COLUMBIA — When Missouri coach Gary Pinkel began recruiting his first class for the Tigers seven years ago, he said he understood when players did not buy into his speech and went elsewhere. Pinkel freely admits that the Tigers were not that good ack then.
How things change in seven years.
Coming off a 12-2 season and a No. 4 ranking in the AP poll, Pinkel has landed his best recruiting class, according to national experts.
“No question about it,” said Jeremy Crabtree, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “They have the talent you want and the depth you want.”
The talent starts at the quarterback position, where the Tigers signed Blaine Gabbert of Parkway West High School in Ballwin. Considered the top pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com, he withdrew his commitment from Nebraska last fall to stay in his home state.
“Blaine Gabbert is definitely the best recruit Pinkel’s ever had,” Crabtree said. “He is very talented, has a great arm and great leadership.”
That the Tigers persuaded Gabbert to sign with them shows how the reputation of the Missouri program has improved, especially with recruiting in the state of Missouri.
This year’s class, which is ranked 26th by Rivals.com and 31st by Scout.com, another recruiting Web site, is heavily set on in-state talent. Of the top 10 players in Missouri, the Tigers signed seven, with wide receiver Wes Kemp, like Gabbert, abandoning another school to join the Tigers. Kemp had committed to Wisconsin but changed his mind in the fall.
“You have to give credit to the relationships (coaches) are able to build throughout the years,” said Greg Powers, the Midwest Football Recruiting Analyst for Scout.com. “You don’t land any of these guys unless you have a pretty good relationship with not only the recruits, but the high school or the family that’s involved.”
Offensive lineman Dan Hoch from Harlan High School in Harlan, Iowa, also left Nebraska to join the Tigers. He was considered the top recruit in the state. Harlan coach Curt Bladt said the Tigers recent success played an important role in Hoch signing with the Tigers.
“I think Missouri has really stepped up its program,” Bladt said. “They showed this year they are capable of stepping up to that point where they could be contenders for a national title in the near future.”
Part of the Tigers recruiting success this season comes from the consistency in the coaching staff. When Pinkel came to Columbia, players were not interested in joining his team because Missouri had suffered two straight losing seasons before he arrived. However, Pinkel’s staff has stayed constant and it has built solid relationships with coaches around the state.
“Recruits are noticing the wins and losses, the Big 12 North Championship and how Gary Pinkel has turned down other opportunities to stay at Missouri,” Crabtree said.
Pinkel said numerous times in his press conferences how this year was different than any of his previous years at Missouri. Players walked a little prouder while wearing Missouri gear, knowing that the Tigers were a top 10 team and gaining national attention.
“I’ve told my kids this, ‘those that win reap the benefits,’” Pinkel said. “You win at a high level, you get treated differently.”
According to Rivals.com, the Tigers signed the fifth best class in the Big 12 Conference, with Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Colorado all ranked ahead of Missouri.
Powers said the most important thing for the Tigers is to not worry about Oklahoma, who had the fifth best class in the nation, but focus on how they pulled Gabbert away from Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are a division rival and compete with the Tigers for many of the same recruits.
Even though this is considered Pinkel’s best class at Missouri, he said does not worry about rankings. When his coaching staff sits down to analyze a recruit, they don’t ask if a player was named all-state or all-conference. The coaches just focus on Missouri’s standards.
“I believe in how we evaluate,” Pinkel said. “I can’t express that more clearly.”