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January 23, 2004

On The Recruiting Trail

This week's edition of On The Recruiting Trail tackles the following hot topics:

1. Ducks Unlimited
2. Two Stars In The Lone Star
3. Red River Raiding
4. Seminole Watch


Ducks Unlimited:
Not even the most optimistic of Oregon fans could have expected a day like the Ducks had this week.

In a brilliant span of good news on Wednesday, Oregon landed commitments from three of the top-rated players on the West Coast and further cemented one of its best classes in years. It began with Concord (Calif.) De La Salle teammates Terrance Kelly and Willie Glasper Jr. and was followed soon after by the addition of Corona (Calif.) Centennial running back Terrell Jackson.

The moves placed Mike Bellotti's program in a position to challenge for a national top 10 finish for the first time in recent memory.

"It's been a great week for them," said Rivals West analyst Greg Biggins. "In the two De La Salle kids, they probably got the best linebacker (Kelly) and the best cover corner (Glasper) on the West Coast. And then with Jackson, they got the No. 2 running back in the West, which was a huge need for them because they didn't take a running back last year.

"All three of those guys were being recruited by just about everyone in the Pac-10 and on the West Coast, so Oregon's just got to be thrilled about how things have developed."

The Ducks are currently No. 10 in the national team rankings, behind only top-ranked USC in the conference. There's a good chance they can hold on to that lofty position, especially if they reel in a couple of their other top targets like four-star Hayward (Calif.) defensive end Phillip Mbakogu and three-star Long Beach (Calif.) linebacker Marlin Simmons.

So what's making Oregon so successful this season? They were a solid No. 26 last year and modest No. 49 in 2002.

"The ironic part is they've had some great seasons recently and been in on a lot of good kids, but they've finished second for about 20 big-time players," Biggins said. "Everybody always kind of thought of them as the bridesmaids. This year, they didn't have as good a season as they've had in the past, but they were able to lock in some of these great players.

"I think it's a combination of a couple of factors: No. 1, the staff works really hard; and No. 2, the school has a lot to sell. The last 10 years, they've won more games than any other Pac-10 school, and their facilities are the best in the conference by far. Nike is a big part of that. We've also heard that three or four of these kids want to major in sports marketing, and Nike's pretty much the leader in that area. That's a big plus for Oregon."


Two Stars In The Lone Star:
Almost all of the elite players in talent-rich Texas are already pledged to their future college homes, but there are two major exceptions that will command attention down the home stretch.

They are two of the most physically imposing prospects in the land: five-star Lake Highlands defensive tackle Franklin Okam and four-star Denton offensive tackle Herman Johnson.

Okam (6-5, 300, 4.9) is the No. 2 defensive tackle in the nation. Coming off his recent official visit to Florida, he announced a final three of Texas, Florida and Oklahoma. He's visited the Longhorns and Gators, but will close at Oklahoma this weekend and darkhorse Stanford on the 30th.

Look for academics to play a big role in that final decision. Okam, a 3.9 student, has an interest in entering medical school.

Meanwhile, the mammoth Johnson (6-8, 350, 5.3) looks like he may have his decision narrowed down a little closer. The nation's No. 3 offensive tackle appears to be choosing between Oklahoma and LSU.


Red River Raiding:
Speaking of Texas, it's been another banner year for their neighbors to the north crossing the state line and leaving with a Sooner Schooner full of talent.

Twelve of Oklahoma's 16 commitments to date hail from the Lone Star State, highlighted by No. 1 quarterback Rhett Bomar and No. 1 running back Adrian Peterson.

Bob Stoops added to his fourth-ranked national class this week by landing a commitment from No. 3 cornerback Marcus Walker of Waco. The Sooners beat out Florida State and LSU for his big-time cover skills.

That gave OU three of the Top 10 and five of the Top 25 players in the state.


Seminole Watch:
Florida State is poised to crack the national Top 10 if it can secure verbals from some of its prime targets in the final days of the recruiting season.

The Seminoles have a deep board to work with, as usual, but four players in particular highlight the wishlist - No. 1 dual-threat quarterback Xavier Lee, No. 1 outside linebacker Willie Williams, No. 1 weakside defensive end Brandon Miller and No. 1 defensive tackle DeMario Pressley.

How likely is that parade of top-rated players likely to march through Tallahassee?

Lee is believed to be a near lock for the Seminoles. Although he made a late visit to Texas and has listed Auburn high on his list since the beginning, FSU has been in control since Day One. It would take a major shocker to sway him.

Williams has been considered to be a Miami lean at times, but some believe the longer it goes, the better shot FSU has. Auburn is still in the mix, too, but look for this one to be a major Sunshine State showdown that may not climax until signing day.

Georgia and Florida State have been in a tug-o-war for Miller for weeks, but Georgia Tech is still hanging around. The Yellow Jackets may be a longshot, but it's anyone's guess between the Bulldogs and Seminoles. That one could fall either way.

Pressley has given out conflicting vibes on his leanings, but there is reportedly tremendous pressure to stay at home. If he chooses to take a different path, it could lead to Tallahassee. He'll get a close-up look at FSU beginning today as part of key official visit weekend.


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