By David Glenn and staff
ACCSports.com November 8, 2005
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 2002 based on the production of those players four years into their college careers.
Not surprisingly, perennial national powers and 2005 ACC title contenders Virginia Tech and Florida State -- who says recruiting rankings are meaningless? -- led the way in 2002, with plenty of signees who are thriving on the field this fall as seniors and redshirt juniors. At the other end of the spectrum, North Carolina, Duke and Clemson are struggling (to various degrees) this season, with little help from the Class of 2002.
Part II Of A Two-Part Series
Virginia: Class Lifted Cavs, Mostly Met Starry Expectations Florida State: FSU Found Team's Heart, Soul N.C. State: Pack Secured Big-Time Talents Maryland: Out Of State Haul Lifted Terps Miami: Coker Learned Difficult Lesson Duke: Franks Class Not Enough
Landmark Class Lifted Cavs, Mostly Met Starry ExpectationsCHARLOTTESVILLE -- The scene in the halls of Virginia's McCue Center on Feb. 4, 2002, football coach Al Groh would later say, looked like Mardi Gras.
The Cavaliers' coaches had earned the right to celebrate that Monday. They'd received commitments from three blue-chip prospects, all of them Virginians: linebackers Ahmad Brooks (Woodbridge) and Kai Parham (Virginia Beach) and tailback Michael Johnson (Newport News).
Two days later, those three Parade All-Americans, plus a fourth, defensive lineman Kwakou Robinson from New York City, made it official. They formed the core of a class that earned rave reviews nationally and confirmed Groh's growing reputation as a formidable recruiter. This was a coach with extensive ties to the NFL -- Groh's Super Bowl ring drove that point home to prospects -- and that appealed to young men who dreamed of playing in The League after their college careers ended.
UVa, coming off a 5-7 season, was not to be confused with Florida State or Michigan or Miami or any of the other perennial powers in Division I-A as signing day neared in 2002. Yet the Wahoos landed a class that ESPN.com's Tom Lemming ranked No. 5 nationally, and he wasn't the only recruiting analyst impressed by Groh's landmark haul.
"I came in here with the intention of competing first for the Atlantic Coast Conference (title) and, in so doing, put ourselves in position to compete for the national championship," Groh said at the time. "I'm sure there were some people snickering when we said that. Those were probably some of the same people who said this would never be one of the top five recruiting classes."
Nearly four years later, the class has not propelled the Wahoos to national prominence, as UVa fans had hoped. Still, its impact has been substantial. Some members of the class rank among the finest to play at UVa, most notably linebackers Brooks, Parham and Darryl Blackstock, kicker Connor Hughes, offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and tailback Wali Lundy.
Had medical issues not plagued him at Virginia, fullback Jason Snelling might warrant inclusion in that group, too. Still others, such as Johnson and Robinson, have played a lot of football for the Cavaliers but haven't lived up to expectations, though the former may be Virginia's featured back in 2006 and thus still has time to enhance his legacy.
Another major storyline with this class is the tremendous attrition it has suffered, one reason the Cavaliers have found themselves perilously thin at several positions this season.
Of the 26 players who returned letters of intent to Groh on Feb. 6, 2002, two never made it to UVa. Defensive tackle Robert Armstrong and center Robert Jenkins, for different reasons, ended up instead at Maryland in 2003. (Armstrong is injured this fall, and Jenkins is no longer with the Terps.) Two others, Brooks and nose tackle Keenan Carter, failed to meet NCAA eligibility standards in 2002 and didn't enroll at UVa until 2003.
Thus, the first-year class that joined Groh's program in the summer of 2002 comprised 22 scholarship players. Supplementing that group were several recruited walk-ons, three of whom Virginia later put on scholarship: Hughes, linebacker Mark Miller and offensive tackle Davon Robb.
For a variety of reasons, the class has shrunk dramatically since 2002. Only 13 members are on the Cavs' roster this season: Robinson, Hughes, Miller, Parham, Johnson, Ferguson, Lundy, Snelling, nose tackle Ron Darden, offensive tackle Brad Butler, safeties Lance Evans and Tony Franklin, and cornerback Marcus Hamilton. Of those 13, Robinson, Hughes, Miller, Ferguson, Lundy and Butler are in their final seasons of eligibility.
Personnel losses haven't kept this class from contributing significantly in Charlottesville. A staggering 14 members played as true freshmen in 2002, when UVa, picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC, tied for second and then whipped West Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl to close at 9-5.
"You have to give them a lot of credit," Groh said recently, "because they came in, and they didn't even blink."
UVa finished 8-5 in 2003 and 8-4 in 2004, thanks in no small part to contributions from the 2002 recruits. Of the 13 class members still in the program, only Evans isn't in the rotation at his position.
After more than a decade as an NFL assistant, Groh took over as the New York Jets' head coach in 2000. He guided the Jets to a 9-7 record that season, then abruptly stepped down to take his dream job. Groh, UVa Class of 67, returned to his alma mater to succeed legendary coach George Welsh, who had retired in December 2000.
Virginia Tech's rise to national prominence had coincided with the decline of Welsh's program, and the recruiting rankings reflected the growing gap between the state's two Division I-A teams. Groh put together a staff filled with young, ambitious, energetic assistants -- including his son Michael, a former UVa quarterback, and renowned recruiter Al Golden -- who were eager to battle the Hokies for players. Equally important, Groh took a personal interest in the "acquisition of talent," as he liked to call it. Few would have predicted that, given Groh's long tenure in the NFL, but he recruited relentlessly and enthusiastically.
The class that signed with UVa in February 2001 consisted primarily of players who'd committed when Welsh was the coach. It turned out to be a terrific group, led by offensive linemen Elton Brown and Brian Barthelmes, tight ends Heath Miller and Patrick Estes, tailback Alvin Pearman and defensive end Brennan Schmidt. The 2002 class, though, was the first for which Groh and his staff could take full credit.
It was essential, Groh said recently, that this group be special, "because players like James Farrior, Jamie Sharper, the Barber brothers, Percy Ellsworth, those kind of players weren't (in the UVa program) at the time, and they were the kind of player that had really helped the ascendancy of the program to a very high level" under Welsh.
Groh said the "most immediate task at hand was to replenish the talent pool with players of that ability level." The longer it took the Cavaliers to get them, the longer it would take the team to contend for the ACC title again.
Of course, UVa didn't land everyone it wanted in 2002. Two prime targets, quarterback Marcus Vick and defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis, signed with Virginia Tech, where they now star for one of the nation's elite teams. Randy Hand, a touted offensive lineman from Florida, committed to UVa in December 2001 but later changed his mind. He signed with Florida. Wide receiver Maurice Stovall chose Notre Dame over Virginia.
"We were right there to the very end with him," Groh said of Stovall.
Those losses notwithstanding, the quality of Virginia's 2002 class shocked many observers. Five of the recruits were consensus prep All-Americans: Brooks, Johnson, Lundy, Parham and Robinson. Brooks was USA Today's choice as the nation's best high school defender.
Blackstock, who prepped at Fork Union Military Academy in 2001-02, Ferguson and defensive back Stefan Orange also made some prep All-American teams. Others in the class who received multiple offers from schools in BCS conferences were Hamilton, wideout Ron Morton, defensive linemen D.J. Bell and Braden Campbell, and safeties Evans and Willie Davis.
The more lightly recruited members of the class included Snelling, whose playmaking ability was a revelation in 2002; Butler, who has blossomed into a three-year starter and an NFL prospect; punter Tom Hagan, who was handed the starting job in 2002; and Franklin, who was moved from tailback to cornerback while redshirting in 2002. Franklin is now in his third season as a starter in the secondary. Butler, Franklin and Hagan likely would have attracted more interest from other schools had they not committed to UVa so early.
One of Groh's first moves as Virginia's coach was to install the 3-4 defense he'd come to favor in the NFL. For that scheme to flourish, a team must have big-time inside linebackers. Lo and behold, Groh found two of the nation's premier prep linebackers inside the state, and he put Brooks and Parham at the top of his wish list.
"They were the model," Groh said. "They are the model. Obviously, timing was very beneficial to us. Wow, this is what we need, and can we believe our good fortune? Here they are in our own state in our first year.'"
Virginia adopted a high-risk strategy in its pursuit of Brooks and Parham. Groh recruited no other inside linebackers. Had the Cavaliers failed to land Brooks or Parham, or both, they would have had to wait another year to stock up at that position.
"Both these kids gave us enough positive response where we could really think, Hey, the payoff might be significant,'" Groh said. "We wanted to be able to say to both of them, Here's what's needed on this team, and you're the guys we want.' We couldn't say that with credibility if they looked at some early commitments and said, You told me I'm the guy, but you have four linebackers committed.'"
Members of the 2002 class generally can be placed into one of two groups: players who have made significant contributions, or players no longer in the program. There's little in between.
The exodus began almost immediately. Offensive lineman Brett Tobin left school during the first semester in 2002-03 and returned home to Wisconsin. He now plays for Division I-AA Western Illinois, where he was projected to start at right tackle this season. Tobin broke his leg during training camp but is expected back in 2006.
By the time the first school year ended, two others had left: center Damian Spradlin and Orange, both of whom had redshirted in 2002. Spradlin, who'd been the first player to commit to UVa for 2002, realized soon after matriculating that he wouldn't thrive at the ACC level.
Orange's situation was different. A resident of Culpeper, about a 45-minute drive from Charlottesville, Orange might have cracked the two-deep in the secondary in 2003. But he mysteriously left the team during spring practice that year and returned home. He eventually transferred to Division I-AA James Madison, only to quit the team there, too.
"He was doing pretty well (at UVa), and all of a sudden he was gone, with no communication to his roommates or best friends," Groh said. "He never responded to anyone's entreaties to him. We certainly wanted him on the team."
How many football programs can say they've lost two players from the same recruiting class to baseball? Virginia can.
Tom Hagan, after two mediocre seasons as the Cavaliers' punter, left the gridiron to concentrate on baseball. He helped UVa reach the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, hitting .281 in 2004 and .286 in 2005. Anthony Martinez, who'd fallen to No. 4 on the depth chart at quarterback, quit the football team in September 2004. He played baseball for UVa in 2005 but later was suspended for academic reasons. He's now on the baseball roster at Louisburg, a junior college in North Carolina.
More damaging than the departures of Hagan and Martinez were the losses of two members of the 2002 class to career-ending injuries: Campbell and Davis. Campbell, who played defensive end as a true freshman in 2002, later had operations on both of his wrists, which no longer could withstand the pounding of football. Unlikely to become more than a role player at UVa, he left the team in the summer of 2004.
Davis, the Cavaliers' coaches believed, had the potential to become an All-American. He stood 6-2, weighed about 190 pounds, and was among the team's fastest players. He started five games as a true freshman.
"He had size, he had speed, he had toughness, he had ball skills," Groh said.
Alas, Davis suffered serious nerve damage while making a tackle against South Carolina on Sept. 6, 2003, and never suited up again. Until this season, breakdowns had plagued Groh's secondaries at UVa, and many of those problems might have been avoided had Davis been at safety.
More attrition: Kenneth Tynes, who'd moved between safety and wideout without breaking into the rotation at either position, was dismissed from the team in 2004 after repeated disciplinary issues. Also, after the 2004 season, Blackstock gave up his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. He now plays for the Arizona Cardinals, who drafted him in the fourth round.
Most recently, after the 2004-05 school year, lineman D.J. Bell and receiver Ron Morton were suspended from UVa for academic reasons. Neither is likely to play again for the Cavaliers.
Five of the players who entered UVa in 2002 already have earned All-ACC recognition. Lundy and Hughes made the all-conference second team in 2003. Brooks and Ferguson were first-team selections in 2004, when Blackstock was named to the second team. Hughes became UVa's all-time leading scorer in October. With 27 career sacks, Blackstock ranks No. 2 in school history, behind only Chris Slade.
Injuries have marred Lundy's senior season, but he entered the Nov. 5 game against Temple in sixth place on UVa's career rushing list, and he was closing in on Thomas Jones' modern-era school record for career rushing touchdowns.
Brooks and Ferguson have had to deal with injuries this season, too, but when healthy each is among the nation's best at his position. Ferguson started the Cavs' 2002 opener as a true freshman, despite weighing around 255 pounds, and has never played in a college game he didn't start. He's since grown into a powerful 290-pounder, and he could be the first offensive tackle selected in the 2006 NFL draft.
Parham, at times overshadowed by the flashier Brooks, UVa's top tackler in 2003 and 2004, has stepped comfortably into a leading role this season. He headed into November as the Cavaliers' leader in tackles and sacks and had established himself as a serious All-ACC candidate. Others from the 2002 class enjoying strong 2005 seasons include Hamilton, Franklin, Hughes, Johnson and Robinson.
It came in as the highest-ranked recruiting class in UVa history. When it's through, the class may not be remembered as the greatest ever to wear the orange and blue, but its members can reflect with pride on what they've meant to Groh's rebuilding effort.
"The start of things certainly would have been slower (had the 2002 class not been so strong)," Groh said. "They really came in and helped win games."
-- Jeff White, Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch
Points: 190 (6.8 per)
All-League Selections/Candidates: 6
Starters: 12; % Starters: 42.9
Second Team: 2; % Contributors: 50.0
Missing (Dismissed/Left) Players: 10
VA DT Robert Armstrong -- Non-Qualifier/Maryland
DE DT D.J. Bell -- Dismissed 2005
VA LB Darryl Blackstock -- Three-Year Starter/NFL
VA LB Ahmad Brooks -- Non-Qualifier/Re-Signed
VA OL Brad Butler* -- Three-Year Starter
PA DT Braden Campbell -- Medical 2004
VA DT Keenan Carter -- Non-Qualifier/Re-Signed
MD OL Ron Darden# -- Starter (NT)
NC DB Willie Davis -- Medical 2003
NJ DB Lance Evans -- Career Reserve
NY OL D'Brickashaw Ferguson* -- Four-Year Starter
OH RB Tony Franklin -- Three-Year Starter (DB)
VA P Tom Hagan -- Starter/Baseball
VA DB Marcus Hamilton -- Two-Year Starter
VA PK Connor Hughes^* -- Three-Year Starter
NY JC OL Robert Jenkins -- Non-Qualifier/Maryland
VA RB Michael Johnson -- Second Team
NJ RB Wali Lundy* -- Four-Year Starter
VA QB Anthony Martinez -- Reserve/Baseball
AL LB Mark Miller^* -- Starter
NJ WR Ron Morton -- Dismissed 2005
VA DB Stefan Orange -- Transfer/James Madison
VA LB Kai Parham -- Three-Year Starter
NY DT Kwakou Robinson* -- Second Team
VA FB Jason Snelling -- Two-Year Starter
VA OL Damian Spradlin -- Left Team 2002
WI OL Brett Tobin -- Transfer/Western Illinois
VA RB Kenneth Tynes -- Dismissed 2004
^ - 2002 walk-on ! - I-A transfer # - injured
* - never redshirted/exhausts eligibility this fall
FSU Found Team's Heart, Soul
TALLAHASSEE -- At many schools, a fourth-year signing class attrition rate of 50 percent may land a coach on the hot seat, or at least leave him explaining to boosters why his team didn't qualify for a bowl game.
Fortunately for Florida State's Bobby Bowden, the 11 active players still standing from his 22-man Class of 2002 have -- at the very least -- lived up to their billing.
"It's been a very good core, the ones that stayed with it," Bowden said. "It's kind of the heart and soul of this team."
Back in the hunt for a Bowl Championship Series berth, the 2005 Seminoles appear more like the vintage dynasty teams (1987-2000) than those that followed, losing at least three games per year from 2001-04.
There was a wild celebration in the FSU football offices when tailback Lorenzo Booker's paperwork arrived via fax on Feb. 6, 2002, shortly after he shocked many recruiting experts by selecting the Seminoles over Notre Dame on national television. Booker, the nation's top-rated recruit, prompted a revamped analysis of Bowden's class.
Seldom has one late-in-the-day signature sent a class skyrocketing into the top 10. Booker's did, though he was hardly alone in a class that ranked as high as third nationally and no lower than sixth.
Booker was one of 10 consensus prep All-Americans to sign with the Seminoles, joining defensive tackle Chris Anderson, tailback Thomas Clayton, receiver Chris Davis, linebacker A.J. Nicholson, receiver Dishon Platt, tailback Leon Washington, safety Pat Watkins, defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and junior college receiver Chauncey Stovall.
They were drawn to Florida State, in part, because of the opportunity to contribute immediately, a rarity given the Seminoles' history. But FSU was coming off an 8-4 season -- its worst in 15 years -- and playing opportunities were abundant. It's something many had discussed as teammates in the U.S. Army all-star game prior to signing day.
"As a recruit, I think you look at that as an opportunity to come in and help to get the program back to where it was before," said Wimbley, who arrived in January 2002 as a 17-year-old and, at 21, is one of the ACC's top pass rushers.
While it's hard to argue Bowden's "heart and soul" description of his 2002 class, it's impossible to look at the group without imagining what might have been if not for attrition.
Continuing a familiar trend at FSU, five members of the class failed to qualify academically: Platt, tight end Lonnie Davis and defensive tackles Anderson, Chris Bradwell and Chris Turner. That proved to be only the beginning of the exodus from Tallahassee.
Clayton, one of three prep All-American tailbacks, transferred to Kansas State after one season. Fullback Torrance Washington was forced to take a medical hardship in 2004, the victim of a knee that wouldn't heal sufficiently after reconstructive surgeries. Quarterback/receiver Lorne Sam, who followed his brother P.K to FSU, was repeatedly injured and bolted for UTEP in search of a shot at QB. After re-signing in 2003, Bradwell ran afoul of the law and the coaching staff for "violating team rules" in 2004 and was dismissed. Junior college linebacker Nate Hardage, who originally signed with FSU out of high school, was overmatched from the start and transferred to Division II Valdosta State.
Stovall, SuperPrep's top-rated juco prospect, was the team's leading receiver in 2004 before his eligibility expired. But he never quite lived up to coordinator Jeff Bowden's "next Peter Warrick" tag, which was hung on him when the Seminoles offered him a scholarship as a senior at Vero Beach (Fla.) High before academic issues put him on the juco trail.
"Without a doubt, if we had everybody here (from the 2002 class), the results would have been different," said Watkins, a second-year starter at free safety. "We had a really, really talented class."
Instead of tapping into the potential of that original group, the Seminoles were forced to fill some sizable voids with youngsters. FSU may not suffer through a fourth consecutive season of three or more losses, but its personnel shortcomings at a number of positions clearly have been exposed.
"You know if you sign 25 (players) a year you're not going to get 25 that things are going to work out for, for a variety of reasons," FSU recruiting coordinator John Lilly said. "What we shoot for is about 60 percent (of the class having an impact). ... This group is about 50 percent. The key is, if you've only got 50 (percent) they better be playing really well -- not just contributors, but starters."
Each of the 11 active members of the class -- six are in their final season of eligibility -- has been a starter at some juncture, led by big-impact players Washington and Nicholson.
Washington entered this season as one of the favorites to win ACC player of the year honors, but that was before the Seminoles discovered their passing game. Still, he'll leave the program as an undisputed leader and among the top 10 rushers in school history. Nicholson is in the process of authoring an All-ACC campaign. A Butkus Award semifinalist, he leads FSU in tackles and big plays, a solid follow-up after topping the team in stops in 2004.
"Given the contributions," Lilly said, "you'd have to consider (2002) a very outstanding year."
Washington, a multi-purpose threat as a runner and receiver, is one of four players from the class projected to be selected on the first day of the 2006 NFL draft, along with Watkins, Wimbley and nose guard Brodrick Bunkley.
While Lilly and Bowden make solid arguments, the class attrition has created a noticeable drop-off in productivity along the defensive front.
Losing three tackles -- Anderson, Bradwell and Turner -- left Bunkley (who's in the midst of an All-ACC season) as one of only two interior linemen with experience. In part, that lack of depth has forced the Seminoles to go to a 3-4 scheme more frequently than ever before, sometimes leaving it more vulnerable to the run.
Anderson resurfaced this year at Middle Tennessee State, after a detour to prep school and then two years out of football, but he has not posted any statistics this fall. Turner went the juco route before heading to Alabama, where he quit the team after one season (2004) as a reserve. Bradwell's whereabouts are unknown.
The attrition likely will lead to additional problems a year from now, when Wimbley -- who was forced to play as a true freshman, even though he wasn't physically prepared for significant repetitions -- also is gone. His left end classmate, redshirt junior Darrell Burston, has been a serviceable starter but shows no signs of becoming a playmaker before his eligibility expires. He was among the least-touted players in the class.
It also should be noted that the Seminoles failed to sign a single cornerback in the class. That's a shortcoming that has been exposed, as opponents have attacked a collection of first- and second-year corners, including this season.
Likewise, unheralded Cory Niblock was the lone offensive lineman signed. A solid contributor and a second-year starter as a junior, he was thrust into action a season early because FSU's banner haul of blockers from the 2001 class lost three players to medical disqualification. Only two fifth-year linemen remain on the squad, a reserve and a former starter out for the season because of injury.
Given the reduced margin of error because of attrition, things could have been worse.
"You're starting to see it now -- defensive line, wide receiver, quarterback," Booker said, prior to the start of the season. "Those are three positions that obviously the depth could be a little more solid right now, and maybe Xavier (Lee) and Drew (Weatherford) wouldn't be thrust into the (quarterback) position so early. We still feel like the guys we have behind them are capable of getting the job done, but it still puts us in the position to where you're really starting to have to change some things."
Fortunately, the changes have panned out.
Projected starting quarterback Wyatt Sexton was forced to sit out this season while being treated for Lyme disease. That thrust redshirt freshmen Weatherford and Lee into battle for the starting job. It's been a stroke of good fortune that Weatherford has emerged this fall as the ACC's most prolific passer.
When the season began, there were only three scholarship wide receivers in the program who had ever collected a college reception. Oft-injured Davis finally is showing signs of emerging as the open-field threat many had projected. Through eight games, he led the team and ranked among league leaders in receptions (33) and receiving yards (472).
While a corps of younger players has stepped to the fore, nobody had the pedigree of Platt, the nation's top-rated wideout who since has disappeared from the public eye. (The last sighting occurred when he played on the basketball team at in-state Broward Community College.) Sam, who never shed his desire to play quarterback, limped through a couple of seasons with little impact before transferring to UTEP. Listed as a quarterback/receiver by the Miners, he's sitting out this fall under NCAA transfer rules. Davis went to junior college, then Division II Elizabeth City State.
Clayton, who balked at the idea of being switched from tailback to wideout, moved on to K-State to fulfill his desires after one semester on campus. After two weeks this season, he was leading the nation in rushing, but then he ran into off-the-field issues (misdemeanor battery charges) that sidetracked his potential break-out season. Through eight games, he still led the Wildcats in rushing, with 105 carries for 450 yards and four touchdowns, but he was in jeopardy of losing his starting role.
A pair of 2002 walk-ons since have earned scholarships: bullish fullback James Coleman and reliable long snapper Myles Hodish. They have been consistent contributors for two seasons as understated starters.
Attrition nearly claimed one more member of the 2002 class: starting middle linebacker Buster Davis. He has shared the position with classmate and situational substitute Sam McGrew for two seasons.
"I was too immature to understand the mistake I was going to make," said Davis, who left school for a week during his freshman season after butting heads with then-linebackers coach Joe Kines over a position change.
Davis ultimately grew up and so, apparently, have the 11 active members of Florida State's Class of 2002.
"They've stayed the course," Bowden said. "They've had some good years. We haven't had any terrible years, but we've had some years not as good as others."
Should Booker opt to join the four other 2002 signees who are eligible to return in 2006, it may well end up as the class that put FSU back on the map as national championship contenders.
-- Bob Thomas, Florida Times-Union
Points: 170 (7.4 per)
All-League Selections/Candidates: 4
Starters: 12; % Starters: 52.2
Second Team: 2; % Contributors: 60.9
Missing (Dismissed/Left) Players: 7
FL DT Chris Anderson -- Non-Qualifier/MTSU
CA RB Lorenzo Booker -- Second Team
GA DT Chris Bradwell -- Non-Qualifier/Re-Signed
FL DT Brodrick Bunkley* -- Two-Year Starter
GA DE Darrell Burston -- Starter
VA RB Thomas Clayton -- Transfer/Kansas St.
FL FB James Coleman^ -- Starter
FL LB Buster Davis -- Two-Year Starter
FL WR Chris Davis -- Starter
FL TE Lonnie Davis -- Non-Qualifier/ECSU
MS JC LB Nate Hardage -- Transfer/Valdosta St.
FL LB Sam McGrew* -- Second Team
FL OL Cory Niblock -- Two-Year Starter
NC LB A.J. Nicholson* -- Two-Year Starter
FL WR Dishon Platt -- Non-Qualifier/BCC
GA WR Lorne Sam -- Transfer/UTEP
FL QB Wyatt Sexton# -- Starter 2004
MS JC WR Chauncey Stovall -- Starter/NFL
FL DT Chris Turner -- Non-Qualifier/Alabama
FL RB Leon Washington* -- Two-Year Starter
FL FB Torrance Washington -- Medical 2004
FL DB Pat Watkins* -- Two-Year Starter
KS DE Kamerion Wimbley* -- Starter
^ -- 2002 walk-on ! -- I-A transfer # -- injured
* -- never redshirted/exhausts eligibility this fall
Pack Secured Big-Time TalentsRALEIGH -- As anyone in high school football in South Florida can tell you, Chuck Amato knows how to sell a program. And in the recruiting period leading up to signing day for the Class of 2002, the N.C. State coach had a pretty good product to sell.
The Wolfpack had stunned many observers by going 8-4 in 2000, Amato's debut season in Raleigh. State followed that up with a 7-5 campaign in 2001.
This was seen as a program on the rise, and the recruits Amato lured in 2002 reflected that perception. But it wasn't yet a program at the top, and the near-misses for Amato and his staff almost four years ago reflected that as well.
The recruit who truly introduced the locals to Amato's aggressive, relentless brand of recruiting was cornerback A.J. Davis. A prep All-American out of nearby powerhouse Northern Durham High, a recent UNC pipeline, Davis had given a commitment to the Tar Heels and was expected to end up in Chapel Hill. But Amato and his staff continued to press Davis to change his mind. On signing day, the player's decision in favor of NCSU showed that he finally did, to the surprise of his own father and coach, among many others.
Some saw the turn of events as bad form. Others cried foul, and indeed the NCAA sent a representative to talk with Davis. All along, Amato made no apologies.
"Obviously, you get discouraged when people say they're going to some other school," Amato said at the time. "But that doesn't mean recruiting is over. That doesn't stop recruiting."
Looking back, it's harder to see what all of the fuss was about. Davis finally has latched onto a starting role as a cornerback in his fourth year in the program, but he has been up-and-down so far this season while trying to play the man-to-man coverage the Wolfpack's scheme demands of its corners most of the time.
There were several other signees, though, who lived up to their high school hype, and a few who have exceeded everyone's wildest expectations.
Put John McCargo at the top of the latter list. A complete unknown out of Randolph Henry High in Virginia -- believe it or not, his only other scholarship offer was from Division I-AA James Madison -- McCargo has started at defensive tackle for the Wolfpack since the second game of his redshirt freshman year.
This season, despite all of the hype surrounding ends Manny Lawson and Mario Williams, McCargo has started to attract more attention. Before suffering a foot injury in late October, he consistently drew raves from opposing coaches and clearly was on his way to All-ACC honors. There is even some talk among NFL scouts and draft analysts that he could be a first-round pick if he forgoes his senior season and enters the 2006 draft.
"John McCargo just keeps getting better and better and better," Amato said. "His hat speed across the ball is so quick when he reads the football, I just worry that he jumps so fast that we'll get called for offsides even when he really wasn't."
Tight end T.J. Williams has made a similar rise to stardom at State. After playing only five games as a senior at Tarboro (N.C.) High, he wasn't on a lot of recruiting radars and required a one-year detour to prep school. But since arriving in Raleigh, he has become one of the strongest players on the Wolfpack roster and a favorite target of the team's quarterbacks. A senior this fall, he also is likely to go on the first day of the NFL draft.
"I think their tight end may be the best one in the country," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "When you talk about the best, I think most pro scouts who come through here think of T.J. Williams."
Williams was one of several pass-catchers State signed in 2002. The group has produced mixed results.
After an NCSU-induced eligibility snafu kept him from joining the team in 2001, Florida running back Tramain Hall turned down offers from Ohio State and Southern Cal after a year of junior college to re-sign with the Wolfpack. In a truly remarkable story, he did so knowing that (under an ACC ruling) he would have to sit out the 2002 season in Raleigh, whereas he would have been eligible immediately at any other school.
Hall made a successful transition to receiver (as a halfback) and enjoyed a huge season (69 receptions) as a favorite target of Philip Rivers in 2003. Since then, though, injuries and the team's quarterback problems have lowered Hall's production dramatically. He hasn't become the game-breaker many hoped to see, on either offense or special teams. Through seven games this fall, he had 21 catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns, plus a handful of impressive punt and kick returns.
Brian Clark's career has followed a similar path. After a big year catching passes from Rivers in 2003, Clark's production almost completely disappeared in 2004. However, he has worked his way back to becoming a key part of the offense this fall. The Pack's most productive receiver, he had 18 receptions for 324 yards and four touchdowns through seven games, including huge, clutch scores in wins over Georgia Tech and Southern Miss.
The biggest what-if from State's 2002 receiving crop might be Richard Washington. Like Hall, he was a big-time Florida recruit who snubbed Ohio State to join the Wolfpack. Blessed with game-breaking speed, Washington showed patches of big-play ability, but he never seemed to put things together. After committing the dreaded "violation of school policy," he left State this spring and tried to enroll at Mississippi, where former Wolfpack coordinator Noel Mazzone is now running the offense. But Washington was denied admission. He is now at Division II Valdosta State, trying to regain his eligibility.
Washington also is an unfortunate example of the attrition that has taken a huge chunk out of State's otherwise impressive 2002 class. Of the 24 signees, eight either never arrived on campus, quit football or were kicked off the team. As has become a trend under Amato, who has signed more non-qualifiers than anyone in the ACC during his tenure with the Wolfpack, academics often played a role.
Elijah Dukes, a linebacker from Florida, chose pro baseball over college football after failing to qualify academically. Now one of the top prospects in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization, he spent the 2004-05 season at the Double A level. A pair of juco signees, defensive linemen Alan Holloway and Sheldon Lewin, both were dismissed from the team just before what would have been their final college game, the 2003 Tangerine Bowl.
Tight end Roddy Long was dismissed after the 2004 season. Lamarr Smith, a tight end from Virginia, failed to qualify for admission. Georgia defensive tackle Alex Lumpkin, who also failed to qualify, enrolled at Hinds (Miss.) Community College but never made his way back to Raleigh. Linebacker Travis Singletary made the most ignominious exit from State, after pleading guilty to fraud in connection with the theft of a campus debit card.
Despite the losses, State still has received a significant amount of contributions from the Class of 2002, particularly on defense.
After beating out Clemson for lanky Goldsboro (N.C.) High tight end Manny Lawson, the Wolfpack shifted him to defense. Following a stint at linebacker, he has found a home at defensive end. His pass-rushing skill, as well as his kick-blocking on special teams, make him a likely first-day pick in the 2006 NFL draft.
Oliver Hoyte also may play at the next level in 2006, likely as a middle linebacker. His logical successor at State is fourth-year junior Pat Lowery. The former Mocksville (N.C.) Davie standout has yet to crack State's starting lineup, but he already has made an impact as a technically sound run-stuffer. Add in starting safety Garland Heath, a 2002 non-qualifier who enrolled the following year, and it's clear that the core of State's 2005 defense -- five starters and one key reserve -- came from its 2002 signing class.
During Amato's tenure, the Wolfpack's biggest weak spot in recruiting has been its inability to lure top-notch offensive linemen. But State struck big -- indirectly -- when it landed Raleigh product Leroy Harris. At the time, Harris was considered one of the top defensive line recruits in the state. But he soon made the transition to offense, and he became an All-ACC performer at guard by his sophomore season. Harris since has had to move to center, because of State's severe lack of depth on the interior line.
Two other 2002 recruits, tackles James Newby and Jon Holt, also have seen playing time on the offensive line. Newby now starts at the critical left tackle position, while Holt is a little-used backup. Holt also is a distant second to starting right tackle Derek Morris, who was benched only briefly earlier this season despite committing a flurry of penalties.
Another potential NFL prospect the Wolfpack landed in 2002 is punter/kicker John Deraney. For the past two seasons, he has gamely handled all aspects of the team's kicking game, from punts to field goals to kickoffs. His future on the next level likely lies as a punter.
Given that Rivers was only halfway through his record-setting career by signing day in 2002, it hardly was surprising that the Pack failed to sign his successor. The only passer who inked with State that year was little-known Auburndale (Fla.) High quarterback Chris Moore. He has earned playing time in only one game in his career.
Perhaps the most memorable name from the 2002 class -- for both good and bad reasons -- was T.A. McLendon. The Wolfpack beat out a host of big-time powers in part by continuing to recruit McLendon hard, even at a time when the record-breaking back from Albemarle (N.C.) High appeared extremely unlikely to qualify. When McLendon finally did make the grade, State suddenly had a blue-chip running back to go with Rivers.
After McLendon's impressive freshman season, it looked as if he would break every one of Ted Brown's school rushing records. But injuries -- and a propensity to fumble -- dogged McLendon for the next two seasons. Eventually, he made the ill-fated decision to leave school and enter the 2005 NFL draft. After going undrafted, he signed as a free agent with Atlanta, only to be cut by the Falcons very early in preseason camp.
While State has received quality contributions from many of its 2002 signees -- and even All-ACC play from a few -- the class also can be marked by the recruits the Wolfpack narrowly missed. That list, which includes luminaries such as Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumerville, Maryland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, Virginia Tech cornerback Jimmy Williams and Ohio State wideout Santonio Holmes, confirmed that Amato and his staff were targeting the right talent. But it also left State fans wondering what might have been.
"The last 10 or 12 (targets), it was us versus the top 10 in America," Amato said. "We were swimming in the right waters. We just didn't get enough bites."
Points: 155 (6.5 per)
All-League Selections/Candidates: 3
Starters: 12; % Starters: 50.0
Second Team: 1; % Contributors: 54.2
Missing (Dismissed/Left) Players: 8
FL/CT WR Lamart Barrett -- Non-Qualifier/Re-Signed
FL WR Brian Clark* -- Two-Year Starter
NC DB A.J. Davis -- Starter
GA P John Deraney -- Two-Year Starter
FL LB Elijah Dukes -- Non-Qualifer/Baseball
CA JC RB Tramain Hall* -- Three-Year Starter (HB)
NC DT Leroy Harris -- Three-Year Starter (OC)
FL DB Garland Heath -- Non-Qualifier/Re-Signed
NY JC DT Alan Holloway -- Starter/Dismissed
FL OL Jon Holt -- Career Reserve
FL LB Oliver Hoyte* -- Three-Year Starter
NC DE Manny Lawson* -- Two-Year Starter
NY JC DE Sheldon Lewin -- Dismissed 2003
NC TE Roddy Long -- Dismissed 2004
NC LB Pat Lowery -- Second Team
GA DT Alex Lumpkin -- Non-Qualifier
VA DT John McCargo# -- Three-Year Starter
NC RB T.A. McLendon -- Three-Year Starter
FL QB Chris Moore -- Career Reserve
AL OL James Newby -- Two-Year Starter
FL LB Travis Singletary -- Dismissed 2003
VA TE Lamarr Smith -- Non-Qualifier
FL WR Richard Washington -- Dismissed/Valdosta St.
NC/VA TE T.J. Williams* -- Three-Year Starter
^ -- 2002 walk-on ! -- I-A transfer # -- injured
* -- never redshirted/exhausts eligibility this fall
Out Of State Haul Lifted TerpsCOLLEGE PARK -- Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen had a tough sell when he began the Class of 2002 recruiting cycle in the spring of 2001. His team was viewed as a perennial loser.
The Terrapins had managed just one winning season since 1991, and they had fired three coaches during that span. Friedgen soon would be seen as the savior of the program, but at the time he was just an extra-large, gruff career assistant with no proven track record as a head coach.
Maryland did have a few things going for it. Previous coach Ron Vanderlinden's emphasis on in-state recruiting was beginning to pay dividends, and Friedgen had retained ace recruiters Mike Locksley and James Franklin. Ultimately, it was the relationships they had built that attracted the players who formed the foundation of the incoming class.
The Terps' sales pitch improved as 2001 progressed. In his first season at the helm, Friedgen led his alma mater to a surprising 10-2 record that resulted in an ACC championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl.
While that on-field success helped Maryland land some prospects, it may have come too late in the process to make a dramatic difference. Friedgen and his staff desperately tried to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the Orange Bowl appearance, but they came up short on most of the national prospects who took a sudden interest in the Terps.
On the bright side, two of Maryland's last 2002 signees -- Florida linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and Texas athlete Jo Jo Walker -- were swayed in part by the resurgence. Walker has developed into a valuable contributor, and Jackson will leave College Park as one of the most outstanding players in the ACC.
As one might expect from such strange circumstances, Maryland's Class of 2002 resulted in a mixed bag. On one hand, eight of the original 22 signees became starters. That's a decent ratio. A trio of 2002 walk-ons, kicker Dan Ennis, linebacker David Holloway and center Ryan McDonald, also are starting this fall.
Another positive has been a relatively low attrition rate. Of the original 24 enrollees (including the three walk-ons), 17 were still on the roster at the start of this season. Only four scholarship recruits -- cornerback Chris Choice, lineman Nathaniel Clayton, and linebackers Reggie Holmes and Randy Earle -- did not cut it academically or athletically.
But while Friedgen maintained the program's previously stated philosophy of focusing on local prospects, that didn't prove to be very productive in 2002. Led by highly touted linebacker Shawne Merriman, who reached superstar status in College Park, the Terps signed nine Maryland-D.C. products. But only Merriman and tailback Josh Allen turned out well, a development the coaches certainly didn't expect almost four years ago.
"I think we've done really well in the state again. There really wasn't a kid in the state that we wanted and didn't get," Friedgen said on signing day. "It sends a message that the top players want to come to Maryland, and that we're going to be a factor in recruiting those kids."
Maryland's greatest needs were at quarterback and linebacker, and the Class of 2002 appeared to adequately address both positions.
Friedgen raved about the Terps' additions at linebacker, headed by Merriman and including Jackson, Holmes, Earle and William Kershaw. Holmes and Earle didn't pan out, but Merriman, Jackson and Kershaw all became multi-year starters. Factor in the unexpected addition of Holloway, and the linebacker haul ranks among the best in school history.
Merriman and Jackson have proven to be the jewels of the class, since both became first-team All-ACC performers and high-ranking NFL prospects. Merriman left a year early and was a No. 1 draft pick of the San Diego Chargers. A leading candidate for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker, Jackson may be a first-round pick in 2006.
No player was pursued more fervently by Maryland than Merriman, and ultimately Locksley's long-term relationship with the youngster proved crucial. Locksley gave a speech at Frederick Douglass High when Merriman was a sophomore there, and that began a close bond between the pair. A consensus prep All-American, Merriman was the third commitment of the class, choosing the Terps over Notre Dame and Michigan State, among many others.
Jackson, an undersized but speedy linebacker, was overlooked in Florida despite being a two-time all-state selection. Mostly ignored by Florida, Florida State and Miami, the hard hitter and sure tackler turned his attention to Maryland, N.C. State and LSU. Locksley worked extremely hard to land Jackson, who received a late offer from the Gators that complicated the picture. Jackson was the Terps' next-to-last pledge, but there were some tense moments near the end, especially after he failed to fax his letter of intent on signing day.
"Recruiting Florida is an adventure. There are so many operators down there telling kids to go places they don't really want to go," said Friedgen, who called Jackson a "steal."
Earle and Holmes also were well-regarded recruits in 2002, as both had numerous offers from schools in BCS conferences.
One of the top-rated prospects in New York, Earle had a unique story. He was left an orphan at a young age when both of his parents died as a result of heroin use. He had been raised by an aunt who lived on Long Island and mentored by his coach at Farmingdale High. Maryland defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo, a New York native, grew close to Earle during the recruiting process, and that was one reason the youngster ultimately chose Maryland over Michigan State and Virginia.
Earle struggled academically and socially from the outset in College Park, despite the staff's best efforts to keep him on track. He left school prior to August camp in 2003, then returned briefly before dropping out for good. He played in 2003 at Division I-AA Hofstra, which is located on Long Island, but he's no longer on the team there.
Holmes, rated among the nation's top prep linebackers by some analysts, was an even greater disappointment. Blessed with a big, powerful body (6-2, 235) and touted as a reckless tackler, the Bowie (Md.) High product was considered the heir apparent to E.J. Henderson. Holmes, also beset by poor grades, never performed to expectations on the field. He transferred to Division I-AA Morgan State, where he is a starter this fall.
The coaches also were high on Clayton, who performed well during August camp in 2002. He was moved to center and showed promise there before suffering a neck injury that scared him enough to cause him to re-evaluate his gridiron career. The problem ultimately was diagnosed as a severe stinger, but Clayton lost his heart for big-time football and left school. He resurfaced at Morgan State, where he remains on the team.
Friedgen called quarterback "an area of concern" because of the graduation of starter Shaun Hill and the unproven status of reserves Latrez Harrison and Chris Kelley. Junior college transfer Orlando Evans, who enrolled in January 2002, was expected to provide immediate help. He originally signed with Oregon, before spending two very productive seasons at City College of San Francisco.
"Evans is special," Friedgen said. "He's an intelligent, athletic player who can run or throw, which is the type of quarterback we're looking for."
Evans never lived up to that billing, remaining third on the depth chart during his two-year stay in College Park. The California native missed most of 2002 after sustaining a torn ACL in his lone appearance, against Eastern Michigan. He also was plagued by academic and personal problems, drawing a suspension from Friedgen in 2003.
Friedgen was more accurate in his assessments of high school signees Joel Statham (Chatsworth, Ga.) and Sam Hollenbach (Sellersville, Pa.), calling them "solid if not spectacular" prospects. "I want to bring them along slowly and let them develop."
Statham started for most of 2004 with disappointing results, while Hollenbach started the initial seven games of this season with surprising success.
Both quarterbacks have turned out pretty much as advertised. Hollenbach was described as a typical, pocket-type quarterback with good field sense, a strong arm and limited mobility. Statham, who was seen as an athletic QB with good size and quickness who could run the option, failed as a starter mainly because of repeated problems with turnovers.
Maryland wisely pursued a punter in 2002 as a future replacement for All-ACC selection Brooks Barnard, who was going to be a senior that fall. The staff identified a very good one in Podlesh, who also was a fine fullback and linebacker in New York.
Podlesh, who picked Maryland over Penn State, Stanford and Michigan State, is a three-year starter who earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2004. For the third straight season, he is a leading candidate for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's top punter.
Friedgen's strong reputation in the state of Georgia, along with the diligent recruiting efforts of offensive line coach Tom Brattan, landed an early commitment from tackle Stephon Heyer. The Terps liked Heyer's long arms, huge feet (size 22) and athleticism, so they offered him a scholarship in the summer of 2001, when the 6-6, 290-pounder was still unknown. The second commitment of the class, he held firm despite a strong push from Michigan and late interest from Georgia.
Heyer, described as a "late bloomer" by his high school coach, grew to 6-7 and 319 pounds. After starting 24 straight games at left tackle for the Terps, he is sitting out this season with a knee injury. Still regarded as an NFL prospect, he will return in 2006.
Friedgen considered J.P. Humber of Florida the program's top tailback recruit in 2002. The Terps had planned to sign only one runner in the class, but in the end they couldn't pass on Allen, from nearby Eleanor Roosevelt High.
"I could see us playing against Josh down the road, and I didn't want to do that," Friedgen said. "He's a very explosive guy with good hands. I like his potential."
Allen started 17 games and rolled up 1,941 yards and 21 touchdowns through three seasons, before suffering a severe knee injury that forced him to sit out this fall. He has proven to be far better than Humber, a career reserve.
Maryland desperately wanted to sign a fullback in 2002, someone to be groomed as a replacement for starter James Lynch, but the Terps missed on their top two targets. Chris Wilson of Baltimore and Delaware standout Brandon Snow both picked Penn State.
The inability to land a fullback proved costly, especially after Lynch turned pro early, following the 2002 campaign. It's also a major reason why Maryland is using a pair of converted linebackers at the position this season.
-- Bill Wagner, Annapolis (Md.) Capital
Points: 160 (6.4 per)
All-League Selections/Candidates: 3
Starters: 11; % Starters: 44.0
Second Team: 4; % Contributors: 60.0
Missing (Dismissed/Left) Players: 6
MD WR Paschal Abiamiri -- Career Reserve
MD RB Josh Allen# -- Two-Year Starter
MD DB Chris Choice -- Dismissed 2004
MD OL Nathaniel Clayton -- Transfer/Morgan St.
NY DE Randy Earle -- Transfer/Hofstra
MD PK Dan Ennis^ -- Starter
CA JC QB Orlando Evans -- Career Reserve
PA JC DB Reuben Haigler -- Second Team
GA OL Stephon Heyer# -- Two-Year Starter
PA QB Sam Hollenbach -- Starter
NY LB David Holloway^ -- Two-Year Starter
MD LB Reggie Holmes -- Dismissed/Morgan St.
FL RB J.P. Humber -- Career Reserve
FL LB D'Qwell Jackson* -- Three-Year Starter
NC LB William Kershaw* -- Two-Year Starter
MD OL Ryan McDonald^ -- Starter
PA WR Danny Melendez* -- Second Team
MD LB Shawne Merriman -- Two-Year Starter/NFL
NY P Adam Podlesh -- Three-Year Starter
PA DT Dave Quaintance -- Left Team 2005
MD DB Domonique Richmond -- Dismissed 2003
MD TE Brad Schell -- Career Reserve
GA QB Joel Statham -- Second Team
TX WR Jo Jo Walker* -- Starter
DC DB Marcus Wimbush -- Second Team
^ --; 2002 walk-on ! --; I-A transfer # --; injured
* --; never redshirted/exhausts eligibility this fall
Coker Learned Difficult LessonsCORAL GABLES -- At one point, Miami's 2002 signing class was more impressive to coach Larry Coker than the national championship trophy he had just won.
The spoils of being college football's top team included one of the nation's top five recruiting classes, which was considered by some the best group of prospects the Hurricanes had signed in a decade.
They certainly were a heralded bunch. UM landed two of the nation's top-rated tight ends in Curtis Justus of Oklahoma and Eric Winston of Texas, and two of the top-rated receivers in Ryan Moore of Orlando and Akieem Jolla of New Orleans. There also was a potential Ken Dorsey clone in Marc Guillon, who attended the same California high school as UM's young legend, and in-state product Devin Hester, who was viewed as one of the nation's top athletes.
Unfortunately for UM, that highly rated class turned out to be Miami's thinnest crop of prospects since its probation era. Many of the signees were late qualifiers, and a few turned out to be character risks.
Only 17 of the 23 signees showed up in the fall. Hester, receiver Darnell Jenkins, cornerback Terrell Walden and defensive end Alton Wright re-signed as part of the 2003 class. Almost four years later, only 15 of the original 23 are still Hurricanes.
"It was a great class when it was signed, but it's just starting to turn into a productive class, with guys getting significant minutes," said Winston, who became a left tackle in his second semester and has blossomed despite suffering a career-threatening knee injury last fall.
Winston's recruiting saga is infamous. He picked the Hurricanes over home-state Texas A&M, in a decision that caused him to become estranged from his mother and stepfather, an A&M graduate. Winston was kicked out of his house, he and his stepfather didn't speak to each other for months, and his relationship with his mother suffered. The parties eventually reconciled, but the situation was so painful for Winston that he refused to discuss it publicly during his first two years in Coral Gables.
Oddly, out of the many studs Miami signed in the Class of 2002, only Winston is on pace to become a first-round NFL draft pick. Actually, his promising pro prospects only begin to describe his outstanding career. Veteran UM line coach Art Kehoe calls him one of the best ever to play for the Hurricanes.
"He's not only a physically gifted freak of nature," Kehoe said, "he's the smartest player I've ever coached."
The draft stock of receiver Sinorice Moss, defensive tackle Baraka Atkins and safety Brandon Meriweather isn't too far behind, but when you factor in that none of those three 2005 starters was viewed as a stud back in 2002, it's ironic how things have turned out.
"It's slowly starting to trickle in, with a lot of guys playing as juniors or redshirt juniors," Winston said, "but we're starting to show the promise."
Seven Hurricanes from the group -- Winston, Atkins, Meriweather, Moss, receiver Ryan Moore, kicker Jon Peattie and center Anthony Wollschlager -- are starters this fall.
Atkins, who has been used at end and tackle, has started for the majority of his career and played well. Meriweather, who is having an All-ACC season this fall, is developing into UM's most consistent defensive player. Wollschlager is one of the team's hardest workers, but his limited athleticism and strength make him a liability at times. Peattie had a sensational season as a redshirt freshman but has fizzled over the past two years.
Peattie is not the only member of the class whose career has stalled after a great start. Moore redshirted as a freshman, then followed that with a phenomenal second season, leading UM with 44 receptions. But injuries and inconsistency have forced him to take a backseat to Moss, whose career had been marred by injuries until this year. Moss has developed this fall into a playmaker reminiscent of his older brother, former UM standout Santana Moss.
"He's like his brother from the standpoint that he's a physical player," Coker said. "He's short, but he's well-developed. He's got great speed, is probably our fastest player."
The 2002 class also includes two other players -- Kareem Brown and Greg Threat -- who are, or have been, significant contributors to Miami's dominant defense. Brown, who upgraded his work ethic this summer, has been UM's most improved player this fall. Threat, who led UM in tackles last season, has been disappointing in 2005, after losing his starting spot to freshman sensation Kenny Phillips and struggling to earn playing time.
At one point, Glenn Sharpe was considered UM's most promising cornerback. He started three games as a true freshman but has suffered two straight ACL injuries that have stolen the past two seasons from him. He's applying for a sixth year of eligibility that likely will be granted, and UM's coaches are hopeful that he'll return to make a significant contribution in 2006.
Alex Pou, who is presently the second-team center, has battled injuries, and his work ethic has been questioned at times. Jolla has shown flashes of the talent that made him a highly touted recruit, but he also has struggled with consistency and focus. He was forced to redshirt during his second season, after an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Questionable character was an issue with a number of 2002 signees.
The summer before linebacker Nate Harris was set to become a Hurricane, he was arrested for being an accessory in an armed robbery. UM withdrew his scholarship. After serving time in a Miami-Dade boot camp, Harris enrolled at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College and spent two years there as a safety. He apparently turned his life around, becoming a junior college All-American in the process. Many schools declined to recruit him because of his background, but he signed with Louisville and now is one of the team's leading tacklers.
At one point, defensive end John Wood appeared to be the most promising member of the Hurricanes' Class of 2002. He was penciled in as a starter during the spring of 2003, after wowing the coaches in the weight room and on the practice field. But Wood was suspended at the end of the spring for marijuana use and later dismissed after a subsequent drug test turned up positive. He resurfaced at Southwest Texas State that fall but was kicked off the team a year later. He's since disappeared from the college football landscape.
Then there were those who were given little choice but to leave Miami.
Linebacker Antonio Reynolds joined the team in the fall of 2002 and practiced for two weeks before an issue with his transcripts was discovered. During his ensuing time at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, UM never attempted to re-sign him. Reynolds enrolled in January 2004 at Tennessee, where he's a reserve linebacker this fall.
Guillon left the program after one season, when UM's coaches started ignoring him in favor of 2005 starter Kyle Wright, who had enrolled in January 2003. Guillon transferred to Alabama, where he started one game but now serves as Brodie Croyle's primary backup.
Justus, who was rated the nation's No. 1 tight end prospect in 2002, spent three years in uniform and is still at Miami, but he hasn't caught one pass for the Hurricanes. In fact, he's served more as an assistant to the coaches than he has as a player. Justus suffered a major leg injury on the final play of his high school career, and that severely limited his ability to run. He never fully recovered from the broken lower leg and ankle, but he spent one season as UM's long snapper before the Hurricanes received a medical waiver for him last summer.
Defensive back Travarous Bain was a legacy. His father, Tolbert Bain, played at UM alongside defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Travarous became buried on the depth chart and eventually transferred to Division I-AA Hampton, where he's worked his way into a starting role as a cornerback and return man for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference power.
In hindsight, Coker said he likes the 2002 signees who are still around, but he admits that the failure of the class as a whole has forever altered the way he and his staff recruit and evaluate prospects.
"It was a learning situation," Coker said. "It was disturbing how many players we didn't get in for whatever reason. You take a risk sometimes. Maybe they need a test score, or they're close to getting this or that grade. If they don't make it, then they're late getting in, and now their development is stalled."
Coker said he's since realized the risk has to match the potential reward.
"Let's be honest, the greater the prospect, the more of a risk we'll take," Coker said. "But that year we took a risk on some OK players and what we've learned is that if the grades are better somewhere else, the character's better somewhere else, and the talent's comparable, we're going to go another route."
-- Omar Kelly, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Points: 135 (5.9 per)
All-League Selections/Candidates: 3
Starters: 9; % Starters: 39.1
Second Team: 3; % Contributors: 52.2
Missing (Dismissed/Left) Players: 5
FL DE Baraka Atkins -- Three-Year Starter
FL DB Travarous Bain -- Transfer/Hampton
FL DT Kareem Brown -- Second Team
CA QB Marc Guillon -- Transfer/Alabama
FL LB Nate Harris -- Arrested/Louisville
FL WR Devin Hester -- Non-Qualifier/Re-Signed
OK JC FB Talib Humphrey -- Starter 2004
FL WR Darnell Jenkins -- Non-Qualifier/Re-Signed
LA WR Akieem Jolla -- Career Reserve
OK TE Curtis Justus -- Medical 2004
FL DB Brandon Meriweather -- Two-Year Starter
FL WR Ryan Moore -- Two-Year Starter
FL WR Sinorice Moss* -- Starter
FL PK Jon Peattie -- Three-Year Starter
FL OL Alex Pou -- Career Reserve
OH LB Antonio Reynolds -- Non-Qualifier/Tennessee
FL DB Glenn Sharpe# -- Second Team
FL DB Greg Threat* -- Starter 2004
FL DB Terrell Walden -- Career Reserve (WR)
TX TE Eric Winston* -- Three-Year Starter (OL)
FL OL Anthony Wollschlager -- Starter
FL DE John Wood -- Dismissed/SWTSU
TX JC DE Alton Wright -- Second Team 2004
^ --; 2002 walk-on ! --; I-A transfer # --; injured
* --; never redshirted/exhausts eligibility this fall
Duke: Franks Class Not Enough
DURHAM -- In retrospect, it's understandable that Duke's 2002 recruiting class was ranked last in the ACC. After all, then-coach Carl Franks was carrying back-to-back 0-11 seasons and a 23-game losing streak on his shoulders, as he tried to collect enough talent to help Duke escape the league basement.
"It's a factor. I don't discount that at all," Franks said on signing day. "But it's something we tried to address early on, and I don't think it was a tremendous deterrent by any means."
To offset the stigma of the school-record losing streak, Franks could point to the new $20 million, 70,000-square-foot Yoh Football Center (which was nearing completion) as evidence of the school's commitment to field a winning team.
"The biggest factor was that these young men recognized how important football is to the people at Duke University," he said. "They were able to buy into the vision that we had for the program and see the commitment from the school."
Franks announced the signing of 22 prospects that February afternoon, hailing them as better than the marginal ratings bestowed by the experts.
"I think it's our best recruiting class since I've been here, but only time will bear that out," Franks said. "Your goal every year is to try to have a better recruiting class than you had the year before and try to recruit better players than you did the year before."
Probably the most celebrated 2002 signee was fullback Malcolm Ruff, a SuperPrep All-American from Baltimore. He had offers from Michigan, Penn State and Syracuse. Georgia tight end Ben Patrick, a player new Duke defensive coordinator Ted Roof helped land, picked the Blue Devils over a host of SEC offers. Offensive lineman Tyler Krieg, defensive end Eli Nichols and receiver Ronnie Elliott also were touted as significant recruits.
"We signed some very good athletes," Franks said, "that could wind up playing a variety of different positions."
That happened to Ruff, who has played three different positions in his four seasons at Duke. He rushed for 70 yards on 17 carries as a true freshman but made more of a mark on special teams. Franks moved him to linebacker for his sophomore and junior seasons. Ruff started nine of 22 games and was solid but not spectacular for a defense that ranked near the bottom of the ACC. As a senior, he switched back to fullback, where he's started and been used primarily as a lead blocker for a running game that has struggled.
Patrick, who's played tight end and H-back, has had more success. After redshirting in 2002, the big Savannah native became a significant target as a redshirt freshman, pulling down 17 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. A year later, he was Duke's leading receiver, with 32 catches for 311 yards and another score. Although his production (hampered by injuries and a limited offense) has dropped off this season (16 catches for 102 yards through eight games), Patrick remains one of the most talented players on the roster and the closest thing to an NFL prospect from the Blue Devils' 2002 class.
Duke has been able to retain 18 of Franks' original 22 signees. That's a very good retention rate by ACC standards, but it's actually below the norm for the Blue Devils, who have averaged close to a 90 percent graduation rate for the last two decades.
Arkansas linebacker Birkes Williams and wide receiver Eric Lyon, one of just four North Carolina products in the class, both bolted early. They ended up across town, at Division II North Carolina Central. New Jersey running back Von Bryant, switched to cornerback after redshirting in 2002, transferred to Division I-AA Penn, where he has had a productive career as a tailback. Virginia linebacker Derek Bryant, whose one moment of glory came when he blocked a punt in the 2003 Northwestern game, left school this summer and returned home to Richmond.
Injuries prevented another member of the Class of 2002 from contributing on the field. Kevin Wilson, a well-regarded linebacker/end from Riverdale, Ga., was moved to defensive tackle during his redshirt year and appeared poised to make an impact after an impressive spring game performance. A series of physical problems ultimately kept him off the field, although Wilson remains around the program in an unofficial support role.
That leaves 17 players from the class, and 12 of those have seen significant starting time during their first four seasons. Seven of those have contributed on offense, including Ruff and Patrick.
Krieg, a two-year starter at guard, was joined on the starting line this season by New York product Lavdrim Bauta. Both are redshirt juniors and could return next year to team up front with Bob Benion, a part-time starter in 2004 who is sitting out this season with a shoulder injury.
Two other offensive starters lost their first-string status this season.
Quarterback Mike Schneider, a starter almost from the moment he completed his redshirt season, seemed to be making (slow) progress toward respectability through his first two years, but that trend disappeared this fall. He made some bad decisions that led to three interceptions in a winnable game against East Carolina, and when the mistakes continued through Duke's first four games, he lost his starting job to true freshman Zack Asack.
An injury temporarily cost Elliott his starting job. The Alabama native was Duke's top wide receiver in 2004, with 28 catches for 294 yards. He was Schneider's favorite target early this season, too, hauling in nine catches for 84 yards in four games before being sidelined by a hand injury at Virginia. He missed four straight games before returning in late October against Wake Forest.
Elsewhere on the offensive side, Paul Cam-pitelli is the backup at center, and Mike Dowling backs up his fellow Maryland native Ruff at fullback. Neither Campitelli nor Dowling gets a high percentage of snaps in their reserve roles.
Four members of the 2002 class have started this season on defense. The best is Nichols, who has somewhat justified his recruiting hype by emerging as a solid, productive two-year starter at end. After recording three sacks and 47 tackles a year ago, the redshirt junior has 34 tackles, three sacks and five tackles for loss through eight games this fall.
Linebacker DeAndre White, who started two games as a true freshman, has never quite built on that strong debut and is sharing a starting job (with senior Brendan Dewan) this fall as a senior. Codey Lowe, after two years as a reserve, began this season as Duke's starting middle linebacker, but he has been hampered by injuries and lost his job to true freshman Michael Brown.
Deonto McCormick is another player who has bounced around in his career. He played nine games at cornerback as a true freshman. After sitting out 2003 for academic reasons, he moved to wide receiver in 2004, catching 14 passes for 113 yards. McCormick switched back to the secondary this season. Starting opposite second-team All-ACC corner John Talley, McCormick has been the player opposing quarterbacks often pick on. He had four pass breakups and 31 tackles through eight games.
Justin Kitchen, who started nine games as a junior in 2004, has been a significant reserve at end this season with 16 tackles, including two for loss. Classmates Joel East and C.J. Woodard also have been backups, at tackle and cornerback, respectively. Kendral Felder, recruited to Duke as a wide receiver, has seen some action at linebacker and is a significant special teams player.
In terms of participation, that's a pretty strong showing by Duke's Class of 2002. Most have been significant contributors for the Blue Devils.
But their collective contribution has not turned the program around. They couldn't save Franks' job; he was fired midway through the 2003 season, when members of the 2002 class were sophomores and redshirt freshmen.
Roof has guided Duke to five wins in 26 games since being elevated to head coach, including a 1-9 start this season. He appears committed to his recruits, having played an ACC-high 14 true freshmen in each of the last two years. The youngsters have started to squeeze out the holdovers from 2002.
Nevertheless, Roof said he believes the sophomores and redshirt freshmen he inherited from Franks have laid the groundwork for the revival of the program.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for them," Roof said. "Not only how they've handled themselves, but the contributions and examples they've set for the younger players. These seniors have been the example of how to work, how to stay committed to something and to continue to buy in."
Twelve of the 17 remaining players in this class have another year of eligibility remaining. But if past performance is any predictor, it's likely that many of the fourth-year juniors -- especially the non-starters -- will go ahead and graduate on time next spring or summer, leaving only a handful of the 2002 veterans to make one more attempt to turn around Duke's sagging football fortunes.
-- Al Featherston, ACCSports.com
THE BLUE DEVILS
Points: 110 (5.0 per)
All-League Selections/Candidates: 0
Starters: 8; % Starters: 36.4
Second Team: 6; % Contributors: 63.6
Missing (Dismissed/Left) Players: 4
NY OL Lavdrim Bauta -- Starter
PA DT Bob Benion# -- Starter (OL)
VA LB Derek Bryant -- Left Team 2005
NJ RB Von Bryant -- Transfer/Penn
MD TE Paul Campitelli -- Career Reserve (OL)
MD FB Mike Dowling -- Career Reserve
OH DE Joel East -- Second Team (DT)
AL WR Ronnie Elliott* -- Starter
NC WR Kendral Felder -- Career Reserve (LB)
NC DE Justin Kitchen* -- Second Team
OR OL Tyler Krieg -- Two-Year Starter
TX LB Codey Lowe -- Second Team
NC WR Eric Lyon -- Transfer/N.C. Central
GA DB Deonto McCormick -- Starter
FL DE Eli Nichols -- Two-Year Starter
GA TE Ben Patrick -- Two-Year Starter (HB)
MD RB Malcolm Ruff* -- Two-Year Starter (FB)
PA QB Mike Schneider -- Second Team
VA DB DeAndre White* -- Second Team (LB)
AR LB Birkes Williams -- Transfer/N.C. Central
GA DE Kevin Wilson -- Medical 2004 (DT)
NC DB C.J. Woodard* -- Second Team
^ -- ; 2002 walk-on ! -- ; I-A transfer # -- ; injured
* -- ; never redshirted/exhausts eligibility this fall