Recruiting 2010 - 2006
The 2-Stars Who Became 5-Stars
Recruiting - The 5 Star Prospects of 2006
For all of the attention that mega-recruits, such as Beanie Wells and Gerald McCoy, received four years ago, it’s often the far more anonymous two-star guys who 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.
Every year, there are gobs of untapped athletes who soar well beyond 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 2006, a handful stood out for the length of their progression in four short years. Though they may have begun with a mere two-star designation, all have carved out four or five-star careers, with a chance to continue playing on Sundays.
*Historical rankings from 2006 are courtesy of Scout.com
10. LB Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut - Husky head coach Randy Edsall is at it again. Downright masterful at taking marginal prospects and coaching them into stars, Wilson is his current big success story in Storrs. The staff didn’t even have to tiptoe around Tuscaloosa to land the linebacker. No one from the SEC, let alone Alabama, was offering him a scholarship. He’s used it as a motivational tool at Connecticut, starting the past three seasons and racking up 326 tackles, including a Big East-best 140 a year ago. During last season’s run to the postseason, he was hellish from the weakside, using his speed to make plays from sideline to sideline and vertically in the backfield. What he lacks in ideal size, he more than makes up for with acceleration and explosiveness, a trade-off that could land him in the NFL in 2011.
9. RB Damion Fletcher, Southern Miss - By SEC standards, the kid from Biloxi (Miss.) High School was a little too small and a step too slow. The disruption of Hurricane Katrina, which nearly cancelled his senior year, was yet another hurdle that had to be overcome. Everyone else’s loss wound up being Southern Miss’ gain. Fletcher carved out a brilliant career in Hattiesburg, becoming just the ninth player in NCAA history to run for more than 1,000 yards in all four seasons and scoring 46 times. His 5,302 yards on the ground put him No. 8 on the all-time rushing list, just ahead of such luminaries as Herschel Walker and LaDainian Tomlinson. The size and the straight-line speed will again be under scrutiny by a new set of evaluators, but the NFL would wise to give Fletcher a long, hard look. He just knows how to pick up yards, hitting the hole in an instant and weaving through traffic with a sudden change of direction.
8. CB Amari Spievey, Iowa - Maybe it was a lack of respect for the state of Connecticut or the competition Spievey faced at Xavier High School that made him a well-kept secret. Fortunately, Kirk Ferentz knew a little something about the region, having played his ball at UConn. Whatever the reason, the corner got largely overlooked and underrated, allowing the Hawkeyes to swoop in and make a steal. After redshirting in 2006 and playing at Iowa Central Community College in 2007, Spievey had an instant impact on the Iowa D, earning All-Big Ten honors in 2008 and 2009. Opposing quarterbacks stopped bothering to look in his direction last fall, one of a number of factors that prompted him to declare early for April’s NFL Draft. A gifted cover corner, with good size, he should be off the board no later than the middle rounds.
7. WR Danario Alexander, Missouri - Under the radar? Alexander knows a little something about that neighborhood. Even after delivering one of the greatest individual seasons ever for a Tiger playmaker, he still couldn’t even make the semifinal list for the Biletnikoff Award, an honor designated solely for wide receivers. All he did in a breakthrough senior year was catch 113 passes for a nation’s-high 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns, flourishing from outside the shadow of former Mizzou star Jeremy Maclin. Physically, he was a late bloomer in high school, earning the nickname “dust mite” and mostly getting looks from Conference USA schools, like Houston and SMU. To the delight of the staff that gave him his best chance for national success and notoriety, he grew to 6-5 and 215 pounds, a physical, Terrell Owens-like receiver, with a bright future in the NFL.
6. DE Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh - Four years ago, Dave Wannstedt plucked Romeus out of Florida without too much of a fight. Today, he’d be fending off Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, and Randy Shannon. Actually, it’s tough to fault the Big 3 for missing the boat on the skinny kid from Coral Springs. Romeus was a basketball player until his senior year, when he was convinced to try out for the football team. After one year, he was getting offers from the likes of Akron and UCF, but the Pitt program and coaching staff just felt right. Under the watchful eye of defensive line coach Greg Gattuso, he’s blossomed from a raw 220-pound athlete to a 270-pound all-star pass rusher. A back-to-back All-Big East selection, with 38.5 tackles for loss over the last three years, he put off a sure-fire NFL career to return to school for one final season.
5. QB Todd Reesing, Kansas - Too short. For the NFL? Possibly. To be a star in a major conference? No way. Despite piling up numbers at Lake Travis (Tex.) High School in Austin, all most people saw was his height, which was below 6-0. Hey, it’s hardly prototypical, to be sure, but a handful of coaches decided to look beyond it. Mark Mangino was the only one from a Big 12 program. The old tenet that you can’t measure a kid’s heart or drive certainly applied to Reesing. He graduated high school early in order to get a jump start in Lawrence and found his way into the huddle as a true freshman. Four years later, he’d led the Jayhawks to the Orange Bowl and was the most prolific passer in Kansas history, accounting for 105 touchdowns and almost 12,000 yards of total offense. A short story with a fairytale ending.
4. QB Case Keenum, Houston - It’s a good thing Keenum committed early to play for the Cougars because it ended up being the only FBS offer he received. Suffice it to say, it’s been a great fit for both parties. Although Art Briles leveraged his relationship with the family to sign him, Kevin Sumlin has enjoyed most of the benefits from No. 7. Over the last two seasons, Keenum has thrown for more than 10,000 yards and 88 touchdowns, deftly running the high-powered, up-tempo Houston attack. No, he wouldn’t fit every program’s offensive blueprint, but his accuracy, quick release, and feel for the pocket have helped transform him into a Heisman contender. With one more season of eligibility left, he has an opportunity to add to his growing haul of records and continue to keep the Cougars in the national spotlight.
3. LB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri - Although being displaced by Hurricane Rita for about a month in the fall of 2005 didn’t help, a bunch of schools in the Southwest flat out whiffed on Weatherspoon. A dynamite three-sport athlete from Jasper (Tex.) High School, he was unable to generate a ton of interest from the state’s largest programs. Instead, he was resigned to attending Houston, Tulane, or Iowa State until Mizzou made a commitment and stuck with it. The school has been benefiting ever since. A one-man wrecking crew, Weatherspoon combines outstanding athleticism with the ferocity to unleash game-changing hits. A starter since his sophomore year, he’s a three-time All-Big 12 selection, with more than 400 tackles and 44 stops behind the line. That rare playmaker on defense, who’ll make one whale of a pro, he has far exceeded expectations since arriving with only a modest buzz.
2. DT Terrence Cody, Alabama - This story could have easily gone in a different direction for Cody. Always enormous and shockingly quick for his size, academics and a variety of off-field distractions proved to be his biggest hurdles to athletic success. Things got so bad, that he actually missed his sophomore and junior years of football in high school. Although he played well as a senior, most schools had either forgotten about him or were too afraid to take the risk. He probably wouldn’t have qualified anyway, which made Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College a logical first step. Cody used it as a launching point to Tuscaloosa, where he earned All-America honors in consecutive years for his ability to clog running lanes, occupy multiple blockers, and disrupt the rhythm of an offense. Almost completely out of football during high school, he’s now staring at the reality of being a high NFL Draft choice in April.
1. DE Jerry Hughes, TCU - So, what do you do with the oversized high school running back, who was not being recruited by the Southwest’s prominent schools? If you’re Gary Patterson, you mold him into one of the nation’s nastiest pass rushers. Hughes is a microcosm of the Horned Frogs’ recent success, a great athlete willing to move around and be coached into a star at a different position. From a 6-1, 215-pound skill position player at Stephen F. Austin (Tex.) High School to a 6-3, 260-pound terror off the edge, he blossomed into a nationally-recognized commodity. A two-time All-American and 2009 winner of the Ted Hendricks Award, he produced 36 tackles for loss and 26.5 sacks since becoming a full-timer in 2008. It was a strange career path for a kid, who could just have easily spent the last four years as an anonymous running back at North Texas or Iowa State.