College : : Story
Thursday, November 19, 2009

San Diego signs excellent recruiting class

Jim Ecker        
University of San Diego Coach Rich Hill did not shy away from the question. In fact, he’s proud of the answer.

Here's the question: Do you think you just signed the No.1 recruiting class in the country?

And here’s the answer, delivered firmly and without hesitation.

“Yes, I do,” he told Perfect Game USA this week. “I think we have the top recruiting class, at the signing date, in the country.”

It's hard to argue, although other colleges have signed outstanding classes as well.

San Diego signed five Aflac All-Americans this month during the fall signing period, the most of any team in the nation, with Dylan Covey, Kris Bryant, Tony Wolters, Marcus Littlewood and Kellen Sweeney all accepting scholarships. The runners-up in the Aflac derby were LSU, the 2009 national champions, and Miami with three Aflac All-Americans apiece.

“This equates to five McDonald’s All-Americans in basketball,” said Hill. “Remarkable.”

It’s especially remarkable, he said, when you consider the University of San Diego is a relatively small Catholic school (7,600 students) on the West Coast. He credited two of his assistant coaches, Jay Johnson and Eric Valenzuela (the latter now working at San Diego State), for putting the class together. He also credited the players for helping to recruit each other.

“They thought, man, it would be pretty cool if we all went to school together,” said Hill. “I think there definitely is a snowball effect.”

The Aflac All-Americans know each other from playing in the same tournaments and showcases during their high school careers, including numerous Perfect Game events. It would be a strong class if it ended with the five All-Americans, but the Toreros signed five other talented players with Griffin Murphy, a pitcher from Highland, Calif.; Paul Paez, a pitcher from Baldwin Park, Calif.; Michael Wagner, a pitcher from Las Vegas; Danny Hawksley, a catcher/first baseman from Rancho San Diego, Calif.; and Max MacNabb, a pitcher from Carlsbad, Calif.

Covey is a pitcher from Pasadena, Calif., who’s blessed with a 96 mph fastball and a wicked curve. Bryant is a 6-foot-5 third baseman from Las Vegas, Wolters a slick-fielding infielder from Vista, Calif., Littlewood a shortstop from St. George, Utah, and Sweeney an infielder/outfielder from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Covey is ranked third in the Class of 2010 by Perfect Game USA, Bryant is ranked No.9, Wolters No. 11, Littlewood No. 28 and Sweeney No. 30.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Hill. ‘It’s unprecedented, really, to get this kind of quality.”

The trick will be getting all that talent on the field and not losing them to pro baseball. Hill is confident they’ll enroll, unless somebody is offered a multi-million signing bonus that might set him up for life. Covey might fall in that category in the 2010 draft, but that remains to be seen.

Hill said his staff got to know all the players and their families before offering a scholarship, trying to ensure they’ll enroll in school.

“We want guys who want to go to college,” he said. “If they can’t look us in the eye and tell us this is what they want to do, we let some other college worry about them.”

Hill thinks the risk is worth the potential reward.

“I think you have to shoot for the stars,” he said. “We want to be a national champion.”

Sweeney had Tommy John surgery in August, but that didn’t stop Hill from signing him.

“We offered him when he was out here (for the Aflac All-American game in August),” said Hill. “We knew the Tommy John was imminent. With medical technology being what it is, guys come back stronger than ever. We thought the risk was absolutely minimal.”

The University of San Diego had the No.1 recruiting class in the country two years ago, according to Baseball America, but Hill thinks this class is stronger.

“This is an outstanding group of players, probably the best that I’ve been a part of,” said Hill, entering his 12th year at San Diego and 22nd overall in college coaching. “This is a phenomenal group in terms of ability, character, academics and commitment to spending their first 36 months in college developing.”

Perfect Game President Jerry Ford had this to say about the San Diego recruiting class.

“The talent involved in this class is about as good as it gets, but more importantly, every one of those kids are high-class individuals and they come from great families. If they all end up in school, San Diego has a good chance to win the National Championship. The coaching staff there does a simply amazing job at both recruiting and developing players”

Perfect Game USA will take a look at some of the other top recruiting classes in the upcoming days and weeks.
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