July 14, 2011

Rivals at 10: Best two-star prospects

With roughly 3,000 high school kids signing letters of intent with FBS programs every February, it's impossible to rate each one perfectly. Hey, NFL teams mess up first-round draft picks on an annual basis - and that means they blow millions of dollars.

Still, this piece is a mea culpa of sorts for some of those recruits whose full potential we didn't appreciate when they were in high school.

Many recruits listed here changed positions and/or their bodies. Some were late-bloomers. And, hey, coaches making millions of dollars missed on these guys, too. So, nobody's perfect.

Here is the Rivals.com All-Two-Star team of the past 10 years.

QB Case Keenum, Houston
Signing class: 2006
High school: Abilene (Texas) Wylie
Buzz: Keenum was considered too short (6 feet 1) and too skinny (182 pounds) out of high school to garner major offers, despite leading his team to a state title as a junior. Keenum also dabbled in basketball and track. Houston, then coached by Art Briles, was the only program to offer him a scholarship, though UTEP and Baylor also showed interest. Keenum was a part-time starter as a redshirt freshman in 2007, the year after Kevin Kolb left. In 2008, Keenum bulked up and became the perfect triggerman for Briles' prolific passing offense, but he reached his full potential under Kevin Sumlin. Keenum passed for 5,000 yards in back-to-back seasons and threw 88 touchdown passes in 2008-09. He returns this season after missing most of 2010 with a torn ACL.
RB Montel Harris, Boston College
Signing class: 2008
High school: Jacksonville Trinity Christian
Buzz: A onetime Duke commitment, Harris had trouble receiving his due even in his own signing class at Boston College in 2008. Four-star Josh Haden was the more heralded recruit that year. That lasted about three games. Harris rushed for 112 yards against UCF in the third game of his freshman year, then 143 and three touchdowns against Rhode Island. Entering his senior season, Harris - who was the "other" running back in high school with former Clemson starter Jamie Harper - is well on his way to becoming a record-holder. With 3,600 career rushing yards, Harris is 125 yards short of the school record held by Derrick Knight (2000-03) and 1,002 short of the ACC career record held by North Carolina State's Ted Brown (1975-76).
RB Jordan Todman, Connecticut
Signing class: 2008
High school: Dartmouth (Mass.) High
Buzz: Todman rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a high school junior and senior, but skeptics probably pointed out that Massachusetts isn't exactly a recruiting hotbed. Todman was the fourth-ranked recruit in the state that year. The three ahead of him went to Boston College, but none became stars. Purdue offered Todman, and Penn State and Boston College made a late push. Todman ended up at Connecticut, where he rushed for 1,695 yards and 14 touchdowns during the Huskies' run to their first BCS game last season.
WR Danario Alexander, Missouri
Signing class: 2006
High school: Marlin (Texas) High
Buzz: Alexander was a clear case of Missouri's coaching staff keeping its eyes open. The Tigers were recruiting QB Jeremy Sanders at Marlin when they found something they liked in Alexander. Sanders never went to Missouri - he went to a junior college, then to Baylor - but Alexander turned out to be the bigger prize. He was a complementary receiver for his first three years, then burst out with 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior in 2009.
WR James Rodgers, Oregon State
Signing class: 2007
High school: Rosenberg (Texas) Lamar Consolidated
Buzz: Oregon State discovered Rodgers, from the Houston area, at an all-star game in Florida during his senior year. He was small (5-7), but he was a burner. Oregon State was the only FBS program to offer Rodgers and had to break off his commitment to FCS member Texas State. Recruiting Rodgers paid off in the next signing class, when the Beavers signed his brother Jacquizz. The younger Rodgers was a more coveted recruit, but Jacquizz said he appreciated the way Oregon State recruited James for James, not as a way to get to Jacquizz. While Jacquizz left for the NFL after last season. James still is at Oregon State, hoping to return from a major knee injury suffered last season.
TE Dennis Pitta, BYU
Signing class: 2003
High school: Moorpark (Calif.) High
Buzz: Almost no program was interested in Pitta as a high school senior, when he was a 6-4, 190-pound wide receiver. When Pitta graduated high school, no one envisioned him as a star tight end. Pitta received interest from Dartmouth and Yale but received no Division I scholarship offers. The best he could get was a preferred walk-on spot at BYU, where he would grayshirt, then travel for a Mormon mission before he'd become a finished product. He ended his career in 2009 with 2,901 yards and 21 touchdowns - and weighing 247 pounds.
T Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
Signing class: 2007
High school: Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy
Buzz: Castonzo was a five-star prospect academically, posting a near-perfect score on the ACT. On the field, though, he graduated from Lake Zurich (Ill.) High without any scholarship offers, so he enrolled at Fork Union. Thanks to his impressive transcript, he earned scholarship offers from, among others, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Virginia. He ended up at Boston College, where he developed into a first-round NFL draft pick.
T Ryan Clady, Boise State
Signing class: 2004
High school: Rialto (Calif.) Eisenhower
Buzz: Clady's story is a typical one for Boise State. The programs in the area (USC and UCLA) glanced at Clady, who primarily played defense at Rialto Eisenhower, but the major programs never offered him a scholarship. He found a believer in then-Boise coach Dan Hawkins, who loved Clady's footwork. The big-time programs regretted whiffing on Clady when he was a starting tackle for the Broncos' undefeated Fiesta Bowl-winning team in 2006. Clady was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.
G Moe Petrus, Connecticut
Signing class: 2007
High school: St. Laurent (Quebec) Vanier
Buzz: Connecticut became a Big East contender thanks to some creative recruiting. The Huskies ventured into Canada to pick up Petrus, who will become a four-year starter this season. Petrus started his career at guard, where he blocked for the nation's leading rusher, Donald Brown, in 2008. He since has shifted to center, where he blocked for the nation's No. 2 rusher, Jordan Todman, last season.
G Mike Iupati, Idaho
Signing class: 2005
High school: Anaheim (Calif.) Western
Buzz: Iupati was a defensive tackle in high school, not a guard. His grades slipped after he moved from American Samoa to California in high school. Although Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State and UTEP recruited him, his academic issues ultimately kept him from going to a "bigger" program. He found a home at Idaho, where he led the Vandals to just their second bowl appearance in program history. He was a first-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2010 draft.
C Alex Mack, California
Signing class: 2004
High school: Santa Barbara (Calif.) San Marcos
Buzz: He had offers from Northwestern and UCLA but ended up signing with Cal in a class with star RBs Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett. Two years later, Mack was the starting center blocking for those future NFL backs. By the end of his career, Mack was a three-time first-team All-Pac-10 selection, a two-time Rimington Trophy finalist and a first-team Rivals.com All-American.
E Jerry Hughes, TCU
Signing class: 2006
High school: Sugar Land (Texas) Austin
Buzz: TCU coach Gary Patterson built the Horned Frogs' program on finding underrated recruits in Texas and developing them into NFL-bound prospects. One of his biggest victories was Hughes, who was a 6-2, 215-pound running back in high school. Iowa State and North Texas recruited him, too, but Hughes could have played anywhere once he became a 6-3, 257-pound defensive end. He was a two-time consensus All-American, a Nagurski and Lombardi finalist and a first-round NFL draft pick.
T Amobi Okoye, Louisville
Signing class: 2003
High school: Huntsville (Ala.) Lee
Buzz: Louisville took a risk in signing Okoye because he was just 16 as a high school senior. The Nigerian-born lineman skipped two grades and entered Huntsville Lee at age 12. Though the age difference may have been awkward off the field, Okoye played beyond his years on the field - in high school and in college. He played as a true freshman at Louisville and became a second-team All-American for the 11-1 Big East champions in 2006.
T B.J. Raji, Boston College
Signing class: 2004
High school: Washington Township (N.J.) Westwood
Buzz: A late-bloomer, Raji repaid Boston College's faith in him. The Eagles offered him in October of his senior year, once he started to look like a major-conference prospect. Wisconsin and Rutgers followed suit, but he stuck with BC. Raji anchored a top-10 defense in 2008 and earned third-team All-America honors that season. He was the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 draft and started for the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers last season.
E J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Signing class: 2007
High school: Pewaukee (Wis.) High
Buzz: Watt needed a few years to find a home - and a scholarship. Once settled, he became a star. As a high school senior, Watt committed to Minnesota before the Gophers fired Glen Mason. But new Gophers coach Tim Brewster paid him scant attention, so Watt ended up signing at Central Michigan as a tight end. After Chippewas coaches asked him to move to offensive line, Watt transferred and walked-on at Wisconsin. He changed positions there, this time to defense. At end, Watt had 36.5 tackles for a loss in two seasons and led the Badgers to the 2011 Rose Bowl. The Houston Texans selected him No. 11 overall in the 2011 draft.
LB Tank Carder, TCU
Signing class: 2007
High school: Sweeney (Texas) High
Buzz: We said Jerry Hughes was Gary Patterson's best success story at TCU. We might need to add to date to that phrase. At least Hughes had some FBS offers out of high school. Though Carder has a name fit for a linebacker, he didn't have any big-time offers. He played quarterback, fullback, tailback and linebacker in addition to punting and kicking. And before football, he was an active BMX biker. All that was enough to get him scholarship offers from West Texas A&M and Texas A&M-Kingsville. Last season, he was the Mountain West defensive player of the year and the defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl. He's a preseason All-America selection this year.
LB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
Signing class: 2004
High school: Fayetteville (N.C.) E.E. Smith
Buzz: Curry picked the Demon Deacons over East Carolina. Like many Jim Grobe recruits, Curry took a redshirt season to develop. He delivered a solid redshirt freshman season, then truly began to blossom as a sophomore, when he was a starter on Wake Forest's ACC championship team in 2006. Curry won the Butkus Award as a senior before he was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft.
LB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
Signing class: 2006
High school: Jasper (Texas) High
Buzz: Hurricane Rita in 2005 displaced Weatherspoon during the recruiting process, but Missouri never forgot about him. He was ignored by the major-conference programs in the Lone Star State - TCU and Houston were the only in-state schools to offer Weatherspoon - and Missouri landed him. He anchored the Tigers' defense from 2007-09. Weatherspoon finished his career with 406 tackles and 44 tackles for loss before becoming a first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2010.
CB Aqib Talib, Kansas
Signing class: 2004
High school: Richardson (Texas) Berkner
Buzz: Before Talib started to run into legal trouble in the NFL, he was an under-the-radar prospect in the Dallas Metroplex. His high school coach, Jim Ledford, was a believer. He compared to Talib to another former player of his, Marcus Coleman, a 10-year NFL veteran. Talib received offers from Arizona, Baylor, Tulsa and Wyoming but landed at Kansas. With the Jayhawks, Talib was an All-American for a 12-1 team. He also was the MVP of Kansas' Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
CB Kyle Wilson, Boise State
Signing class: 2005
High school: Piscataway (N.J.) High
Buzz: While Rutgers spends significant time recruiting in south Florida, somehow the Scarlet Knights let Wilson escape their own backyard. Wilson was recruited by a slew of Northeastern programs, and the Broncos offered him late in his senior season (the hometown Scarlet Knights did offer, but during the state playoffs that year). At Boise State, Wilson finished his career with 11 interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, and three punt-return scores. He was drafted in the first round by the New York Jets in 2010.
FS Jamie Silva, Boston College
Signing class: 2003
High school: East Providence (R.I.) High
Buzz: Since 2002, only five players from Rhode Island have landed at an FBS program out of high school. Silva was the best of the bunch by a wide margin. He intercepted eight passes and earned All-America honors as Boston College went 11-3 and finished in the top 10 in 2007. Not bad for a safety whose only other scholarship offers were from Indiana, Penn and New Hampshire.
SS Eric Weddle, Utah
Signing class: 2003
High school: Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Alta Loma
Buzz: Weddle played quarterback and defensive back at Alta Loma and was just as versatile for Utah, first under Urban Meyer and then Kyle Whittingham. The Pac-10 programs in the Pacific Northwest took early interest in Weddle but didn't seriously pursue him. At Utah, Weddle was listed as a safety but he was an elite utility man. As a senior, he even rushed for five touchdowns and threw a TD pass against BYU. He finished his career with 18 interceptions, including seven as a senior in 2006. He's now with the NFL's San Diego Chargers, who took him in the second round of the '07 draft.
K Alex Henery, Nebraska
Signing class: 2006
High school: Omaha (Neb.) Burke
Buzz: Henery walked-on at Nebraska, but he was hardly an unknown. The Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Star Journal named him an all-state punter. At Nebraska, he became an accomplished kicker. He was 68-of-76 on field goals for his career, including five of at least 50 yards. He was near automatic inside 50 yards, going 63-of-65. Henery also doubled as punter his final two seasons, averaging 42.2 yards for his career.
P Drew Butler, Georgia
Signing class: 2007
High school: Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge
Buzz: Butler is a legacy at Georgia, the son of former Bulldogs star K Kevin Butler. Drew has carved out a spot in Georgia's record books of his own as a punter. Drew won the Ray Guy Award in 2009, averaging 48.1 yards per punt. He'll try to be a three-time Ray Guy Award finalist this season.
KR Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati
Signing class: 2005
High school: Palm Coast (Fla.) Flagler Palm Coast
Buzz: Gilyard was listed as a running back in high school but made his mark as a wide receiver and kick returner at Cincinnati. With the Bearcats, Gilyard once was kicked out of school for academic reasons. To pay his debts, he worked four jobs and slept in his car. Once he returned to coach Brian Kelly's good graces, he arguably was the MVP of Cincinnati's back-to-back Big East championship teams. He finished his career with four kickoff returns for touchdowns, plus another score on a punt return.
AP Owen Marecic, Stanford
Signing class: 2007
High school: Portland (Ore.) Jesuit
Buzz: Marecic was one of Jim Harbaugh's first recruits at Stanford and one of his favorite players. It's easy to see why. Harbaugh used him on both sides of the ball. As a fullback, Marecic rushed for nine touchdowns in his last two seasons. At linebacker, he had 55 career tackles and two interceptions. Marecic also was an academic standout. He visited Army and planned to visit Yale before committing to Stanford days before National Signing Day in 2007.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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