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November 25, 2004

Ten players who would make coaches thankful

With friends and family counting their blessings on Thanksgiving, recruiting coordinators all over the nation would really give thanks if that one key player would swing their way and become a part of their school's commitment list. Along those lines, Rivals.com breaks down 10 key recruiting battles to watch unfold during the next two months, players that would make those coaches definitely say a big "thank you."

Martellus Bennett - TE - Alief (Texas) Taylor
The contenders: Miami, Texas, Arizona, Duke, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas A&M

The leaders: Miami and Texas are his current leaders, but things can, and often do, change in a heartbeat with Bennett.

The breakdown: Want to know where Bennett is heading? Honestly, it sounds like this one could be one that we're all waiting on until the ink is dry on the national letter of intent. Bennett, who's ranked the No. 7 player in the nation, originally committed to Miami during the summer and seemed like he was going to stick with that decision. He then backed away and took official visits to Oklahoma and Texas and came back leaning heavily toward the Horns. Then came the news that Texas had slipped some on Bennett's list and moved into a tie with the Canes. But we're not done. Then came the news that he was thinking about taking an official visit to Duke for basketball. Oh, there's more. And then came the news that his brother, Michael Bennett, had committed to Texas A&M (after he had previously committed to Arizona). Confused? Don't worry, so are a lot of college coaches. Bennett's likely going to swing back and forth between several schools before it's all said and done. And don't rule out basketball or the possibility that he ends up with his brother at A&M. So just sit back and enjoy the ride, because it's going to be an interesting one to follow.

Greg Paulus - QB - Manlius (N.Y.) Christian Brothers Academy
The contenders: Paulus is committed to Duke for basketball, but Notre Dame, Michigan, Miami and Syracuse have not stopped recruiting him for football.

The leaders: Duke is the leader since he's committed, but many believe if he decides to play football, Notre Dame and Michigan would be two teams near the top of his list.

The breakdown: Paulus committed to Duke to play basketball before his junior season, but he did not sign with the Blue Devils during college basketball's early-signing period. His father has said repeatedly that no decision will be made regarding whether or not he takes football official visits until Christian Brothers Academy's season is over. The Brothers play in the Carrier Dome for the state championship this weekend. If Paulus does decide to play football, he would be considered one of the nation's top two quarterback prospects and a five-star player.

Jason Gwaltney - RB - Long Island (N.Y.) North Babylon
The contenders: West Virginia, Michigan State, Ohio State, USC and UCF

The leaders: Gwaltney has been a long time WVU commitment, but when some other schools stepped up the pressure, his commitment became a soft one.

The breakdown: This will be a true test of West Virginia's sticking power. The Mountaineers were the first to identify Gwaltney as an elite national running back recruit, and he rewarded them with an early commitment. However, national programs Ohio State, USC and fast-rising Michigan State have stepped up their pursuit in the last three months and have become big-time players in the battle to land him. Ohio State made a great impression on Gwaltney, who jumped to No. 29 in the Rivals100 earlier this month, when he took his official visit to Columbus in late October. USC and Michigan State will get their shots next month. The good news for WVU fans is that Gwaltney looks like he'll visit the Mountaineers last, giving them the chance to make the final, and possibly lasting, impression.

Antone Smith - RB - Pahokee, Fla.
The contenders: Miami, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, N.C. State, Rutgers and Georgia

The leaders: Miami, Auburn and Florida State have consistently topped Smith's list.

The breakdown: The nation's No. 1 all-purpose back is also probably the most highly contested recruiting battle in Florida. Many people assumed that Smith, the nation's No. 30 prospect, was going to be a Miami lock and might even commit early to the Canes. But credit the Noles and Tigers for their diligent work. He's now going to take all of his official visits and says all three of the teams have an equal shot at landing him. With all three schools having good tradition with running backs, it's not going to be an easy decision for Smith, which might make this recruiting battle an exciting one to follow until the end.

Toney Baker - RB - Jamestown (N.C.) Ragsdale
The contenders: North Carolina, N.C. State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Nebraska

The leaders: The in-state schools, along with UVa and Tennessee are believed to be the leaders for Baker.

The breakdown: For the in-state schools, keeping Baker at home is a must if you want to consider your recruiting class among the elite in the nation. You simply can't allow the top player in the state, let alone a five-star running back who's also the nation's No. 15 overall player, to escape to an ACC rival, or worse yet, to the hated SEC. For Tennessee, this represents another opportunity to show that it can go into anybody's backyard and steal top players. The Vols already have star quarterback Jonathan Crompton committed, and landing Baker might make it seem like Tennessee has annexed North Carolina. For Virginia, landing Baker would go a long way toward making this the most complete class ever at UVa. Currently ranked as the nation's No. 1 team in the Rivals.com team rankings, Baker would give the Cavaliers the stud running back to go with the stud offensive linemen they've already got committed in Eugene Monroe.

DeMarcus Granger - DT - Dallas Kimball
The contenders: Arkansas, LSU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Texas and Texas A&M

The leaders: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and LSU are believed to be the leaders on Granger's list.

The breakdown: With questions about whether or not Callahan Bright or Jerrell Powe will be able to qualify academically, Granger could represent the top defensive tackle in the nation who will see the field as a college freshman. Granger, ranked as the nation's No. 12 prospect, still has some academic work to do himself, but he's on track to be just fine when the smoke clears. Why he is key is because Oklahoma State has beaten many teams head-to-head with South Dallas players over the past few years. Oklahoma, LSU and the others are trying to break the Cowboys' stranglehold on the area. A&M has been next in line with success in the area, but Granger recently said he likely won't officially visit the in-state schools. It gets even more interesting when considering that the Sooners, Longhorns and Tigers desperately need to add depth and talent at the defensive tackle spot.

Derrick Williams - ATH - Greenbelt (Md.) Eleanor Roosevelt
The contenders: Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, Louisville, Miami and Texas

The leaders: Oklahoma, Penn State and Tennessee seemingly have moved to the slight forefront on Williams' list.

The breakdown: No top-10 list is complete without the nation's No. 1 player. Williams, who could project as a silky smooth receiver or a game-changing cornerback, would be the icing on Oklahoma's or Tennessee's class. Both those programs look like they are heading toward a top-10 recruiting class with or without Williams, but if you add him to the group the Vols and Sooners would have a shot at competing for the recruiting national championship. However, for Penn State it could mean much more. It would give legendary coach Joe Paterno two five-star recruits and commitments from the No. 1 and the No. 9 (Justin King) players in the nation. It would also signal that better things are to come in Happy Valley.

Tray Blackmon - LB - LaGrange, Ga.
The contenders: Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Nebraska

The leaders: Auburn leads big at this point over Georgia and Florida State.

The breakdown: The Tigers took what seemed like an insurmountable lead for the five-star linebacker after Blackmon witnessed them whip rival Georgia. However, anybody who knows anything about recruiting in the Southeast, knows this battle is far from over. With a tremendous amount of pressure to stay at home and play for the Dawgs, and with Mark Richt's track record for top in-state players, it's going to be a battle until the letter of intent is signed on the first Wednesday in February. If Auburn continues its run toward an unbeaten season, it will stay in great shape to land Blackmon, the nation's No. 17 prospect, but you can also never count out Coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State. This battle could shape up as one of the most entertaining during the next two months.

Ekom Udofia - DT - Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral
The contenders: Arizona, Miami, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Southern Cal, Stanford and Arizona State

The leaders: It's been long believed that USC and Stanford are the top teams for Udofia.

The breakdown: This one seemed like a slam dunk early on in the recruiting process for Stanford because Udofia's sister is a student there. But as the Cardinal struggled on the field this season and traditional national power USC continued its winning ways, it seemed less and less certain. Those two teams still have to be considered the teams to beat for two different reasons - Stanford's great academics and USC's combination of books and football power. But with Miami, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State looming on Udofia's list, it's not the sure thing that many once thought. Udofia is No. 23 on the Rivals100 list.

Dan Doering - OT - Barrington, Ill.
The contenders: Iowa, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Tennessee

The leaders: Iowa and Notre Dame have always looked to be the front runners, but it appears that Doering will take all five of his visits.

The breakdown: Since he's not participating in winter sports, Doering is taking a holiday from recruiting after already making trips to Tennessee and Oklahoma. Iowa and Notre Dame look to be the leaders for a number of different reasons. Doering, the nation's No. 26 prospect, has been to Iowa unofficially numerous times, and every time he returns, he has a good feel. He's also become good friends with Hawkeyes offensive linemen Mike Jones. Notre Dame is a major factor, and don't overlook that Doering's really close with former Barrington standout Dan Stephenson, who now plays for the Fighting Irish. Doering has called Stephenson his mentor.


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