 190-pound Robinson was rated the second-best prospect in the state of Minnesota by Rivals.com. As a high school senior, Robinson caught 82 balls for 1,570 yards and a remarkable 27 TDs for the Breck School in Minneapolis. He could have an immediate impact on offense.

RB A.J. Brooks -- With BC's all-time leading rusher Derrick Knight heading to the pro ranks and with no clear favorite to replace him, the 6-foot, 190-pound Brooks will get a serious look during summer drills. Rated the 49th-best player in the state of Florida by SuperPrep, Brooks rushed for 1,866 yards and 26 TDs as a senior at Bishop Moore High School in Orlando.

Glance at 2004
Tom O'Brien's program is on quite a roll as the Eagles are the only team in the country to win bowl games in each of the past four years. The biggest question mark that O'Brien needs to answer in spring ball is: Who will be his starting tailback with highly productive Derrick Knight (1,721 yards, 11 TDs in 2003) graduating? The three returning backup tailbacks have only seven career college carries.

Everywhere else, Boston College, an ACC team in 2005, looks like it will be strong in its final year of Big East play. On offense, O'Brien found himself a quarterback at the tail end of the 2003 season as Paul Peterson (700 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs) had a 3-0 record after taking the job from Quinton Porter. Despite personnel losses upfront, the o-line will remain strong, as junior-to-be Jeremy Trueblood and redshirt sophomores Josh Peekman and Pat Ross all look like stars to be.

The defense has playmakers at each level. Junior-to-be defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (13 sacks in 2003) is a legit All-American candidate, while senior safety T.J. Stancil (82 tackles) and junior corner Will Blackmon will anchor the defensive backfield. If he's as good as advertised, everybody's high school All-American Brian Toal will start from Day One as BC's middle linebacker.

Quote to Note
"The move to the ACC was a definite positive in recruiting." -- Head coach Tom O'Brien of what BC's move from the Big East to the ACC in 2005 meant on the recruiting trail.


MIAMI

Fresh off an 11-2 season and with its move to the ACC as bait, Miami coach Larry Coker was able to attract one of the nation's most impressive recruiting hauls.

How impressive? One recruiting guru, Tom Lemming, has the Hurricanes' 2004 recruiting rated the nation's third-best group -- trailing only USC and LSU. Yet another recruiting expert, Allen Wallace of SuperPrep, rates Miami's class as the nation's fifth-best group.

Either way, the Hurricanes did a great job, particularly of keeping a majority of the big-time players from Dade and Broward counties at home.

The biggest local prize was prep All-American linebacker Willie Williams from nearby Carol City (Fla.) High School, the same school that produced one-time Hurricanes star Santana Moss. Williams, who chose the Canes over Florida State and Florida, is being compared favorably to current Redskins star LaVar Arrington at the same stage.

The scary part is that Miami also maintained its status as a national recruiter -- with signees from nine different states and Canada. Among the out-of-state imports were yet-another prep All-American linebacker in James Bryant from Reading, Pa., stellar defensive lineman Rhyan Anderson (6-3, 245) from Wisconsin and one of the nation's 10-best prep quarterbacks, Kirby Freeman of Brownwood, Texas.

To top things off, Miami landed five top-shelf high school tailbacks in this year's class. Running back is a need area as the Canes have only two proven tailbacks in school -- Frank Gore (who is coming off a knee injury) and sophomore-to-be Tyrone Moss.

Signees
OL Tyler McMeans -- The 6-5, 350-pound junior college import likely will start at either guard or tackle in 2004. For one thing, the 23-year-old McMeans won't be intimidated by the prospect of playing big-time football. McMeans spent four years in the Marines and rose to the rank of corporal before deciding to give football a try. He started the past two years at Lackawanna (Pa.) Junior College, the same school that produced former Miami great Bryant McKinnie, the 2001 Outland Trophy winner. McMeans is already enrolled at Miami and will be able to participate in spring practice, as will fellow 2004 o-line signee Jonathan St. Pierre (6-3, 300) from Canada.

RB Bobby Washington -- One of the nation's most highly sought-after running backs, the 6-foot, 200-pound Washington of Miami's Killian High School decided to stay home -- choosing the Hurricanes over Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Tennessee. A strong straight-ahead runner who can bust between the tackles for tough yards, Washington also has the speed (4.32 in the 40) to out-run defenders on the outside. With Jarrett Payton gone and with Frank Gore returning from an in-season knee injury, Washington, a first-team all-state selection two years running, is gifted enough to get on the field this season.

LB Willie Williams -- Rated the second-best player in the nation by SuperPrep, Williams has the size and skills to be a future star at a school that routinely produces star LBs (Ray Lewis, Dan Morgan, etc.). The concern at Miami right now is whether the three criminal complaints filed against the star recruit when he was on a recruiting visit to Florida will keep him off the field for a while.

LB James Bryant -- The 6-3, 240-pound Bryant pulled the old switcheroo on signing day, reneging on his verbal commitment to Pitt and signing with Miami instead. Like Willie Williams, Bryant is a first-team USA Today All-American. The Reading, Pa., product has all the tools to be a dominant middle linebacker. While he's a longshot to replace departing senior Jonathan Vilma, no one would be surprised to see Bryant's name on the depth chart at middle linebacker and to see him making special teams tackles, and maybe more, as a true freshman.

Glance at 2004
Despite the exit of six possible first-round draft picks in safety Sean Taylor, tight end Kellen Winslow, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebackers D.J. Williams and Jonathan Vilma, and guard Vernon Carey, the Hurricanes will remain among the nation's elite and will push in-state rival Florida State for ACC supremacy.

Senior cover corner Antrel Rolle will be a first-team All-American candidate, while junior left tackle Eric Winston (6-7, 290), redshirt sophomore wide receiver Ryan Moore (6-3, 202), junior defensive tackle Orien Harris (6-4, 298), senior defensive tackle Santonio Thomas (6-4, 308) and sophomore tailback Tyrone Moss (5-10, 210) will all be high NFL draft picks down the road.

On offense, the questions are whether Brock Berlin (12 TDs, 17 INTs in 2003) can cut down on his INTs and be more steady in 2004 and whether star tailback Frank Gore's surgically repaired knees will hold up. On defense, the Canes' linebacking corps was decimated by defections, losing two starters to graduation and a third (D.J. Williams) to NFL early entry. As a result, they'll probably need true freshmen blue-chip linebackers Willie Williams and James Bryant to play right away.

Quote to Note
"Willie was very important because of our linebacker situation. We lost five linebackers, so we needed quality." -- Miami head coach Larry Coker of landing All-American linebacker Willie Williams.


RUTGERS

Last season's improved 5-7 record paid clear dividends on the recruiting trail as head coach Greg Schiano welcomed 21 new players into the fold.

"It (recruiting) was a little more fun this time around," said Schiano, whose team won five games last fall after going 3-20 in his first two seasons.

The 21-player class includes 12 players from talent-rich New Jersey, five from Florida, two from California and one each from New York and Canada. Schiano concentrated on addressing needs on the offensive line and in the kicking game. He was happy with the results as he landed six offensive linemen as well as Jeremy Ito, a punter/placekicker from Redlands, Calif.

Still, a number of the best players in the Garden State, most notably prep All-American linebacker Brian Toal (Boston College signee) and speedy wideout Dwayne Jarrett (USC), eluded Schiano's grasp.

Signees
P/K Jeremy Ito -- One of the nation's top-rated high school kicking recruits, Ito is expected to be the answer to Rutgers' inconsistent kicking game from Day One.

OL Cameron Stephenson -- The chance to block for promising runners like Brian Leonard and Justise Hairston obviously appealed to Stephenson enough to move all the way across the country. In fact, the 6-5, 315-pounder from Los Angeles Harbor Junior College could start for the Knights in 2004. Stephenson had a standout freshman season before missing all but one play as a sophomore last year. Schiano said most schools backed off, expecting Stephenson to return for another year of junior college play. Schiano and his staff made no such assumption and got their man.

QB Mike Teel -- Teel, who led Don Bosco Prep to the nation's No. 2 ranking and to the No. 1 ranking in the state of New Jersey, is considered the Knights' quarterback of the future, although he will likely redshirt as a freshman to create separation between him and junior-to-be Ryan Hart. He's not nearly as publicized as teammate Brian Toal, a BC signee who announced his college choice on ESPN, but Teel is a fine signing for the Scarlet Knights.

Glance at 2004
There's legitimate 2004 bowl buzz in the Garden State for the first time in eons. The Scarlet Knights' offense, a unit that that took giant steps forward in 2003 under new coordinator Craig Ver Steeg, should continue to get better next fall with the return of junior quarterback Ryan Hart, two good, young runners in Brian Leonard and Justise Hairston, both of the team's best wideouts, and three-fifths of the offensive line (if injured left guard Brian Duffy is granted a sixth year of eligibility, as expected).

The o-line also adds a JUCO gem in Cameron Stephenson (6-5, 315) from Los Angeles Harbor Junior College.

The defense still struggled to stop opposing ground games, but there are reasons to smile about the future of this unit too. Strong safety Jarvis Johnson, the team's top tackler, will be back for his senior season next fall, while Rutgers' linebacking corps has tons of upside as sophomore Will Gilkison and true freshman Devraun Thompson learned on the job in 2003.

Quote to Note
"Two things I will say about recruiting. (One), there is no second place. The other is something I learned a long time ago, something Joe Paterno taught me a long time ago. You concern yourself with the ones who sign with you. You have them the next four or five years. They're your kids." -- Head coach Greg Schiano said of the recruiting game.


SYRACUSE

Head coach Paul Pasqualoni went on a shopping spree, bringing in 32 new recruits on signing day.

No, that's not a misprint.

The Orangemen brought in the large group of newcomers -- three are already enrolled while a few others likely won't make grades -- to bring their total number of players up to the NCAA maximum of 85.

The recruiting class has a heavy accent on offensive linemen, linebacker and wideouts, though the most talked-about player is running back Curtis Brinkley of Philadelphia, the Class AAAA Player of the Year in Pennsylvania.

Pasqualoni had mixed success in the state of New York with eight of Syracuse's 32 signees being in-state products. However, the Orangemen suffered lots of significant in-state losses too, losing local star running back Mike Hart to Michigan and four New York high school players (wide receiver Mark Rubin, defensive back Spencer Ridenhour, two-way lineman Rich Ohrnberger and running back Matt Hahn) to Penn State.

Signees
WR Tommy Rice -- The 6-3, 200-pound Moss earned a spot on The Washington Post's All-Metro team after catching 34 passes for 712 yards and seven TDs as a senior at Georgetown Prep. With Johnnie Morant gone, the Orangemen need a tall, athletic receiver and Rice fills that bill.

OT Kurt Falke -- Falke (6-7, 320) signed out of high school with Duke, redshirted a year, and then played one season before transferring to Blinn (Texas) Junior College, where he earned all-conference honors in 2003 blocking for tailback Derrick Ross, who ranked third nationally this season in the JUCO ranks in rushing. Falke will participate in spring ball and will compete for a starting tackle spot in 2004.

RBs Curtis Brinkley and Kareem Jones -- Brinkley chose the Orangemen despite offers from Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Virginia Tech. He has quite a resume. Brinkley is Philadelphia's all-time leading rusher with 7,413 yards, scored 76 rushing TDs and 85 overall. He'll likely redshirt in 2004 and then compete with fellow incoming frosh Kareem Jones to be Walter Reyes' replacement in 2005. Jones is no slouch either. The New York Class B Player of the Year in 2003, Jones rushed for 2,596 yards and an astounding 43 TDs as a senior.

Glance at 2004
It's likely a do-or-die year for head coach Paul Pasqualoni. The Orangemen have disappointed two years running and need a bounce-back season. There are reasons to believe it can happen. RB Walter Reyes will be an All-America candidate if Pasqualoni can plug some holes in his o-line. Second, Miami and Virginia Tech are no longer in the Big East and Pitt has suffered heavy losses on offense. Still, Pasqualoni must find a reliable quarterback and shore up the defensive front seven to compete for the 2004 Big East crown.

Quote to Note
"We just have to keep fanning that flame." -- Head coach Paul Pasqualoni when asked about the local recruits that got away.


TEMPLE

Given Temple's uncertain football future, Owls coach Bobby Wallace continued to recruit junior college players in 2004.

Of his 30 new recruits, 16 of them are JUCO players. The reason? The Owls will be kicked out of the Big East at the end of the 2004 season. In order to find a new home (Conference USA has been rumored as a possible next address), the Owls need a quick fix after a 1-11 season.

Given the impossible situation he's in, Wallace did a pretty decent job on the JUCO recruiting trail. He addressed the Owls' needs for a speedy tailback (smallish JUCO All-American Tim Brown from City College of San Francisco), more wide receivers for their spread offense, a more reliable kicker and punter after a nightmarish year in special teams, and some much-needed defensive line beef.

Will all the JUCO imports pan out? Probably not. But the Owls figure to be better equipped to compete in the watered-down Big East with all of these older recruits in the fold.

Signees
RB Tim Brown -- Despite recruiting sniffs from Oregon State and Kansas State, Brown chose Temple. The 5-8, 185-pound Brown rushed for 1,354 yards and 19 TDs in 10 games last season and should be an effective weapon in Temple's one-back, spread attack.

WR Antwon Guidry -- Guidry signed with Nebraska out of high school, but didn't make the grade and attended powerhouse City College of San Francisco instead. One of five CCSF players who chose Temple, the 6-0, 205-pound Guidry figures to make a run at a starting wideout spot in Temple's three wide-receiver set.

PK Ryan Lux -- After Temple played in six overtime periods last season and missed a game-winning kick in five of them, finding a reliable placekicker became one of Bobby Wallace's highest priorities. He thinks that he found his man in Lux, a 2003 JUCO All-American after nailing 21 of 29 field goals (long 52 yards) last season.

Glance at 2004
Impressing a potential new conference to call home won't be easy as the Owls face eight teams that won at least eight games in 2003, starting with its home opener vs. Virginia. On the bright side, Temple found itself a quarterback in Walter Washington, a JUCO import with two years of eligibility remaining. Washington finished the season with a team-best 579 yards rushing, while throwing for 1,265 yards and eight scores.

Coach Bobby Wallace recruited a slew of receivers to go along with returning wideout Phil Goodman (47 receptions, 678 yards, 5 TDs). If incoming JUCO tailback Tim Brown is as good as advertised, then Temple's offensive could be potent.

Brown isn't the only newcomer on the spot. Kicker Ryan Lux must connect on field goal tries more than his predecessor Jared Davis and the new d-line recruits -- most notably, junior college imports Neil Dickson (6-3, 285) and Lloyd Talaki (6-1, 310) -- must plug up Temple's leaky run "D" to help the Owls significantly improve their win total.

Quote to Note
"This year's recruiting class makes us better equipped to compete in the Big East this season." -- Head coach Bobby Wallace, on his 2004 recruits.


VIRGINIA TECH

With his team moving to the ACC this fall, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was hoping to land some playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Beamer seemed pretty happy with his 19-player haul. On offense, Beamer helped ease the loss of Kevin Jones by signing George Bell, who has tremendous upside but saw his junior and senior years of high school at Jack Britt (N.C.) High School cut short by injuries. He's healthy now and is enrolled at Tech for the spring semester.

Another offensive playmaker is speedy wideout Eddie Royal, the Group AAA Player of the Year in the state of Virginia. He'll help offset the graduation of Tech's top wideout, Ernest Wilford, to graduation.

Beamer's final recruiting haul could reach 20, if cornerback Rod Council of West Charlotte (N.C.) High can clear up his legal difficulties. Council was considered one of the Hokies' premier recruits when he verbally committed. However, Council was arrested in early February 2004 after breaking into his high school. If the charges are dropped, Tech could sign him later.

Signees
RB George Bell -- One of the crown jewels of Tech's recruiting class, the 5-11, 225-pound Bell is already enrolled in school and will participate in spring ball. A serious knee injury during his junior year hurt his high school productivity. But Tech coaches believe that he can be an instant impact back if his knee is sound.

WR Eddie Royal -- With top wideout Ernest Wilford gone, Royal will have an opportunity to play right away. Royal had 41 catches for 875 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2003. He was ranked as the state's No. 2 prospect by the Roanoke Times and Rivals.com ranked him as the No. 13 receiver in the country.

LBs Andrew Bowman and Purnell Sturdivant -- The 6-1, 225-pound Bowman from Hermitage (Va.) High School and the 5-10, 220-pound Sturdivant from Norfolk are two in-state recruits with the skills and size to contribute right away. Bowman had 99 tackles as a high school senior, while Sturdivant has a 44-inch vertical leap and recorded 99 tackles as a high school senior.

Glance at 2004
The Hokies will take a major step up in class in joining the ACC this season and they seem ready for the challenge, despite losing a pair of star juniors in Kevin Jones and DeAngelo Hall. Two things must change for the Hokies to make a run at the ACC's top spot. First, Frank Beamer must pick a quarterback between Bryan Randall and Marcus Vick and stick with him. Second, Beamer must get to the bottom of the late-season problems that have plagued the team in the past two years. If he can do that and freshman skill-position recruits can help ease the earlier-than-hoped departures of Jones and Hall, then the Hokies will be just fine.

Quote to Note
"I'm really excited about this recruiting class. I think it's very good. I think it's very athletic. I think we need some receivers who can catch the ball, take it the distance. I think we've done that." -- Head coach Frank Beamer said of his 2004 recruits.


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