Recruiting 2008 - Unheralded Stars From 2004
West Virginia QB Pat White
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 2004 class that turned into stars.
Recruiting - Late Bloomers From 2004
Which under-the-radar prospects turned into stars?
For all the attention
that mega-recruits, such as Adrian Peterson and Ted Ginn, received four
years ago, it’s often the far more anonymous 2-star guys that make or
break the eventual 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.
Re-Ranking the 2004 Recruiting Classes
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 in a lineup.
While there were many rags-to-riches stories from the Class of 2004,
none were more profound than the 25 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.
rankings are courtesy of Scout.com
25. TE Gary Barnidge, Louisville – Although Barnidge’s only
offers came from South Florida and Louisiana-Lafayette, he ended up
being a great fit in the Cardinal offense. Long and athletic with soft
hands, he caught 108 passes and 17 touchdowns in the high-powered
Louisville attack, earning First Team All-Big East honors as a senior.
A long-time safety net down the middle for Brian Brohm, Barnidge will
try to slip into the NFL by way of the second day of the draft.
24. WR Aaron Kelly, Clemson – While the Tigers liked Kelly’s
length and potential in 2004, few thought he’d become such a dominant
receiver in the ACC. After debuting with 43 catches as a redshirt
freshman and veering off as a sophomore, he exploded for 88 receptions
and 11 touchdown grabs a year ago. Although Kelly gave strong
consideration to turning pro early, he’ll be back at Clemson in 2008
with a chance to own every major school receiving mark.
23. DB Patrick Chung, Oregon – Overlooked by schools in his home
state of California, Chung wound up choosing Oregon over programs from
the Mountain West and WAC. Although not even the most heralded
defensive back in the Oregon class of 2004, he’s gone on to start for
three straight years, turning 117 tackles into a spot on the All-Pac-10
First Team a year ago. One of the most physical safeties in the
country, Chung will put off the NFL for one more year, opting to return
to Eugene for his senior season.
22. RB Chris Johnson, East Carolina – When a player of Johnson’s
explosiveness and versatility makes it out of Florida without an offer,
it’s a pretty big upset. Last year’s leader in all-purpose yards had
some academic and injury hurdles his senior year at Orlando (Fla.)
Olympia High School, creating an opening for East Carolina to swoop in
and land a real gem of a recruit. After treading water his first three
seasons in Greenville, Johnson erupted for almost 3,000 yards of offense
in 2007, vastly improving his NFL resume.
21. CB Leodis McKelvin, Troy – A late academic qualifier coming
out of high school, McKelvin has made a living out of defying the odds
and blowing past expectations. The 78th-ranked cornerback
four years ago, he’s about to parlay some lights out return skills and
improvement as a cover guy into being one of the top 78 picks in April’s
NFL Draft. One of the unexpected stars of Senior Bowl week, McKelvin
scored nine special teams and defensive touchdowns at Troy, Earning
All-Sun Belt honors three times.
20. OL Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech – Considered by many to be
too light to compete in the trenches at this level, Gardner has steadily
added weight and strength while maintaining the athleticism that’s
helped him become one of the nation’s best tackles. Now 6-6 and close
to 300 pounds, he enters 2008 with three seasons of starting experience
and as a reigning member of the All-ACC First Team. The only other
major schools that shared Tech’s vision about Gardner were Wake Forest
and Duke, who also offered a scholarship to the developmental project.
19. OL Max Unger, Oregon – Playing at Hawaii Preparatory Academy
on the big island created some doubts whether Unger could make the leap
from a lower level of prep competition to a major college program. They
didn’t last very long, however. Unger earned Freshman All-American
honors in 2005, while landing a spot on the All-Pac-10 team the last two
seasons. Flashing the versatility to play any line position for the
Ducks, he returns in 2008 looking to become an All-American for the
18. OL Anthony Collins, Kansas – When Collins arrived in
Lawrence, he was a raw defensive end prospect that had played just one
year of organized football. He leaves Kansas a year early as an
All-American and an Outland Trophy finalist with his sights set firmly
on a career in the NFL. Collins made the permanent switch to offense in
his first year, bulked up, and has just kept getting better as a
light-footed left tackle.
17. RB Matt Forte, Tulane – Forte had exactly one I-A offer to
choose from when he was leaving high school. Lucky Tulane. Not only
did the Green Wave land a dynamite back, but it didn’t have to scratch
and claw to get his services. Although Forte has been a quality runner
and receiver for years, the nation didn’t get wind of it until last
season, when he broke out with a career-high and school-best 2,127 yards
and 23 touchdowns. He finished his college career with more than 4,000
yards on the ground and over 100 catches, a testament to his versatility
in the backfield.
16. DE Titus Brown, Mississippi State – A native of Tuscaloosa,
Brown received more love from Alabama A&M than hometown Alabama, an
indication of how lightly he was recruited by top-shelf programs. The
lack of interest, however, wound up being a boon for the Bulldogs, who
stuck with the skinny outside linebacker, helping mold him into one of
the SEC’s most ferocious rush ends. Brown got the last laugh over the
last two years, collecting 28 tackles for loss and a spot on the All-SEC
squad at the end of each season.
15. WR Ryan
Grice-Mullen, Hawaii – If you’re June Jones, what do you do with a
1-star high school quarterback/running back that shows a knack for
making plays in the open field? Well, you turn him into a
record-breaking receiver, of course. Grice-Mullen was a hand-in-glove
fit for Jones’ pass-happy offense, catching 237 passes for 3,370 yards,
and 36 touchdowns before deciding to leave Hawaii a year early for a
chance at the NFL.
14. RB Justin Forsett, Cal – Hometown Texas thought he was too
small. Notre Dame made an offer, but pulled it. Cal finally gave
Forsett a scholarship and a legitimate chance to succeed, an opportunity
he seized. A Barry Sanders-esque runner that’s shifty and more powerful
than he looks, he was an outstanding alternative to Marshawn Lynch for
two seasons before running for 1,546 yards and 15 scores as a solo act a
year ago. Next up for Forsett is the NFL, where he’s ready to carve out
a career that appeared improbable four years ago.
13. OL Branden Albert, Virginia – The 6-7 Albert was
contemplating a career in basketball before taking up football in his
junior year of high school, making him a fairly well-kept secret in
recruiting circles. The Cavaliers gambled and won with a once-raw
talent that immediately won a starting job as a freshman, growing into
one of the country’s premier blockers. A First Team All-ACC performer
last fall, Albert is off to the NFL just six years after taking up the
sport, an unlikely ascent for a one-time star of the hardwood.
12. RB Ian Johnson, Boise State – Johnson earned national acclaim
and All-America recognition as a sophomore in 2006, rushing for 1,714
yards and 25 yards for the unbeaten Broncos. It was an unexpected
outburst from a California kid that got largely ignored by Pac-10
programs, attracting most of his offers from Mountain West and WAC
schools. A seam-buster with outstanding vision, he was hampered by
injuries as a junior, but has the skill set and supporting cast to
rebound with authority in 2008.
11. LB Erin Henderson, Maryland – While Henderson began his Terp
career as a 2-star quarterback, he ended it as one of the nation’s top
outside linebackers. After redshirting in 2004 and tearing his ACL in
2005, he took off in 2006 with 114 tackles and a spot on the All-ACC
Second Team. Henderson followed that up with 133 tackles and First Team
All-ACC honors a year ago, a launching point for early entry into the
2008 NFL Draft as a potential first-day selection.
10. CB Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin – Ikegwuonu remained local to
stay close to his family and because few other non-MAC programs were
offering scholarships. Yeah, Oregon State wanted him, but that was as a
slot receiver, and by his measure, too far from home. An eventual
lockdown corner, Ikegwuonu made an instant impression on Barry Alvarez
with his speed and athletic ability, earning a spot on the All-Big Ten
First Team in 2006 and 2007. He skipped his final year with the
Badgers, but before getting to the NFL, must rehab an injured knee and
work through some legal problems, both of which will impact his draft
9. WR Jarett Dillard, Rice – A complete afterthought when he
arrived at Rice as an odd fit in Ken Hatfield’s offense, Dillard has
gone wild since the old guard was let go. With the Owls leaning far
more on the pass, he’s caught 170 balls for 2,304 yards and 35
touchdowns over the last two years, earning All-America honors and
nearly winning the Biletnikoff Award in 2006. A stunning story of
talent meeting opportunity, Dillard is a revelation that flourishes
despite not having terrific size or a lot of similarly talented players
8. OL Alex Mack, Cal – While others were waffling, Cal and Jeff
Tedford committed very early to Mack. He’s been paying both back ever
since. One of the most gifted linemen in the entire country, he’s been
named to the All-Pac-10 First Team since becoming a starter in 2006, and
is the reigning recipient of the Morris Trophy given to the Pac-10’s
best lineman. Mack could have hit the jackpot by entering April’s NFL
Draft, but has decided to play one more season with the Bears in 2008.
7. WR James Hardy, Indiana – Considered a better basketball
prospect than a football prospect four years ago, Hardy took off when he
gave up hoops to concentrate on a single sport. At 6-7 and 220 pounds,
he was a mismatch for most college defensive backs, who simply couldn’t
match him vertically. In three seasons in Bloomington, he caught 191
passes for 2,740 yards and 36 touchdowns, capping his career by named to
the All-Big Ten First Team. Earlier this month, Hardy declared early
for the NFL Draft, where he could be selected as high as the opening
6. LB Jordon Dizon, Colorado – Recruited as a tailback, most programs
shied away from Dizon, who was undersized and missed his senior year
with a high ankle sprain. He began his Buffalo career as a safety,
switched to linebacker before the 2004, and went on to be named Big 12
Freshman of the Year and the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year. It
was the beginning of a fantastic career that included All-Big 12
recognition in each of Dizon’s four seasons in Boulder, and getting
named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2007.
5. OL Jonathan Luigs, Arkansas – Just a 2-star recruit and the
127th-ranked lineman coming out of Pulaski Academy (Ark.),
Luigs has evolved into one of the nation’s premier centers. A true road
grader with good feet, quickness, and intelligence, he’s coming off an
All-American season that ended with a Rimington Trophy. Although he
would have been a certain high draft choice, Luigs has opted to return
to Fayetteville in 2008 rather than test NFL waters.
4. DE Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas – A rangy and very raw wide
receiver when he got to Arkansas, Anderson’s path to stardom didn’t
materialize until starting DE Anthony Brown went down in 2005. Anderson
switched sides of the ball, and almost instantly emerged as one of the
SEC’s most dynamic pass rushers. After dominating for two seasons in
Fayetteville, he left school early, and was the No. 8 pick overall by
the Atlanta Falcons last spring. A 16-game starter as a rookie, he
failed to register a sack, but still has a bright future on Sundays.
3. OL Ryan Clady, Boise State – If college coaches knew four
years ago what they know today about Clady, he never would have made it
out of California without a bunch of Pac-10 scholarship offers. A
two-time All-American and a truly special all-around protector, he
projects as one of the first offensive linemen selected in this year’s
NFL Draft. Despite playing defensive line in high school, Clady bloomed
very early in his career, a case of a recruit getting completely
overlooked by programs with far more resources than Boise State.
2. CB Aqib Talib, Kansas – Watching Talib blanket opposing
receivers, make plays on offense, and rack up postseason honors over the
last three seasons, it’s hard to fathom he was just a 2-star prospect
four years ago. A two-time All-American for the Jayhawks and the MVP of
this year’s Orange Bowl, he’s one of those rare, Deion-like playmakers
that can change the tenor of a game from the secondary. Seemingly ready
for the next challenge, Talib left Lawrence as a junior, and will be a
high draft choice in April.
1. QB Patrick White, West Virginia – Most schools liked White’s
potential as an athlete. West Virginia was the only one willing to give
him a shot at playing quarterback. Smart move, Mounties. White left
Alabama for Morgantown determined to remain behind center, while proving
his detractors wrong. In three years, he’s established himself as one
of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the Big East, rushing for 3,506
yards and 39 touchdowns, and throwing for 4,207 yards and 35 more
scores. A gamebreaker outside the pocket and an improving passer, White
has one more season of eligibility left to pile up the individual honors
and get West Virginia back to another BCS bowl game.