It's easy to say head coaches are the reason why a team has a successful recruiting class. Yet any college football connoisseur knows the backbone is the assistant coach who spends countless hours making calls, making in-home visits and wooing top recruits.
There is an elite group of assistant coaches that has separated itself as the best in the business. LSU assistant coach Larry Porter has been named the Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year, but he's not the only coach who deserves special recognition. The list below is the top 25 recruiters in the game today as selected by Rivals.com staff members. Later this week, Rivals.com will honor the top recruiters in each BCS Conference.
Porter, the running backs coach at LSU, has been named by Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year for 2007. He landed eight high-profile players and averaged 4.0 stars per signing. Porter's star-studded list was a huge reason why the Tigers finished No. 4 in the nation and No. 2 in the SEC. He recruited five-star receiver Terrance Toliver and five-star athlete Chad Jones, which is impressive enough. But Stefoin Francois, Drake Nevis, Jarrett Lee and Delvin Breaux were also big-time gets. Despite missing on Joe McKnight, Porter had the most impressive haul in the country.
Bobo, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Bulldogs, helped UGA finish with another top 10 class by landing seven players with an average star ranking of 3.57. Not only did Bobo do a nice job in Georgia with big signings from four-star linebacker Rennie Curran and stud running back Caleb King, he was able to venture out into North Carolina and pull in four-star offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant. He also landed two of the top players in Missouri with four-star tight end Aron White and four-star quarterback Logan Gray.
With John Blake leaving Nebraska, Busch, Nebraska's safeties and special teams coordinator, became the Cornhuskers ace recruiter. Busch signed seven players, including six from the Phoenix area, with an average star rating of 3.5. Busch is perhaps best known for signing 2005 NFL No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith at Utah, but his efforts helped Nebraska finish with the nation's No. 13 recruiting class.
When the Cards made a coaching change, Cassity, Louisville's co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, played a key role in keeping the ship afloat. He was excellent on the recruiting front, landing the nation's top junior college player, Woodny Turenne, four-star C.J. Peake, three-star juco cornerback Chaz Thompson and three-star Mark Wetterer. He also played a role in helping land former five-star linebacker Willie Williams of West Los Angeles Community College. The players he signed averaged 3.5 stars. The Cardinals finished with the nation's No. 41 recruiting class mainly because of the success Cassity had this year.
Drayton, the Gators' running backs coach, pulled in nine great players and was a monster reason why UF finished with the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. His signings averaged 4.0 star, and he pulled in five-star studs like defensive tackle Torrey Davis and quarterback Cameron Newton. Rivals100 members such as defensive tackle John Brown and running back Chris Rainey should also be special. Wven sleepers like three-star defensive back Steve Wilks should contribute in the future.
Two words - Donovan Warren. English, Michigan's defensive coordinator, helped lock down one of the biggest recruiting shockers of the year when he pulled five-star Warren away from USC's back yard. He also landed four-star stud safety Michael Williams, Zion Babb and Artis Chambers. Michigan was back in California for sure, and English was a huge reason why, as the kids he signed averaged 3.75 stars. The Wolverines finished with the nation's No. 12 recruiting class and the top class in the Big Ten largely because of English's great haul.
Greatwood, the Ducks' offensive line coach, landed eight players in Oregon's resurgence into the national recruiting scene. He pulled in Rivals250 four-star prospects Anthony Gildon, Darrion Weems and Malachi Lewis. He also was able to land high quality in-state sleepers John Laidet and Aaron Pfulgrad. The players he signed averaged 3.12 stars. The Ducks finished with the nation's No. 11 recruiting class and second in the Pac-10, and Greatwood was a huge reason why.
Henson, the Tigers' recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach, continues to prove he's one of the best young recruiters in the game. Henson landed seven prospects with an average star rating of 3.86. He went into Mobile, Ala., and got Phelon Jones and Sidell Corley and was the recruiter of record for the Bastrop and West Monroe kids in-state. Henson helped the Tigers finish with the nation's No. 4 class and the No. 2 class in the SEC, just behind top-ranked Florida.
Any list without Ianello's name on it would be incomplete. A repeat selection to the top 25 recruiters list, Ianello, the Irish's recruiting coordinator and receivers coach, proved again in the 2007 class that he's among the nation's top recruiters by landing six players with an average of 3.67 stars. The Irish offense definitely received a big boost thanks to the players Ianello landed. Four-star running backs Armando Allen and Robert Hughes are big parts of a class that finished at No. 8 nationally. Keeping three-star defensive tackle Ian Williams committed late was also huge, and four-star receiver Duval Kamara should be a success under Ianello's tutelage.
Lilly, long considered one of the best recruiters in the nation as the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for the Seminoles, signed seven players in this year's class. He helped Florida State finish with the No. 20 recruiting class despite some turnover on the coaching staff. Lilly landed four-star defensive back Dionte Allen, four-star defensive end Jamar Jackson, four-star receiver Markish Jones and four-star linebacker Kendall Smith. The 11th-hour commitments from Jones and Jackson were two of the best recruiting stories of the year. The players he signed averaged 3.25 stars.
The Illini produced its best recruiting class in years with its No. 17 finish, and Locksley's effort was a big reason why. Locksley, Illinois' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, signed five players with an average star rating of 3.6. He pulled in five-star receiver Arrelious Benn out of Washington, D.C., and he was also able to lock up Nathan Bussey, Anthony Morris, Ian Thomas and assisted on Craig Wilson. Locksley is a repeat selection as one of Rivals.com's top 25 recruiters in the nation.
London, Virginia's defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, is back in college football with a vengeance, signing seven players with an average star ranking of 3.29. The headliners on his list were four-star defensive tackle Nick Jenkins, four-star offensive lineman Lamar Milstead and four-star linebacker J'Courtney Williams. After a stint with the Houston Texans, London came back to UVA and was a big reason why it finished at No. 24 in the Rivals.com team rankings.
McNair, USC's running back coach, signed only three players, but what an impressive list it was. McNair landed the nation's No. 2 player in Joe McKnight on Signing Day. That was the icing on the cake as he had already wrapped up commitments from Marc Tyler, the No. 17 player overall, and Rivals100 running back Broderick Green. When you consider that USC played three freshman running backs this season, McNair's ability to land three of the nation's best this year was just jaw dropping. McNair's signings averaged an amazing 4.67 stars and with his efforts, the Trojans landed the nation's No. 2 recruiting class.
McWhorter, the assistant head coach and offensive line coach for the Longhorns, signed four of the nation's best offensive linemen, a four-star running back and averaged 4.2 stars per signing. He actually had five blue-chip offensive line commits, but Matt Nader had to give up football for health reasons. McWhorter's headliner was Grand Prairie (Texas) South Grand Prairie five-star offensive guard Tray Allen. Texas finished with the nation's No. 5 class, and McWhorter's commitments were the foundation of this Longhorns class.
Nall, Auburn's offensive line coach, did something few coaches are able to do - go into Arkansas and steal the state's top players away from the Razorbacks. Landing four-star quarterback Kodi Burns and four-star offensive tackle Lee Ziemba alone is well worth mentioning, but when you consider that he was also responsible for landing five other players and signed players with an average star rating of 3.0 it's even more impressive. The Tigers are really excited about a few of Nall's players, especially offensive lineman Kyle Coulahan and defensive end A.J. Greene. The Tigers finished with the nation's No. 7 class overall.
Napier, who is just 28, went into North Carolina and landed highly regarded cornerback Marcus Gilchrist, four-star offensive tackle Landon Walker and four-star defensive end Kourtnei Brown. Napier, Clemson's tight end coach, averaged 3.75 stars per signing, and his list of four commitments is as impressive as any in the nation, especially when you look at how he had to battle many of the SEC and ACC's best schools to land them. Clemson finished with the nation's No. 21 recruiting class with Napier's players a big piece of the puzzle.
In his first year as recruiting coordinator, Reaves, the Gamecocks' quarterback coach, put the plan in place for Steve Spurrier to land the best class in school history. Reaves signed seven players with an average star rating of 3.71. He pulled in high-profile players such as quarterback Stephen Garcia, defensive end Cliff Matthews, offensive lineman Quintin Richardson and athlete Mark Barnes, among others. The Gamecocks finished with the nation's No. 6 recruiting class, and Reaves was a big part of it.
Reinebold has been a hot target with several NFL teams, and it's no surprise after he helped Hawaii assemble its best recruiting class in almost 20 years. The Warriors finished third in the WAC behind traditional powers Boise State and Fresno State, and Reinebold's efforts were a key. He landed all but two of Hawaii's players in this year's class, with an average star rating of 2.75. What was most impressive about his efforts is that he was able to pull players from totally different parts of the country. He got signees from California, Illinois and even Texas.
As the recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach for the Yellow Jackets, Smith spearheaded Tech's resurgence in recruiting this year. He gets the credit for four-star quarterback Josh Nesbitt and four-star receiver D.J. Donley, but he really played a large part inf every commitment. The six players credited to Smith averaged 3.5 stars, plus the Jackets finished No. 20 in the Rivals rankings.
Steele, the Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year while at Florida State in 2005, was instrumental in getting longtime Auburn defensive tackle commitment Josh Chapman and Arkansas defensive end Chavis Williams to flip to Alabama. In addition he held off FSU for offensive lineman William Vlachos and beat Tennessee, Miami and Michigan for athlete Marquis Maze. Rivals100 defensive tackle Kerry Murphy was his most high-profile signee, but he still managed to sign six players overall with an average star rating of 3.0. The Crimson Tide moved up to No. 10 in the team rankings because of Steele's key signings.
Strong made a big impact on the recruiting front this season, landing six players with an average star ranking of 4.17. Strong, Florida's assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator, was instrumental in landing five-star defensive end Carlos Dunlap from North Charleston, S.C. He also got four-star defensive end Jerry Howard and four-star linebacker Lorenzo Edwards from Orlando, and he assisted with four-star linebacker Brandon Hicks from Jacksonville. The Gators won the national championship on the field and also produced the nation's best recruiting class largely because of Strong.
After a somewhat down year in 2006, Taylor definitely left a lasting impression on the class of 2007 and was one of the finalists for the Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year with a 4.0 star average per signing. Taylor landed the nation's No. 1 cornerback in five-star Eric Berry, pulled in top junior college defensive back Nevin McKenzie, got four-star receiver Ahmad Paige on signing day and was the key coach who helped keep four-star athlete Gerald Jones with the Vols during the final few hours. Throw in highly regarded Texans Lennon Creer and Darnius Moore and four-star defensive tackle Rolando Melancon and there was no doubting that Taylor, the Vols' receivers coach, was back. His efforts pushed UT to No. 3 in the rankings.
Thigpen, the Tar Heels' linebacker coach, landed nine players overall with an average star ranking of 2.78, but he also recruited UNC's biggest signee in years in five-star defensive tackle Marvin Austin. He also played a key role in the battle for four-star running back Ryan Houston, plus he pulled in three-star linebacker Albert Craddock and three-star athlete Quantavius Sturdivant. He was a huge reason why the transition from John Bunting to Butch Davis went so well. The Tar Heels signed the nation's No. 16 class.
Not only is Walker, the Bruins' defensive coordinator, one of the up-and-coming defensive coaches in America, he's also one of the best recruiters out West. Walker was involved with seven of UCLA's 10 signings in this year's class, with an average star rating of 3.57. The job he did with four-star running back Raymond Carter and four-star defensive tackle Brian Price, both Rivals100 players from Los Angeles Crenshaw, was amazing as schools continued to try and steal both all the way until the end.
Walton, the secondary coach for the 'Canes, did a great job in South Florida, landing five players with an average of 4.0 stars. The headliners in his group were five-star running back Graig Cooper, the top prep school player in the nation, and four-star cornerback Doug Wiggins, a top 35 player. However, the late addition of four-star athlete Demarcus VanDyke and the pickup of sleeper Jared Campbell out of Colorado were also quite impressive. The 'Canes didn't have a lot of time to put together a recruiting class with the coaching change and they still finished at No. 1, thanks largely to what Walton was able to accomplish.
-- Top 25 Recruiters profiles by Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Jeremy Crabtree.