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July 26, 2012
Programs starting to target sophomores
"I don't think I could have imagined this a year earlier," Penniston acknowledged. "When they offered me, I thought I was dreaming or something."
Dreams are coming true for more and more rising sophomores nowadays. Even the ones who aren't yet atop their high school depth charts.
Penniston is one of 72 prospects in the Class of 2015 with verbal offers. That represents a dramatic change from the recent past and a notable example of how much the recruiting process has accelerated.
"I remember just a couple of years ago when (2012 Notre Dame signee) Davonte Neal of Arizona got an early offer as a freshman and it was a real rarity," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "Now, it's not much of a rarity."
Indeed, four players from the Class of 2015 already have made verbal commitments.
Elkton (Md.) Easter Christian Academy quarterback David Sills committed to USC when he was just 13 years old. Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth safety Donovan Sheffield announced in June he would attend Vanderbilt. Florida State already has a pair of commitments from rising sophomores: Auburndale (Fla.) athlete Derwin James and Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast quarterback De'Andre Johnson.
And they might not even be the youngest committed prospects around anymore. The Seattle Times reported Wednesday that Washington had received a commitment from Tate Martell, a 14-year-old quarterback from San Diego heading into the eighth grade.
According to the Rivals.com database, 67 of the 121 FBS non-academies have offered at least one 2015 prospect. Florida State leads the way with 12 offers, while UCLA is close behind with 11.
"It is getting crazy," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We said (offering) juniors (was too early). Then we said sophomores. Then we said freshmen. We all keep doing it because the other guy does it. It's become a zoo."
Penniston caught the attention of the Seminoles last fall when he played for Orange (Calif.) Lutheran and backed up Christo Kourtzidis, a four-star recruit who signed with Florida State in February. Penniston, who has since transferred to Mater Dei, said the Seminoles had tapes of him from last season and also saw him this spring.
Although Florida State represents Penniston's lone offer thus far, plenty of other 2015 prospects already have received multiple offers. Glen St. Mary (Fla.) Baker County defensive tackle CeCe Jefferson, Orlando (Fla.) Timber Creek athlete Jacques Patrick and Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School running back Jordan Scarlett already have nine offers each.
Farrell believes this trend is a result of legislation passed by the NCAA two years ago that prevented colleges from making written offers to prospects before Aug. 1 prior to their senior years. The previous starting date had been Sept. 1 of their junior years.
The move was designed to delay the recruiting process, but it only caused coaches to act even earlier. The legislation didn't include any types of limits on verbal offers, so colleges are making more verbal offers than ever.
Moreover, there's a sense the school that waits to offer a prospect might fall too far behind to catch up. So the schools are making offers earlier and earlier.
"It's backfiring," Farrell said of the NCAA legislation. "It's speeding up the process by at least a year when the NCAA hoped to slow it down by a year."
The result is that some 2015 prospects are receiving offers before they've even made much of an impact on their high school teams. It isn't unusual for a recruit to get an offer based more on potential than production, but it's particularly apparent in the 2015 class.
Yet even though he likely won't emerge as a full-time starting quarterback for his high school team until the fall of 2013, Perkins already has received offers from Arizona State and UCLA.
Perkins has the physical tools, as he's already 6-foot-3 and about 180 pounds, according to his high school coach. He comes from a quality high school program. And he has family connections as the younger brother of Paul Perkins, a three-star prospect who signed with UCLA in February as an all-purpose athlete.
"It's his demeanor and his confidence," Chandler coach Shaun Aguano said. "He has a few mechanical issues with his throwing, but that will be easy to fix. He's one of the best athletes on our team right now. He was a state finalist as a freshman in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles, so he'll be a top track star. We've sent a lot of kids [to college] who are playing right now, and he's as good as they were at this level."
Diamond Bar (Calif.) wide receiver Cordell Broadus, the son of rap star Snoop Dogg, played just four games of varsity football last fall after initially delivering a dominant performance for his school's freshman team. He already has received an offer from UCLA.
Although Broadus caught only one pass in varsity action last season, Broadus delivered a solid performance at a UCLA summer camp. He also is already 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds.
"UCLA did a great job of seeing his potential," Diamond Bar coach Ryan Maine said. "I think they're very smart for offering him. He's going to get a lot of offers, I believe, based on his size, his strength and his work ethic. I wasn't surprised [by the offer]. He's physically a gifted kid. It doesn't matter who his dad is. When you see him, he's a specimen."
Not every school is jumping aboard this trend.
While many schools are offering players earlier and earlier, TCU coach Gary Patterson indicated he's taking the opposite approach. TCU hasn't offered a single 2015 prospect. Big 12 rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and Texas also haven't made any offers to incoming sophomores.
"I felt the last couple of years -- with the early commitment stuff -- I felt we had a couple of guys come in that maybe it was about getting a great private-school education, maybe it wasn't about winning a national championship," Patterson said. "And so, if you've noticed in our commitment deal, up until lately in the last [several] weeks, I think we only had three of four  commitments. Probably, if anything, I backed up a little bit as far as making sure that I've been a little more patient."
Patterson represents one of the exceptions.
More and more often, coaches are racing to offer prospects early in their high school careers. That's particularly true of programs that recruit Florida heavily. Of the 72 Class of 2015 prospects with offers, 22 come from Florida.
"I don't like it, but there's nothing I can do about it," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "That's the way it is. I'm hesitant to offer guys in the 10th grade. There are certain guys who can qualify for that, but not many. It makes it tough. You've got to hold on to them that much longer. Secondly, they've still got some maturing to do as a person. They've got to have a couple more years of good decision-making and production as a player.
"It's definitely a new era we're in, but it's where we are."