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Hands down, it's the Seminoles

FSU's class could be ''as good as there's ever been.'' Top area recruit Lydell Ross of Gaither signs with Ohio State.

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


How good is the recruiting class Florida State signed Wednesday?

It's good by Florida State standards.

The Seminoles nabbed four top-flight 11th-hour signees (among them Lake City Columbia safety Jerome Carter), held on to a fifth who was wavering between FSU and Miami (Tallahassee Lincoln receiver Craphonso Thorpe), and compiled the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Highlighting the class are a pair of distinguished quarterbacks, Joe Mauer of St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall and Adrian McPherson of Bradenton Southeast.

"This group has a chance to be as good as there's ever been," FSU recruiting coordinator John Lilly said, "and that's saying a lot when you think about the group that just left here and finished up in the Orange Bowl."

Locally, the big news was Gaither's Lydell Ross, the Times' No. 1 area recruit, signing with Ohio State after committing to Notre Dame and then wavering between the Fighting Irish and Florida. Considered one of the nation's Top 10 running backs, Ross will be joined by another Top 10 back, Maurice Hall of Columbus (Ohio) Brook Haven, who made a signing day decision for OSU.

Miami sustained only a little negative fallout from Butch Davis' departure, and Florida, last year's recruiting champion, had a modest class, rated significantly below SEC rivals Louisiana State and Tennessee.

But the biggest news came from Tallahassee, where the Seminoles had a vintage day. Signing day decisions by Carter, Lexington (Ky.) Bryan Station running back Eric Shelton, Miami Carol City linebacker Willie Jones and Warner Robins, Ga., running back Willie Reid pushed FSU over the top. Carter, Shelton and Jones are national Top 100 recruits.

Three local players chose FSU: linebacker Marcello Church of Lakewood, offensive lineman Matt Meinrod of East Lake and kicker Xavier Beitia of Jesuit.

With FSU ranking among the Top 5 recruiting classes annually, its No. 1 status was not surprising. LSU's No. 2 consensus ranking, however, is a huge boost for a program that was 7-15 in 1998 and '99 before rebounding in 2000 to 8-4 and a Peach Bowl win in coach Nick Saban's first season.

LSU dominated its fertile home turf, signing 14 players from Louisiana, including several Blue Chip prospects. Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said the Tigers signed nine of the 10 best seniors in the state. The Tigers also signed junior college defensive tackle Torran Williams, who had committed to Florida.

Texas and national champion Oklahoma recorded the Nos. 3 and 4 classes, respectively. For the Longhorns, whose top signee is offensive lineman Jonathan Scott of Dallas Carter, this is the third straight year they have brought in a Top 5 class under coach Mack Brown.

At Miami, where Davis resigned to become the Cleveland Browns coach nine days ago, a few oral commitments were lost, among them Armwood receiver Chris Murray, who signed with North Carolina State.

"There were a lot of turns in the road," said Murray, rated the No. 2 area prospect by the Times. "Miami is a great football team, but I like North Carolina State."

However, it was mostly good news for new coach Larry Coker, who signed the No. 8 class. UM received pleasant signing day decisions from running back Frank Gore of Coral Gables, rated the No. 8 prospect in Florida by the Times, and tight end Kevin Everett of Port Arthur (Texas) Thomas Jefferson.

Miami also got signatures from earlier commitments, including defensive back Antrel Rolle of Homestead South Dade and linebacker Leon Williams of Brooklyn (N.Y.) Canarsie, who were wavering after Davis' resignation.

Florida garnered a nondescript class this year, according to recruiting experts. The Gators, with fewer scholarships available and fewer immediate needs, were not ranked in the Top 10 by any major recruiting service.

Though last season brought a wave of last-minute commitments and signees for UF, Wednesday passed quietly. Many of UF's highest-rated signees won't show up on recruiting lists of Blue Chip seniors because they aren't high school seniors.

Offensive lineman Maurice Mitchell spent the past year in prep school at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. Offensive lineman Jonathan Colon and defensive back DeShawn Carter signed with UF last year but did not qualify and have re-signed. And defensive tackle Bryan Savelio played two seasons at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College.

-- Staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.

Consensus Top 10

Consensus ranking compiled from recruiting experts Bobby Burton, Max Emfinger and Allen Wallace.

1. Florida State

2. LSU

3. Texas

4. Oklahoma

5. Michigan

6. Washington

7. Tennessee

8. Miami

9. Nebraska

10. UCLA

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