Back in 2005, the University at Buffalo’s 27-man recruiting class included James Starks, Drew Willy, Mike Newton, Brett Hamlin, Mario Henry and Ernest Jackson. They were all key contributors to the UB’s first Mid-American Conference championship in 2008, but that class was rated just 102nd in the country by Scout.com and 117th by Rivals.com.
The ’05 class is evidence of the imprecise nature of recruiting rankings. UB unveiled its 2014 class on Wednesday and again has a group that isn’t rated highly nationally: No. 98 by 24/7 Sports.com, No. 105 by Scout and No. 117 by Rivals. While 24/7 has the Bulls a respectable fourth in the MAC, the Bulls are ranked ninth in the conference by Scout and 10th by Rivals.
But UB coach Jeff Quinn has learned to not agonize about such things, with the Syracuses, Penn States and Pittsburghs guzzling up most of the talent on the East Coast. Recruiting rankings offer only a glimpse in the development of a prospect.
“I know opinions are part of the process of recruitment and how teams are ranked and where classes are ranked,” Quinn said. “Each of these young men is going to have a chance to compete at the highest level.”
Last year’s fifth-year seniors came from the 23-man 2009 class, a group that included Khalil Mack, Branden Oliver, Alex Neutz and Fred Lee. Quinn leaned heavily on their leadership, which resulted in an eight-win season and the school’s second bowl appearance. Oliver, the school’s career rushing leader, was the lone player ranked with more than two stars while the lightly recruited Mack completed his career as one of the finest linebackers in the country.
“You have to remember as coaches we have to do our due diligence,” Quinn said. “We need to look at them in their personal life in terms of their families, their medical history, their academic accomplishments, GPA and test scores. But also what they’ve shown on film and seeing these kids first hand is a primary focus of mine.”
Quinn, entering his fifth season at the school, has made a point of recruiting players within a 500-mile radius of Buffalo and — although the Bulls didn’t sign any local products — the bulk of his 2014 class reflects that philosophy. There are a few exceptions, like IMG Academy offensive lineman Matt Murphy, who is a native of London, England.
“These are guys that were in our footprint — New York, Long Island, Canada, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania,” Quinn said. “It’s been very consistent for me and my staff to go find those kids and that’s the development of relationships that we’ve had over the last four years.”
UB landed its usual blend of three-star and two-star recruits, according to the scouting websites. Top names include linebackers Corey Henderson from King George, Va., Will White from Detroit and Juwan Jackson from Newark, N.J., tailback Gary Hosey, a high school teammate of White from Detroit, and quarterback Chris Merchant from Calgary.
“I really like those linebackers, I really like the fact that we have a solid running back coming in this class,” Quinn said. “A couple of nice corners, a nice free safety, you’ll see some strong safeties. I think all those guys have a chance.”
In-state recruits include linebacker Myles Nicholas from Irondequoit, offensive lineman James O’Hagan from Seaford, defensive lineman Gusty Schwartzmeier from Hilton and quarterback J.R. Zazzara from Fayetteville.
Quinn isn’t bashful about playing true freshmen – five played last season and 22 have played in the last four seasons.
“That’s helped develop our program in a way that those kids know they’re going to get a shot,” Quinn said. “They need to know the playbook, they need to understand what it takes mentally.”