Thursday, February 6, 2003

LSU, USC get top classes

By Josh Dubow
The Associated Press

Southern California capitalized on its late-season surge to keep most of the state's top recruits at home.

Florida sold the opportunity to play right away to beat out its in-state rivals for the top talent in the Sunshine State.

LSU did an even better job than both of those schools, locking up the top high school football players in a strong year in Louisiana and poaching other players around the South to land the nation's top recruiting class Wednesday.

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.

"They have absolutely dominated the state of Louisiana and reached into Florida, Mississippi and Texas and taken away blue chip athletes," said Bobby Burton of "What's more impressive to me than any single player is the number of top players they have. The depth they have is unbelievable."

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, which won its final eight games of the season, 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," SuperPrep's Allen Wallace 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."

Florida, coming off an 8-5 season in Ron Zook's first year in place of Steve Spurrier, made a late push and finished in the top three in the rankings of all four analysts.

The Gators got commitments Wednesday from 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," Burton said. "Zook is a tremendous recruiter. Kids seem to like Zook and his approach."

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.

With senior safeties Michael Doss and Donnie Nickey out of eligibility, the defensive backs figure on getting playing time as freshman.

"I thought about how many DBs Ohio State had and I saw an opportunity to play early," Whitner said.

Oklahoma, Miami and Notre Dame are the 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," said Tom Lemming of the Prep Football Report. "They are higher than they've been the last couple of years."

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 to salvage an unusually weak recruiting year.

"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."

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

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

Louisville 77, UC 71
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