When you cover some players for as many as three or four years, it's easy to grow close enough to a player and/or his family where they make a lasting impression. Now that's not to say it's going to affect your evaluation of said player but there will always be certain guys you find yourself rooting for when they hit college and even the NFL.
Here's a region by region look at a few of our favorite recruits we covered over the years:
Gary, the No. 1 player in the 2016 class, wound up at Michigan after a recruitment that lasted five years. In that time, Gary was always pleasant and grounded despite being asked to do interview after interview after interview. His mom, Jennifer, did a remarkable job of talking and taking the pressure on herself so her son could be as normal a high school student as possible. Through the process, they never seemed to be overwhelmed or angry. They were always a delight to deal with in person, and on the phone.
I first met Upshur, a tight end from Philadelphia, at rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike halfway between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He was with his Imhotep Charter teammates en route to a game in Ohio, and I was heading to Pittsburgh. Upshur was a sophomore, and quiet and not really sure about the recruiting process, or what to expect. As I covered him and got to know him, Upshur was always accessible, always fun to interview, and always pleasant.
Clement helped his team to a state title as a junior, and after the title game said he was uncertain schools out of New Jersey would even know about him. He wound up with more than two dozen offers, and after committing to Pittsburgh, switched to Wisconsin, where he now stars. He was genuine in interviews, and was partly amazed at the attention he received despite playing at a small school in South Jersey.
Patrick Allen- Georgia- 2015
Allen, who signed with Georgia, was shy when I first met him as a sophomore and it was fun to see him every now and again and notice his growth ...not only as a player, but also as a person. He had a nice perspective when evaluating his recruitment. He always wanted to get better. At one point, he was Tennessee-bound, but hours before his early January announcement in the 2015 class, he postponed it. He later committed to Georgia.
For pure intrigue, Clark's recruitment was the best. It had it all ...two decommitments (from Michigan and North Carolina), a signing day decision in going to UCLA, then a transfer in which he committed to Syracuse, then decommitted and enrolled at Pittsburgh. He took a beating on twitter, but showed great maturity through all of it by rarely responding.
National Analyst Brian Dohn
Always a great interview and always very open with the media, Arnett was great to cover.
Gardner was a smart kid who gave great interviews. Very mature when he was in high school.
Mathis is still the only kid who I've ever had running down the field on a pick six yelling "you got that on video Allen?"
Jashon had/has a really subtle sense of humor. I covered him since he was a freshman too, so really got a good chance to know him and his family.
For a highly ranked guy, Gabe never ever took himself too seriously. Very funny kid with a unique personality.
National Analyst Allen Trieu
The Coppell (Texas) five-star defensive lineman was not always man of many words, but you always had to respect the honesty with how he approached the process, and you could take what he said to the bank. It was that approach to the process that made him one of my favorite recruits to cover. He and his teammates at Coppell had to deal with a tragedy when it lost friend and teammate Jacob Logan in the midst of an undefeated season to a cliff diving accident but how Thomas led the team in the honor of Logan and Logan’s family from that point forward that tells you all you need to know about the type of person that the current Stanford star really is.
J.B. Shugarts– Ohio State- 2008
This guy was a beast on the field and a lot of fun to watch coming out of Klein (Texas), but even more importantly he was whole lot of fun to interview and deal with. His answers were always direct and to the point, but most importantly entertaining. He wrote his own commitment quotes and sent them in when he committed to the Buckeyes, and this was well before the days of Twitter DM or text message interviews, and now he is a published writer. Bonus Point: There are two Shugarts on the way up at Evans (Ga.) Greenbrier (Stone and Beau) who both told me back in the day that I should be on the look out for them.
Austin Box- Oklahoma- 2007
Chances are that I would not still be in this business if it was not for the magic of the abilities that Box showed on the field. My first year covering prep games in the Midlands region was spent during Box’s playoff run back in the Fall of 2006. He was a warrior on the field, but most importantly he brought the joy of the game and what he did onto the field and was able to uniquely share it with the fans in Enid (Okla.). If you were a part of that or have experienced something like it then you can possibly understand the magic I am talking about. He brought you into the game. He was Enid and he was football. RIP Austin.
Ricky was an absolute pleasure to watch play. He played both ways at Sealy (Texas) and he is one of the best pure football players that I have covered. He was the heart and soul of his team and the town shut down to come watch him play. One of the best in-game experiences I had was sitting at the top of the stands at Sealy High and having Tigers fans come up and tell me the ‘RS-J’ was the man. He ended up at Texas A&M, but being a fly on the wall when he made an initial commitment to Texas and Mack Brown was an eye-opening experience to how the recruiting process can work.
Patterson from North Mesquite (Texas) was one of my favorites to cover, because he was a guy who did not have all of the intangibles at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, of some of the other major recruits, but he had all of the skill and more. He was one of those guys who put in all of the work off the field in his training and competed in everything possible to overcome a size disadvantage in recruiting. He was so quick and athletic that he was almost unguardable in one-on-ones. Staying in line with what he did coming out of prep, he is now a trainer and trains many potential D1 prospects in the DFW area.
Mesquite, Texas has produced a lot of talent over the years and they seem to have a success on the next level. But I love Trice's story because of what he had to overcome before he made it as a major recruit and a D1 athlete. He came out of one of the roughest ghettos in St. Louis before making it to the Dallas area and finding a way to make his college dreams come true. He originally signed with OU before transferring and earning All-Conference honors at UNT. He is now starting his career as a teacher/coach.
National Analyst Greg Powers
It was simple to cover him, but such a pleasure. Green committed to Georgia close to a year and half out, and he never visited another school despite being pursued by schools across the country. He told me of his decision in the spring of his sophomore year and asked me to hold it until he was ready. He was at Georgia for the Tennessee game that fall, and Georgia got behind big in the first half. He texted me towards halftime asking me to put his commitment story out then because he wanted all to know he was a Dawg regardless of what happened during the season. As special as Green was on the field, he was that much better off of it.
One of the most humble prospects I have ever covered. He was always a team-first guy who would do whatever he could to help his team. Berry did not get caught up in all of the attention with the media around him constantly. He did not do a press conference or anything like that — he just called me out of the blue one afternoon and said he wanted to let me know he was about to commit to Tennessee. The story was not a surprise because he is a UT legacy, but the way he handled it, the way he delivered the message and from start to finish, he was a respectful recruit to cover.
Mecole Hardman Jr- Georgia- 2016
In today's age of recruiting, it is easy for these young men to change with the attention they get. Hardman Jr. did not. I knew him before he had offer No. 1, then I knew him when he was a five star with offers from all of the top schools. He never changed. Some elite prospects stop talking with the media, ignore the text messages, or just make it tough to cover them, and Hardman Jr. did none of the above. He handled all the attention with grace and he was appreciative of the interview requests. He made it fun to cover him.
I first saw Bryce when he was a freshman at the Pylon 7on7, when it was known as the Badger/New Level 7v7. He was one of the best players in his class, but was always humble (he still is) and willing to talk. Even more, he always would tell you about his teammates and why they should be recruited. This was back in the day before St. John Bosco had blue-chippers left and right. He was a four-year guy at Cal and just signed with the Philadelphia Eagles this past week.
Back in the days before Twitter, recruits used to always text their offers. Golden wouldn’t just text offers, he would text everything. Stats, opponents, where he was eating before a game. You name it. Was always a great interview, ridiculously energetic and always good with info. He started at Arizona for three seasons and has been with the Steelers for the past five years, and is their starting strong safety.
There may not have been a more honest interview in all my years than Kenny Stills. If you asked him a question, you would get a very thorough and detailed answered. And then you’d get VERY honest answers- on coaches, on other recruits, on the schools he was being recruited by. In this day and age of recruit-speak, when Kenny talked, you got complete transparency and honesty. He was a three-year starter at Oklahoma and now is a starter for the Miami Dolphins.
Verner was one of the smartest recruits I’ve ever covered. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around. And it makes sense- he was an honors student in math at UCLA, where he was a three-year All Pac-12 pick and now starts at cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being a Pro Bowler with the Tennessee Titans. He also comes from a terrific family and his father is one of the greatest people I’ve ever gotten to know in this job. He was fun to watch, too, because he was under-sized and under-appreciated as a recruit, and always had a chip on his shoulder about it (in a good way), which proved to be a motivating factor for him -- all the way to the NFL.
Another kid who was just a terrific all-around person. Since he first started getting recruited as a sophomore, Pollard would always shoot messages just asking how I was doing, how was recruiting and how was life. And then when my daughter got diagnosed with cancer, C.J. took it upon himself to have a hat embroidered with her name and nickname on it (brAvery) at The Opening Finals and wore it on ESPN when he announced his commitment to USC, where he’s now a freshman defensive back. He sent the hat to Avery afterwards. His father, Marvin, was a former Trojan football player too and he constantly reached out to our family to see how we were doing and how Avery was doing. After Avery passed away, one of the first people I heard from was C.J., just saying he was thinking of us and our family and of Avery. Even now that he’s at USC, he still reaches out to check in. The hat he wore to announce his decision and the message he sent to Avery, our family will treasure forever.
Injuries derailed their careers so they weren’t household names, but these others were terrific kids that I enjoyed covering
Todd Golper, 2009, LB, Arcadia (Calif.)- UCLA
Matt Meyer, 2008, OT, Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln- USC
Dayne Crist, 2008, QB, Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame- Notre Dame/Kansas
National Analyst Brandon Huffman
Nnamdi Asomugha- Cal- 1999
Nnamdi prepped at Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne and lived just down the street from our office while I was at Student Sports. He visited so much that we actually put him to work and had him intern with us one summer before he entered college, even making recruiting calls. He was incredibly soft spoken and humble and you wondered if he had that inner 'dog' in him to be a killer on the football field. He showed he definitely did starring at Cal for three years and becoming a 1st round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2003. It was pick that many of Draft experts blasted at the time but Asomugha went on to have a great career with the Raiders and was recognized for a time as the best cover corner in the League.
Lorenzo Booker- Florida State- 2002
Booker was both one of my favorite recruits that I covered but also is part of one of my most painful Signing Day embarrassments on this job. He had a huge personality, was always fun to talk with and always had some inside scoop on not just his recruitment, but other players locally and around the country as well. Many assumed since he was local he would end up at USC but he had told me his recruitment would come down to Florida State and Notre Dame. The night before Signing Day, he told me he decided on the Irish, gave me quotes and I had a story written up and ready to release AFTER he did his ESPN presser. The morning of Signing Day, a local paper was tipped off by a college coach that Booker was going to Notre Dame and ran with it. A co-worker of mine said to run with my story since it was already out but I refused, not wanting to scoop the kid, even if the paper had already reported it. I went out to cover Rhema McKnight's press conference, who ironically chose Notre Dame and while I was out, the co-worker released my story that Booker committed to Notre Dame just before his press conference. If that wasn't bad enough, Booker had a change of heart, literally minutes before he was set to announce and ended up choosing Florida State. Needless to say, I was not a fan of said co-worker but Booker laughed it off and had no ill feelings, we still joke about that story when I see him today.
Matt Barkley- USC- 2009
When Matt was just a freshman in high school, he sent back his NIKE Camp registration form (I was doing player personal for the NIKE Camps at this time) and mentioned he led worship at Rock Harbor Church, a church I had visited several times. I emailed him back and mentioned how cool it was that he was involved and to keep his faith strong, it won't be easy as he goes through high school. His father Les called me back a day later and thanked me for the encouragement and that started a friendship with the family that still continues. Matt was a natural leader and in the spotlight from day one playing at a prestigious school like Mater Dei but he never changed who he was as a person. This was before social media became a huge presence but at this time, a lot of players still enjoyed doing press conferences to announce their college. Matt, who was regarded by many as the top recruit in the nation at the time, simply called me on the phone one day and said, 'hey just a heads up, I'm going to USC, you can report that if you want.'
Kevin Simon- Tennessee- 2000
Simon prepped at legendary Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and was a part of the 'Streak,' where the Spartans ran off 151 wins in a row. Being a SoCal guy, I originally had my doubts how legit this streak was but quickly became a believer after watching them in person beat both Mater Dei and their legendary showdown against Long Beach Poly in a game billed as 'The Game of the Century.' The DLS kids were always fun to cover, being very courteous, thoughtful and always gave great insight. You would have never known these kids were part of such an incredible winning streak as there was never an ounce of arrogance or prima donna attitude with any of them and of all the players who came through, Simon was my favorite. He was a brilliant football player, tough, physical and an incredible athlete but more so, was one of the brightest kids I covered whose football IQ was off the charts. He would tell me before a game exactly what a team would do and how they would stop it and no kidding, was right every time I remember. He started as a true freshman at UT but suffered back to back severe knee injuries and unfortunately never had a chance to fulfill his enormous potential.
Marcedes Lewis- UCLA- 2002
Like with the De La Salle program, LB Poly is another program I always enjoyed covering. The school was close by our old office and I was a frequent visitor to the campus with future Ohio State receiver Kenyon Rambo being one of the first players I ever covered in '97. Lewis was part of what everyone called, 'The Big Five.' He and four other Poly recruits were all consensus top 100 players nationally in the 2002 class, to this day, one of the only times we can ever remember that happening. Lewis was a tremendous tight end but might have even been a better defensive end had he played defense full time. As good as he was on the field, he was an even better kid off the field, always humble and gracious and like the other players on this list, never let fame or fortune change him as a person. His recruitment will always stand out because while his other four Jackrabbit teammates signed with USC, Lewis, who was under extreme pressure to join them, ended up honoring his early commitment to UCLA. The Bruins never beat USC while Lewis was a part of the rivalry but he did last the longest in the NFL among the 'The Big Five' and is still playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team he was originally drafted by in 2006.
National Analyst Greg Biggins