Malik Vann’s lengthy recruiting road has stopped in Clifton.
The Fairfield High School junior defensive end is excited and relieved after verbally committing to the University of Cincinnati football program and new head coach Luke Fickell.
“It’s a huge weight off my back,” Vann said Wednesday afternoon after taking the ACT. “It was a hard decision, but at the end of the day, I could only pick one school, and I felt like UC would be the best fit for me. It just felt right.”
Vann announced his decision Tuesday, but the blue-chip recruit said he told Fickell just before the Bearcats’ spring game last Friday.
The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Vann said UC and Michigan State were his top two schools in a group of finalists that included Alabama, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
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“I’ve been all over, so distance was never really an issue,” said Vann, who plans to major in criminal justice at UC and would like to work for the FBI someday.
“It was just a chance to play for my home city and rebuild something vs. going somewhere that’s already established. It’s a chance to give my city something back that’s been lost the past few years and do it with the people who already live here.”
Fairfield coach Jason Krause feels strongly that Vann made a wise decision.
“He had some really big offers, and I think kids can get carried away with some things,” Krause said. “I think Malik looked at the entire picture, which is what you want kids to do. Your feeling. Your fit. The relationship that you’ve built with the coaches recruiting you. Your comfortability. The opportunities for you to play. The major he wanted.
“It’s tough for kids to go through this process, especially when you’ve got so many offers. I commend his mother. They made a lot of visits over the last few months, being in the car, catching a plane. She did a really good job of offering him those opportunities to make this decision in the right manner.”
Cincinnati is coming off a 4-8 season under Tommy Tuberville, who resigned in early December after four years at the helm. Fickell was named head coach Dec. 10.
Vann got his first scholarship offer from UC as a freshman, but he wasn’t seriously considering Cincinnati before Fickell arrived.
“I just loved Fickell,” Vann said. “I love the attitude and intensity and energy he brings to UC. I’ll definitely get behind a leader like that.”
Fickell has brought immediate optimism to the Bearcat program and is attracting high-level recruits.
Vann said his feeling about UC was bolstered by the recent commitments of guys like Blake Bacevich of St. Xavier, Josh Whyle of La Salle and Ty Van Fossen of Columbus DeSales. He’s also become close with La Salle’s Jarell White, who signed in February.
Krause is happy to see Cincinnati targeting local players.
“With me being a guy that’s from this area and being here during those times when Butch Jones and Brian Kelly and those guys were recruiting our area pretty heavily, it wasn’t really working that way the last few years,” Krause said. “One of the things Coach Fickell has brought is his intent to recruit within a hundred-mile radius very heavily, especially schools in the suburbs of Cincinnati.”
Vann has played football since the age of 5. He’s been in the Fairfield school system since the seventh grade, having spent time in the Northwest and North College Hill districts.
He is planning to graduate from Fairfield in December and start classes at UC in January. Vann said redshirting will be up to the coaches, but added, “It’s not in my plan.”
“I’m happy to get this out of my way and focus on my senior season,” Vann said. “The recruiting process was fun in the beginning, but toward the end of it, it was a headache. I just got to a point where I was like, ‘All right. I’ve seen it all. I’ve talked to everybody. Let’s just make a decision.’ ”
Krause said the following schools also made offers to Vann: Duke, Florida State, Iowa, Iowa State, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Miami (Fla.), Minnesota, Notre Dame, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers, Toledo and West Virginia.