Gabbert leads wave of prospects who switch commitment to Tigers

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Missouri landed its first five-star recruit since Pinkel's arrival.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- In the not too distant past, Missouri had almost no shot at enticing a top recruit to change his mind and pick the Tigers.

The school has seven prospects who had verbally committed elsewhere on their 23-player list announced Wednesday. Heading the class is Blaine Gabbert of Parkway West in suburban St. Louis, rated the top pro quarterback prospect in the country by

Gabbert, who originally had settled on Nebraska but switched to Missouri in November, is the first five-star recruit -- handed out to only 30 players in the country -- to choose Missouri in coach Gary Pinkel's eight recruiting classes.

"He's gifted," said Dave Yost, recruiting coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "When you see him throw, I think you kind of get that wow effect."

That's the tangible result from the school's rise to prominence. Missouri finished the year at No. 4 after going 12-2, winning its first Big 12 North title and beating Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

"There's no reason to go anywhere else," Pinkel said. "Four or five years ago, I could understand when someone went other ways."

Offensive tackle Dan Hoch of Harlan, Iowa, also bailed out on Nebraska during the Cornhuskers' final year under Bill Callahan. Wide receiver Wes Kemp of DeSmet High in St. Louis (Wisconsin), linebacker Will Ebner of Friendswood, Texas (Houston), defensive end Jacquies Smith of Dallas, Texas (Tulsa), offensive tackle Taylor Davis of Plano, Texas (Tulsa), and defensive lineman Marcus Malbrough of Beaumont, Texas (Iowa), also originally committed elsewhere.

Until a player finalized his decision, Missouri kept wooing. That was the case with Zavier Gooden, a safety prospect from Pflugerville, Texas, who had characterized his early commitment to the Tigers as a "heavy lean." The school let Gooden know that it couldn't necessarily save a spot for him while the recruiting process continued, and Gooden ended up signing with Missouri.

"The way we look at it, if a player commits but is going to continue to take recruiting, then he's not committed and we've got to keep fighting," Yost said. "Listen, it's a strange business."

Missouri's recruiting haul includes eight of the top 12 players in the state in rankings. Three are in the top eight of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Super 30, and the class also includes Rivals' top three players in Kansas City: tight end Andrew Jones of Smithville, defensive end Aldon Smith of Raytown and running back Drew Temple of Rockhurst.

Temple is the younger brother of Tony Temple, who set a Cotton Bowl record with 281 yards rushing. Temple recently gave up efforts to get a medical redshirt fifth season.

Missouri ended up with more players from Texas (12) than Missouri (nine), capitalizing on consecutive bowl appearances in Texas -- the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1 and the Sun Bowl after 2006.

"I know we did a good job in the state of Missouri and we also did a good job in Texas," Pinkel said. "Some of that certainly was the Cotton Bowl, and it also was the consistency of winning and winning at a high level."

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Gabbert was the consensus No. 1 player in Missouri despite an injury-shortened senior season and less than eye-popping statistics throughout his career. He totaled 623 yards passing for five touchdowns before missing the final five games with a shoulder injury, although he threw 20 touchdown passes as a junior.

Yost didn't need to see the statistics after seeing Gabbert throw three times in person. Pinkel is undecided whether to redshirt Gabbert this fall, saying if he's good enough he'll learn as the backup during Chase Daniel's senior season.

"He's got special physical ability," Yost said. "Is he going to become a complete quarterback? No question."

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