For college football fans, National Signing Day is bigger than the NFL draft is to pro fans. Much bigger. It also provides the perfect excuse for an all-day drinking bender on a Wednesday in February.
If you haven’t been following high school football players since they were 10 years old, here’s a quick guide to ESPN.com’s top-ranked players, put into fraternity rush terms.
The Can’t Miss Stud: #1 – Robert Nkemdiche (Undecided)
Alumni have called him the best potential since their 80’s glory days. Reports have his chill-to-pull at 6:6. He could single handedly bring a bottom house to the top — or turn a top house into a legend. Not surprisingly, he’s had plenty of offers. After getting tricked into initially accepting a mid-tier bid (Clemson), he’s re-opened his options. Right now he could go to a top program (LSU), join an already stacked pledge class (Florida), or go the legacy route with his brother (Ole Miss). Kicking things off with the first announcement on Wednesday at 7:30 am, Nkemdichie will set the tone for National Signing Day.
The Rebuilder: #2 – Carl Lawson (Auburn)
He’s gotten bids from every house, but this guy wants to take a different route. Instead of joining somebody already at the top, Lawson wants to be a part of something new. A few years ago, Cam Newton, and a few hundred thousand dollars, almost single-handedly brought Auburn to the top of the pack. Two years later they’ve fallen to the bottom of the SEC fraternity row, slumping even behind a Vanderbilt team without an athletic department and an Arkansas team without a (real) coach. Assuming Lawson stays, and the rest of an already strong pledge class pans out, Auburn could rise quickly.
The Do-it-All: #3 – Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida)
This is the guy who goes home with the hottest girl at the party one night and wins student body president the next. Add over 100 tackles at cornerback and five touchdowns on offense, the MVP award of his final high school all-star game and the No. 1 ranking among athletes, and you have Vernon Hargreaves III. The do-everything All-American can out-drink you, out-think you and sure as hell out-play you. Declining over 70 other bids he received since middle school, he quickly decided to join to the in-state power house to build on the nation’s top pledge class and give UF one of the best overall composites in the nation.
The Mystery: #4 – Mackensie Alexander (Undecided)
There are a frustrating few potentials who make up their minds early on during rush week, then don’t tell anyone else until the last minute. That’s cornerback Mackensie Alexander. He’s got a long list of top houses begging for him but won’t tell anyone where he’s looking. Even more upsetting, it’s not that he’s not making up his mind, he’s just not telling anybody. He said he made up his mind weeks ago. He even skipped the last day of rush, declining to use his fifth and final visit during the final recruiting weekend. All we know is that Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Auburn or Clemson is going to be very happy come NSD. Or maybe not.
The First-Timer: #5 – Laremy Tunsil (Undecided)
Every rush week brings the potential who has the appearance to get bided in a second. But after a minute of conversation, you can tell he’s a fish out of water. Despite a frat-worthy character, he was cursed to grow up around GDIs who left him woefully unprepared for the most important decision of his life. This year it’s 6’6”, 330 lb. offensive lineman Laremy Tunstil. He knows he’s supposed to play football. He just has no idea what to do or where to go. Tunstil won’t just be the centerpiece of the new class — he’s going to make everyone, especially the quarterback he’ll be protecting, around him a lot better. But sadly, not everybody knows what they’re getting themselves into during rush. Tunstil said he’s “confused” about his future. With bids from every house, it looks like he’s going to pick the program he’s a going to spend the next few years at by coin toss, a heavenly sign or how he feels that morning.
The Pressured: #6 – Matthew Thomas (Undecided)
Some people choose a house because of their friends. Some follow legacy connections. Some choose where they feel the most wanted. Matthew Thomas wants to do all these things. Several teammates are going to FSU. He grew up rooting for Miami. And Nick Saban, of course, has placed a billboard in front of his high school. Thomas doesn’t seem to know where to go and will also most likely make a moment-off decision. That makes handicapping his destination pointless. We do know that somebody is about to get the best playmaking linebacker in their class.
The Hometown Hero: #7 – Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame)
A lucky few young men grow up in college towns. A smaller portion get the opportunity to enjoy top house college life on a regular basis while still in high school. And even fewer get to become permanent members. Notre Dame is the lucky recipient of linebacker Jaylon Smith, an Irish lifer. Despite a terrible showing in Notre Dame’s biggest game in years, and a scandal involving a fake girlfriend and a high-profile member, the Indiana native was not deterred from sticking with his hometown team.
The Legacy: #8 – Kelvin Taylor (Florida)
Every house gets its share of legacies that can get a bid to that house and that house only. Every once in a while some house lucks into the guy who could go anywhere, but sticks with his legacy roots. Fred Taylor was one of the best the University of Florida ever saw. His son is even better. All Kelvin did before his 18th birthday was become the state of Florida’s all-time leading rusher. He grew up wearing Orange and Blue and knew he was going to have a chance to better his father every step of the way. UF is the perfect program on the rise that can build around Taylor and carry on the proud family tradition.
The High School Legend: #9- Derrick Henry (Alabama)
Derrick Henry rushed for the most yards in high school football history. Not for a season. Not for a game. Ever. He smashed the nearly 60-year-old record, gaining the attention of every major football program. And where would another elite running back end up? Why of course, Alabama. But that’s to be expected when you’re two-time defending national champions, undisputed top program in the nation and pull women like this. The top house gets tons of guys like Henry without breaking a sweat.
The Flip-Flopper: #10 – Eddie Vanderdoes (Undecided)
“Yeah bro, I’m 100% committed to you.” ”Well I’m actually looking at the top house.” “Sorry dude…I might be going to your arch rivals.” Massive defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes has bounced around programs, and the nation, stringing everyone along as he picks where to accept his bid. He is so good that people will put up with him and not tear his bid up. At first he committed to USC, then he decommitted and seemed very interested in Alabama. Recent reports have him most interested now in UCLA. He’s even seriously considered Notre Dame and Washington. It’s pretty easy to tell which kids like the attention given to them during rush week a little too much. Vanderdoes is a prime example. Eventually he’ll have to pick one, exciting some people and pissing off just about everybody else.
The Out-of-Stater: #11 – Eli Apple (Ohio State)
Many fraternities have about a half-dozen high schools that seem to provide brothers for half the chapter — be it five high school friends pledging together, siblings or summer break recruitment, these go-to schools provide reliable new members every rush. The wild cards are the out-of-state students. From towns, and sometimes states most have never heard of, these proverbial foreigners can become the difference between a decent class and the envy of the row. Cornerback Eli Apple, looking to escape New Jersey, took his bid to Ohio State (because it’s at least better than New Jersey). But coming off probation, Apple could help the Buckeyes jump right back into the thick of top tier status.
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