And then there were 10.
The list of teams in the battle to land the nation’s No. 1 receiver has been whittled down even more. So who made the cut for Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln five-star receiver Fred Rouse? Find out more in this Rivals.com exclusive interview with the nation’s No. 4 player.
After a lengthy debate and heavy calculations, Rouse has reduced his list to Clemson, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Southern Cal, Texas and Tulane. Rouse admits his list is diverse with the expected Florida teams on it, a few Big Ten squads, expected national recruiting powers and one wild card team.
“It was pretty hard,” Rouse said. “I had to do it. As the season comes, I think I will narrow it down just so my frustration won’t be as high. I think if I look at that I won’t have so much confusion with so many college coaches on me.”
How many schools will make the next cut?
“Five,” Rouse said. “At this point, I’m uncertain of any schools I’m going to make official visits to.”
On the list is the traditional Florida powers, and one has to think that it’s going to be tough to yank him away from teams like Florida State, which is right down the street; Florida, which has a dynamic young quarterback; or Miami, which could also be named Receiver U.
Many believe that Florida State might be tough to turn down since it’s close to home, and Rouse has worked out there several times to hang out and catch passes from some of the players. Is he a Seminole all the way?
"You know if there was another school around here that did that (I would go),” he said. “I would go to FAMU if they were doing it. It's not like I'm going to Florida State just because I'm over there. It's convenient, and it's a good workout. Just to go against guys, which are older than me and for me to learn something new, is a good thing.
“I wouldn't say I'm going to Florida State because I'm over there. It's just convenient.”
Then there is the latest hot rumor that he’s a quiet lean toward Miami.
"You are going to get stories about Miami this and Miami that,” Rouse said. “Miami, Florida State, USC and everybody are in the same boat. Nobody is ahead of nobody. Everybody is the same."
One team to keep an eye on definitely is USC. Coach Pete Carroll has already proven that he can go anywhere in the nation and snag a high profile recruit, and Rouse has gotten positive vibes about the Golden State when he visits.
"I have big interest in them, high interest,” Rouse said. “I visited California, and it was such a great place. I got to see so much and it was real attractive. It was just a great thing and a great experience. I really like USC a lot."
USC has made Florida a big priority the past few seasons, and after snagging a player like Keith Rivers, the nation’s No. 1 linebacker in 2004, it’s opened up a lot doors to players such as Rouse.
"Florida has a lot of speed, and once you go to the west coast you aren't really seeing what goes on in the Southeast, all the guys that are down here with talent,” Rouse said. “The Florida teams usually get these guys, while most of the California people come from Oregon and around there. They are finally seeing that the talent is there. There's a lot of talent.”
LSU and Nick Saban have become a recruiting powerhouse and with the Tigers landing the nation’s No. 1 receiver class in 2004 and No. 3 in 2003, it’s easy to see why Rouse would be interesting in playing for a team that likes to recruit game-breaking receivers.
"I like coach Saban,” Rouse said. “What interested me in coach Saban was coach Kirby (Smart), who used to be at Florida State. Coach Kirby, he laid down the real deal about coach Saban. I haven't really had the chance to face-to-face talk to coach Saban yet. But I like LSU. When I was over at Tulane, I liked the city. I got to see where the New Orleans Saints play."
Speaking of Tulane, it’s the one team that stands out compared to the other true national recruiting powers. How did the Green Wave make the cut?
"We go to their 7-on-7 camp,” he said. “There is such a caring atmosphere. I wouldn't care if they were D-I or D-II, these guys are just really just into their academics and football. That really interests me a lot. You have some coaches that are just into football sometimes, but the bond that me and them have, it's like wow. I really like them and am interested in Tulane. I wouldn't say they are in the top eight, though."
Two Big Ten teams made the cut and Rouse said that playing for programs such as Ohio State or Michigan would possibly outweigh making the transition from the fun in the sun in Florida to a cooler climate in the Midwest.
"It's going to be a major change if I go there because I've never really seen or experienced cold weather,” he said. “It will be a big change, but football is football.
"Michigan was an underdog. I liked Michigan coming into my sophomore year, and I was into them real deep. As I got more familiar with their system and the recruiting process they kind of have more options for me.
"One my cousins that goes to Chiles (high school) he's from Michigan. He told me a lot about Flint, Mich. That gave me a real interest in Michigan."
What about Ohio State?
"I spoke with the receivers coach as well as coach (Jim) Tressel, and they are excellent guys,” Rouse said. “What he talked to me about was playing on both sides of the ball and seeing something new. That kind of gave me an interest in Ohio State."
Texas is still in the hunt based on a recommendation from Xavier Lee, one of the nation’s top players in last year’s class.
"I talked to Xavier Lee and said, 'What was your best recruiting trip?,'" Rouse said. “He said 'If I were you I would go to Texas.' I said, 'What did you like so much about Texas? I have family there so I wouldn't mind visiting.' He just said, 'Visit Texas.' I said, 'For you, I will see what it's like and go to Texas.'"
Clemson, with a pass-happy offense and a beefed-up ACC schedule, is also a factor, Rouse said.
"I've been a Tiger fan since I was young,” he said. “I'm not a huge Tiger fan, but I always looked at Clemson as a good school. I like where Clemson is coming from. I like Clemson."
The fact that Clemson has a wide-open offense also doesn’t hurt.
"You have a team that is passing the ball, and with me playing receiver, I'm going to catch it a lot,” he said. “I watched (Kevin) Youngblood and he did real excellent job catching the football. Tommy Bowden is doing a real good job up there in Clemson."