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July 13, 2011

Rivals at 10: Best recruiting wars

MORE 10-YEAR: Top 25 teams | Top 10 classes | Archive

Rivals.com ranks the top 10 biggest recruiting battles of the past decade.

1) C.J. Spiller, APB

Spiller's recruiting decision to attend Clemson was so shocking it made his mother cry - no joke. It came down to Florida, Florida State and Clemson for the nation's No. 1 all-purpose back and No. 8 player overall in 2006 out of Lake Butler (Fla.) Union County. When he told his mom Florida State was out, she assumed he would play for the Gators, her choice. But when Spiller announced he was heading to Clemson at his press conference, his mom broke into tears of sadness. The press conference itself was awkward as well. When Spiller announced his decision, the silence was deafening. However, things worked out quite well for Spiller at Clemson and his commitment is credited with helping the Tigers secure other star Floridians such as Jamie Harper, Tavaris Barnes, Mike Bellamy, Sammy Watkins and Tony Steward.

2) Jamarkus McFarland, DT

The No. 6 defensive tackle in 2006 and the No. 36 player overall, the Lufkin, Texas, standout was made famous by the New York Times articles that followed his recruiting process from start to finish. And while Texas was long thought to be the leader from the beginning, Oklahoma won this battle with sheer persistence. In fact, following their first visit to Norman to see the Sooners, McFarland's mother, Kashemeyia Adams, told her son she was never setting foot in the town again but Oklahoma never gave up. Things surely looked good for Texas at the beginning, but OU assistant Jackie Shipp persisted and in the end he won over both mom and son, both of whom favored the Longhorns from the start. McFarland took four official visits to Oklahoma, Texas, LSU and USC. But in the end it came down to OU and Texas with the Longhorns, according to McFarland's mother, continually dropping the ball while Shipp maintained his steady contact. For a prospect to be penciled in as a Texas commitment to choose its Big 12 rival near the end of the process, this one had a lot of drama.

3) Ryan Perrilloux, QB

The drama surrounding Perrilloux wasn't as much as you'd expect since most Texas fans thought he was gone to LSU for many weeks, but few recruiting battles left more of an impression on national recruiting that this one. The nation's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 16 player overall in 2005 out of Reserve (La.) East St. John, Perrilloux committed to Texas in July of his recruiting year, a big-name get for Texas coach Mack Brown, who had whiffed on quarterback Rhett Bomar the year before and hadn't signed a signal-caller in two years. However, Perrilloux had second thoughts around November. By December and January, most felt he would flip to LSU and new coach Les Miles. However, he continued to maintain his commitment to Texas publicly and his game-playing almost led to the de-commitment of the other quarterback in the Texas class, a kid by the name of Colt McCoy. On National Signing Day, Perrilloux did indeed flip to LSU and Texas fans went crazy, left with a three-star quarterback named Colt, who was considered an afterthought following the Perrilloux commitment. To this day, Perrilloux's recruitment remains the biggest story in the last decade for Texas fans and was beyond interesting to follow. As we know now, McCoy had a stellar career at Texas while Perrilloux got in trouble at LSU and ended up at Jacksonville State, where he also ran into issues. For Texas fans, Perrilloux was the one who thankfully got away.

4) Lorenzo Booker, RB

Booker, the nation's No. 3 player overall in 2002 out of Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure, was set to make his decision on ESPN's SportsCenter, one of, if not the first big high school football commitment on ESPN. It was down to Notre Dame, USC and Florida State, and Booker told the folks at ESPN along with then-ESPN analyst Tom Lemming that he was heading to Notre Dame. In fact, word of Booker's intentions to choose Notre Dame quickly leaked to the Internet world less than an hour before his announcement. However, when he got on the air he picked Florida State to the shock of everyone involved in the telecast, as well as Notre Dame nation. Was Booker a lock for the Seminoles the whole time and just playing games or had he committed to Ty Willingham and his staff only to change his mind a few hours later? To this day there are many different sides to this story, but regardless of what really happened this was a battle that truly came down to the wire. Booker went on to have an average career at FSU and was certainly considered a disappointment based on his lofty ranking out of high school.

5) Derrick Williams, WR

The Greenbelt (Md.) Eleanor Roosevelt athlete was the nation's No. 1 prospect from start to finish in 2005 and was very, very good at keeping a secret. An early enrollee, Williams had to make his decision sometime in December so this didn't come down to National Signing Day. However, by Dec. 22, 2004, when he made his announcement live on ESPNews, no one had a clue about his choice. Williams took official visits to Florida, Penn State, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas in that order and raved about each trip. Many thought he'd follow his teammate and friend Derrick Harvey to Florida while others were sure he was Big 12-bound to Oklahoma. But when it came time to announce his decision, Williams will forever be remembered for choosing "The University of Penn State." After an amazing start at Penn State as a freshman, Williams struggled at times during his final three years although he was named All-Big Ten twice and was drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions.

6) Tim Tebow, QB

The Ponte Vedra Beach (Fla.) Nease quarterback was a high school legend, amassing 9,810 passing yards and 3,168 rushing yards and finishing a game with a broken leg. He accounted for 157 touchdowns in his high school career and had offers from more than 40 programs. However, this recruiting battle came down to two teams in the end - Florida and Alabama - and was a bitter-fought battle. The nation's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in 2006 and No. 22 overall, Tebow was an early enrollee so he had to make his decision early. On December 13, 2005, on ESPNews, Tebow selected the Gators over Alabama and the rest is history. Tebow led the Gators to two national titles, he won the Heisman Trophy and became a first-round draft choice. Then-Alabama head coach Mike Shula ended up taking three-star signal-caller Greg McElroy from Texas late in the process and McElroy would help lead the Tide to a national title under Nick Saban. Tebow said he chose Florida because of new coach Urban Meyer's spread offense, an offense many in the SEC scoffed at upon Meyer's arrival.

7) Martellus Bennett, TE

Bennett, from Alief (Texas) Taylor, is the last tight end to be ranked in the national top 10 by Rivals.com, as he was No. 8 overall in the 2005 recruiting class. And the battle for his services was a bitter one between three Big 12 teams as well as LSU and Miami. In the end it came down to Texas, Texas A&M and LSU as Bennett announced his decision two days before National Signing Day. The athletic tight end, who was also an amazing basketball prospect, pretended to make his decision by flipping a coin on TV between LSU and Texas. After he flipped the coin he simply said "Nah, it's not them" and pulled out a Texas A&M hat. Like Williams, Bennett botched his schools name by saying, "I'm going to the University of Texas A&M" but Aggies fans didn't care. Thanks in large part to Bennett's decision, Texas A&M finished ahead of Texas in the national rankings in 2005, the last time the Aggies have done so. Bennett had originally been a commitment to Miami but de-committed from the 'Canes after a visit to Texas, leading many to believe he was going to be a Longhorn. Bennett teased reporters in January saying that he had already made his decision but was keeping it quiet but late officials to Texas A&M and LSU kept things suspenseful. Bennett went on to a solid but not spectacular three-year career with the Aggies, but many felt he wasn't utilized properly, including the talented tight end who wrote a rap song called "Throw Me The Ball Coach" directed at then-head coach Dennis Franchione. He was selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft and is still with the Dallas Cowboys.

8) Joe McKnight, RB

In 2007, the River Ridge (La.) John Curtis running back was the nation's top running back and the No. 2 player overall behind only quarterback Jimmy Clausen. He was also supposed to go to LSU, at least according to LSU fans who felt it would be an outrage for the most talented running back the state has produced since Marshall Faulk to head anywhere else. However, from the start of recruiting McKnight stated he was a fan of Marcus Allen and always liked USC, while Ole Miss slowly made a move up his list as well. But still, McKnight will surely opt for staying close to home to play for Les Miles and LSU rather than head across the country, right? Not so fast. On signing day, McKnight stunned many by choosing the Trojans. LSU fans were stunned and outraged, so much so that the Curtis marching band got booed at Mardi Gras two weeks after McKnight's announcement.

9) Aaron Lynch, DE

Anytime a player commits to one school, then de-commits and commits to another and then de-commits again and re-commits to his original school, you'd have to say it was one heck of a recruiting battle. Such is the case of Cape Coral (Fla.) Island Coast defensive end Aaron Lynch, who had quite the ride in recruiting. Lynch originally committed to Notre Dame in late July of his recruiting year and there was no reason to think this was going to be a roller coaster ride. In fact, Lynch spread the ashes of his deceased grandfather around the Notre Dame campus on the visit he decided to commit. Nothing could be more rock solid than that, right? Wrong. In October, Lynch decided to de-commit from the Irish and less than a month later he was committed to Florida State. As an early enrollee, this race appeared all but over. However, things changed once again down at the U.S. Army All American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, in January. Lynch once again began to have second thoughts and decided to take an official visit to see Notre Dame in mid-January. Following that visit, Lynch was once again in the fold for the Irish. The nation's No. 3 strongside defensive end and the No. 28 player overall in the 2011 recruiting class, Lynch is already enrolled at Notre Dame. Safety Matt Elam (2010) did it the year before and defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Brent Calloway did it the same year as Lynch, but no one seemed to do it with as much drama and behind-the-scenes suspense.

10) Josh Freeman, QB

Not all recruiting battles have to be long, drawn-out affairs. In fact some can last only a couple of weeks, but sometimes what makes a great recruiting battle is the lingering hatred left behind. Freeman, the Grandview, Mo., quarterback, was the No. 4 prospect at his position in 2006 and No. 92 overall and became the prize in a bitter recruiting battle between two Big 12 schools. After committing to Nebraska in June of his recruiting year, everyone thought it was all over for Freeman and he would be an early enrollee in Lincoln. And that was the case up until about a week before he was set to graduate early from high school and begin the paperwork to attend Nebraska. In mid-December of 2005, Freeman entertained new Kansas State head coach Ron Prince for an in-home visit despite claiming he was a solid commitment to Nebraska. A few days later Freeman took an official visit to Kansas State and then de-committed from Nebraska via a short text message, one that infuriated then-Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan and the Nebraska faithful. Freeman's decision prompted Callahan's now infamous line, "If you're a prima donna, if you're a drama queen, there's no room for you at Nebraska. You can go to Kansas State". Freeman never beat Nebraska on the field but he was selected in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009's draft and is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. But you can bet there are many Nebraska fans pulling against the Bucs on Sundays simply because they remember what could have been.



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