Majority of top prospects capitalize on early signing period

The relevance of the traditional National Signing Day in early February may have just taken a major hit.
Under a policy that took effect this year, high school seniors could sign letters of intent during an early signing period that began Wednesday and runs through Friday. The vast majority decided they didn’t want to wait to pick their schools: Of the nation’s top 25 prospects, according to a composite ranking of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports, only a handful are delaying their decisions to February.
Clemson signed two of the nation’s top three prospects in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and defensive end Xavier Thomas. The top previously uncommitted player to announce his decision Wednesday was defensive end Micah Parsons, who chose Penn State.
The early signing period has drawn mixed review from coaches.
Proponents of a December signing period noted that it allows prospects to finish the college selection process early. It also enables coaching staffs to spend January and February focusing only on unsigned prospects rather than worrying about their entire class. But it also forces coaches to concentrate more on recruiting at a time when many are preparing for postseason games.
“Two weeks of intense travel, home visits and relationship building in December,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “I’m anxious to see how this all plays out and talk to colleagues — everybody’s too busy right now — and what their thoughts are on early recruiting.”
Alabama’s Nick Saban criticized the early signing period last week and said he hadn’t spoken to any coaches who liked it.
Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly acknowledged the challenges that come with an early signing period but said he liked having the majority of his class signed before Christmas.
Kelly said the early signing period enabled him to separate the truly committed prospects from the ones who made verbal commitments but wanted to visit other schools. Kelly said the term soft verbal “never really made any sense to me.”
All 20 of the players who verbally committed to Notre Dame signed with the Fighting Irish on Wednesday rather than waiting until February. Although Notre Dame is still chasing a few more prospects, the staff can start concentrating on the 2019 and 2020 classes.
“You always feel in recruiting that you’re always a click behind,” Kelly said. “You’re always trying to get ahead of it. This is the first time where you truly feel like you’re going to get ahead of it.”
The new policy created particular challenges for new coaches who didn’t have much time to speak with recruits before the December signing period arrived. That issue became apparent this year as 11 Power Five programs switched coaches, a figure that increases to 12 if you include Mississippi’s decision to remove the interim tag from Matt Luke’s title.
At least one new coach scored a major victory as Florida’s Dan Mullen signed quarterback Emory Jones, who had been committed to Ohio State. Jones is rated as the No. 40 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite.

By STEVE MEGARGEE, AP Sports Writer