Trent Thompson is taking his time through a frenzied recruiting process. The prized defensive tackle prospect's patience has opened the door for several college options and he's begun to develop favorites, reports 247Sports writer Kipp Adams (subscription required).
Thompson, the No. 1 overall 2015 recruit in 247Sports' composite rankings, told Adams his current top five features Florida State, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn. He views the Bulldogs as a front-runner, but admits a recent trip to Tuscaloosa may have altered the landscape among his personal program hierarchy.
The punishing 6'4", 292-pound playmaker pushed Westover High School (Albany, Ga.) to a regional championship as a junior. He rates among the most consistent defenders in America, tallying 148 tackles and 17 sacks during the past two seasons.
Thompson's expansive offer list includes Clemson, Florida, Michigan State and Ohio State. The 5-star prospect will command consistent attention as signing day draws near and few top-tier programs should truly be ruled out of the race at this point.
Still, his latest top five provides fresh perspective on which programs are gaining momentum. We examine the outlook for each of these current contenders.
Mark Richt and his coaching staff have been tantalized by the possibility of collecting a pledge from Thompson since the early stages of his recruitment. The Bulldogs have seemingly been the squad to beat throughout this cycle.
“Last summer I asked Coach Richt 'how can I commit?',” Thompson told 247Sports. “He said all I have to do is tell him I want to be a Dawg.”
Despite consistent flirtations with its premier in-state prospect, Georgia hasn't been able to seal the deal. A significant factor in that hesitation is Richt's somewhat unsteady job security.
“I want to see how their season goes and if Coach Mark Richt is going to still be there," he sad.
The team hasn't won an SEC title since 2005. Georgia's final BCS appearance came in the 2008 Sugar Bowl.
The Bulldogs finished 8-5 last season, settling for third place in the SEC Eastern Division.
Georgia is loaded with senior high school talent this year, presenting a golden opportunity for Richt to secure one of the nation's top recruiting classes. He already holds commitments from 5-star athlete Terry Godwin (Hogansville), 4-star receiver Christian Owens (Griffin) and 4-star defensive end Chauncey Rivers (Stone Mountain).
New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt previously recruited Thompson at Florida State. That established rapport, and his championship track record, should aid Richt moving forward.
“Jeremy Pruitt is going to put that defense on the map," Thompson said. "He just got the No. 2 defensive end in Lorenzo Carter and a pass rusher like No. 84 (Leonard Floyd). They just need another defensive tackle!”
If Richt and the Bulldogs whiff on Thompson, it would be a tough snub to handle. No program—or coach—needs his commitment more.
The Crimson Tide didn't captured another national title last season, but the luster of three championships in the past five seasons still shines bright at Alabama.
Thompson attended a junior day in Tuscaloosa earlier this month. An extremely positive experience puts Nick Saban's squad squarely in the hunt for his services.
“Alabama is No. 2 for me now,” Thompson said less than three weeks after his visit. “When I went up there I had a great time with Reuben Foster, Blake Sims and everyone. I did not know it would be like that."
He headlined a star-studded event and came away wanting to see more from the Crimson Tide.
"I cannot wait to go to one of their games," Thompson said.
That statement strongly indicates Alabama should be able to line up an official visit with him this fall. Saban is a renowned recruiter who has captured four consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes, per 247Sports' composite rankings, despite dealing with a revolving door of assistant staff members.
The Crimson Tide feature a wealth of edge-rushers and talented 2015 defensive ends Jonathan Ledbetter and Mekhi Brown are currently committed. The team still needs an infusion of talent along the interior, where Thompson could make an early splash while playing alongside some of the nation's premier perimeter defensive linemen.
The reigning national champions are the only non-SEC team among Thompson's top options. Florida State isn't playing coy with the coveted defensive tackle at this crucial stage of his recruitment.
The Seminoles have shown him plenty of love lately, leading the team to an enviable position in the chase for a commitment.
“Florida State is No. 3,” Thompson said. “Florida State is recruiting me the hardest right now. Odell Haggins, Jimbo Fisher, Sal Sunseri, grad assistants are all telling me to come be a Nole and that they plan to go Dallas to Dallas."
Based on returning talent, the Seminoles certainly appear in position to compete for a repeat title in 2014. However, the team is set to say goodbye to several defensive stalwarts after the season and must continue to fill holes to enjoy sustained success in Tallahassee.
Thompson could step in and contribute for a squad that has swiftly returned to the college football mountaintop under Jimbo Fisher's direction. The program also boasts desired location for a crucial member of the defensive tackle's family.
"My mom likes Florida State too because they won the National Championship and they are close to home," he said. "She wants me to stay close to home, but it is up to me."
That's a quality sales pitch for the Seminoles, who can offer Thompson a greater track record of recent achievements than Georgia, without sacrificing proximity.
The Volunteers are fresh off an impressive 2014 recruiting effort that second-year head coach Butch Jones hopes can help put his program back into the upper echelon of SEC competitors. Tennessee did an outstanding job securing homegrown prospects, but future steps toward a rise in conference standings must include major strides beyond state borders.
Jones is off to an excellent start in Georgia this cycle, gaining early pledges from 5-star receiver Preston Williams and 4-star defensive end Andrew Butcher (Alpharetta). A commitment from Thompson would give Tennessee three of the Peach State's top 28 prospects, per 247Sports.
The Volunteers are in a better position than any program on this list when it comes to promising early playing time. Tennessee is working to retool its roster in a new era and plenty of freshmen are expected to take the field when the season kicks off this fall.
Thompson would be viewed as a foundational player in Knoxville. The team appears headed for increased respectability in coming years and his addition might help streamline that development.
He attended camp at Tennessee last summer. The Volunteers now aim to lock up his return trip to campus.
The Tigers are riding a major wave of momentum following an unexpected 2013 SEC title. Auburn continues to make inroads with top recruiting targets and Thompson is the last high-profile prospect to reciprocate admiration.
Where will No. 1 overall prospect Trent Thompson play college football?
Gus Malzahn and company hosted Thompson last season for a September game against Arkansas State. He visited Auburn again in February for a junior day.
"I like Auburn a lot because Coach Malzahn put them back on the map," Thompson told AL.com writer Wesley Sinor. "They won the SEC Championship. That meant a lot."
The Tigers are still in search for 2015 talent along the defensive line. Auburn has reached into Georgia for three of its five commits, including new linebacker pledge Montavious Atkinson (Fairburn).
Malzahn has ground to make up in this pursuit, but Thompson clearly views Auburn as a legitimate destination. The team will attempt to get him back on campus for another game this fall.