The question can’t be answered now. It won’t be answered next year or the year after.
Five years is probably the earliest anyone can answer the most asked question about Missouri football’s 2004 recruiting class: Is it MU’s best?
On paper, it is shaping up as one of the best the Tigers have had. There are headliners such as Chase Patton and Tony Temple that give the class star power. Others, such as Vashon receiver William Franklin, give MU hidden talents with big-time potential.
Patton said he has heard the whispers about the enormous potential of the class, but he isn’t worried about it.
“It turned out to be a great year for our class,” Patton said. “It could turn out to be the best, but it has to come from hard work and the way we progress. Hopefully, it will come out that way.”
John Dirk, an offensive lineman from Stephenville, Texas, committed to Missouri on Sunday. Dirk’s commitment brings the Tigers’ total to 25. Barring any changes, those players are expected to sign letters of intent Wednesday, the first day recruits can sign.
Danny Heitert, of the STC Grid Report, has followed Missouri recruiting for many years and said he has not seen a more talented or balanced class at MU since 1977.
That class enjoyed four winning seasons, not counting a 4-7 season in 1977 when most of the freshmen didn’t play, but it was the amount of players who played at the next level that made the class special.
“That year, there was eight or nine kids that went on to play pro football at some level,” Heitert said. “This group hasn’t even taken a snap yet, but based on raw, physical ability and potential, I view it as the best since then.”
Even if the class isn’t Missouri’s best, it might be one of its most important. The number of players from Missouri alone makes it significant to the program’s development.
Fourteen athletes from Missouri are set to sign. The Tigers missed on only two of their in-state targets, Brett Gallimore and Nick Patterson. That MU didn’t offer a scholarship to Oak Park linebacker Michael Keenan, who chose Nebraska, speaks to the quality and depth of this year’s talent in the state.
Pinkel has not quite reached his vow to seal the borders and get 90 percent of the best players from Missouri each year. This class brings him closer to that mark and will be a building block for future instate recruiting endeavors.
A great class can’t come from one state, as most of the nation’s best programs would attest. Missouri has done its best to find talent in other areas that can complement the talent it grabs in the state.
Hazelwood Central coach John Pukala, who has sent many players to Division I programs, said using the talent at home as the basis for the program is the key to building a championship team.
“I think it has to be supplemented,” Pukala said. “If you look at this year, Pinkel got all of the good ones. His staff has a criteria for recruiting and I think this year all of the kids he got from the state meet that criteria.
“I don’t think they went for a Missouri kid just because he was a Missouri kid.”With Pinkel’s seal-the-borders approach, the Tigers have consistently used Texas as its top supplier for out-of-state talent. Missouri expects to sign eight players from Texas on Wednesday.
For now, it is impossible to determine whether this is Missouri’s best class or even whether it is a great one. Some great classes send players to the NFL, and others are judged on winning conference championships.
Tony Severino, Temple’s coach at Rockhurst, has seen most of the best players from around the country because of his team’s national scheduling and has a good idea of what makes a great class.
Severino said it will be hard to judge the class until he can look at the finished product.
“Recruiting is a crapshoot,” Severino said. “If they are right on 50 percent then they have a great recruiting class. I’d say most classes, if you have six of 20 that turn into solid players then you did well.
“Missouri probably got what they needed, but now the big thing is how they will pan out.”