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The Unknowns: Five surprise prospects who signed with big programs

Cedric Tillman
Cedric Tillman (Nick Lucero/

The Early Signing Period was put in place to help protect Group of Five programs from having their commits poached late in the process. So with many of those programs filling up their classes in December, some major programs had to go digging for real diamonds in the rough to complete their classes on Wednesday. We break down five commitments from players who came from off the radar to sign with major programs on National Signing Day.

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Tillman played his high school ball at powerhouse program Bishop Gorman, but even so, he saw limited options on the recruiting trail. He netted offers from UNLV and Hawaii but picked up late interest from Tennessee earlier in the week. After Jacob Copeland chose Florida over Tennessee, it opened a spot for Tillman, who committed and signed having never even visited campus. Tillman was one of three two-stars to commit to the Vols on Wednesday, but the only one who signed a letter-of-intent.

Moody went from a handful of FCS offers to signing with the defending national champions in less than a month. Ole Miss and Arkansas were the first schools to notice him and both hosted him for an official visit. Alabama came in late and quickly jumped to the front of the line, hosting Moody for an official visit last weekend and ultimately landing his commitment on Wednesday. Had prospects like J.J. Peterson or Quay Walker given the Tide his pledge, there might not have been room for Moody, but now he's headed to Tuscaloosa.

Since Chip Kelly took over at UCLA, the Bruins have been doing some deep searches to unearth talent from around the country and Gaines is a prospect who seemingly came out of nowhere to join the Bruins list of signed players on Wednesday. Northern Illinois, Purdue, Iowa and California all offered Gaines during the process and it's believed he would have gone to the Ivy League had the Bruins not entered the picture. Gaines officially visited in December and his commitment became public this week.

Lewis falls into the same category as Gaines, having been unearthed by the UCLA staff late in the process. But unlike Gaines, the Bruins weren't alone in their efforts to woo Lewis. The first weekend after the dead period Lewis took an official visit to North Carolina, where he quickly became enamored with the Chapel Hill campus. A week later he took a trip to UCLA, but on Signing Day the Heels won out, landing his commitment and his signature.

Young had been on the radar of smaller schools for quite a while, but in the month leading into Signing Day, Mississippi State started to increase their interest in him. That led to an official last weekend, even though he had yet to officially receive an offer. The Bulldogs did find a spot for him by the time Signing Day rolled around and landed his commitment and signature over UAB, Southern Miss and Louisiana-Lafayette.