Missouri’s move to the Southeastern Conference opened up the nation’s most fertile recruiting ground.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
A 12-2 season last fall, which included an appearance in the SEC championship game and a victory in the Cotton Bowl, gave the Tigers even more credibility.
Now, coach Gary Pinkel hopes to cash in today on National Signing Day, when Missouri is expected to sign 22 players in an effort to replenish its roster. Five 2014 recruits enrolled early and already are on campus.
“(Missouri) certainly exceeded expectations on the field, which I think more than anything else has expanded their recruiting base and increased a positive perception from the most important demographic there is — that’s the prospective student-athlete, particularly in the southeast region,” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said.
During their years in the Big 12, the Tigers’ primary focus was on Texas, a strategy that made sense regionally and athletically. But now Missouri has access and appeal in the best and deepest high school talent hotbed.
“The numbers don’t lie,” ESPN.com senior writer Jeremy Crabtree said. “If you look at where the talent is concentrated, it’s in the Southeast. If you look at where the (NFL) Draft picks come from, it’s in the Southeast. If you’re going to compete in the country’s best football conference, you’re going to have to go down and recruit where the talent’s at, and in many cases, that means you’re going through Atlanta and all over the state of Florida.”
The Tigers picked up one player from Georgia, quarterback Eddie Printz, and one from Florida, defensive end Nate Crawford, in last season’s recruiting class.
But Missouri made greater inroads this year.
Quarterback Marvin Zanders, a three-star dual-threat prospect from Jacksonville, Fla., has already enrolled.
He’s expected to be joined Wednesday by four more commitments from Florida, running backs Trevon Walters of Bradenton and Ish Witter of Tampa along with West Florida Tech teammates Lawrence Lee, a speedy wide receiver, and defensive end Rocel McWilliams.
Missouri is also expected to sign three standouts from Georgia, including four-star receiver Nate Brown of Suwanee and safety prospect Thomas Wilson of Buford.
Another safety prospect, Tavon Ross of Cochran, Ga., committed to the Tigers in August. He also visited Georgia and Miami, Fla., in recent weeks, opening the door to the possibility he might flip that commitment.
“They’ve done a really good job laying the roots and trying to build something that’s going to help them be more competitive and maybe land some of these guys that Georgia and Alabama were recruiting in the future,” Crabtree said of Missouri’s new recruiting tactics.
The Tigers’ commitment list, according to PowerMizzou.com, stands at 27 players. That includes the five early enrollees — Zanders, Lee’s Summit West cornerback Logan Cheadle, Hinds (Miss.) Community College cornerback Kenya Dennis, Blue Valley West offensive lineman Mike Fairchild and Lawrence Central (Indianapolis) linebacker Brandon Lee.
“Bigger certainly isn’t always better,” Crabtree said. “You have to look first and foremost at how a school addresses needs. If you go out there and find 27 kids and whiff on a major need, you have 27 kids, but the class won’t be a success.
“If you look at what Missouri has done across the board, I think they have done a good job addressing a whole lot of needs — whether it’s addressing needs at receiver or bringing in guys that can be perimeter players (defensively). If I’m Gary Pinkel (today), I have to be very pleased with how the needs were filled.”