Recruitment in college football: prospect notebook after the professional day at the IMG Academy

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BRADENTON, Fla. — The next wave of elite soccer rookies at IMG Academy were introduced Thursday night and, as usual, there’s been plenty of buzz for the program’s current roster. Of course, curiosity surrounding the list of colleges that could feature some of the best in the country was also widespread.

The program and Under Armor hosted its Pro Day event to provide the latest look at the nation’s most recruited high school football program. Not only did he provide the sports sample, but also the latest information on the recruiting process for every top talent.

Sports Illustrated was at your fingertips and reviews the key elements of a roster packed with talent in the recruiting class of 2023, 2024 and beyond.

Class of 2023

offensive lineman Francois Maugoa was hard to miss in every way on Thursday, from his immense size to an equally big personality, the Samoa native commands the room. He also has plenty of recruiting opportunities from coast to coast, spending his last visits with new coaches at USC, Oregon and Miami, citing strong developmental ties with offensive line coaches Josh Henson (USC) and Alex Mirabal (Miami) recently. Mauigoa will continue to run the visiting trail in March, starting with LSU on March 1, Florida on March 5, and Alabama or Georgia on March 10. Official visits will likely follow in a recruitment that could go the distance.

There’s always a buzz around two-way talent Samuel M’Pemba and Thursday was no different. After hinting at a commitment late last year, the process is a bit more open for the long and muscular St. Louis native, who will begin next month with a trip to LSU. Michigan and Notre Dame are also expected to bring him to campus, and trips to Florida and Missouri could also be planned. M’Pemba says the best relationships he currently has are with Marcus Freeman (Notre Dame) and Jamar Cain (LSU) right now.

defensive lineman Will Norman didn’t participate in practice due to a sprained ankle which should be fully recovered within a month, but he still earned an invite to the upcoming Future 50 event for his rapid rise as a prospect. Fresh off a “big” visit to Florida, Norman plans to stop by LSU the first week of March and aims to attend the Texas A&M spring game in April. He hopes to take a trip to Oregon between the two SEC hikes.

Jordan Room was among the most physically impressive prospects on the roster and so is his recruiting at linebacker. A list of top schools is likely to drop this spring, and programs like Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State are likely to make a difference. Hall, who sees himself as the caller of a college defense one day, has started adding more regional deals since moving to IMG from his native Virginia. This list includes the new staffs of Florida and Miami and he will soon see one, UF, in the first week of March.

Alabama native and recent addition to IMG Dale Miller has seen its recruitment increase since the fall, even since its arrival in the program. Florida State is the newest tender for the defensive back and a trip to Tallahassee is scheduled for March 5. Alabama and Florida have shown considerable interest, and return trips are likely for each program. Miller grew up as an Auburn fan and admits the offer, which came in person over the summer months, caught his eye before it even arrived. A commitment could come during the 2022 season.

wide receiver Devin Hyatt has already been busy on the tour route in 2022, visiting Alabama and Tennessee in January. SEC rivals are in constant communication with him, he says, and will likely remain suitors for the South Carolina native. Georgia is starting to get involved and a visit could be scheduled for March, while Florida State and UCF programs have also drawn attention to him. Hyatt, who is the younger brother of Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, said a verbal commitment could come in the spring or summer before his senior season at IMG.

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Great Offensive Lineman Knijeah Harris has over two dozen offerings to its name as an indoor projection. He says many of them are still heavy on his trail, but the first two mentioned by the Florida native were new staffers from Florida State and Miami programs. Spring visits are yet to be determined in what is expected to be a busy time in Harris’ recruiting. Harris hopes to visit Florida, LSU, USC, Alabama and Georgia in the coming months.

Class of 2024

The IMG 2021 offense has flashed in many areas, especially in the racing game with Stacy Gage. Now expected to play the lead role in the backfield, the breakout campaign has led to a host of new deals to his name. Among them, the extensions of Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma hold his attention and are probably destinations to visit in the future. Gage says he models his game after former Buckeye Ezekiel Elliot and considers OU one of his dream schools having been born in the area with a family still active there. Texas A&M recently proposed as well, and Gage noted Jimbo Fisher’s energy and relatability as positives toward the defending recruiting champions.

Another new addition to IMG’s roster is defensive back Ellis Robinson, who moved from the New York area. The long-rising junior called the program his dream school and the offers kept rolling in. Texas and Oklahoma are the newest offers, and their impending move to the SEC has his attention given that there’s a desire to potentially play in the top conference. Alabama, where close friend and IMG colleague Tyler Booker plays, will bring him back to campus on March 5. UA is a program he knows incredibly well having attended Camp Nick Saban since sixth grade. This spring, trips to USC and other programs in the Pac-12 region could broaden the early run for Robinson’s services.

Jonathan Echolswho can play tight end or rush passer at 6’6″, was offered again by Michigan this week following personnel changes at Ann Arbor. Texas A&M is another new offer in his name and a visit in College Station could soon take place Notre Dame and Michigan could soon bring it onto campus for the first time, while a return trip to Florida is likely this spring.

Jerrick Gibson recently disengaged from Florida around the same time he moved to IMG Academy. The running back, who hails from Gainesville but played college football in North Georgia more recently, said his youth and lack of communication with new Florida personnel contributed to the decision. Ole Miss and Utah are new to contacting the rising junior while programs already on the offer list like Texas have his short-term attention. Gibson, who says Florida is still a top contender, is coveting offers from national champion Georgia and Ohio State to move forward.

IMG Academy’s new quarterback is Jayden Bradford, who arrived on campus last Monday. The South Carolina native has been active with many top programs since before the move, including offers from South Carolina, Penn State and others. Bradford admits he grew up a Gamecock fan and has been around campus considerably since the offer was added last year. One program yet to be offered is Georgia, which recently made contact through offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who is expected to bring him onto campus soon.

Class of 2025

Winston Watkins chose Texas A&M in December and he feels even stronger after his last trip to College Station. The explosive wide receiver has continued to add scholarship offers since the ruling was handed down, and he’s likely to visit places like Ohio State, South Carolina and others, but the solidity of the commitment is strong. A&M will also bring him back to campus this offseason.

“I know I’m sticking with Texas A&M,” Watkins said.

Brian Smith and Zach Goodall contributed to this report.

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