BRADENTON, Fla. — IMG Academy is the most talented high school team in the country. A private boarding school where almost half of its roster will sign Division I scholarships, there are prospects everywhere you turn.
Wednesday was media day at the academy. I chatted with over 20 recruits about their college choices and games.
But kids get bored of talking about themselves. So I asked them about their teammates and set up a scorecard.
IMG has six seniors who have Power 5 offers, yet are uncommitted.
For each correct response a player gives about where a teammate eventually signs, he’ll earn a point. If a predictor hedged and went with two schools, a correct response will only be worth half of a point.
It was interesting to see what a recruit said, juxtaposed next to what his teammates think will happen.
We also asked whether certain committed stars would flip their commitments.
Houston Griffith, four-star DB
Griffith is a 6’1, 190-pounder who could play corner or safety at the next level. He has more than 30 offers.
What he said: Griffith visited Ohio State, Florida State, and Nebraska this summer. Griffith is now ready to set up his official visits to those three, plus Penn State. He’ll be in Tallahassee when Miami comes to town on Sept. 15.
“I’m looking forward to getting up there and seeing the great tradition they have up there,” Griffith said of what will be his first Florida State game.
Fellow IMG teammate Verdis Brown, a four-star lineman, is committed to FSU and recruiting Griffith with him. The pair from Chicago were high school teammates in the Windy City before transferring to IMG, and are close.
“To go to college together would be really big for us and our families as well.”
Griffith is excited to visit Nebraska with teammate Bookie Radley-Hiles. He wants to visit Penn State for the whiteout game against Michigan, and has not set his official date yet for Michigan.
Griffith wants to make the decision after he takes the four official visits. It is not known if all four schools on his list are willing to wait that long for him to make a decision.
What his teammates said: Six picks for Florida State, two for Nebraska, two for Ohio State, and one for Alabama (which was probably made in jest).
“Houston is coming with me to Nebraska,” said Cornhusker commitment Brendan Radley-Hiles, a four-star cornerback. “But, can I say two? Houston is big enough and swole enough, and he has the mind, he can play for Florida State.”
“Houston is going to FSU,” teammate T.K. Chimedza said confidently.
Daniel Faalele, four-star OL
Faalele is the 6’8, 390-pound Australian import whose only experience in a game is his spring game. He’s rapidly improving as a player, and it’s fun to see someone so talented, yet so raw be molded into a star.
What he said: “No interviews,” he responded when asked several questions.
What his teammates said: Ten picked Michigan, while three picked Georgia. All of the Georgia picks were hedges accompanied by a pick of Michigan.
Rueben Unije, four-star OL
The 6’5, 300-pound Unije doesn’t seem all that close to making a decision.
What he said: Unije dropped a top seven on Tuesday consisting of Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, Ole Miss, UCLA, and South Carolina.
What his teammates said: Unije’s name was routinely met with a laugh, an “I have no idea,” or an “ummm.” But still, a consensus quickly formed. Nine votes went to Oklahoma, while four went to Florida.
“Big Rube’s going to Oklahoma with me,” OU commit T.J. Pledger said.
Jalen Jordan, three-star WR
Jordan was one of the 18 recruits I profiled who, as of June 1, were without a star rating. That has since changed for the 6’5, 210-pounder.
What he said: By my count, IMG has 38 prospects with Power 5 offers, so it’s impossible to speak to everyone in an hour. I didn’t run into Jordan, but did speak with him recently.
“I’m an early enrollee, so I need to know sooner rather than later. I’m looking to make a decision before our first game. I’m going to wait and see what other offers I get and make a decision with my family. If I don’t get any more offers (I’m sure I will, though) I’m very comfortable with the ones I have.”
What his teammates said:
Jordan has a connection to the state of Georgia, having played in Alpharetta, and nine of 11 teammates I spoke with chose UGA for him. But it’s not clear Georgia has room, as the Bulldogs are only looking to take two receivers. If Georgia does have room, the Bulldogs look like a smart pick. Will Jordan wait and see?
Teammate Brian Hightower, a receiver, thinks Jordan will choose Pitt.
And another teammate thinks he’ll head back to Georgia, but play for Tech.
“He’s not going to Georgia, he’s going to Georgia Tech,” T.K. Chimedza said. It should be noted Chimedza is committed to Georgia Tech.
Kingston Harris, three-star DL
Harris is an under-recruited defensive lineman from Orlando. He’s a bit overshadowed by a defensive line that starts three five-stars and a four-star, but he’d be the star at most high schools across the country.
What he said:
“The most recent visits I took were to Clemson, South Carolina, and a bunch of schools in that area,” Harris said.
Harris does not have a leader, but if he had to make a top-five, he says that “Maryland, UCF, and Pitt.”
He does not know when he will commit, but is willing to be patient and see what offers come. He is looking for early playing time and does not want to redshirt. Harris is checking in at 6’4 and 285 pounds.
What his teammates said: They were all over the board. UCF had the most picks, with three, while Maryland, Alabama, Tennessee, and Miami each had one. Three players did not have a guess.
In this situation, paying attention to the teammates with whom he’s closest, the defensive linemen, makes sense. Of the three, two had UCF, and another had Maryland.
Josh Walker, three-star DL
Walker is a 6’2, 280-pound defensive lineman who is disruptive. He has added more than 20 scholarship offers.
What he said: I missed Walker on media day.
What his teammates said: Arizona State, loudly. The Sun Devils garnered eight picks, while no other school had more than one. Interestingly, a few players were not sure whether to say Arizona or Arizona State, but settled on state. Both Arizona schools have offered Walker.
Committed stars flipping?
Xavier Thomas, five-star DL (Clemson commit)
Thomas is arguably the No. 1 player in the country regardless of position.
What he said: Thomas said he was completely locked into Clemson, and that he has not, and will not take visits to other schools.
What his teammates said: The same thing. Nobody even mentioned the possibility of a flip, and many said he was recruiting teammates like Nolan Smith to join the Tigers.
TJ Pledger, four-star RB (Oklahoma commit)
What he said: Pledger spoke about his visit to Nebraska.
“I got a chance to see Friday Night Lights (Camp) and the crowd and everything, so it was a good experience,” Pledger said. He said Nebraska is trying to flip him the hardest, but that he still hears from Georgia and UCLA.
Pledger is heading back to Oklahoma this weekend for a recruit BBQ, and thinks he might completely shut down his recruitment after that.
“I’m 100 percent committed to Oklahoma,” Pledger said. But, he would like to see Nebraska again.
“Depending on how the (Oklahoma) coaching staff feels about it, I might try to get out to Nebraska again one more time.”
Pledger stressed that he has been open with Oklahoma throughout the process, and informed the school to which he is committed about his Nebraska visit before taking it.
Bob Stoops retirement and the subsequent elevation of Lincoln Riley to head coach did not have an impact on Pledger.
“Lincoln Riley is the one I committed to, in his office. Him becoming No. 1 is even better, I thought,” Pledger said.
What his teammates said: Despite internet smoke, the vast majority of his teammates do not believe he will flip to Nebraska. Even Nebraska commitment Radley-Hiles says he’ll stick with the Sooners.
“If Bookie stays committed to Nebraska, it’s possible,” said Alabama commitment Stephon Wynn.
Brendan Radley-Hiles, four-star DB (Nebraska commit)
What he said: The last time Radley-Hiles was at Nebraska was for Friday Night Lights, in late June. He says he is “100 percent” committed to Nebraska, and is openly recruiting others to the school.
But other schools are still after him.
“Florida came the hardest, Louisville the second, and UCLA the third,” he said.
I asked Radley-Hiles, who had been goofing around and putting on hats like Florida and UCLA earlier during a photo shoot, if there was a school with a legitimate shot to flip him.
“A shot to flip me? I don’t think so,” Radley-Hiles said. “If you really want me to say one, I guess I could say ... nah, there really isn’t one,” he said, not wanting to create fake drama.
What his teammates said: Most did not feel he would flip anywhere, but T.K. Chimedza said Radley-Hiles was a potential flip candidate to Florida or UCLA.
Taron Vincent, five-star DL (Ohio State commit)
Vincent told me that he is locked in with Ohio State, and will not be taking visits to any other schools, despite Alabama and FSU still trying to get him to change his mind. His focus is on his senior season and recruiting for the Buckeyes.
Brian Hightower, four-star WR (Miami commit)
Hightower said that he is solidly committed to Miami, but that he is still being pursued by Nebraska, Georgia, and UCLA, and that he is not sure if he will take official visits other than Miami. Hightower plans to be an early enrollee.
Stephon Wynn, four-star DL (Alabama commit)
Wynn said he is measuring in at 6’4 and 290 pounds. His best relationship on the Alabama staff is with coach Tosh Lupoi, whom he speaks with the most. He is not entertaining other schools.
Nolan Smith, five-star DL (Georgia commit, ‘19)
Smith is an incredible edge rusher, and is only entering his junior season. His burst and bend are special, and he’s getting stronger.
What he said: Smith denied there was any chance he’d go anywhere but Georgia.
“I could flip, though,” Smith said, jokingly. “Back flip, run and flip, front flip. That’s the only type of flip I’ll be doing.”
What his teammates said: Something completely different. They laughed at the idea that he was solidly committed to the Bulldogs. Smith was mentioned more often as the candidate most likely to flip than all other players combined. And the predicted destination? Clemson.
Charles Thomas, four-star LB (Michigan commit, ‘19)
Thomas is originally from California, moved to Georgia, and now plays at IMG. He became interested in Michigan after taking a visit and meeting with the coaches. Thomas said no other schools are on his radar.
Trey Sanders, four-star RB (Alabama commit, ‘19)
Sanders told me he is locked in with Alabama, but a few teammates overheard him say that and joked to him about Georgia.
Noah Cain, five-star RB (‘19)
Cain is originally from Baton Rouge, but moved to Texas when he was six. He said he followed LSU, Texas, and all of college football growing up. He believes Tom Herman is going to do great things at Texas.