The 10 Biggest Surprise Commitments of the 2011 Recruiting Class
Most of the 2011 college football recruiting cycle has been predictable: Texas, Florida and Alabama dominate the recruiting world like they dominate the gridiron.
So when most of the commitments are as predictable as they get, you have to count your blessings.
The following are 10 surprise commitments which shook loose the idea that 2011 is a predictable year for recruiting. Some went for the bigwigs, but most went against them.
Take a look.
No. 10: Kris Harley, DT (Virginia Tech)
Kris Harley's commitment to Virginia Tech was surprising both for being early (April 5th) and seemingly out of the blue.
The 4-star defensive tackle and future member of the Rivals100 also held offers from Oklahoma and USC and was gaining interest from Ohio State.
No offense, VT fans, but those guys usually get first dibs.
In retrospect, the stress of the recruiting world was getting to him, and back-to-back visits to Oklahoma and VT sealed the deal.
No. 9: Gerrod Holliman, S (Ole Miss)
For as long as I've followed recruiting, I've equated big defensive ends and tackles and hard-hitting linebackers as staples of the Ole Miss recruiting machine.
That's part of what makes the Rebs' 4-star safety commit, Gerrod Holliman, so surprising... and exciting.
Holliman verballed to the Rebels on the weekend of July 4th, making him the top member of Ole Miss's very underrated 2011 class.
The Miami, FL native is the number six safety in the class and a fringe Rivals100 player who held offers from Nebraska, Tennessee and West Virginia before committing to Ole Miss on a visit.
If he pans out, and the Rebels' defense stays business-as-usual, they'll be able to boast playmakers at all three levels of the defense, and maybe make another run as a breakthrough SEC team.
No. 8: Marquise Wright, DT (Pitt)
It's like the lead-in to an Unsolved Mysteries episode: "Four-star defensive tackle Marquise Wright was making an innocent trip to Pitt's campus, when an inexplicable urge to commit overtook him."
Wright hadn't thought seriously about what schools were in the lead or where he was headed when he scheduled a weekend trip to Pitt that resulted in his verbal.
Mind you, this was despite his stated intentions of waiting until September, when he would narrow things down to two. Plus, he held offers from Florida State, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Penn State and a host of others.
That's been the refrain with Pitt's recruiting this year: get the kid on campus and let everything else click in to place.
No. 7: Brandon Phelps, ATH (Virginia)
New head coach Mike London's best get of the class has been Maryland athlete Brandon Phelps, who committed to Virginia in late June.
Phelps held offers from many top schools, including Alabama, Nebraska, LSU, UCLA, and Ohio State, and was gearing up for a summer recruiting slog. A Rivals article cautioned that "one stellar visit" wouldn't be enough to change his mind, that he wanted to take "long, hard looks" at all of his options.
But a campus visit to Virginia, his first on the docket, was enough to convince him the Cavaliers were the choice. That should tell you that even Rivals writers are crapshooting this gig.
No. 6: Jordan Walsh, G (Iowa)
Four-star Illinois guard Jordan Walsh was another recruit who said he was just getting around to narrowing down a list of favorites when...POW!...he committed to Iowa within the next day.
He even said, "I don't have any favorites," before later saying, "Iowa's been my favorite for some time." Wha?
The Hawkeyes are a perfectly reasonable decision given Iowa's knack for developing offensive linemen for the next level. But the need for subterfuge escapes me here. And as a Michigan fan who saw his gifts succeeding in the spread set, I was doubly bummed.
No. 5: James Vaughters, LB (Stanford)
I consider James Vaughters's commitment to Stanford to be the beginning of actual surprise commitments, i.e. verbals to schools that didn't look like they had a chance.
When Vaughters, a 4-star linebacker from Georgia, narrowed his final list to Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Stanford...well, who looks like the odd man out to you?
Yet Vaughters chose a good education and an opportunity to expand his horizons not just on the football field in picking Stanford, even if he has to go across the country to do it.
No. 4: Christian Westerman, OT (Texas)
With all due respect to Texas, 5-star tackle Christian Westerman committing to Texas was the bad kind of surprise... at least, for everybody else recruiting him.
Westerman had indicated a strong relationship with Texas, but nothing that would suggest a commitment right after Easter, sans any official or unofficial visits anywhere else.
In fact, Westerman was scheduled to attend at least one or two spring games. Nebraska and Michigan were among the candidates for a visit.
But a visit to USC seemed to be the icing on the cake. Westerman assured he was aware of Texas' no-visit, no-looking-around policy with its commitments, and he's been solid ever since. Sigh.
No. 3: Phillip Ely, QB (Alabama)
Four-star Tampa, FL quarterback Phillip Ely pulled the oldest trick in the book, committing to Alabama despite slyly leaving them off of his top four list. Shocker!
Ely's Alabama offer was probably the most distinguished on his offer sheet, but according to him, it wasn't his favorite. His final four list included LSU, Ole Miss, Clemson and South Florida.
Yet the Tide apparently got his interest late. He's their first quarterback commitment of the 2011 class.
No. 2: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE (Washington)
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian pulled the recruiting coup of the year when he convinced five-star in-state tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to stay home for the Huskies.
ASJ was on the borderline of committing to Florida, then decided Texas was the ideal offense for him. But after an unofficial visit (during which, it's rumored, Texas' coaches told him he might have to move to offensive tackle), Jenkins chose the Huskies.
Not only will he be an extremely prolific tight end in Washington's pro-style attack, but his verbal may have generated enough momentum for the Huskies to land another touted in-state player, Kasen Williams.
Williams, a 4-star receiver and one of my favorite players in the class, has been toying with programs outside Wa-Wa, but ASJ's verbal may have convinced him a legit change is going on nearby. Rule number one: good recruiting begets good recruiting.
No. 1: James Wilder, RB (Florida State)
A year ago, if you said James Wilder would commit to Florida State, every recruitnik would have said, "Yeah, and Urban Meyer is going to retire at the end of this season."
Well, yeah, both kind of happened. Wilder, a heavy lean to Florida from the beginning, threw a monkey wrench in the process when he chose to play running back instead of outside linebacker, where he premiered as the top prospect in the class.
That meant Florida's versatile, sideline-to-sideline rushing attack wasn't really an ideal fit anymore and Florida State's smash-mouth pro-style attack was.
The coverage of Wilder's decision was thorough enough that most knew it was Florida State by the end—except for that weird rumor about it being Georgia, but those happen. But stepping back from the situation, realize how big of a surprise this really was, and what its implications could be down the road for this recruiting rivalry.