Majority of top prospects capitalize on early signing period
By STEVE MEGARGEE
Dec. 21, 2017
The relevance of the traditional National Signing Day in early February may have just taken a major hit.
Under a policy that took effect this year, high school seniors could sign letters of intent during an early signing period that began Wednesday and runs through Friday. The vast majority decided they didn't want to wait to pick their schools: Of the nation's top 25 prospects as determined by a composite ranking from 247Sports only a handful are delaying their decisions to February.
"I think most people know where they're going to college before December, so I feel like people don't feel like they have to wait until February now," said Knoxville (Tennessee) Catholic offensive tackle Cade Mays, one of three previously uncommitted five-star recruits to sign with Georgia on Wednesday .
Perhaps that means most prospects will finalize their recruiting process well before the traditional February signing day going forward.
"I think it's probably going to be the wave of the future," said Mike Farrell, the director of recruiting for Rivals. "I think kids copy kids. I think you'll see this next year, where Signing Day in February will be devalued a bit."
247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons wasn't so sure.
"I don't know that today's a huge indicator of what's to come because I think a lot of prospects and colleges will both learn from this," Simmons said. "I know that colleges will continue to press for kids to sign early. Whether this many kids sign early in the future, I think is going to be determined (later)."
Farrell noted the December signing period hasn't garnered as much media attention as the traditional February signing date and wondered if that could cause some future prospects to hold off on signing early.
The early signing period has drawn mixed reviews from coaches.
Proponents say it allows prospects to finish the college selection process early. It also enables coaching staffs to spend January and February focusing on unsigned prospects rather than worrying about their entire class. But it also forces coaches to concentrate more on recruiting when many are also preparing for postseason games.
New coaches faced particular challenges as they had little time to establish rapport with recruits before the December signing period.
It's been a wild ride, to say the least, over 13 days," said Chad Morris, who took over as Arkansas' coach two weeks ago . "When you walk into a young man's house and you're trying to build a relationship that could have been 2 1/2 months or two months of building from December all the way through January to get to February signing day ... Now, all of a sudden, you walk in and you try to build that relationship — or a two-year relationship, if we had been established longer — in 20 minutes or an hour."
Notre Dame's Brian Kelly liked how the early signing period gave him the opportunity to complete most of his recruiting class before Christmas.
All 20 of the players verbally committed to Notre Dame signed with the Fighting Irish on Wednesday rather than waiting until February. Although Notre Dame is still chasing a few more prospects, the staff can start concentrating on the 2019 and 2020 classes.
"You always feel in recruiting that you're always a click behind," Kelly said. "You're always trying to get ahead of it. This is the first time where you truly feel like you're going to get ahead of it."
GEORGIA'S BIG MOVE
Mays joined offensive guard Jamaree Salyer and defensive end Brenton Cox as previously uncommitted five-star prospects to choose Georgia. The Bulldogs have commitments from seven of the top 31 prospects according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports : Mays, Salyer, Cox, quarterback Justin Fields, running backs Zamir White and James Cook and outside linebacker Adam Anderson.
Simmons said the race for the team recruiting title could come down to Ohio State and Georgia, though he wouldn't rule out Alabama as the Crimson Tide attempt to finish atop the standings in February for an eighth straight year. Georgia was leading the 247Sports Composite team standings as of Wednesday night.
The highest-ranked previously uncommitted player to sign Wednesday was defensive end Micah Parsons, who chose Penn State. Clemson has signed four of the nation's top 10 prospects, according to the 247Sports composite: quarterback Trevor Lawrence, defensive ends Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry and offensive tackle Jackson Carman. Lawrence and Thomas had committed to Clemson long ago, while Henry and Carman chose the Tigers on Wednesday.
"Christmas was supposed to come Monday, but it came a little early today," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
MULLEN GETS HIS QB
Of all the new coaches, Florida's Dan Mullen arguably produced the biggest recruiting coup as the Gators signed quarterback Emory Jones , who had been committed to Ohio State. Jones is ranked 40th in the 247Sports Composite.
Jones isn't the only quarterback to change his mind about his college choice over the last week. Other quarterbacks to make switches over the last week include Matt Corral (Florida to Ole Miss), JT Shrout (California to Tennessee), Adrian Martinez (Tennessee to Nebraska) and Spencer Petras (Oregon State to Iowa).
Somewhat lost amid all the signings Wednesday was Maryland's addition of former Auburn defensive lineman Byron Cowart , who was rated as the nation's No. 1 overall prospect in the 2015 class by ESPN and Rivals . Cowart struggled to earn playing time at Auburn before opting to transfer .
AP Sports Writers David Brandt, Jeffrey Collins, Mitch Stacy, Kurt Voigt and John Zenor and AP freelance writer John Fineran contributed to this report.