Originally written on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 10/23/14

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 31: Head coach Gary Pinkel of the Missouri Tigers leads his team against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on October 31, 2009 in Boulder, Colorado. Missouri defeated Colorado 36-17. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Gary Pinkel is reaping the early benefits on the recruiting trail of the Mizzou football team's breakthrough season last fall. With the announcement that Lee's Summit quarterback Drew Lock verbally committed to the Tigers, Pinkel's program added its third four-star prospect in just eight days. That's a significant development for Missouri, a program that has not had a recruiting class ranked among the top 20 by Rivals.com or Scout.com during the Pinkel era. Lock, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder whose father and grandfather both played football at Mizzou, is rated by Rivals.com as the fifth-best pocket passer in the Class of 2015 and the 148th-best prospect overall. "I have decided to play football in the SEC, two hours down the road," Lock said during his announcement on Wednesday night when he chose the Tigers over scholarship offers from Ohio State, Texas, Michigan State, Tennessee and others. Lock joins a recruiting class that includes four-star offensive lineman A.J. Harris from Blue Valley High School in Stilwell, Kansas, four-star East St. Louis (Ill.) running back Natereace Strong, three-star Lee's Summit West running back Ryan Williams and Hutchinson (KS) Community College freshman running back Chase Abbington. "The one question that people have asked me this week is ‘Why are you committing so early?'" Lock said. "And my one answer to that would be to help the recruiting class of the school I'm going to. I feel like the quarterback is probably one of the key things in recruiting classes." Lock has told reporters he has already been in touch with Columbia Rock Bridge wide receiver Alex Ofodile and Jefferson City Helias tight end Hale Hentges. Both are also four-star prospects who are, like Lock was, already highly sought-after prospects. The quarterback cited a couple reasons for picking his home-state school. "I was sitting in class one day and my phone buzzed a little bit and I wondered what could that be, and it was a SportsCenter update that said Coach Pinkel has signed a multi-year contract extension," Lock said. "That was one of the big things to me was coaching stability and I couldn't have been more happier when I got that. I feel like I really fit easily in the offense, being that Lee's Summit High School does run a spread and so does Missouri. That couldn't be more of an attraction to me. The biggest thing to me was definitely the family environment that Missouri has." Lock, who was also recruited by Division I schools as a basketball prospect, was highly productive in that Lee's Summit system last season as a junior. He completed 60 percent of his passes (199 of 331) for 3,062 yards and 35 touchdowns as the Tigers went 10-2. Harris, a 297-pounder rated as the 14th-best offensive guard in his class, committed to Mizzou last Tuesday. Strong, rated as the 21st-best running back in the class and 212th overall prospect nationally, committed on Tuesday when he and his high school team visited Columbia. Abbington was Mizzou's highest-rated recruit in the Class of 2013, the only four-star prospect according to Rivals, but failed to qualify academically and had to go the junior college route. While the star system isn't something that Pinkel and his coaching staff are concerned with — you can read more about that here in this story from February (http://msn.foxsports.com/midwest/story/under-pinkel-mizzou-has-thrived-finding-and-developing-lower-rated-players-020414) — it's still worth noting that the three four-star recruits to have committed to Pinkel's progam recently equals the number the Tigers signed in their past two recruiting classes combined. More importantly for Mizzou, gaining verbal commitments from players like Harris, Strong and Lock represents winning recruiting battles against other top programs. Harris had scholarship offers from Ohio State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Arkansas among others. Strong had offers from Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois and Kansas. The Tigers' only four-star signees in the Class of 2014, according to Rivals, were offensive lineman Andy Bauer and wide receiver Nate Brown. Pinkel signed just two players in the Class of 2012 who ranked as four stars or better in five-star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and four-star offensive lineman Evan Boehm. The Tigers' only four-star prospect in 2011 was junior college defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. The recent additions of Harris, Strong and now Lock to Mizzou's recruiting class pushed the Tigers to No. 24 nationally on Rivals' team recruiting rankings and ninth among Southeastern Conference schools. But with 10 months left until National Signing Day, this class is already shaping up as one of the best in Pinkel's time at Missouri. You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.
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