COLUMBIA — Gary Pinkel approached the stage around 4 p.m. Wednesday, ready to discuss the future.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
It was time for his annual Signing Day news conference, his first chance to talk about Missouris newest football recruits. But from the outset, most in attendance were staring into their cell phones, waiting to see where Ezekiel Elliott, the states top prospect 120 miles down the road, had decided to sign.
Elliott, a speedy, consensus four-star running back from John Burroughs School in St. Louis, was announcing his choice between Ohio State and Missouri at the same time as Pinkels news conference. The son of two former Missouri athletes, Elliott took a recent visit to Missouri that seemingly opened the door for the Tigers.
But Elliott decided to stick with his previous oral commitment to Ohio State, effectively locking up Missouris spot at or near the bottom of several recruiting services Southeastern Conference rankings.
Not that Pinkel whose team went 5-7 last season, its first in the SEC puts any stock in those things, anyway.
Ive never ever looked at a ranking since Ive been coaching, Pinkel said. Our evaluation system has proven overall it works. We believe in it, and just leave it at that.
For the next hour or so, that was the refrain from Pinkel and his assistants at Mizzou Arenas Clinton Club. They do their own evaluations of players, they maintained, and lauded or not, this was a class to like and be grateful for.
Jeremy Crabtree, ESPNs senior coordinator of recruiting, says theres some truth to this. ESPN ranks Missouris class 38th nationally.
While its exciting to see them have a top-40 class nationally, its also quite sobering to realize thats how competitive things are in the SEC, Crabtree said.
No doubt. Despite its decent overall ranking, Missouris class according to ESPN ranked last in the SEC, which had six teams finish in the top 10 nationally, with Missouri (38th), Kentucky (36th) and Arkansas (31st) among those rounding out the pack. Rivals.com listed Missouris class at No. 49 in the country, also last in the SEC, with Arkansas being the next closest team at No. 31 overall.
The SEC is all about winning and you have to be able to sell that, Crabtree said. Missouri didnt produce the type of season they wanted on the field, and that makes it a lot more difficult to recruit against some of the teams in their same conference.
But Crabtree likes some of the players in this years class, particularly in-state. Fort Zumwalt South star Chase Abbington possesses the size (6 feet 2, 205 pounds) and speed to be an impact running back. Crabtree calls three-star Rockwood Summit linebacker Eric Beisel a hard-nosed throwback, and he also raved about Hogan Prep star Anthony Sherrils, who projects as a cornerback.
If you put him in Dallas, Houston or Atlanta, instead of having a handful of offers he would have had 20-30, Crabtree said of Sherrils. Hes a heck of a player. Give credit to (MU assistant) Andy Hill for keeping him home.
Missouri also landed three more players from the Kansas City area in Staley quarterback Trent Hosick, Blue Valley offensive lineman Clay Rhodes and defensive end Charles Harris from Lincoln Prep.
Certainly, Kansas City is real important to us, Pinkel said. Kansas City has been very good to us.
Missouri also landed one player each from new recruiting territories like Georgia (quarterback Eddie Printz), Alabama (safety Shaun Rupert) and Florida (defensive lineman Nate Crawford).
Pinkel hopes to see more players from those states come to Missouri in the future, though he added it will take time. Crabtree agreed, adding that this years recruiting haul while not lauded like others was at least a step in the right direction.
We saw them go into Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and to be successful, theyre going to have to grow and be more competitive in those states, Crabtree said. Thats easier said than done, but the good news is weve seen some positive returns so far.
The Tigers coaches and the Mizzou brand is recognized as an SEC program, and coaches will get more comfortable sending kids there because of familiarity. To a high school coach in Florida, Missouri is still a new phenomenon. But thats something that could get better over time.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor