ST. LOUIS — The first few years on the job at Missouri, coach Gary Pinkel says, he did not see the kind of recruiting attention paid to the Tigers’ home state by other schools that he does now.
One of the consequences of the success the Tigers have had in recent seasons is that more schools are venturing to the Show-Me State to recruit football prospects.
"I think the state in general, the first five years we were here, was really not heavily recruited," Pinkel says. "When we started having success in 2007, ’08, ’09, ’10, that’s when everybody started coming in. … People all over the country now are offering guys (in Missouri)."
Mizzou signed 10 in-state players on Wednesday — and two more from just outside the borders in Kansas and Illinois — but only three who are ranked by Rivals.com among the top 15 prospects in Missouri: offensive lineman Andy Bauer (No. 2), cornerback Raymond Wingo (No. 7) and cornerback Logan Cheadle (No. 11).
Arkansas also signed three of the top 15, including No. 1 prospect Brian Wallace, an offensive tackle from CBC High School in suburban St. Louis. Nebraska and Kansas State signed two apiece. Florida State, Iowa, Arizona State, Notre Dame and Duke signed one each.
"I think, in my opinion, that our success, all of a sudden people are looking at some of the players who are going to play in the NFL and so on and so forth and they’re saying, ‘We need to get into Missouri, we need to start recruiting those guys,’" Pinkel says.
Alabama offered scholarships to the top three prospects in the class — Wallace, Bauer (De Smet Jesuit High) and offensive tackle Roderick Johnson (Hazelwood Central High), all from the St. Louis area — but landed none of them. Johnson picked Florida State over Ohio State on Wednesday.
In 2013, Missouri signed nine of Rivals’ top 20 prospects in Missouri, though the Tigers’ two signees among the top five — athlete Chase Abbington from Zumwalt South High School in St. Peters and defensive tackle Antar Thompson from Maplewood — both failed to qualify academically.
The state’s top prospect, running back Ezekiel Elliott from John Burroughs School, signed with Ohio State after a late push by Mizzou, where his father played football and his mother ran track.
The Missouri program’s success with recruiting the state has been mostly successful, but the Tigers have also had their share of misses.
In 2012, Mizzou signed five of the top eight in-state prospects, headlined by No. 1 wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and No. 4 offensive lineman Evan Boehm. Missouri signed just one of the top 10 prospects in a weaker 2011 class — quarterback Corbin Berkstresser (Lee’s Summit), who was rated third that year.
The 2010 in-state recruiting class was a banner one for the Tigers. They signed the top three prospects in offensive lineman Nick Demien (Wentzville Timberland), wide receiver Marcus Lucas (Liberty) and defensive end Kony Ealy (New Madrid County Central) and landed two others among the top nine in quarterback Tyler Gabbert (Parkway West) and cornerback E.J. Gaines (Fort Osage).
That class also shows the unpredictability of prospects and the futility of trying to rank them accurately. Demien has struggled to make an impact with the Tigers, while Lucas, Ealy and Gaines developed into key contributors. Ealy and Gaines will likely be playing in the NFL in the fall. Gabbert transferred after losing the battle for the starting quarterback spot against James Franklin.
Mizzou landed the state’s top prospects in the 2009 and 2008 recruiting classes.
In 2009 the Tigers signed No. 1 prospect Sheldon Richardson (Gateway Tech) and No. 5 T.J. Moe (Fort Zumwalt West). Running back Montee Ball (Wentzville Timberland), rated fourth, signed with Wisconsin and became a Heisman Trophy finalist and then NFL player. Mizzou linebacker Andrew Wilson (Raymore-Peculiar) was rated No. 13 and offensive tackle Justin Britt (Lebanon) was rated 19th in that class.
Blaine Gabbert (Parkway West) was the No. 1 prospect in 2008, when defensive end Aldon Smith (Raytown) was rated fifth. Both played for Mizzou before becoming first-round picks in the 2011 NFL Draft.
It’s important to mine Missouri for its best talent, but as the program has grown in stature Pinkel and his coaching staff have been able to venture farther away from home for players. That’s even more significant with the move to the Southeastern Conference.
"Missouri is the most important, obviously, but it’s really important to have other places to go where you can get quality players," Pinkel says. "And generally most schools — whether it’s California, whether it’s Texas, whether it’s Florida — they go to those real populous states with huge numbers. But it all gets back to evaluation. It’s good that we made some headway into the SEC recruiting areas, but all the areas are important to us."
Of the Tigers’ 28 signees Wednesday, 10 are from Missouri and 15 more are from the SEC territories of Florida (seven), Georgia (three), Tennessee (three), Alabama (one) and Mississippi (one).
Mizzou also signed two players from Texas, which Pinkel says will continue to be a focal point for the Tigers’ recruiting efforts going forward.
But to remain relevant in the SEC, the Tigers must remain relevant in their own backyard.
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