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Class Of 2000 Tells A Tale

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

Coaches always say you can't judge a recruiting class until three or four years down the road, so we decided to do just that. With hindsight as our guide, we examined the ACC football recruiting classes of 2000 and posted new grades for them ( see chart) based on the productivity of those players four years into their college careers. Not surprisingly, league leader Florida State (who says recruiting rankings are meaningless?) is one team whose seniors and redshirt juniors are leading the way this fall. Numerous second-tier programs, most with since-departed head coaches, also had more hits than misses in 2000: Clemson, Georgia Tech (George O'Leary), Maryland (Ron Vanderlinden), Virginia (George Welsh) and Wake Forest (Jim Caldwell). Meanwhile, Duke, UNC and N.C. State have experienced various levels of disappointment in 2003, thanks in large part to the hole-filled classes they signed almost four years ago. Dave Glenn and Staff, ACC Area Sports Journal
October 20, 2003

FSU: Awesome Success, Tragedy TALLAHASSEE — From the beginning, the group of players who signed with Florida State in February 2000 appeared to be something special.

The Seminoles landed 15 consensus All-Americans — that was about as many as the rest of the ACC combined — including three Class of 1999 standouts who needed an extra year to upgrade their academic credentials. They won heated recruiting battles against Clemson, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama and others to sign a 24-player class that would have a significant impact on FSU's future.

Among the recruits was the younger brother of FSU career sacks leader and NFL first-round draft pick Peter Boulware; an All-USA Today defensive lineman from California with 40 sacks in high school; and a set of inseparable identical twins who played on different sides of the ball but insisted on being roommates.

Four years later, the Class of 2000 is responsible for helping turn the Seminoles back toward national prominence, following two mediocre seasons in which FSU lost a total of nine games.

They arrived following a stretch in which FSU played for a national title in four bowl games over a five-year span. The program completed a wire-to-wire run as the No. 1-ranked team in the country by defeating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl in January 2000.

The group's impact on the 2003 season is radically more significant than the four-years-later contributions from most other FSU classes, and its timing was impeccable. Its many accomplishments could have a lasting positive impact, after doubts were raised about coach Bobby Bowden's age and ability to once again command a national championship-caliber team. The class has helped establish that Bowden can still get the job done.

Eleven players, six on offense and five on defense, are starters for FSU this fall. Another, juco All-American Javon Walker, started at receiver and earned second-team All-ACC honors prior to becoming a first-round NFL draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2002. Twelve starters out of 24 signees is an excellent percentage, and numerous others contributed in other significant roles.

“I've heard people say before that if 60 percent of your class plays a major contributing role, then obviously you've had a pretty good group,” FSU recruiting coordinator John Lilly said. “(The Class of 2000) has proved to be a very good group.”

Four of FSU's five starters on the offensive line are from the 2000 class, and all four — Alex Barron, Bobby Meeks, David Castillo and Ray Willis — have another year of eligibility remaining. Barron and Willis are All-ACC candidates this fall. Meeks and Castillo have shown promise but repeatedly have been slowed by various injuries and ailments.

Whatever happens to Florida State's Class of 2000 in the long run, it always will be defined by a tragedy that brought the group together in the winter of 2001 and provided a sense of purpose still carried today.

Linebacker Devaughn Darling, who had been penciled in as a starter for the 2001 season, collapsed during a pre-dawn workout in February of that year and was pronounced dead at a Tallahassee hospital a half-hour later.

At a packed memorial service in the Westcott Hall auditorium a few blocks from Doak Campbell Stadium, his classmates came together in a way they had never imagined. The defining moment came when Willis, a quiet and reserved redshirt freshman at the time, acting on his own, stood and approached the podium. Willis gave a moving and poignant speech, in which he talked directly to grief-stricken receiver Devard Darling, who essentially had watched his brother die by his side during an ambulance ride. Willis, from Angelton, Texas, had met the Darling twins, who were from Houston, during a recruiting visit. At the memorial service, Willis told Devard he would not be left without a brother.

“I'll be your brother,” Willis said. “Look around you. You have 85 brothers for the rest of your life.”

The feeling of brotherhood remains, members of the 2000 recruiting class said, though Devard Darling was unable to continue playing at Florida State, and his family later filed (in October 2002) a wrongful death lawsuit against the university. Devard recently said he still blames FSU coaches and trainers for his brother's death, but he holds many of his former teammates in very high regard.

“They're still my brothers, and they always will be,” Devard said. “We still have close relationships.”

After his brother's death, which was attributed by some (the official autopsy was not definitive) to exercised-induced heart complications related to a genetic condition known as sickle-cell trait, Devard (who has the same trait) was not medically cleared to play again for the Seminoles. After running into similar concerns at several potential transfer destinations, he enrolled at Washington State. A two-year starter after sitting out 2001, he led the Cougars last year with 11 touchdowns on 54 receptions for 800 yards. He leads them again this fall with 24 catches through six games, averaging more than 18 yards a catch. After his scores, he touches his heart twice and points toward the sky in honor of his brother.

One of the more impressive aspects of FSU's 2000 class is that only one departure can be attributed to a lack of success on the field.

Defensive back Yohance Buchanan, one of the most highly acclaimed members of the group, left school after the spring semester under strained circumstances. He was involved in a brief shoving match with FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews in the locker room after the Seminoles lost to Georgia in the 2003 Sugar Bowl.

Buchanan had been one of four Parade All-Americans in the 2000 class, but the high expectations contributed to disappointment when he spent most of his time as a special teams player and a rarely used backup at free safety. Buchanan, who had 14 tackles while playing in nine of 14 games during the 2002 season, was unhappy about not getting in the game against Georgia when words were exchanged with Andrews prior to the confrontation, according to a former roommate. With one year of eligibility remaining, Buchanan was given a release to transfer, but he did not enroll at another school for the fall semester.

One big disappointment with the 2000 class was the loss of linebackers Nate Hardage and Chad Mascoe, leaving FSU with a hole in one area of critical need. Hardage later enrolled in 2002, after two years of junior college. Mascoe also went to junior college, then stunned the Seminoles by opting for Central Florida in 2002. He started at linebacker for UCF last fall but has since been sidelined by academic problems.

Other than Buchanan, the four other members of the 2000 class who enrolled but no longer are on the team were Walker, the Darling twins and juco transfer Eric Powell.

Including the two juco players, whose eligibility has expired, 87 percent of the 2000 class played, or is playing, a contributing role for the Seminoles. If not for Devaughn Darling's death, the figure likely would be an astounding 96 percent. That kind of success, realistically, is more than anyone hopes for when putting together a recruiting class.

“Obviously, you look for it,” Lilly said, “but it's rare that you'd find a class where 90 percent of the people are playing key roles.”

Powell overcame some adversity to finish his FSU career last season, with 34 tackles and two sacks during his senior year. On a trip home to Orlando on an open weekend during the 2001 season, he was shot in the back during a robbery in which his ACC championship ring was stolen. He nearly died from the loss of blood, but he recovered, returned to school and eventually rejoined the team. He was briefly removed from the team over issues of personal conduct, but he earned his way back and played often as a backup.

Three other members of the 2000 class signed with FSU in 1999 but did not meet entrance requirements. B.J. Ward, a safety from Dallas, eventually earned his score and enrolled for the spring of 2000, as did linebacker Kendyll Pope, a three-year starter. Quarterback Fabian Walker went through spring practice at FSU in 2000 but left after his qualifying score was challenged. He spent one season at Jones (Miss.) Community College before returning to FSU in 2001. He started in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia and is the backup to Chris Rix this fall.

Ward, another 2003 starter, has a reputation as one of the team's best tacklers and most outstanding kick blockers. He blocked four kicks during the 2002 season and has two more blocks this year. He also was the second-leading tackler on the team in late October.

The rest of the 2000 class includes numerous all-star types in tailback Greg Jones, Barron, Boulware, Pope, Rix (the ACC freshman of the year in 2001) and Willis. Jones, Boulware and Pope all earned second-team All-ACC honors last year. Jones was considered a potential Heisman Trophy candidate following a breakthrough season in 2002, but inexperience and injuries on the offensive line, plus his recovery from knee surgery last November, have significantly reduced his production.

Of those 2000 enrollees not in the starting lineup, the majority are playing key backup roles. Cornerback Leroy Smith had an interception against Miami. Defensive tackle Travis Johnson, a 2002 starter, had 16 tackles and a fumble recovery heading into the Oct. 18 game at Virginia. Hardage plays sparingly as a third-team linebacker. Kicker Brett Cimorelli doesn't play at all, although he did spend one inconsistent season as Sebastian Jankowski's replacement in 2000. The Seminoles in 2001 signed Xavier Beitia, who won the job and has handled kicking duties since.

“We definitely got a lot of good talent out of that class. I knew we were a good class, but I didn't know we'd be this good,” said Boulware, a Butkus Award candidate who is projected as a safety in the NFL. “The thing was, how quickly would they be able to adjust to this system? Personally, I was a slow learner, so it took me a while. But I knew once I got it I'd do all right.”

Boulware, one of five defensive starters from the 2000 class, said he's proud of helping the Seminoles to their current statistical position as the most stingy defense in the nation.

“The biggest thing for me personally, in what I want us to accomplish,” Boulware said, “is being remembered as one of those greatest defenses at Florida State.”

One of those greatest recruiting classes, too.

— Doug Carlson, Tampa (Fla.) Tribune

Clemson: Solid But Unspectacular

CLEMSON — Rick Stockstill shut off his cell phone at 3 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2000, and looked like a defeated recruiting coordinator. It was signing day 2000, the day Clemson had hoped it would land at least one blue-chip recruit before time ran out.

“That's it,” Stockstill said, wearily. “We're done. You win some, you lose some.”

With only 16 scholarships available — the low numbers represented one of the smallest classes in recent ACC history — the Tigers signed 15 players. Two were partial qualifiers who barely contributed in the long run, and two were non-qualifiers. At the time, SuperPrep rated the class No. 30 in the country, and most analysts placed it fourth or fifth in the ACC.

Four years later, that assessment of coach Tommy Bowden's first full class has proven fairly accurate. It was a solid group, not a great one. The Tigers are not a top-25 team, and they have been in the middle of the ACC for the last three seasons.

Wide receiver Derrick Hamilton was one of three consensus prep All-Americans in the class, but he is the only one who has lived up to his billing. Running back Yusef (formerly Keith) Kelly and defensive tackle Todd McClinton have not.

“We had needs we tried to fill out,” Bowden said in October, “and then you try to leave room for the great player that you'd like to get late.”

Florida State was able to grab defensive backs Yohance Buchanan and Leroy Smith near the very end. Buchanan is no longer on the FSU team, and Smith is a reserve. Other players the Tigers lost in the final hours were linebacker Brooks Daniels to Alabama and quarterback Shane Boyd to Kentucky. Earlier in the recruiting process, the Seminoles took linebacker Michael Boulware and offensive lineman Alex Barron out of South Carolina, despite heavy pushes by Clemson.

“Got to feed the old man rat poison,” Bowden joked about Bobby Bowden at Clemson's signing day news conference.

At the time, Stockstill — who left Clemson after the 2002 season to become the offensive coordinator at East Carolina — thought the smaller scholarship numbers would help the Tigers be more selective. But six of the 15 signees have been lost to various forms of attrition. A 16th player in the class, walk-on center Tommy Sharpe, was awarded a scholarship in 2002.

Hamilton, a redshirt junior, is a dynamic returner and wide receiver. Bowden calls him “Noodle” because of his silky moves and ability to bob and weave through defenders. Through six games this season, he had 31 catches for a team-leading 475 yards and four touchdowns. He earlier was leading the ACC and ranked 17th nationally in all-purpose yards at 142.8 per game. His fluid kickoff returns had produced a 31.5-yard average, ranking him eighth in the country.

Hamilton, an in-state product from Dillon, chose the Tigers over South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina. He probably would have played as a freshman in 2000, but he suffered a pulled hamstring early on and was redshirted. That could have been the best thing for Clemson, which already had Rod Gardner and several other receivers ahead of Hamilton that fall. Next season, Hamilton and Airese Currie can continue catching passes from Charlie Whitehurst in a dynamic passing attack.

Senior linebacker John Leake, a late signee in the spring of 2000, has become a solid three-year starter. He was the ACC's second-leading tackler in 2002 with 169, although he has never been an All-ACC caliber player. Leake has not missed a start in three seasons and could finish among the top four tacklers in Clemson history. That's not a bad career for a player from Plano, Texas, who virtually no one knew about during his high school career.

Clemson had not signed a player from Texas since 1991 and never devoted significant resources to the state. Leake's high school coach had a policy that prevented colleges from speaking with players until the season was over, and his team reached the state 5A semifinals in late November. Todd Graham, the head coach at a rival high school, made some calls to colleges on Leake's behalf. One call went to Rich Rodriguez, then the offensive coordinator at Clemson. Graham later became Rodriguez's linebackers coach at West Virginia.

After Leake committed to Clemson, Oklahoma furiously pursued the recruit, who lived only two hours from the OU campus. In Leake's freshman season, the Sooners won the national championship.

“No regrets,” Leake said. “Clemson has been great to me. I'd do it again.”

Aaron Hunt has been the Tigers' four-year kicker and was a 2002 Lou Groza Award semifinalist. He made 17 of 22 field goals in 2002, putting him in position to become Clemson's all-time leading scorer. Through six games this season, he converted only four of eight field goals and had two extra points blocked, leading Bowden to mention the possibility of giving someone else a shot. However Hunt's college career ends, Clemson fans will never forget the game-winning field goal he made as a true freshman to defeat South Carolina, after a miraculous catch set up the kick.

The most high-profile recruit of the class was McClinton, a gifted tight end who was rated the best at his position nationally by some analysts. Bowden often talked about the impact McClinton could have on offense and the importance of getting him into school.

McClinton was not admitted with the other freshmen in August 2000 because Clemson flagged his SAT score, which jumped more than 300 points from a previous test. He took the SAT again and did not score high enough, thus becoming a partial qualifier. His academic status quickly became a hot-button issue around Clemson, and Bowden repeatedly referred reporters' questions to a university spokesperson. Bobby Robinson, then the athletic director, received so many calls complaining about the school's admissions standards that he sent a letter to IPTAY members explaining the school's policies.

At the time, the ACC allowed its institutions to accept four partial qualifiers per year, and no more than one per year in football. Because Clemson already had declared running back Terrance Huey a partial in the 2000 class, an appeal to the ACC was necessary for McClinton. In an unprecedented move, the ACC granted the appeal, and McClinton arrived to campus a month late.

McClinton was named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll in 2000, but his football career has never gotten off the ground. He's moved from tight end to offensive tackle to defensive tackle. Bowden once envisioned him becoming a dominant offensive lineman, but McClinton has played 191 snaps in four years, predominantly on defense. Over the past year, he had several seizures and was held out of the 2003 season. He must graduate by August (under NCAA rules for partial qualifiers) to regain his final year of eligibility in 2004, if he is even cleared to play again.

Oddly, Huey — the other partial qualifier — also had problems with seizures, and that problem ultimately ended his career before the 2002 season. Clemson tried him at running back and cornerback; his lone highlight was scoring on a trick play against Virginia in 2001. Huey has remained with the team as a manager.

Clemson dipped into the junior college ranks in 2000 with minimal success, grabbing offensive tackle Derrick Brantley. After redshirting during his first season with the Tigers for academic reasons, Brantley became a quality starter in 2001. He was considered an NFL prospect before he suffered a season-ending knee injury during the second game of 2002. The Tigers' offensive line was never the same without Brantley, who once was projected as a late-round pick in the 2003 pro draft but failed to attract even a free-agent deal, presumably because of his medical status.

Linebacker Brandon Jamison, a 2000 non-qualifier, re-signed with Clemson after two years of junior college and developed into one of the top reserves at linebacker last season. The Tigers expected him to compete for the starting middle linebacker job this year, but he failed out of school.

Offensive guard Cedric Johnson has become an adequate two-year starter and probably the Tigers' most consistent blocker this fall. He arrived in 2000 weighing 350 pounds, 40 more than his listed weight when he signed. Clemson made him skip practices and run around the field during his first few weeks on campus because he was so out of shape. Johnson later overcame knee surgery and is considered one of the strongest players on the team.

The offensive line situation from Bowden's 1999 and 2000 classes became so murky that Sharpe, a 5-11, 270-pound walk-on, won the starting center job and a scholarship in 2002 and remains there this season. He is a feisty player, but it's not ideal for a coach in his fifth year to be starting a walk-on at center.

Kelly, rated the No. 19 running back in the country by SuperPrep, has had an unusual career. He looked like a budding star when he averaged five yards a carry in mop-up duty as a freshman. In order to separate Kelly and Bernard Rambert by two classes, Clemson redshirted Kelly in 2001.

Prior to last season, he changed his first name from Keith back to Yusef, his given name, because friends couldn't locate him in the school directory. Kelly fought an ankle injury while leading the Tigers last season with 520 yards and eight touchdowns. He helped clinch the win over South Carolina in 2002 by running out the clock with his bruising style.

Through six games in 2003, Kelly had only 26 carries for 89 yards and found himself at the center of controversy. The coaches felt he reported to camp overweight at 242 pounds, up from 226 in 2002. Kelly disputed that and said he was never given a required playing weight. He also has had groin and back injuries and been distracted by the birth of his first child.

Defensive tackle Donnell Washington, a massive 6-6, 320-pounder, also has been up and down during his two years as a starter. Over the summer, Clemson players voted him the biggest underachiever on the team in an anonymous poll. To his credit, Washington fought through a hand injury in 2002 and has not missed a game in three seasons.

As in every class, there have been some major misses. Clemson's misses hurt even more because of its low scholarship total.

Cornerback Ryan Hemby, once considered one of the top 20 prospects in South Carolina, has been a career reserve. He is listed as Justin Miller's backup but would not have replaced him in the starting lineup earlier this season when Miller was questionable with an injury. Hemby didn't help himself off the field when he was cited by police in Orangeburg, S.C., for public drunkenness.

Undersized quarterback Brian Carr became a slow safety and now is an undersized and slow “whip” linebacker. He tore his ACL in 2000 and has been a career reserve. In three years, he has played minimally on special teams.

Defensive back Ronny Delusme was positioning himself to be a key contributor until he tore his ACL in the 11th game of 2002. He entered fall practice as the starting whip but lost the spot once Eric Sampson returned after being “permanently” dismissed in December. Delusme played just 22 snaps through five games this fall.

Wide receiver Ronnie Thomas, a career reserve at Clemson, transferred with high school teammate Willie Simmons to Division I-AA Florida A&M this summer. The NCAA declared Simmons and Thomas ineligible to play in 2003 because of A&M's plans to be a Division I-A program in 2004, so Simmons transferred to The Citadel. Thomas, who is sitting out this season, has one year of eligibility left.

Defensive end J.R. Grant never even got to Clemson because he was a non-qualifier, the second in the class. He went to Southwest Mississippi Junior College and then to NAIA Pikeville College, where he played the 2002 season. He is not on this year's team.

“It's been a good class,” Bowden said. “You'd always like to get a few more impact guys.”

In the Class of 2000 at Clemson, just a few more players who contributed anything would have been helpful.

— Jon Solomon, Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail

Terps: High Production, Attrition

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland's Class of 2000 featured continued improvement in then-coach Ron Vanderlinden's strategy of dominating the home turf and also signified some success in the staff's efforts to land more blue-chippers from out of state.

Coming off three straight losing seasons under Vanderlinden, Maryland was still in the mode of searching for sleepers. However, an encouraging 5-6 record in 1999 gave the staff the confidence to pursue higher-rated prospects, and the Terps found more of those types were willing to listen. Vanderlinden and recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley were selling the “up and coming program” pitch. Coming off a season in which Maryland was one blown game against Virginia from a bowl bid, that line had a little more legitimacy.

Yet the 1999-2000 recruiting campaign proved the program still wasn't quite there yet, as a number of prep All-Americans who liked everything about Maryland just couldn't pull the trigger.

Locksley was proud that the staff got the state's top two prospects on campus several times. Wide receiver Richard Johnson attended several Maryland games in 1999, but he wound up canceling his official visit to College Park after committing to Virginia Tech. Erik Noll attended Maryland's Junior Day and spring game, but he jumped at an August offer from Penn State. Vanderlinden went down to the wire with defensive end Derek Wake, who took an official visit to Maryland but ultimately signed with Penn State. It was a similar story with defensive back Gerald Smith, who visited College Park before deciding to stick with an early pledge to the Nittany Lions. Defensive end Clifford Dukes reneged on a commitment to Maryland and signed with Michigan State. In a more publicized incident, tailback Jason Crawford (who ended up signing with the Terps in 2001) shocked Maryland on signing day in 2000, faxing his letter of intent to UNC instead.

It was more of the same out of state. Locksley personally made Maryland a finalist for Florida tailback Willie Green, a consensus All-American. Assistant Elliott Uzelac went down to the wire with Kelvin Kight, a promising receiver from Georgia. Both prospects signed with Florida, where Locksley is in his first season as an assistant this fall. Assistant Craig Johnson thought he had New Jersey lineman Anthony Crosson, but he chose Boston College.

There were some successes along the way.

Quarterback Chris Kelley, a consensus All-American out of nearby Seneca Valley, became the highest-rated in-state signee of the Vanderlinden era. Cornerback Rovel Hamilton was that staff's first significant addition from Florida. Receiver Maurice Shanks was another breakthrough recruit, as he was the first big-time prospect from the fertile Tidwater area of Virginia in many years to choose the Terrapins.

Ultimately, Maryland's Class of 2000 was rated No. 41 nationally by SuperPrep and sixth in the ACC. It numbered 25 players in February 2000 but ultimately grew to 28, with the additions of a notable walk-on, a late junior college pickup and a major college transfer.

Vanderlinden crowed long and loud about landing Kelley and Shanks, the two consensus All-Americans among Maryland's recruits.

Kelley was labeled the “crown jewel” of the class, after Maryland won a heated battle with Nebraska for his services. He led Seneca Valley to a 39-0 record and three state championships as a dual-threat QB who was noted for his toughness and “throw-back” mentality. He passed for 1,645 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushed for 1,278 yards and 16 TDs as a senior, when he was named Maryland player of the year.

“I look for great things from Chris,” Vanderlinden said on signing day. “He wants to be the quarterback who leads us to the ACC championship.”

Shanks was a key recruit on two counts. First, the 6-4, 175-pounder out of Hampton Phoebus was the tall, athletic receiver the Terps long had coveted. Second, he was one of the top prospects in the talent-rich Tidewater area, which had become a source of frustration for the Maryland program. He chose the Terps over Virginia Tech and UNC.

“For three years, I've been watching big, fast receivers in this league, like Torry Holt (N.C. State) and Dez White (Georgia Tech), who can get downfield, go up and get the ball, and generally make plays,” Vanderlinden said. “I've always thought to myself, ëWe really need one of those.' I believe Maurice can be that game-breaking type of receiver. He is a big catch for us.”

Unfortunately for Maryland, Kelley and Shanks never lived up to their vast potential, in large part because of multiple, debilitating injuries to both players.

Kelley tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing in a high school all-star game, one month prior to reporting to Maryland. He tore the same ACL again in a beach accident, just before August two-a-days began in 2001. He then tore the ACL in his right knee during the end-of-spring Red-White game in 2002.

Kelley earned the respect of coaches and teammates with how quickly he recovered from all three reconstructive knee surgeries, but he just wasn't the same player in the aftermath. The 6-2, 204-pounder switched from QB to strong safety this spring and has seen considerable time this season in dime packages.

Shanks has endured equally bad luck, tearing both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee during the “Scout Bowl” prior to the N.C. State game in 2001. That traditional game later was eliminated as a result of what happened to Shanks, who also has been slowed by nagging injuries to his hamstrings and ankles.

Shanks, who has appeared in just eight games and made only three catches during his three seasons of eligibility, is sidelined again this season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery. He remains in school but is not expected to return to the team.

Despite those two high-profile busts and a considerable number of departures, Maryland's 2000 class has proven rather productive. Of the 28 recruits, 11 became starters at some point in their careers. Sixteen are still with the program, with most contributing in some way. On the down side, the attrition rate was high, as nine players left the program before their eligibility expired.

New Jersey lineman Cole Boykin left for academic reasons after just one semester; there is no indication that he ever resurfaced on a football roster elsewhere. Linebacker Chris Linton realized as a true freshman that he could not play at the Division I-A level and transferred mid-year to Division III Christopher Newport, near his home in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He was among CNU's leading tacklers and a second-team all-conference pick in 2001 but has not played since. Reggie Kemp was a promising offensive lineman who followed doctors' orders to give up football in 2002 after re-injuring his surgically repaired shoulder.

Maryland was desperate for immediate help on the defensive line in 2000 and thus took a chance on a pair of junior college prospects who didn't pan out.

Chris Earhart was a 27-year-old dairy farmer from Virginia by way of Montgomery-Rockville Community College. Vanderlinden was enamored with the 6-4, 300-pounder's apparent ability to stuff the run, but he proved too stiff and slow to play in the ACC. He did not appear in a single game in 2000. Earhart was switched to the offensive line by new coach Ralph Friedgen during the spring of 2001, but he showed little promise on that side of the ball and did not return for his senior season.

James Evans was an equally massive (6-4, 295) nose tackle from Teaneck, N.J., by way of Nassau Community College in New York. He played in seven games as a backup in 2000 but was on academic probation by the spring semester and failed out of school.

Receiver Ike Roberts redshirted in 2000 and seemed to be in the coaching staff's future plans when he suddenly left the team during the 2001 season. He ultimately transferred to Division I-AA Western Illinois, where he became a reserve receiver and special teams player in 2002. He's not on this year's team.

Then there's the case of Hamilton, who played in 10 of 12 games for the Terps as a backup corner in 2000 and had a good shot at a starting role in 2001. He angered Friedgen by refusing to remain on campus during the summer to participate in voluntary conditioning sessions. Hamilton, who said he was homesick and missed his girlfriend, rebelled and subsequently transferred to Division I-A Central Florida of the Mid-American Conference. After sitting out the 2001 season, he played in a reserve role for the Golden Knights in 2002. Through six games for a 2-4 team this fall, he had 25 tackles and five passes broken up in a starting role.

It was a disappointing ending for Hamilton, a well-regarded signee from Florida, especially considering what Maryland went through to get him. Vanderlinden and his staff got into a nasty recruiting battle with Virginia over Hamilton, who was so torn that he waited until a week after signing day to decide between the two schools. Perhaps the clincher was that Maryland gave Hamilton's high school teammate, linebacker Kenny Jerry, a scholarship as part of a package deal. When Hamilton transferred, it quickly became clear that Jerry also no longer had a future with the program. He left during preseason camp in 2001.

Maryland did pretty well with the group of signees who had scholarship offers from numerous schools in BCS conferences. C.J. Brooks is a three-year starter along the offensive line who was an honorable mention All-ACC selection in 2002. Dennard Wilson, out of nearby DeMatha Catholic, is a three-year starter in the secondary who played cornerback as a true freshman and has developed into a steady strong safety. Jon Condo never developed into the stud linebacker he was projected as coming out of Philipsburg, Pa., but he became a superb long snapper (three-year starter) and special teams standout.

One of the more heartwarming stories of the class involves defensive end Kevin Eli, who chose Maryland over Notre Dame and Boston College. He was considered a huge pickup for the Terps, who were helped by the fact that the New Jersey product is a cousin of fullback Bernie Fiddler. Eli always had plenty of height (6-4) and athleticism (prep basketball star), but he struggled to add weight and muscle. He came in at 230 pounds, then hovered around 245, which was too small to play strong-side defensive end as projected. Eli did not play a single snap as a redshirt freshman, then got into just four games as a sophomore. Finally, this season, the junior bulked up to 268 pounds and became the player Maryland envisioned all along. He has taken over as a starter at strong-side end and ranks among the team leaders in sacks and tackles for loss.

“I'm really proud of Kevin because there was a point there that I thought he was going to just hang it up,” Friedgen said. “Instead, he persevered, got stronger and has become a big contributor.”

Another great story involved quarterback Shaun Hill. A two-year starter at juco powerhouse Hutchinson in Kansas, a team that regularly produces numerous Division I-A signees, he was discovered by Maryland assistant Mike Gundy while Gundy was scouting another prospect. Hill temporarily became the starting signal-caller for the Terps in 2000, then blossomed in a full-time role during their breakthrough season of 2001, throwing for 2,380 yards and 13 touchdowns in leading the team to a 10-2 record and an Orange Bowl berth. He is now a backup with the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.

Ultimately, some of Maryland's greatest success with the Class of 2000 came from players who had only a few other scholarship offers or no Division I-A interest at all.

One notable player from the latter category was juco running back Chris Downs. He initially signed with Maryland out of Malvern Prep in Philadelphia in 1998. Academic difficulties forced Downs to spend two years at Valley Forge Military Academy, but Vanderlinden stuck with the elusive 5-8 tailback. Downs sat on the bench as a redshirt junior before becoming the story of the 2002 campaign, replacing an injured Bruce Perry as the starting tailback and rushing for 1,154 yards and 15 touchdowns to earn first-team All-ACC honors.

Many thought Vanderlinden was crazy to give a scholarship to Steve Suter, a 5-9 nobody from tiny North Carroll High. Suter may have been Vanderlinden's biggest sleeper, as he was hearing from the likes of James Madison and Buffalo before Maryland offered a surprise scholarship. Locksley had discovered Suter by reviewing results of the Maryland high school coaches' combine, at which the speedster ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds and posted a vertical leap of 35 inches. When Suter repeated those numbers at a Nike combine, the Terps pounced before a rival program could come in with another offer.

Suter, of course, has become the most dangerous punt returner in the ACC and a productive wide receiver as well. Over the past two seasons, he has scored 10 touchdowns and averaged 15.7 yards per touch.

Fullback James Lynch, defensive tackle C.J. Feldheim and Leo linebacker Jamahl Cochran were other prospects with few other Division I-A offers who became important performers for the Terps.

Lynch was an outstanding three-year starter who ran into some academic problems and skipped his senior season to turn pro; he's with the Cincinnati Bengals this season. Feldheim, one of the few Class of 2000 members who played as a true freshman, is a third-year starter this fall. Cochran is in his second year as a starter.

Five others from the lower tier of recruits became career backups. Ray Custis has been a key contributor at strong safety, playing in 21 straight games the past two seasons and putting up decent numbers. Curtis Williams has flip-flopped between defensive back and wide receiver. Rob Abiamiri couldn't make it as a wideout but has found a home as a speed tight end. Ryan Flynn came in as a tight end but was converted to tackle. Lou Lombardo, like Flynn, is No. 2 on the depth chart at tackle but hasn't yet worked his way into the regular rotation.

Perhaps the most interesting story from the Class of 2000 involves kicker Nick Novak, an invited walk-on out of Charlottesville, Va. Novak's parents both teach at Virginia, so he didn't much care for rival Maryland. However, with few other prospects following an all-state senior season, Novak accepted Vanderlinden's offer to come to College Park and try to earn a scholarship.

Novak learned under the tutelage of former Maryland kicker Brian Kopka and performed well enough in practice to be put on scholarship by Vanderlinden. Friedgen honored that commitment but was having second thoughts after Novak opened the 2001 campaign by making just four of his first 10 field goal attempts.

Novak finally broke through by nailing a 46-yard field goal that forced overtime against Georgia Tech. He has since become one of the top placekickers in the country, earning the moniker “Automat-Nick” for making 50 of his last 57 field goal tries. A first-team All-ACC pick in 2002, he likely will graduate as Maryland's all-time leading scorer.

— Bill Wagner, Annapolis (Md.) Capital

Hokies Missed Great Opportunity

BLACKSBURG — Strike while the iron is hot, the saying goes. Virginia Tech's football iron has never been hotter than it was in January 2000.

The Hokies played in the Sugar Bowl that year, trying to win their first national championship. Though they lost to Florida State, they gained a major dose of positive pub for their performance in the game and the electrifying showing of redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick. This clearly was a program that had made the difficult crossing from very good to elite.

Talk about something to sell. Cell phones had to be working on the sidelines of the Superdome as the FSU-Virginia Tech game was in progress. Hey, look at us. We're playing for the national title. Michael will be here for at least one more year. Come join the fun.

A month after that game, Tech signed 20 players. At the time, SuperPrep ranked the class 28th nationally. It was considered a good group, above average but not outstanding.

Almost four years later, that original assessment looks pretty accurate. Make no mistake, the 2000 class at Virginia Tech is a long way from being a bad group. It is not, however, a class that has provided excessive sizzle. Solid but unspectacular. Not below average, for sure, but not very much above average, either.

All of the signees actually enrolled, something of a feat in itself. That rarely happens at Tech. For example, six signees from 2003 didn't enroll; two went to prep school and are expected to attend, two are enrolling in January, one didn't get into school and one signed a pro baseball contract. Fourteen of the 2000 recruits are still on the active roster, and the six absentees aren't as bad a total as it might look. Two signees, from the juco ranks, had only two years of eligibility when they arrived.

Six of Tech's 2000 signees are starting this fall. Of the nine current members of the ACC, six got a higher percentage of starters out of their 2000 classes. Only Duke, UNC and N.C. State got a lower percentage. Generally speaking, coaches would like to be in the 50-percent range. Tech is at 30 percent with the Class of 2000, although several others also are contributing on the field this fall.

Two consensus prep All-Americans were part of the Hokies' class: receiver Richard Johnson of Baltimore and offensive tackle Jon Dunn of Virginia Beach, Va. Both have started in 2003, but neither is a star.

Johnson has had an injury-plagued career, and he entered this fall with only 18 career receptions. His 2003 season got off to a good start, with four receptions against Central Florida for 48 yards and his first career touchdown, before a knee injury sidelined him. Tech coaches have questioned his dedication and durability at times, although that tune began to change earlier this year.

“He's a guy we can count on for sure,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said in September.

Dunn began 2002 as a starter but lost his job midway through the season. He has plenty of size (6-7, 343) and potential, but he has lacked consistency. At one practice, an assistant coach yelled, “Who was in your uniform when I was recruiting you?” Dunn was suspended for the 2003 opener for an unspecified violation of team rules but played well in subsequent games.

“I think Jon proved himself in the spring and in preseason preparations,” Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “He's our starter. He earned that. He's coming along. He'll be OK.”

Linebacker Mikal Baaqee, punter Vinnie Burns, defensive end Jim Davis, defensive tackle Jason Lallis and offensive guard Jim Miller have turned out to be five of the best players in the class so far.

Baaqee, from the powerhouse DeMatha program in Maryland, is in his second season as a starter at linebacker. He wore down in 2002 but appears to be holding up well with another year of muscle and experience on his side. He entered the season as a Butkus Award candidate, after leading the Hokies with 112 tackles in 2002, and ranked second on the team with 44 tackles through six games this fall.

“Baaqee is just a good, good player,” Beamer said. “He's quick. He's a serious, tough guy.”

Burns, a New Orleans product who redshirted during his first season on campus and initially struggled with his adjustment to the quicker pace of the college game, has developed into one of the nation's most consistent punters. The only 2000 Tech signee who has earned All-Big East recognition, he earned second-team honors in 2002, after posting a 40.5-yard average and downing 22 of his 64 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. He was one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's top punter.

“He can be a weapon for us,” Beamer said. “He's come a long way.”

Davis is sitting out 2003 after having surgery on a chest muscle. He played as a true freshman after prepping at Fork Union Military Academy in 1999 and has 13.5 career sacks and 23 tackles for losses. He owns a quick first step and, when healthy, can wreck an opposing offense from almost any position on the defensive line.

“When we needed to improve our pash rush, we moved (Davis) inside and he really helped us,” Beamer said. “Jim is a big-time player. He's been a great end for us, too.”

Lallis, another DeMatha product, started last season before getting hurt, and he's a regular again this year. He scored touchdowns in the 2002 and 2003 season openers, and this year's effort displayed his impressive versatility. Dropping into pass coverage from his tackle spot, he picked off a pass and dodged several would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone.

Miller, who delayed enrollment until January 2001 after signing, arrived at Tech as a tackle but settled in at guard during the 2001 season and started twice in 2002. He fell back out of the starting lineup, just as Dunn did, but returned in 2003 a much better player. A toe injury cost him two games, but he's impressed the coaching staff with his intensity and tenacity.

“(Miller is) kind of like a fist fight in there, every time the ball is snapped,” Beamer said. “I like the way he plays.”

Stinespring, who also serves as Tech's offensive line coach, said Miller's work ethic and toughness finally are showing through on the field.

“I think his work ethic right now is probably parallel with any of the best workers we've had up front,” Stinespring said. “If there's any aspect he thinks he can improve, he works diligently to get it done. Ö I know one (other) thing: The toughness part of him is not in question.”

Center Travis Conway is the team's snapper on punts. Inconsistent early in his career, he lost the job before regaining it this season.

“He's been very, very good on both (placements and punts),” Beamer said. “He's been really excellent on punts, zipping that ball back there.”

Mike Daniels had an impact at outside linebacker two years ago but was moved to free safety this year and is a backup. Vincent Fuller of Baltimore, once touted as the safety of the future, moved to cornerback last season. He's been both a starter and a reserve and has proven to be very solid at that spot. He's currently listed as a backup.

Eric Green of Clewiston, Fla., is another backup cornerback. He played as a true freshman and had to sit out 2002 with a knee injury. Like Fuller, he's a very solid reserve. He's also a special teams stud. Green has blocked three kicks in his career, so he's halfway to the school record.

“I'm trying to break some records around here,” Green said. “I enjoy playing punt block as much as I enjoy playing cornerback.”

Jared Mazzetta of Flemington, N.J., is one of three tight ends in Tech's rotation. He caught two passes against Syracuse on Oct. 11, double what he caught the previous two seasons. Robert Ramsey of Coraopolis, Pa., has been Jake Grove's backup at center for the past two campaigns. Grove is gone after this year, but Ramsey probably will find himself behind 2003 redshirt Tripp Carroll next fall.

Two junior college players were in this class: defensive tackle Channing Reed of Trenton, N.J., and Montgomery (Md.) College, and defensive back Kevin McCadam of Lakeside, Calif., and Grossmont (Calif.) College. Reed was a backup for two years. As a senior, he played in eight games and had 16 tackles.

McCadam turned into quite a find, and he's a guy with an interesting story. He originally went to Colorado State but went home after his father died. Two years later, he was ready to leave again and journeyed all the way across the country. The Sugar Bowl had an effect on his decision. Injuries marred his first season at Tech, so he didn't do much. But he responded with a monster senior season (83 tackles, three interceptions) and is now with the Atlanta Falcons.

Mike Jackson was a lightly recruited tight end from Mason, Ohio, but the Hokies liked his potential. Unfortunately, he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in a 2001 practice session and never returned.

Josh Spence, a linebacker and fullback from Riner, Va., had to give up football last year on the advice of physicians after suffering numerous concussions. He was developing into a special teams standout when his career came to a premature end.

The saddest case of all concerns linebacker Chad Cooper of Herndon, Va., one of the more highly recruited members of this class. He got sick late in the 2001 season and eventually was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre Syndrome. That's a debilitating nerve disorder — the body eats away at the coating of its own nerves — and it's sometimes fatal.

Cooper lost about 50 pounds at one point but recovered quickly enough to return for the following season. However, the illness and time away greatly affected him. He's a backup linebacker now, and it doesn't look like he'll ever be more than that. That's a shame, coaches said, because he was as good as advertised before getting sick.

A whole lot of recruiters wanted Jason Davis, a quarterback from Sevierville, Tenn., but he didn't turn out to be a Division I-A signal-caller, or even a Division I-AA QB. Davis enrolled at Tech early but never quite grasped the system. He transferred to East Tennessee State, where he hardly played and didn't return for this season.

Sam Fatherly of Williamsport, Pa., also enrolled at Tech early. A defensive back, he eventually transferred to Temple to join his brother David. Things didn't work out there, either, and Fatherly is no longer with the Owls.

Finally, it's OK for Tech fans to forget about Malcolm Wooldridge. A defensive tackle from nearby Hargrave Military Academy, he said in 2000 that he'd sign with Tech. He didn't, inking with Southern Cal instead. He quickly got into trouble at USC and ended up at Harper (Ill.) Junior College, where he made the NJCAA All-American team in 2002. He's now a backup at Kansas State, after reporting to preseason camp out of shape.

— Mike Harris, Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch