Recruiting progress report: How new coaches are faring on the trail

Sherrone Moore looks to continue Michigan's recruit-and-develop strategy. Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

There were 11 head coaches in new jobs across the power conferences once the dust finally settled on college football's latest coaching carousel in mid-February.

From Alabama's Kalen DeBoer, Michigan's Sherrone Moore and Texas A&M's Mike Elko in some of the biggest jobs in the country to intriguing fits for Syracuse's Fran Brown, Michigan State's Jonathan Smith and Houston's Willie Fritz, the cast of newcomers won't be properly judged until fall Saturdays roll around. Until then, early returns and insights into the newest faces in new places across the sport can be found in their work on the high school recruiting trail.

As of Thursday, 157 of the prospects ranked inside the 2025 ESPN 300 had made commitments, including 24 pledged to programs with coaches in their first cycle. That leaves 144 of the nation's top prospects uncommitted with just under six months to the start of the early signing period on Dec. 4.

Auburn's Hugh Freeze was the only first-year coach to land a top-10 class in 2024. However, we're only two years removed from the 2023 cycle that saw a whopping six first-year coaches deliver top-10 classes to their new school. In 2025, both Alabama and Texas A&M appear poised to crack the top 10. Meanwhile, the likes of Syracuse and UCLA reach mid-June in position to secure their highest-ranked signing classes of the decade.

Let's dive into how each of the new coaches have settled in on the recruiting trail, where they stand in the 2025 class and what's left for them to do as the 2025 recruiting cycle hits full steam.

Kalen DeBoer, Alabama Crimson Tide

Nick Saban landed top five classes in 12 of the 13 recruiting cycles from 2012-24. DeBoer, conversely, never landed a class higher than 28th in two cycles at Washington before taking the Crimson Tide job in January.

Yet, if there were doubts in Tuscaloosa over his ability to maintain the momentum as an SEC newcomer operating in Saban's wake, DeBoer has provided some early assurances.

DeBoer's first recruiting win came when he kept five-star wide receiver Ryan Williams in the 2024 class just 13 days after he landed on campus. In the months since, DeBoer has pulled pledges from seven states on his way to refurbishing a 2025 class that initially lost all but one of its Saban-era commits, including top-50 prospects Jaime Ffrench (No. 16 in ESPN 300) and Zion Grady (No. 45).

The rebuild began in March when Alabama secured six commitments in 23 days, headlined by in-state athlete Derick Smith, No. 30 in the ESPN 300 and the top prospect in the Crimson Tide's current class. That flurry of activity also saw DeBoer gain pledges from outside linebacker Darrell Johnson (No. 34 in ESPN 300), athlete Zymear Smith (No. 114), and defensive tackle Antonio Coleman (No. 177), a previous member of Saban's class who had decommitted from the program late last year.

While DeBoer, 49, has hit familiar recruiting hotbeds in Alabama, Georgia and Texas, he's also used his West Coast connections for a pair of commitments from Southern California power Mater Dei in inside linebacker Abduall Sanders Jr. (No. 153) and cornerback Chuck McDonald III (No. 166). Earlier this month, DeBoer gained his first quarterback commit, flipping Keelon Russell, an Elite 11 finalist and a dual-threat prospect, from SMU. Russell who has drawn comparisons to former Washington Heisman Trophy runner-up Michael Penix Jr.

All told, Alabama's 2025 class now includes 11 ESPN 300 commits and could continue to grow.

The Crimson Tide are still in the mix for recent visitors: offensive tackle Ty Haywood (No. 17 in ESPN 300), running back Jordon Davison (No. 88) and outside linebacker Dawson Merritt (No. 100). Upcoming visitors include top offensive tackle David Sanders Jr. (No. 4) and Micah Debose (No. 71), and cornerback Dijon Lee Jr., No. 24 in the ESPN 300 and a potential class cornerstone as Alabama seeks to rebuild its depleted secondary depth.

Elite recruiting was a staple of Saban's success across his 17 seasons. Six months into college football's biggest coaching job, DeBoer is off to a strong start, likely on his way to securing his first top five class with the Crimson Tide.

Brent Brennan, Arizona Wildcats

Jedd Fisch started from scratch when he arrived at Arizona in 2021. Four years later, Brennan, a disciple of Arizona coaching legend Dick Tomey, finds himself in a similar position.

Fisch's January departure triggered seven decommitments from the Wildcats' incoming 2024 class, and a flood of players out of the program through the transfer portal. To boot, since Brennan's Jan. 16 hiring, Arizona has seen leadership changes at athletic director and university president.

In the near term, Brennan, 51, has combated mass upheaval with two dozen incoming transfers for his 2024 roster. But, like Fisch in his three seasons, Brennan will have to find success in high school recruiting. For Brennan, that could prove an uphill climb in 2025 and beyond.

Arizona reaches the middle of June with just three commitments in the 2025 class, led by Spring Valley, California, tight end Kellan Ford, the 20th-ranked recruit at his position per ESPN rankings. The Wildcats' most recent commitments have come at the quarterback position from in-state commit Luke Haugo and California's Robert McDaniel, ranked as the No. 52 and No. 54 pocket passers in the 2025 class, respectively.

Up ahead, Brennan has pointed to the potential new recruiting footprint that will open up for the Wildcats as they join the Big 12 later this year.

"Now knowing that we're going to be going to Texas and Oklahoma and Florida, that opens up some other areas where we know there's a lot of talented football players," he told reporters last month. "So that pushes us out a little bit more across the country."

Perhaps it won't be until the 2026 cycle that Brennan's complete recruiting vision comes into frame. As things stand, it's going to be a challenging road for Brennan and the Wildcats in 2025.

Willie Fritz, Houston Cougars

On paper, it's all set up for Fritz to succeed with the Cougars on the recruiting trail.

The former Tulane coach has Texas ties, a track record of doing more with less and a history of developing lower-ranked prospects into stars. Houston offers updated facilities, a Power 4 conference alignment and -- never to be overlooked -- a home within one of the most concentrated areas of high school football talent in the nation.

The Cougars picked up the centerpiece of their 2025 class last month with a commitment from Missouri City, Texas, quarterback Austin Carlisle. Undersized at 5-foot-10, Carlisle threw for 3,115 yards and 35 touchdowns as a junior at Ridge Point High School last fall and ranks No. 6 among the dual-threat quarterbacks in his class.

Along with Carlisle, Houston has pledges from four other high three-star prospects in 2025, led by in-state recruits Travis Buhake (No. 44 DT per ESPN) and Zaylen Cormier (No. 60 ATH).

The Cougars have a busy slate of official visits in the coming weeks. ESPN 300 cornerback Micah Strickland of Brownsboro, Texas, a potential class-changer who holds interest from fellow in-state rivals Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech. The 6-foot, 175-pound defensive back is set to be on campus with the Cougars this weekend.

Curt Cignetti, Indiana Hoosiers

Cignetti waited only minutes into his opening news conference in Bloomington to offer his straightforward recruiting pitch with the Hoosiers.

"It's pretty simple -- I win," he said. "Google me."

Indeed, Cignetti's 52-9 record across five seasons at James Madison speaks for itself. Now, can he do it in charge of a Big Ten minnow that's recorded back-to-back winning seasons just once since the mid-1990s?

Cignetti offered early signs of recruiting promise with the 38-man signing class -- 16 high school signees and 22 transfers -- he inked weeks into the new job, complete with four-star signees Jah Jah Boyd (No. 30 ATH) and Josh Philostin (No. 40). A boosted NIL program should help the Hoosiers, too. The 10 prospects already committed in Indiana's upcoming class indicate that Cignetti's momentum has carried into 2025.

With four-star wide receiver LeBron Bond (Norfolk, Virginia -- No. 42 WR) and three-star safety Byron Baldwin (Baltimore -- No. 28 S), Cignetti has mined his old James Madison stomping ground for the top commits in his 2025 class. Chris McCorkle, the No. 43 cornerback in the 2025 class, stands as another high three-star prospect set to join the Hoosiers next year.

Cignetti's latest class took hit Tuesday with the decommitment of three-star Travares Daniels II (No. 32 LB). Indiana will have opportunities to add more in the coming weeks with high three-star wide receiver JonAnthony Hall, the No. 7 overall prospect in the state in 2025, among the top visitors set to be on campus on June 21.

Sherrone Moore, Michigan Wolverines

Michigan strung three consecutive wins over Ohio State and crafted an unbeaten national championship roster with only one ESPN top-10 signing class from 2020-23. Such was the developmental recruiting style of the Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh.

Moore's staff features several new faces, most notably former Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, but early results in the 38-year-old Moore's first recruiting cycle suggest he's not deviating from the blueprint in Ann Arbor.

Michigan's success in recent years has started at the line of scrimmage. So it's no surprise that four of the Wolverines' six commits to date have come on either side of the line, led by four-star ESPN 300 prospects Nathaniel Marshall (No. 4 DT) and Avery Gach (No. 34 OT). Jaylen Williams, the No. 24 defensive tackle recruit in the nation, and four-star safety Kainoa Winston (No. 42 in ESPN 300), became the latest members of Michigan's 2025 class with their commitments this week..

The third ESPN 300 in the Wolverines' upcoming class is four-star quarterback Carter Smith, the No. 14 pocket passer in 2025, who committed to Michigan under Harbaugh last fall. Between Smith and 2024 signee Jadyn Davis, the future of the quarterback position in Ann Arbor is fortified for the time being.

Moore & Co. entered June with only five commitments in the 2025 class, but high-profile additions could be on the horizon.

The Wolverines remain in the running for Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) offensive linemen S.J. Alofaituli and Douglas Utu. The pair are ranked No. 10 and No. 11 respectively in the ESPN 300 and have each visited Michigan in recent weeks. The Wolverines are expected to host top 100 recruits including safety Jordan Young (No. 33), offensive tackle Andrew Babalola (No. 44), outside linebacker Nathaniel Owusu-Boateng (No. 73) and running back Jordon Davison (No. 88) this month.

Michigan's current crop isn't currently ranked in ESPN's 2025 class rankings. With a productive summer, Moore's inaugural recruiting class will surely climb.

Jonathan Smith, Michigan State Spartans

If Mel Tucker's recruiting classes in East Lansing were defined by initial flash, followed by thin depth and a lack of development, Smith should offer the Spartans something different in this part of the job.

In scope and in scale of resources, Michigan State is a bigger gig than the one Smith left at Oregon State. But parallels exist between the programs. It was in Corvallis that Smith showed he could win without recruiting top-tier talent, authoring back-to-back top-25 finishes in 2022 and 2023 with only six four-star signees over six seasons in charge of the Beavers. Perhaps he can return the Spartans to the talent development that carried Michigan State under Mark Dantonio?

Smith has maintained his touch on the West Coast with pledges from quarterback Leo Hannan (No. 29 pocket passer) and offensive guard Drew Nichols (No. 24 OG), a pair of high-three-star prospects from California. He's also beginning to establish himself in Michigan, too, most prominently with last month's commitment from four-star rusher Jace Clarizio, the No. 1 in-state running back in 2025. Linebackers Di'Mari Malone (No. 24 ILB) and Charles White (No. 56 OLB) stand among Smith's other in-state recruiting wins in his initial class.

Smith has pulled heavily from the transfer pool with 24 portal additions since his arrival in East Lansing. While challenges will persist competing with the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, USC and Oregon in an evolving Big Ten, Smith appears to have his feet under him on the high school recruiting trail.

Jeff Lebby, Mississippi State Bulldogs

Lebby established himself as an effective recruiter during his time on Lane Kiffin's staff at Ole Miss, then at Oklahoma where he helped secure the Sooners' back-to-back top-10 classes and five-star quarterback Jackson Arnold in the 2023 class.

Since returning to Mississippi with the Bulldogs as a first-time head coach late last year, Lebby has made his claim in prioritizing the talent within the state. And while his inaugural recruiting class has only four players committed to date, Lebby already has a pair of in-state cornerstones and could have bigger additions later this summer.

Mississippi State's current class is led by ESPN 300 linebacker Tyshun Willis. The four-star defender from Camden, Mississippi, committed to the Bulldogs in late April and ranks 27th among ESPN's outside linebackers in his class. Alongside Willis is three-star dual-threat quarterback KaMario Taylor of Macon, Mississippi, who gave his pledge to the Bulldogs under the previous coaching staff. Taylor is one of 20 quarterbacks who will compete in next week's Elite 11 finals.

The Bulldogs remain in the running for in-state ESPN 300 prospects Caleb Cunningham (No. 19), Cortez Thomas (No. 112) and Kevin Oatis (No. 127), with the latter pair slated for official visits later this month. ESPN 300 offensive tackle Dramodd Odoms is also expected to visit Mississippi State in the coming weeks.

Mike Elko, Texas A&M Aggies

Elko built impressive recruiting classes during his time at Duke. Now, the 45-year-old former Aggies defensive coordinator is back in College Station recruiting on one of the sport's biggest stages.

The relationships Elko formed during his stint on Jimbo Fisher's staff from 2018-21 have made for a smooth transition back into the insular world of Texas high school recruiting. And the results are promising with eight ESPN 300 prospects committed to Elko's first class with the Aggies. Since securing early pledges from inside linebacker Kelvion Riggins (No. 171 in ESPN 300), cornerback Deyjohn Pettaway (No. 105) and running back Deondrae Riden (No. 273), Texas A&M has filled out its group of incoming recruits with some of the top prospects in the nation.

The Aggies nabbed an April commitment from four-star quarterback Husan Longstreet, an Elite 11 finalist and the No. 6 pocket passer in his class. Earlier that month, a pledge from four-star defensive tackle Landon Rink (No. 10 DT) gave Elko a foundational piece on the line of scrimmage, and four-star cornerback Adonyss Currie (No. 9 CB), who committed to the Aggies in May, could be the most talented newcomer in the bunch as Texas A&M chases down another top-10 class.

Where Elko's first class finishes will depend on how the Aggies fare on the trail over the next several months. Texas A&M remains a strong contender for five-star recruits Jonah Williams (No. 1 OLB) and offensive tackle Michael Fasusui (No. 2 OT) and will host a slate of top 100 prospects including ATH Trey McNutt (No. 41 in the ESPN 300), linebackers Noah Mikhail (No. 53) and Riley Pettijohn (No. 63) later this month.

Fran Brown, Syracuse Orange

The former Georgia assistant took on one of the most challenging jobs in the Power 4 in late November. In the seven months since, Brown has put his reputation as one of the nation's top recruiters and his connections in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to work.

The impressive finish Brown crafted in the final weeks of the 2024 cycle has spilled into 2025. Buoyed by a series of high three-star commits, the Orange's class is up to 21 commits.

Sharlandiin Strange, the No. 42 defensive end in the nation, was the first domino to fall in late January and he remains the top recruit in Syracuse's incoming class. Alongside Strange, inside linebacker Antoine Deslauriers (No. 15 ILB), cornerbacks Ziyyon Bredell (No. 46 CB) and Javon Lawrence (No. 62) and defensive tackle Haleem Muhammad (No. 45 DT) fill out the top of a promising defensive class forming with the Orange.

On offense, Brown found his centerpiece close to home with Darien Williams, a skilled wide receiver from Syracuse's Christian Brothers Academy. Julian McFadden, the No. 72 wide receiver in his class, stands as another promising skill position talent head to Syracuse in 2025.

ESPN 300 cornerback Dawayne Galloway, the No. 124 prospect in the 2025 class, will visit Syracuse this weekend and is one of the top prospects the Orange remain in the mix with. Brown is looking to secure the program's best signing class of the ESPN rankings era (since 2006), topping Dino Baber's 49th-ranked class in 2017.

As for 2026, Brown already has commitments from ESPN 300 prospects Izayia Williams (No. 41) and Demetres Samuel (No. 82).

DeShaun Foster, UCLA Bruins

Under Chip Kelly, the Bruins made a gradual, then swift move away from high school recruiting, with only 26 high school signees arriving on campus over Kelly's final two complete classes.

Since taking over in February, Foster, a former UCLA running back and first-time head coach, has shifted the paradigm back, in the direction of the days of Jim Mora, when the Bruins landed four top-20 recruiting classes from 2013-17.

The window into Foster's impact begins at the top of UCLA's incoming class and the program's lone ESPN 300 commit in 2025. With Madden Iamaleava's commitment on May 25, the Bruins secured the nation's No. 7 pocket passer, the No. 83 overall recruit in the country and foundational piece for a transitional recruiting class under revamped approach to recruiting.

Clear, as well, from Foster's early months on the trail is a renewed commitment to recruiting the state of California. Of the Bruins' nine commits to date, six come from within the state, headlined by high-three-star running back Karson Cox (No. 33 RB), offensive tackle Garrison Blank (No. 55 OT) and outside linebacker Weston Port (No. 50 OLB).

In recruiting circles, early credit for UCLA's hot run on the recruiting trail has gone to Foster and a recruiting team headed up by director of player personnel Stacey Ford, along with assistant general manager Chris Carter and director of player performance Keith Belton.

The Bruins face a stiff challenge jumping into the Big Ten in a state of transition and will only boost their recruiting by proving they can win in the new conference. But with Foster at the helm, UCLA has a direction on the high school recruiting front that's been missing for some time.

Jedd Fisch, Washington Huskies

As Fisch made clear while he constructed one of the nation's most promising up-and-coming programs at Arizona, Washington's first-year coach knows how he wants to build as the Huskies dive into the Big Ten fresh off a national title game appearance.

"I want to build [our roster] through high school recruiting," he told reporters in February. "In order to do that, you have to have a little bit of patience and know that you have to play some young players and deal with some mistakes."

The flow of former Arizona transfers and commits to the Huskies has been steady since Fisch's arrival. But patience might be required in order for Washington to assemble the caliber of recruiting class Fisch expects to land in Seattle, where the Huskies have not secured a top-20 class since the 2020 cycle.

Washington hits mid-June with five players committed to its 2025 class. The most prominent name in that group arrived in April with four-star IMG academy wide receiver Raiden Vines-Bright, No. 45 in ESPN's wide receivers rankings for the 2025 class.

Elsewhere in his inaugural class, Fisch has plucked high-three star offensive tackle Jake Flores (No. 46 OT), quarterback Dash Beierly (No. 27 pocket passer) and ATH Julian McMahan (No. 59 ATH) from California.

Another quarterback commit, three-star Treston McMillan (No. 30 pocket passer), comes from Hawaii's Mililani High School, the same program that produced former UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and Oregon transfer passer Dillon Gabriel.

It has been a slow start on the high school recruiting trail for Fisch, whose top class at Arizona reached No. 25 in ESPN's team rankings in 2022. However, the Huskies' class could heat up this summer with Washington linked with a handful of ESPN 300 prospects, including offensive guard Douglas Utu (No. 11) and Dijon Lee Jr. (No. 24), who visited late last month. In-state outside linebacker Zaydrius Rainey-Sale (No. 201) is scheduled for an official visit on June 21.