LSU, Southern Cal top recruiting list

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 6, 2003

LSU and Southern California used a simple formula to put together the top football recruiting classes in the country: Keep the best players home.

The Tigers and Trojans were the big winners on national signing day, holding off hard-charging Florida on Wednesday to lure the nation's top recruits.

LSU got top honors from the Prep Football Report, and National Blue Chips -- three prominent recruiting services. USC was ranked No. 1 by SuperPrep, which had the Tigers third.

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''LSU put a fence around the state of Louisiana,'' said Tom Lemming of the Prep Football Report. ''No one they wanted got out. They also did well elsewhere.''

The Tigers added defensive linemen Kirston Pittman (Reserve, La.) and Carnell Stewart (River Ridge, La.), receiver Dwayne Bowe (Miami) and quarterback JeMarcus Russell (Mobile, Ala.) to a class that already had linebacker Kenny Hollis (Scooba, Miss.), running back Barrington Edwards (Bowie, Md.), and receiver Anthony Hill (Jacksonville, Fla.)

''I think almost at every position we recruited a player that can upgrade that position at some point in time in the future,'' coach Nick Saban said.

USC signed 12 of SuperPrep's top 17 players in talent-rich California, including receiver Whitney Lewis (Ventura), who chose the Trojans over Florida State on Wednesday.

''Lewis was the cherry on top for the strongest West Coast class in at least 10 years,'' Allen Wallace of SuperPrep said. ''They blanketed the state. This is a magical year for the Trojans.''

The Trojans also kept running backs Reggie Bush (La Mesa) and Chauncey Washington (Torrance); receiver Steve Smith (Woodland Hills) and defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson (Inglewood) at home, capitalizing on the momentum that started with a 44-13 win over Notre Dame in front of many of the recruits.

One of the only in-state players the Trojans missed out on was quarterback Kyle Wright, who decided to go to Miami.

''There were so many great players in California,'' coach Pete Carroll said. ''We knew if we could grab the guys we needed, we'd had a great class. We did a great job in state and particularly in Southern California. Our focus will always center on the players around here. We were having such a strong year in state that there wasn't as much of a necessity to go out of state this year.''

National champion Ohio State was limited in the number of scholarships it could give after pulling in one of the top classes in the country last year.

The Buckeyes did land cornerbacks Donte Whitner (Cleveland) and Dareus Hiley (Cleveland), defensive lineman David Patterson (Warrensville Heights, Ohio) and tight end Louis Irizarry (Youngstown, Ohio) in an effort to address their biggest needs.

''Hands down, Ohio State wins with the best defensive backs,'' said Max Emfinger of National Blue Chips. ''That's how they won a national championship. They covered all those Miami guys.''

Oklahoma, Miami and Notre Dame are the only other consensus top 10 teams.

Defensive lineman Victor Abiamiri (Baltimore), quarterback Brady Quinn (Dublin, Ohio) and tight end Greg Olsen (Wayne, N.J.) are the top players in Tyrone Willingham's first full recruiting class with the Irish.

''Their first 10 players are as good as any in the country, which is what really matters,'' Lemming said. ''They are higher than they've been the last couple of years.''

Quinn is the type of passing quarterback Willingham needs to implement his West Coast offense fully.

''Now that we have them, you have to do a great job of developing these players,'' Willingham said. ''Hopefully we'll be able to determine in the next two to three years how solid a class this is and how much it helps us become a great football team.''

Florida's second-year coach Ron Zook made a late push for the top spot, finishing in the top three in the rankings of all four analysts.

The Gators used a strong closing run to get fullback Joe Cohen (Melbourne, Fla.) and receiver Andre Caldwell (Tampa, Fla.) to join a class headed by star quarterback Chris Leak (Charlotte, N.C.)

''They're coming off their worst season in like 10 years and probably have their best or second best recruiting class in that entire time,'' said Bobby Burton of ''Zook is a tremendous recruiter. Kids seem to like Zook and his approach.''

The stellar recruiting class should quiet Zook's critics at least until the next season starts. The Gators went 8-5 in Zook's first year in place of Steve Spurrier.

''Until we win 11, 12, 13 games, it's not going to change,'' Zook said. ''I understand that.''

Many of the top players didn't pick their schools until Wednesday. Florida State kept a pair of stars from Tallahassee at home, signing linebacker Ernie Sims, rated the No. 1 player in the country by, and receiver Antonio Cromartie.

Those signings helped salvage an unusually weak recruiting year for coach Bobby Bowden.

''They were so far back, I don't know if it gets them into the top 20,'' Wallace said. ''By getting Sims and Cromartie, it made for a respectable class.''

Lamarr Woodley (Saginaw, Mich.) chose Michigan; offensive lineman Ofa Mohetau (Euless, Texas) picked BYU; receiver Robert Meachem (Tulsa, Okla.) picked Tennessee.

The Vols closed fast, also getting defensive linemen Turk McBride (Camden, N.J.) and Anthony McDaniel (Columbia, S.C.), and receiver Brett Smith (Warren, Ark.)

''As always there were surprises both ways today,'' coach Phillip Fulmer said. ''Fortunately today, a lot more good surprises than there were bad ones.''

Other teams that fared well included Michigan, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Auburn and North Carolina State.