SAN ANTONIO, Texas - As many expected, the Iowa Hawkeyes and Tennessee Volunteers were the big winners in the commitment department at the U.S. Army All American Bowl held on Saturday at the Alamo Dome. Most expected the Hawkeyes to get their four pledges on national television to give them a team-high seven players overall in the game.
There was a bit more suspense on the Tennessee side with players like Patrick Turner and Toney Baker keeping their commitment plans under wraps. And, while the Vols lost out on Baker to NC State and the only decision Turner made was not to decide yet at all, Tennessee still moved into the national top five thanks to players like Rico McCoy.
"I didn't decide on Tennessee until Thursday night," said McCoy, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Washington (D.C.) St. John's College. "It was a tough decision between Ohio State and Tennessee. There were players who committed to both teams in the game, but in the end it just came down to a gut feeling. I like the coaches at Tennessee and I think there's a good opportunity to learn in the first year and then start after that, but I also felt that way about Ohio State. Sometimes it comes down to a feeling and that's what I got from Tennessee."
"It was between Nebraska and Tennessee and for awhile there I thought I was going to Nebraska," said the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder. "But I weighed everything out and spoke with my family and Tennessee just felt right. Half of my family is from the area so that was a factor and Tennessee is putting together a great group of players. I wanted to be part of that."
The third player to choose the Vols was Oak Creek, Wis. defensive end Raymond Henderson.
"It was Tennessee pretty much from the time I visited," said the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder who played for the West squad. "I was trying to create a little confusion about where I was going so it would be a surprise though. The things I mentioned about bad things happening at the school I was choosing and that there might be some NCAA stuff going on, that was all a smokescreen and to throw people off. Nothing bad is happening to Tennessee, you know? I just wanted to shock the nation, but I know some people already knew where I was going."
The three commitments for the Volunteers moved them into third place in the nation behind Oklahoma and Nebraska....for now. The Vols are still in the mix for a few top, top prospects, including Turner.
"Patrick is a great player and you bet I'm working on him," said McCoy. "He's between USC and Tennessee but I'm going to try to work on him."
"He's too good to go anywhere else," said the safety. "He gave us trouble all week long in practice and I'd love to continue to practice against him and play with him in college. He wasn't sure of his decision so he decided to wait I guess."
Henderson said that Turner will do his own thing and whoever he picks is fine by him.
"I'm not going to influence anyone because we all have to make our decision for ourself," he said. "I hope he comes to Tennessee, but he needs to figure it out himself."
Turner said he's torn between the two programs.
"That's why I couldn't announce," said the 6-foot-5, 210-pounder from Nashville, Tenn. "I might announce in a couple of weeks on ESPN, I've been talking about that. I'm done with my visits and it's down to those two schools."
As for Iowa, things were a little more clear when it came to all of their prospects. Most have been rumored to be silent Iowa commitments for weeks.
"I committed to Iowa about a month ago," said Barrington, Ill. offensive tackle Dan Doering. "I committed verbally on my visit there. I really fell in love with the place and I think the group of players Iowa is recruiting can help take them to the next level and possibly a national title."
One of those players is fellow offensive tackle Dace Richardson from Wheaton (Ill.) Wheaton South.
"I decided this week," said the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder who, like Doering, was rumored to be a silent commitment since his Dec. 10 visit. "It was really important for me to feel comfortable around the other Iowa players this week and that's what helped me make up my mind. If I didn't get along with them for a week or something didn't feel right, I wouldn't have committed. But it's a great group of guys and we all get along well."
Others to choose the Hawkeyes were Richardson's teammate, tight end Anthony Moeaki and Boilingbrook, Ill. defensive tackle Ryan Bain. That makes for six commitments from Illinois including the top three overall (Doering, Moeaki and Richardson) and four of five (quarterback Jake Christensen is No. 5 in the state). The only one in the top five Iowa missed out on was Skokie (Ill.) Niles West running back Rashard Mendenhall, who committed to Illinois.
"The state of Illinois is becoming Iowa country," said Doering. "It's a great program and people around the state realize it. Special things are happening there and coach (Kirk) Ferentz is a great coach."
Iowa is still in the running for yet another player who participated in the game, Wichita Falls (Tex.) Rider wide receiver David Nelson.
"They've been talking to me all week about Iowa, but I've held out," said Nelson, who is still a soft commitment to Notre Dame. "I really like Iowa though. I cancelled my visit to UCLA for this weekend, so I just have Florida left on Jan. 28 and then I decide. Iowa is in the mix no doubt."