Dominant defensive end Solomon Thomas undoubtedly ranks among the top uncommitted recruits in the country. The 5-star prospect took a step toward his decision Monday evening, when he announced a final three—Arkansas, UCLA and Stanford—on Twitter.
Thomas took Texas and Ohio State out of the equation in the final stretch toward national signing day. The 6'2.5", 258-pound Coppell High School (Texas) star received in-person visits from both spurned programs last week.
He met with recently hired Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong on Thursday. Longtime Penn State assistant Larry Johnson, now serving as the Buckeyes' defensive line coach, followed with a trip to see Thomas on Friday.
Texas fails to land one of its top in-state targets, while the Buckeyes must turn their attention elsewhere in a nationwide search for depth along the defensive line. Meanwhile, UCLA, Stanford and Arkansas remain in the mix at the end of a recruiting process that also featured Alabama, LSU and Notre Dame.
A multi-conference recruiting race for Thomas' services has been sliced down to three options. Let's examine what lies ahead in his decision-making process for each program.
The Bruins hosted Thomas for an official visit in December. Jim Mora has done an excellent job on the recruiting trail during his time in Westwood, and those efforts have resulted in a renaissance for the program, which could open the 2014 season ranked among the nation's top 10.
Whitley flipped from Alabama, while Williams chose the Bruins over Florida, Oklahoma and Michigan. The Bruins would love to team up Thomas with the talented duo in a defensive unit that improved its sack total from 14 in 2011 to an average of nearly 40 during the past two seasons.
However, the coaching carousel cost UCLA a key member of its staff. Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos accepted the position of linebackers coach with the Tennessee Titans.
Opposing quarterbacks were routinely under duress during his tenure, and he spent plenty of time recruiting Thomas. It's tough for a team to overcome the loss of familiarity at this stage of the recruiting cycle, but assistant Adrian Klemm continues to be Thomas' key recruiter.
If Thomas ultimately ends up in the Pac-12, he's likely to wear a Cardinal uniform. Stanford is the prohibitive favorite for the defensive end, currently holding a 77 percent probability to land him in 247Sports' Crystal Ball forecast.
This is another team undergoing coaching staff changes, as former defensive coordinator Derek Mason is now the head coach at Vanderbilt. Dave Shaw has dealt with an exodus of assistant coaches during his tenure so this isn't uncharted territory in Palo Alto.
Thomas has taken numerous trips to campus and found out he was accepted to the university during his official visit. Stanford is known to have stringent academic standards, so the news came as a relief to Thomas.
“It was relieving to hear that,” he told ESPN.com writer Damon Sayles. “I felt like all my hard work in the classroom had paid off. Taking four AP classes and taking the SAT six or seven times, [academics] is a grind, just like football is."
Stanford finished 10th nationally in points allowed per game this past season. Thomas is eyeing up the opportunity to take the unit to an even higher level while pursuing an education he's worked hard to earn.
The Razorbacks are the last SEC squad standing from a list that featured Ole Miss, LSU and Alabama. Arkansas struggled during Bret Bielema's first season at the helm, claiming three victories and going winless in conference play.
There is still optimism in Fayetteville, where Bielema has assembled a solid class that includes top in-state prospect Bijhon Jackson, a 4-star defensive tackle. Like UCLA and Stanford, the Razorbacks must find a replacement at defensive coordinator.
Chris Ash, who previously served under Bielema at Wisconsin, is now on Ohio State's staff. Thomas is exactly the kind of player this defensive unit needs after a largely underwhelming 2013 campaign, bringing elite athleticism and an ability to terrorize quarterbacks off the outside edge.
Family ties are a significant factor for Thomas at Arkansas. His older sister, Ella, is a third-year student in Fayetteville.
He is expected to spend his final official visit on campus, according to 247Sports. It's a golden opportunity for Bielema to rally Razorbacks fans around the promise of a bright future.