The Hilltop Review 5/8

Come inside another jam packed Hilltop Review for all the latest SMU recruiting news!

2016 tight end updates SMU interest, recruitment

By: Matt Sanders

2016 Katy Cinco Ranch tight end Corey Rau is getting closer to deciding where he wants to play college football, but new offers continue to appear for him.

“I just got an offer from Tulsa,” he said. “SMU is on my mind, but I want to get through spring ball.”

Along with SMU and Tulsa, Rau has offers from Houston and Minnesota.

When it comes to deciding on where to go, Rau views his decision from an academic aspect.

“I want to stay close to home because it’s best to stay in state,” he said. “If I get injured or hurt, I need my degree to fall back on. I want to do business, and SMU has one of the top business programs in the nation.”

Although spring practice has been well underway, this was the first week for Rau to go 100 percent.

“Monday was my first day in full pads because I was playing baseball,” he said. “Because we didn’t make the baseball playoffs, I’m able to fully practice for football.”

Rau’s on-field goals are just like anybody else’s: he wants to win a championship. However, he stands out for his off the field goals.

“I want to represent the team and the school in a great way,” he said.

Rau is part of an organization called “Pals,” in which he mentors kids with learning disabilities. For Rau, this is what being a leader is all about.

“You think that we change their lives, but really, they change our lives,” he said. “The little kids think you’re the king, and it makes you feel good.”

When it comes to the coaching change at SMU, Rau admires the trust that the staff has in Chad Morris.

“Coach Morris is one of the most respected coaches in the nation. He brought the Clemson offensive staff with him, so they trust in what he’s doing,” he said. “He’ll turn the program around, and it’ll be awesome to see.”

Something that Rau especially admires from this staff is the effort they put in to keep athletes in Texas.

“Texas has the best football, so I don’t know why people try to leave the state,” he said. “I like how they are trying to retain them.”

While he will not decide on his college career for a few more months, Rau wants to keep his relationship with the SMU staff.

“I will be going to their camp in the summer,” he said. “I want to try to practice with them and see what happens.”

2016 point guard updates recruitment

By: Scott Sanford

With Nic Moore set to graduate following the 2015-2016 season, it’s no surprise the SMU staff has been in contact with a number of point guards from the 2016 class.

Grandview Christian Academy (MO) point guard Ashton West, while not playing on one of the major AAU circuits, has quietly begun to pick up interest from some mid-majors, as well as from SMU.

“I haven’t been hearing from SMU a whole lot lately because they’re so busy with some of the other circuits, so it’s tough for them to see me in person,” West said. “But I send them film updates and we discuss those, and they should be coming out to see me in July.”

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound West speaks mostly with his recruiter, Associate Head Coach Tim Jankovich, but has spoken with Head Coach Larry Brown on numerous occasions.

West and Jankovich have, however, formed a close bond, which plays a big role in West’s interest in SMU.

“Any time a coach takes the time to call my phone and talk to me, instead of emailing me or putting a letter in my mailbox, that means a lot to me,” West explained. “I feel like we’re boys. It’s not a formal relationship. I’m very comfortable communicating with him on my recruitment or on anything.”

West holds offers from Kansas State, Miami of Ohio, Cornell, Robert Morris, Belmont and USF among others, but thinks it’s just a matter of time before he starts picking up some mid to high major offers.

“Really, at this point, I’ve averaged 24 points a game and almost nine assists in the three tournaments we’ve played,” West said. “It’s about getting (the coaches) there. I’m confident in my abilities so it’s just about getting them to see me.”

West believes that if he stays patient, the offers will follow in just a matter of time.

Bishop Dunne running back picks up first offer

By: Billy Embody

2017 Bishop Dunne running back Rajan Cunningham got big news last week when he picked up his first offer from SMU.

“It’s my first offer and that’s really exciting,” Cunningham said. “My coach had talked to the running backs coach a couple days before. My coach will send messages through the running backs coach.”

While Cunningham was at a track meet last week, his coach gave him the news that he had picked up an offer from SMU.

“I think it’s a great school,” Cunningham said. “I haven’t been up there to visit, but I’ll be going there this summer to go to the camp.”

New SMU head coach Chad Morris is bringing his up-tempo offense to SMU and while Cunningham doesn’t know much about Morris, his reputation precedes him.

“I know he was with Clemson before,” Cunningham said. “I really don’t know much about it (the offense), but if it’s coming from Clemson, it’s going to be successful.”

SMU hiring Claude Mathis as running backs coach has really made an impression on all the DFW players that SMU is on the rise.

“The running backs coach used to be the head coach at DeSoto and everybody knows, who DeSoto is so that was the big talk,” Cunningham said.

Texas and LSU have also shown interest in Cunningham and have gotten visits from Cunningham, but for now, Cunningham is just focused on finding that right fit.

“I’m looking for a good education as well as a good football team,” the 5-9, 175-pound back said.

Cunningham tallied over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year for , which was good enough to earn him second-team All-State in TAPPS 5A, Division I and first-team All-District.

“My vision and my speed help me. I think I’m pretty fast for my age.”

SMU has a few different camps this summer and Cunningham hasn’t picked a specific one to head out to yet.

2017 running back picks up SMU offer

By: Patrick Engel

2017 Wylie East (Texas) running back Eno Benjamin has been on SMU’s radar for a few months, and the Mustangs finally offered him last week.

“It was exciting to know, since I have a really good relationship with them, so I felt honored to get an offer from them,” Benjamin said.”

Benjamin said he’s building the best relationships with running backs coach Claude Mathis and offensive line coach Dustin Fry, whom he met on a junior day visit in February.

“They’re just 100 percent honest, and I like the way they handle their business in the film room,” Benjamin said. “It’s great being around them.”

Mathis and Fry’s honesty embodies the SMU coaching staff as a whole for Benjamin. He is already sold on SMU head coach Chad Morris’ ability to turn the program around, and said being a part of a rebuild appeals to him.

“Really, I just think that coach Morris is serious about changing this program. He’s 100 percent and means everything he says,” Benjamin said. “Just really the rebuilding of the team [is what’s most impressive].”

Benjamin is finishing his sophomore year of high school, so he said he is taking the recruiting process slowly. He already has offers from Iowa, Kansas, Nevada, San Diego State, SMU and Miami (Fla.). He said Stanford, Florida State, Baylor and SMU are showing the most interest, although no single school is recruiting him the harder than the rest. In addition to SMU, he visited TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma this spring.

Spring ball is around the corner for Benjamin, and he wants to show coaches his complete skill set.

“I can do it all. I can run in between the tackles, I can beat you outside and I’m not afraid to lower my head,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin is 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds.

Scout 4-star defensive end updates recruitment

By: Scott Sanford

Flower Mound Marcus (Tex.) 2016 defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald, one of the Mustangs top targets in the 2016 class, received a quick visit from offensive coordinator Joe Craddock last week.

While the two didn’t get to speak at length because of Fitzgerald’s spring practice, Craddock was able to quickly reiterate SMU’s interest in the 6-foot-5, 247-pound end.

“He just watched me go through practice and he said he wants me to come down for a visit soon,” Fitzgerald said.

Craddock, Fitzgerald’s recruiter, and Head Coach Chad Morris speak with the rising senior the most and have began to form a strong bond.

“(The SMU coaching staff) probably talks to me every week and I probably talk to Craddock and Morris the most,” Fitzgerald said. “(our relationship) is pretty strong right now overall.”

While Fitzgerald has held a four-star rating on scout for almost a year, the defensive end didn’t pick up his first offer until January. 16 offers later, and the interest and offers continue to roll in for Fitzgerald.

“Colleges have been most likely coming in every day to just stop by and check in,” Fitzgerald said. “The recruiting has really picked up a lot lately. Any player wants to be recognized for what they do, so it’s great and I’m just going with it right now.”

Fitzgerald, who holds offers from SMU, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Texas Tech, Oregon State, North Carolina, Kansas State, Illinois, California and Boise State among others, said he does not have an official top 5 list just yet.

Right now, California, North Carolina, Kansas State, Texas Tech, SMU and Boise State are the schools he wants to keep in touch with the most, but he admits that list could change at any moment.

Looking towards summer, Fitzgerald plans on attending a couple of camps, as well as visiting some of his favorite schools, and a few that he’s interest in but has not picked up an offer from just yet.

2016 Louisiana wide receiver talks SMU interest

By: Patrick Engel

2016 Bastrop (La.) wide receiver Isaiah Graham was an early 2016 offer for Chad Morris and his staff, and they have kept close tabs on him since the offer in January.

“Me and the receivers coach (Justin Stepp) have a great relationship, we talk almost every day,” Graham said. “He was planning to get here this week to come visit and talk with me.”

Graham has yet to visit SMU, partly because of his track schedule, but he said he wants to get to SMU soon, likely in June. But he’s still learned a lot about it from Stepp.

“He talks about the offense,” he said wit h their offense I can come in and fit great and play offense as a young player. I feel like I can go in there and have great success, I just need to go visit and see how things go and how the school operates.”

Stepp has sold him on the non-football parts of SMU as well, such as Dallas and SMU’s academic reputation.

“We talk about the success of the school; where it is in a big area, its not hard to find a job,” Graham said. “It’s a great academic school and one of the highest degrees you can get. I feel like if I go there, I’ll come out as a good student and player.”

To land Graham, SMU will need to fend off some strong Power Five schools. He has offers from Arkansas, TCU, Nebraska, California, Texas Tech, Arizona State, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Miami (Fla.), Colorado State, Louisiana Tech, Tulsa, Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette. He said Texas Tech, Arkansas, Tennessee, TCU, South Carolina have been recruiting him the hardest lately. Graham wants to release his top schools at some point during the summer, but said no one is sticking out a little more than the rest.

While Graham hasn’t visited SMU yet, that doesn’t hurt its chances against the bigger teams because he hasn’t visited many of them yet either. He added that he will for sure visit Miami, South Carolina and Arizona State.

“I want to wait until the summer so I can visit a couple schools and just make my list so I can get my top schools by the time the season starts,” Graham said. “Then I’ll have a few schools that I can have time with, and then I won’t have so much on my plate.”

A handful of schools have seen Graham at his spring practices so far, and he wants them to see he’s as good as advertised.

“I just want to show that I can get in and out of my routes, I’m a versatile receiver and can play inside and outside,” Graham said. The stuff I have on film, I just want to show it to them in person.”

Graham is 6-foot and 175 pounds. He said he is still a long way from making a decision.

2016 Spring DB talks SMU interest

By: Matt Sanders

2016 Spring High School defensive back Ka’Darian Smith recently received a visit from defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt. Although the meeting was a simple meet and greet, Smith received Wyatt’s business card so the two could stay in touch in the future.

Smith is not the first Spring football player to receive interest from the new coaching staff. Signee Xavier Jones will be graduating from Spring, and he talks with smith about SMU.

“Xavier and I talk, and he keeps telling me I need to come to SMU,” Smith said.

Smith currently holds offers from New Mexico, Rice and Fresno State, but he could imagine himself being a Mustang.

“I wouldn’t mind going to SMU,” he said. “It’ll be nice to see a winning program.”

Just like other juniors in high school, Smith has certain goals for his senior year, both on and off the field. For his senior year, Smith has set the bar very high.

“Off the field I want to get a good SAT score,” he said. “On the field, I want to be in the conversation of being the best cornerback in the state and get into a good college.”

When it comes to recruiting, Smith knows that Texas players are some of the best in the nation, and he respects what Chad Morris and his staff are doing by staying local.

“A lot of athletes at major programs are from Texas,” he said. “It is a powerful move to get guys local. If they can get talent at SMU, they can make something happen.”

Pearland Dawson wide receiver talks SMU interest

By: Andrew Hattersley

2016 Dawson HS (Tex.) wide receiver Antoine Cannady has not been able to take a visit yet to SMU, but his relationship with the SMU coaching staff continues to grow stronger and stronger on a weekly basis.

“I haven’t actually been to SMU yet. There’s always something that’s comes up but I have been talking to coach Mathis and we talk every week,” Cannady said.

Despite playing wide receiver and tight end throughout high school, the SMU coaching staff would like to see what the 6-3, 223-pound receiver can do on the other side of the ball.

“They really want to see me on defense, he [Claude Mathis] came down to see me and the thing is when a lot of people see me, because of my size, they don’t think that I’m a receiver, I’m big so a lot of people want to see me play defense,” Cannady said.

For now, the staff is continuing to talk to Cannady and the Dawson receiver says he will give linebacker and defensive end a shot at one of SMU’s camps this summer.

“SMU is one of my top schools and a school that I would love the opportunity to attend so I will be at that camp, I’ve been trying to make it out there for the longest time,” Cannady said, “They want me to come on an unofficial visit but there’s always something that comes up so I’m just trying to wait until summer and wait until everything is free because I’m very busy now at this time so its really hard for me to get there.”

As for playing defense in college, Cannady said he has no problem switching over to that side of the ball and will do whatever is necessary to help the team win.

“I told them that’s not a problem for me because I feel like I’m a ball player, I just want to play where I can get on the field and help the team win,” Cannady said.

Currently the big wide receiver has offers from Navy, Air Force, Texas Southern, West Point, as well as, receiving interest from SMU.

As for his relationship with the current staff, Cannady says he has no problem with the staff taking their time offering him and for now is just happy to keep building a relationship with them on a weekly basis.

“I feel like they want me but they are looking out for themselves, their thing is I can play defense if I can tackle, its just hard to offer a dude who you haven’t seen play much defense and I understand that,” Cannady said,” I know that they are recruiting me for another position so it will take longer for them to offer me but just talking to them every week I feel like they’re very interested in me so I’ll keep that relationship going and see where it goes.”

2017 running back talks SMU interest

By: Matt Sanders

2017 Arlington Seguin running back and athlete Darrian Hammonds is getting attention from major programs, and has already received several offers.

“I have offers from Army, Air Force, Kansas, Iowa, and Louisiana-Monroe,” he said.

Hammonds met with coach Mathis recently, and got a good first impression.

“Coach Mathis is a good guy, and he was nice to meet.”

Although SMU is one of many schools on Hammonds’ radar, there is one big advantage over the schools that have already offered him.

“I’m open to any school,” Hammonds said. “It’s good that SMU is in Texas. I could pick them if I get an offer.”

Hammonds was on the Hilltop last year to look around and take in a practice, but he knows that things have drastically changed since his last visit.

“It’s good that the coaches are trying to turn the program around, and they have great prospects,” he said. “It’s important that they’re keeping guys close to home.”

Although he is only a sophomore, Hammonds has big goals for his junior season, goals that will get the attention of every major program.

“On the field, I want a 2,000-yard rushing season, and a 500-600 receiving season,” he said. “I don’t know how many touchdowns I want to score, but I want to score a lot.”

When it comes to his personal goals, Hammonds wants to be a leader on the team and lead the team to the playoffs. He also wants to stay focused in his classes.

Due to NCAA rules, communication is limited between Hammonds and the coaching staff at SMU, but he wants to build a relationship with SMU.

“I want to talk more if they come for more recruiting,” he said. “I want to talk on social media and get more acquainted with the school.

Seven Lakes defensive back recaps SMU spring game

By: Andrew Hattersley

2016 Seven Lakes HS (Tex.) cornerback Dillon Love got to take in SMU’s spring game a couple weeks ago and also got the chance to meet some players on the team as well as get to know the coaches.

“It was great I got to see the school mainly and I got to see how the official training is and I got to meet many of the coaches,” Love said.

Love also got the chance to talk with SMU cornerback Ajee Montes, whom Love has connected with on Twitter as well.

“I got to meet him at the spring game and it was good to just talk with him and then one of our running backs that is signed to play at SMU so we have a good connection over there,” Love said, “They love it there so, it’s a nice campus and nice facility, and the people there are great they’re really down to earth.”

Out of all his interactions over the weekend however, Love definitely gained a tremendous amount of respect for SMU’s head coach Chad Morris and defensive coordinator Van Malone for their manner in which they handle themselves.

“The coaches were great, I love the head coach, he is a man of his word, he actually that day had his daughters prom so he had to fly back to his hometown which is what he said he was going to do,” Love said, “The other coaches I love them too, the defensive coordinator he knows what he wants and he is going to go get it.”

The 5-8, 162-pound defensive back also liked the facilities at SMU and was impressed with how well maintained they looked.

Out on the field for Love, his focus was on the defense and the defensive backs especially. Love liked how aggressive the cornerbacks were and how they always seemed to be making a play.

“The defense did very good, they came out with the win so they did very good, I mainly kept my eyes on the DBs they had very good footwork, when they were in some short yardage situations on the goal line, you always saw the DBs come up and make a play or make a deflection or whatever it may be,” Love said.

The Seven Lakes cornerback is still unsure of what schools he is interested in, and for right now is happy to just keep looking around for the right fit.

“Well I have been looking at a few other schools I don’t have an official list of them but I’ll be making my way around during the summer mainly,” Love said.

When he does start putting a list together however, academics will be front and center in any decision he makes.

“Academics of course, I plan to major in sports marketing, so I plan to look at any schools that have a good sports marketing department,” Love said.

Coming into his senior season, Love hopes to continue to prepare his game for the collegiate level, and with that is just continuing to soak up as much knowledge as he possibly can about the game of football.

“I work hard, so that’s definitely not one of the things I need to work on, I guess I have a good knowledge of the game but it can always be increased,” Love said “As far as I’m concerned I can learn from as many coaches that have experience about the game, my coaches at Seven Lakes, they changed my head coach and defensive coordinator.”

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