Everyone knows about the four and five star prospects, but what about the guys no one cared about yet turned into superstars? Richard Cirminiello looks at the afterthoughts from the 2005 class that turned into stars.
Recruiting – Late Bloomers From 2005
For all the attention that mega-recruits, such as Darren McFadden and Mark Sanchez, received four years ago, it’s often the far more anonymous two-star kids that make or break the long-term evaluation of a recruiting class. They represent the foundation for so many universities that are fortunate to land even one blue-chipper in a cycle, let alone multiple can’t miss prospects.
Every year, there are gobs of athletes that soar past expectations, making their high school ratings appear uninformed and their new coaching staffs look like geniuses. They bloom late, overachieve, and forever leave behind a day when NFL scouts, agents, and members of the media couldn’t pick them out of a lineup.
While there were many rags-to-riches stories from the Class of 2005, none were more profound than the handful below, all of whom made the journey from being no more than a 2-star recruit at the outset of their respective careers to a 4- or 5-star performer today.
*Historical rankings are courtesy of Scout.com
QB Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan – Coming out of high school, LeFevour had to practically beg MAC schools for attention and a free ride. Today, he’s evolved into a Big Ten-caliber dual-threat, who’s getting the last laugh. A quarterback wrapped in a fullback’s body, he’s accounted for 106 touchdowns and almost 12,000 yards, while blazing a path that has another stop in the NFL.
QB Darryl Clark, Penn State – As Clark struggled toward the end of his high school career, the offers from bigger schools dried up. Penn State hung in, and is just now reaping the rewards. In his debut as a starter, he was named first team All-Big Ten, leading the Nits to a conference championship. With another year of eligibility left, he’s got a chance to go down as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in school history.
RB Donald Brown, Connecticut – It’s not like Brown wasn’t getting name-brand offers, but he was still unable to get past that two-star threshold. An All-Big East pick as a redshirt freshman, he really went berserk last year, rushing for a nation’s-best 2,083 yards and 18 touchdowns. Shortly after burning Buffalo for 261 yards in the International Bowl, he announced he was leaving school early for the NFL.
RB Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati – Watching Gilyard zip past opposing defenses and kick coverage teams, it’s hard to believe he got out of Florida without of bunch of offers. He just moves like he belongs in a Gator or Hurricane uniform. A running back coming out of high school, he shifted to wide receiver, catching 81 passes in 2008 and being named the Big East Special Teams Player of the Year.
RB P.J. Hill, Wisconsin – After Ron Dayne and now Hill, the Badgers pretty much have the blueprint on how to land battering ram runners from the Eastern seaboard. Hill was an instant hit as a redshirt freshman, rushing for 1,569 yards and 18 scores in the first of his three 1,000-yard seasons. Feeling he’d accomplished all he could in Madison, he’ll be taking his game to the pros in 2009.
RB Kevin Smith, UCF – It was evident right away that the big boys had missed the boat on Smith. As a true freshman, he rushed for 1,000 yards in a prelude for one of the great seasons by a back in NCAA history. In 2007, without much warning, he led the country with 2,567 yards rushing, second most ever to Barry Sanders in 1988. Smith spent last season with the Detroit Lions, falling 24 yards shy of a 1,000-yard debut.
RB Sean Smith, Utah – Smith arrived in Salt Lake City as an athlete, a catch-all for those without a firm position, and is leaving as an NFL-ready cornerback. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, he’s built like a well-sized safety, yet moves with the ease and agility of a wide receiver. He’s using a huge junior year as a springboard to the NFL, picking off five passes and earning a spot of the All-Mountain West first team.
WR Eric Decker, Minnesota – Largely overlooked four years ago, Decker has blossomed into one of the nation’s premier wideouts. Fundamentally sound in all facets of the position, he’s the school’s most prolific receiver with 177 catches for 2,391 yards and 19 touchdowns. After surprising people as a sophomore, he was named first team All-Big Ten in 2008.
WR Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma – An afterthought in a star-studded class of Sooners, Iglesias just kept getting better and better throughout his career. A disciplined route runner, who does all of the little things well, he’s hauled in 202 career receptions for 2,861 yards and 19 touchdowns, while earning All-Big 12 recognition in back-to-back years.
WR Eron Riley, Duke – If the rest of the ACC had any idea Riley would be this good, Duke probably would never have had a chance. He was just far enough below the radar, however, which has benefited the Blue Devils for the last four years. An All-ACC lock and a starter since early in his career, he’s gone on to catch 144 balls for 2,413 yards and 22 touchdowns without a ton of support around him.
WR Brandon Tate, North Carolina – Before suffering a season-ending injury in October, Tate was headed for an All-American final season in Chapel Hill. A natural playmaker whenever he touches the ball, he scored on a run, reception, and punt return in just the first two games. He has a pro career ahead of him if the knee injury doesn’t cause any setbacks.
TE Connor Barwin, Cincinnati – Yet another shining example of Cincy’s knack for coaching kids up, Barwin excelled at multiple positions, despite getting modest attention from larger schools. A tight end when he arrived, he didn’t skip a beat when the Bearcats needed help at defensive end. In his only year on defense, he led the Big East in sacks, and is being look at as an NFL prospect on both sides of the line.
OL Zane Beadles, Utah – Outside of the Mountain West, there was little interest in Beadles. Today, he’s a Pac-10-caliber lineman making a path to the NFL. The starting left tackle on a very good Ute line, he’s been named all-league following each of the last two seasons.
OL Cord Howard, Georgia Tech – With one more season of eligibility left, Howard is on the verge of becoming one of the ACC’s top offensive lineman. A good fit in the Yellow Jackets’ new option offense, the 6-5, 310-pounder was a member of the all-conference second team in 2008.
OL Ryan McKee, Southern Miss – The most consistent blocker for the Golden Eagles over the last couple of years, McKee is hoping to continue his playing career at the next level. Even while recovering from a labrum injury in his shoulder, he’s been invited to the NFL Combine, where he can show off light feet as a pass protector and brute strength as a run blocker.
OL Greg Isdaner, West Virginia – Absolutely no one other than West Virginia was willing to give a shot to Isdaner, who’d spent more time playing lacrosse than football in high school. Line coach Rick Trickett got his hands on him and quickly turned him into one of the Big East’s more dominant run blockers. With a degree already in hand, he’s off to the NFL, hoping to quiet doubters once again.
OL George Selvie, South Florida – When Selvie got to South Florida, he was an undersized and under recruited center. Most schools didn’t think he was big enough to play at this level. Today, he’s one of the ferocious pass rushers in the country. An All-American two years ago, he took the country by storm with 31.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. He’s got one more year to play his way into the first day of the 2010 draft.
DL Sen’Derrick Marks, Auburn – Coming out of high school, Marks was an overlooked defensive end. In four years, he’s grown into a top-tier interior lineman, who’s good enough to leave early for the NFL Draft. Although he’s now almost 300 pounds, he hasn’t lost much of the quickness that makes him so difficult to block.
DL Vance Walker, Georgia Tech – How did so many schools miss the mark with this guy? All Tech had to beat out to land Walker was East Carolina, Georgia Southern, and Coastal Carolina. He’s been paying the Jackets back ever since, living in opposing backfields and getting named first team All-ACC in consecutive years.
DL Terrill Byrd, Cincinnati – If not Cincinnati, Byrd would have spent the last four years in the MAC. Reportedly too short to be a factor in the Big East, he used that leverage to his advantage, routinely ripping through offensive line and making stops for losses. He’s been all-league in each of the last two seasons.
DL Jammie Kirlew, Indiana – Whoever went to Orlando and snuck this guy out of Florida deserves a promotion on the Indiana staff. Kirlew has been a revelation for the Hoosiers, starting since his freshman season and emerging as a Ted Hendricks Award finalist as a junior. In a breakout year, he finished second in the Big Ten with 19.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
DL Dexter Davis, Arizona State – Davis started as a redshirt freshman in 2006, and has been making big plays ever since. One of the Pac-10’s best pass rushers, he’s amassed 39 tackles for loss, 27.5 sacks, and eight forced fumbles, with a year of eligibility still left in Tempe.
DL Victor Butler, Oregon State – Butler is an example of the Beavers’ ability to take mid-level high school talent and coach it into NFL-ready players. Other than Oregon State, he was only getting looks from the likes of Colorado State, UCF, and San Diego State. The team’s fastest defensive lineman, he’s had 22.5 sacks in the last two years, finishing second in the Pac-10 in 2008.
LB Michael Tauiliili, Duke – What a find for the Blue Devils, who went all the way to Houston to sign one of their all-time best defensive players. Tauiliili de-committed from Louisiana Tech when he signed with Duke, and went on to make 415 tackles, 47 tackles for loss, and seven picks in a career filled with individual honors.
LB Joe Pawelek, Baylor – For Pawelek, the decision came down to Baylor, Washington State, or Houston. He chose to stay closer to home, and the Bears have been thanking him ever since. Also a gifted baseball player, he’s been making an impact since his redshirt freshman season, racking up at least 86 tackles and a bunch of All-Big 12 accolades each season.
LB Albert McClellan, Marshall – At Lakeland (Fla.) High, everyone knew McClellan was a fantastic athlete, but many wondered if he had the size to hold up. He answered his critics, adding more weight and moving a level closer to the quarterback. As an edge-rushing end, he was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2006, but was detoured a year later when he tore his ACL.
DB Ryan Hamilton, Vanderbilt – Shame on you, Penn State, for not landing this safety. He was in your backyard and was a fan of the program. The Lions’ loss was the Dores’ gain. A three-year starter, he’s got good ball skills and loves contact. He peaked a year ago, making 104 tackles and picking off four passes.
DB Jordan Lake, Baylor – If not for Baylor coming through with a late offer, Lake might have spent the last four seasons at Tulsa or Tulane. The Bears are thrilled he didn’t. As one of the most intimidating hitters in the Big 12, he’s had no less than 97 tackles in each of the last two seasons, making the All-Big 12 team both years.
DB Louis Delmas, Western Michigan – Delmas was making all kinds of headlines at last week’s Senior Bowl, hardly what anyone expected when he was signed by the Broncos in 2005. Yet another Floridian, who found more love outside the state lines, he’s off to the NFL after starting all four years and earning All-MAC honors in 2007 and 2008.
DB Joe Burnett, UCF – Burnett would have liked more attention from the state’s powerhouses, Florida, Miami, and Florida State, but it never came. So, he took the next best option, choosing to play in Orlando. A four-year starter and one of the country’s best return men, he quickly emerged as a ball hawk in the Knight secondary.
DB Jairus Byrd, Oregon – Byrd grew up in Missouri, but no one in the Big 12, or the Midwest, showed any interest. He’d have to go all the way to Eugene, where his athleticism and playmaking ability would really be appreciated. Before bolting for the NFL, he was a three-year starter for the Ducks, capping a terrific career by being named the Defensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl.
DB Mike Mickens, Cincinnati – Mickens appeared to be headed for Bowling Green before Mark Dantonio stepped in and changed his mind. That move would benefit the Bearcats for four seasons. A starter and member of the All-Big East squad each year, he finished his Cincy career with 45 passes defended and 14 interceptions.
DB Kyle Wilson, Boise State – Considered to be too small by most schools, Wilson opted to go clear across the country to play in Idaho. A dynamite athlete on defense and special teams, he got a fourth-round grade from the NFL advisory committee, but decided to spend one more year in Boise. He took three punts back for touchdowns in 2008, and earned All-WAC first team honors as a cornerback.