NCAA Football

Former Ole Miss QB Maikhail Miller Dies at 23 in Car Accident

Former Mississippi and Murray State quarterback Maikhail Miller died Saturday after being involved in a single-vehicle accident. He was 23.

The Associated Press (via ESPN) reported authorities found Miller's car overturned near Holly Springs, Mississippi.   

"My heart is so sad tonight when I received the news on Maikhail," former Rebels head coach Houston Nutt, who coached Miller at Ole Miss, said in a text message to John Davis of the Oxford Citizen. "My thoughts and prayers are with the family. I know you are hurting. What a great young man you raised!! Maikhail always did things the RIGHT WAY."

Current Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze also reached out with his condolences:

Miller played in two games during his career at Ole Miss, compiling 23 rushing yards on six attempts. He later transferred to Murray State for one season, throwing for 2,221 yards and 18 touchdowns while adding 429 yards and five scores on the ground. The Ohio Valley Conference named him to its All-Newcomer Team, and he appeared well on his way to a promising career at Murray State before leaving the program for personal reasons.

"The hearts of Racer Nation break tonight for the family of former Racer Maikhail Miller. Our thoughts are with them," Murray State said in a statement released on its Twitter account.

Additional details regarding the crash have not been made publicly available at this time.

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National Signing Day 2016: Date, Top Prospects and TV Schedule for Commitments

When it comes to the world of college football recruiting, the news on top prospects trickles in over months and years, before the news that really matters finally comes rushing in all at once.

This Wednesday is national signing day for the 2016 class. Football fans are eagerly awaiting the announcement of a few top uncommitted prospects while desperately hoping that the verbal commits don't renege on their words.

Great college football programs are of course forged in the crucible of long practices and intense film study sessions, but you have to start with the right materials to have any sort of success. Recruiting the right young athletes is where it all starts.

Here's a look at the TV announcement schedule and top prospects for the big day.

National Signing Day Television Schedule

Date: Wednesday, Feb. 3

TV: ESPNU (8 a.m.-1 p.m. ET); ESPN2 (1-5 p.m. ET); ESPNU (5-7 p.m. ET)

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

Note: ESPNMediaZone.com notes that networks such as the SEC Network and Longhorn Network will provide additional coverage. 

 
Where Will Rashan Gary Land? 

The lucky school that lands No. 1 overall prospect Rashan Gary will be the talk of the nation shortly after his announcement at 1 p.m. ET. Gary is a beast on the field, combining great size, speed and athleticism to consistently terrorize opposing quarterbacks. He racked up 27.5 sacks and forced four fumbles in his junior and senior seasons.

Scouts have no doubt he can continue his exploits at the next level. Gary's been considered a gem since he was an eighth-grader at a Rutgers big-man camp, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.

“It can be dangerous going out there as a younger guy that hasn’t fully developed, but that’s what showed how special Rashan could be,” said NJ Advance Media reporter Todderick Hunt, per Snyder. “He held his own. He competed and certainly looked the part. ... I was definitely intrigued to stumble upon a promising young player like that.”

Michigan is the favorite to land Gary, with 81 percent of experts on 247Sports' crystal ball predictions selecting him to become a Wolverine. Alabama is next on that list at 14 percent. Gary recently chatted with a current Tiger and prized 2015 recruit, per 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr: 

Clemson is very much trying to make a late push for Gary as it looks to restock the defensive line with ends Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson departing for the NFL. Sure, Gary plays up the middle, but it's not like the Tigers are going to miss out on a chance to sway a generational prospect.

Gary will be the prize recruit wherever he lands. Michigan could very well make a monster out of him considering head coach Jim Harbaugh's commitment to building fast, aggressive defenses.


Can Anyone Pry Mique Juarez out of the Golden State?

Mique Juarez is a SoCal stud who ranks No. 1 in the nation at his outside linebacker position. Most experts don't expect him to move far from his hometown of Torrance, California. Per 247Sports, 80 percent believe Juarez will commit to UCLA on Wednesday. 

Juarez would be quite the coup for the Bruins. Juarez ranks 11th in the nation overall, and the Bruins' best prospect currently set to join them in 2016 is wide receiver Theo Howard, who's much farther down the list at No. 102 overall.

A pair of SEC powerhouses in Alabama and Ole Miss are also hot on Juarez, but it's possible that faith, not football, could pry him away from California. Dick Harmon of Deseret News reports Juarez has visited BYU in Provo, Utah, although he doesn't think the Cougars stand much of a chance at landing him:

How does this happen?

Well, not by accident. A major part of the Juarez story is that he is a member of the LDS faith. His mother is Tongan and so is BYU’s new head coach Kalani Sitake. His mother, Nathasha, is very close to the mother of current BYU linebacker Butch Pau’u. Juarez was at the Las Vegas Bowl this past December and Butch’s parents, Tupou and Uepi, posted a photo on Facebook of them with Mique at the Rio Hotel and Casino in front of the famed buffet.

It is unlikely Juarez will sign with BYU next week. He just had a trip to Alabama last week. He was committed to USC before Steve Sarkisian was dismissed. His father is a huge UCLA fan and he has taken recruiting trips to Mississippi, Washington and Oklahoma. Nick Saban was in his home this past week in Torrance, California.

The comfort of playing football with those who share a similar faith cannot be understated, and in any case, it's not like the Cougars are slouches. They finished 9-4 in 2015, including impressive early-season wins over Nebraska and Boise State.

Juarez is rated highly enough that he should have no problem working his way to a big role in any program. However, it appears it's still possible he'll roll with the less-heralded Cougars when it's time to put ink to paper.

 

Stats and player rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Michigan Football Recruiting: Predicting All the Recruits Who Will Sign on NSD

A flurry of new verbal pledges and a handful of decommitments have shaken up Michigan football's 2016 recruiting class, but the dust will settle on national signing day.

Prospects will finally be allowed to sign their national letters of intent, and the Wolverines will add those talents to the seven athletes who enrolled early—most notably quarterback Brandon Peters and running back Kareem Walker.

In addition to currently committed recruits, Michigan is looking to secure signatures from a collection of prospects set to announce a decision on signing day.

Note: Projected additions to the class are highlighted in yellow.

 

 

Uncommitted Targets

Though only one program will celebrate when Rashan Gary makes his announcement, Ann Arbor has looked like the No. 1 overall recruit's destination for months. A late unofficial visit likely helped the Wolverines.

Michigan backed off the recruitments of other defensive backs, so the coaching staff must be confident about 4-star corner Lavert Hill. He'll choose between the Wolverines, Michigan State and Penn State.

As long academics are no issue, Connor Murphy would be an excellent take for Michigan. He'd provide depth at defensive end and could join the rotation in 2017.

Quinn Nordin, the first of head coach Jim Harbaugh's "sleepover" visits, backed out of his pledge to Penn State last week. A relationship with former UM special teams coach John Baxter could draw the 3-star kicker to USC, but Michigan is the team to beat.

According to Brandon Justice of Maize n Brew, an unnamed prospect will silently commit to Harbaugh and Co. before announcing on signing day:

Mecole Hardman Jr.Devin AsiasiBoss Tagaloa and Isaiah Simmons come to mind. But if none of those candidates are surprising enough, let your imagination run wild, Wolverines fans.

Additionally, Asiasi and Tagaloa could be a package deal. Distance is often a factor, so Michigan may need to clear that significant hurdle to add the De La Salle (CA) teammates.

The Wolverines won't be 100 percent, of course.

Ohio State appears to be the leader for Jordan Fuller, and Notre Dame is also pursuing the 4-star athlete. He announced on Twitter that he will reveal his decision on Monday, Feb. 1:

For much of the recruiting cycle, the Wolverines were considered the favorite for 3-star linebacker Jonathan Jones. Within the last week, though, Notre Dame has received 15 247Sports crystal ball predictions compared to zero for Michigan.

Jones told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports that the decision is between the two programs, so the Wolverines are in the race. Still, that trend is hard to ignore.

Among other targets, Keyshawn Young and Dontavious Jackson are also likely headed to a top program not located in Ann Arbor.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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National Signing Day 2016: College Football Teams That Could Win Big

Monday officially kicked off a four-day NCAA dead period. The last-minute pitches by college coaches have been made. National signing day is in two days.

For now, with many athletes, we wait and see which college they choose to call home for the immediate future.

Wednesday will be a day when a few teams have the opportunity to shoot up the team recruiting rankings. Wednesday also will be a day when top-ranked recruiting classes can become even more elite by landing some of the best uncommitted players in the 2016 class.

The objective for Wednesday is to sign athletes and score big recruiting victories. Here are eight teams looking to end the recruiting cycle on the highest note possible.

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National Signing Day 2016: Projecting Where Every 5-Star Recruit Will Sign

With hours until national signing day, 11 of the nation's 25 5-star prospects have yet to make their announcement on where they will be attending college.

Included among that group is 5-star defensive tackle and No. 1 overall prospect Rashan Gary.

Gary is just one of the handful of elite prospects fans will be anxiously waiting to hear from on Wednesday. 

Where are the rest of 2016's 5-star prospects heading, and will there be any surprises to watch for in their recruitments? 

Let's take a look and project where every 5-star prospect will sign.

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Ranking Top 25 Recruiting Classes Heading into National Signing Day 2016

We're just days away from the conclusion of another unpredictable college football recruiting cycle. Prospects of the 2016 class will put pen to paper Wednesday when national signing day festivities get underway. 

Most commitments are locked in, and many recruits arrived on campus in January as early enrollees, but intrigue still runs rampant in every corner of the country. Coaching staffs aim to cap off countless hours of investment by sealing the deal with key uncommitted targets.

We took stock in where things currently stand among America's 2016 recruiting classes, ranking the top 25 talent hauls based on assessment of both immediate impact and long-term benefit. Here's a look at how programs stack up heading into the final stretch, with this order expected to change significantly as final pledges arrive.

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11 JUCO Transfers Who Will Be Instant Starters in 2016

It’s almost here. On Wednesday, fans across the nation will celebrate 2016’s national signing day, which will feature football recruits across the nation putting pen to paper and signing national letters of intent. Much of the focus will be on high school seniors who’ll be making their choices, but they aren’t the only players who’ll be signing Wednesday.

Junior college players are also eligible to sign. They’ve taken a different path than their soon-to-be teammates; for some, their initial school didn’t work out for one reason or another, or they were unable to meet initial academic qualification requirements. Some are just late bloomers.

Either way, junior college transfers can have an impact. Look at Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly. After washing out at Clemson, Kelly spent a year at a Mississippi junior college before signing with the Rebels, winning the starting role and leading them to a 10-win season capped by a Sugar Bowl victory.

Here are 11 players who’ll be surefire starters at their new programs.

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Meet the Nigerian Princes of College Football Recruiting

Before he embarked upon a basketball career that ultimately helped him get drafted into the NBA, Ejike Ugboaja’s future resembled one that most of the kids in his home country of Nigeria still face today.

Sports were his way out of a nation that's still grappling with economic and social hardships that leave most children with few options other than avenues full of negative consequences.

One decade after leaving Nigeria, Ugboaja is making it his life’s work to ensure more kids from his homeland get the same opportunity.

“I came from a less fortunate background. For me to do this is something I’ve always wanted to do: to give back to my home country,” Ugboaja told Bleacher Report recently. “When I was drafted into the NBA, one of my main goals was to find a way to give back to Nigeria. When I got that opportunity, I just was fortunate to find a way to make it work.” 

The 6’9”, 225-pound power forward, who was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the 2006 NBA draft, never played a regular-season game in the NBA. Instead, the majority of his career has been spent playing in Europe and for Nigeria’s Olympic national team.

Through the Ejike Ugboaja Foundation—which is a nonprofit organization he started in 2006—he and his brother Henry are helping young athletes in Nigeria find opportunities to play basketball and football in the United States.

In the latter sport, his camp is responsible for establishing Nigeria as the next frontier in college football recruiting.

“The bottom line is that if we see a school that said we have scholarship openings for soccer or another sport, we jump into it,” Henry said. “So for us, sports became the motivating factor to help these kids back home. Most of them, if you hear their stories in terms of finance or family background, you’d be amazed that they have made it here. I think that is what touches us.” 

While his background is in basketball, Ejike and his brother have put together a camp that has seen more than 15 football players sign scholarships to FBS schools since its first run in 2010.

Additionally, hundreds more have been able to attend high schools in the United States thanks to the foundation's efforts. When the athletes do make it to the U.S., the foundation uses its resources to help cover their living expenses.

 

The camp’s foray into football came about almost by accident, with a keen observation by the brothers recognizing traits in Nigerian athletes that could translate favorably into America’s most popular sport.

“As word spread through Nigeria that basically this is your way out and to the United States, they started getting a number of kids to show up to these camps or all-sports tryouts,” explained Erik Richards, who is the national recruiting director of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. “What [Ejike and Henry] noticed is they had a few 6’6”, 300-pound kids showing up. They weren’t tall enough for basketball. They weren’t short and nimble enough for soccer.”

That’s when football entered the equation. 

Over the years, Ugboaja’s camp has been the breeding ground that has produced notable talents such as current LSU offensive lineman Chidi Valentine-Okeke, Florida State offensive lineman Abdul Bello and Auburn defensive lineman Prince Tega Wanogho.

Current USC early enrollee Oluwole Betiku—the nation’s top weak-side defensive end prospect in the 2016 cycle—is another athlete who became a household name in recruiting circles after leaving his hometown of Lagos just two years ago.

As young kids in West Africa are learning more about the game and seeing their former peers find success in America, Ejike and Henry are hoping those gains open the doors for more athletes to find similar opportunities in the future. 

Players such as Valentine-Okeke, Bello and Betiku can thank Sunny Odogwu for helping Ejike and Henry discover the game of football. 

Odogwu left Ejike’s summer camp in 2009 bound for the U.S. to play basketball at Victory Christian Academy in Conyers, Georgia.

According to Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, he bounced around to different schools for basketball until one of his coaches suggested he try out for football.

Ejike vividly remembers the phone call in which Odogwu explained he would switch gears in his athletic career.

“I asked him, ‘are you sure?’ He said, ‘Bro, I think I will do it,’” Ejike explained. “So he gave it a try. For me to see how quick he came around, I was like, ‘damn, this is amazing.’” 

Odogwu eventually landed a scholarship to the University of Miami as an offensive lineman. He will be a redshirt junior this fall and is currently the starting right tackle for the Hurricanes, per Ourlads

Buoyed by the interest in Odogwu from football coaches during his recruitment, Ejike and Henry started the process of attracting football coaches to come and help them teach the game at their annual summer camp. 

Odogwu’s success inspired kids in Nigeria to learn more about the game of football, and Ejike’s camp quickly became the event that helped to bridge that gap. 

“It’s surprising to me because it’s taken off so fast. We never expected it to grow this much this soon,” Ejike said. “I was thinking basketball was the one thing that everyone would warm up to. But when Sunny switched to football, a lot of people saw the progression he made in football. They see that his future is now in the game of football.”

Getting their athletes to the United States is a mission in and of itself.

Henry, who is an adjunct professor at Ohio Mid-Western College and teaches business and marketing classes, also worked as an educator and admissions counselor in Nigeria.

As he explained, he routinely worked hand in hand with the U.S. Embassy in clerical matters—which has aided the brothers in helping kids earn visas for entry into the United States. 

“I started dealing with those [visa and paperwork] issues,” Henry said. “I figure out the details on each kid and what grade they are supposed to be in, and I work with each school in verifying paperwork and figuring out the proper area to place them academically. Sometimes when colleges have trouble figuring out the translation of the transcript, I help them sort that out.” 

Richards notes that because of their typical two-year visa statuses upon entering the country, in most cases, the only way they are eligible to compete in prep sports in the U.S. is for them to attend private schools. In most cases, the school helps locate a host family. In some instances, Henry and Ejike use their resources and connection to find a host family for the kids. 

“The majority [of the Nigerian athletes] that come over have to be enrolled in a charter school. That’s why a lot of them end up at private schools,” Richards explained. “Most of these kids are 16, 17 or 18 years old and starting their junior year of high school. To go through the whole [host] process is strenuous, and by the time they get done, they are already done with high school.”

While eligibility concerns are prevalent with foreign athletes in the recruiting process, the problems that arise have more to do with language and academic classification than the kids’ ability to thrive in a new learning environment.

“These kids are very academically enriched, believe it or not,” Richards said. “Some kids can speak four, five or six different languages. [Most times] when they go to take the test at schools on where to place them [eligibility-wise], they are beyond being a freshman or a sophomore.”

Still, even when kids are able to make it to the United States and graduate to being on the doorstep of making their dreams come true, another set of challenges awaits them.

In addition to having to learn a new sport in a foreign country, the two factors that are often the toughest for these players are the culture gap and being away from their loved ones.

While he was busy racing up the recruiting ranks, Betiku explained the psychological toll that being separated from his family has created for him since he’s been in the U.S. 

“Sometimes, I feel kind of sad,” Betiku said. “[My family] don’t know about the camps and everything. I try my best to explain everything. I try to stay motivated. My school family, they all love me. My coaches, everyone that has supported me to this day, I think about them. They are counting on me to do great. My mom, I just tell her I did really good, so she’s happy. That’s why I do what I do.”

Valentine-Okeke, who is a redshirt freshman and will compete for a starting job at LSU in the spring, admits his journey to Baton Rouge has had its ups and downs. 

Still, he knows he’s one of the fortunate young athletes to have the chance to get a free education at a top university such as LSU.

“I always watched football back home. I didn’t have someone there to coach me or tell me about the game,” Valentine-Okeke said. “But I did have a passion for it when I watched it. It happens to be one of the games that they introduced in Nigeria then. I was lucky to be a part of it.”

Both Ejike and Henry have continued to play a pivotal role in helping him since he’s arrived in the U.S.

In fact, Henry serves as his guardian.

“[Ejike and Henry] know my family back home in Nigeria,” Valentine-Okeke said. “I lived with Ejike when I was going to school in Georgia. When we have breaks, I go to Georgia with him or Ohio with Henry. We have a great relationship, and they have really helped me a lot.”

Richards recalls learning of Valentine-Okeke’s story when the offensive tackle was on the camp circuit as a recruit.

He and Bello, who were both in the 2015 class, were performing well at spring and summer camps against the nation’s top defensive linemen despite minimal experience.

Richards surmises that their inexperience can be turned into a positive by coaches eager help them reach their enormous upside.

“When a coach starts out with them, they are so attentive in wanting to learn the right technique, that you don’t have to unscrew everything,” Richards said. “For these offensive line coaches at these camps, it’s very easy to mold them very quickly because they have nothing. It’s like you are not having to teach an old dog new tricks. They are starting at zero.”

In each of the examples of players such as Bello, Betiku, Wanogho and Valentine-Okeke, their recruitments exploded with offers from top programs from coast to coast. 

Valentine-Okeke said there are plenty of athletes in the West African nation whose talents are comparable to his and the other players' abilities who have found success since taking up the game.

“[There are] a lot of kids like me and even some who are better than me back home,” he said. “I know they have what it takes to make it here. If they believe and work hard, they can come over here and make it to college.”

Ejike and Henry share that belief, which is why they have plans on expanding the camp’s reach.

Ejike notes registration for the camp may reach to over 1,000 athletes, with the foundation’s goal of bringing at least 20 players to the U.S. from this summer’s camp—of course assuming they find enough skilled players and enough schools stateside willing to provide scholarships for them.

From a recruiting standpoint, Richards said there’s a bit of hesitation at first from college coaches because of concerns over eligibility. However, given the success of this first wave of Nigerian imports, he expects the trend and interest to only grow in foreign prospects.

“What I see happening after these guys have some success in the next few years, then the college coaches will come around and start taking chances because with these kids it’s not your typical recruiting cycle where you get to follow him from his freshman year on up,” Richards said.

As the camp’s stature continues to grow, so do the opportunities for young kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to attend universities as prestigious as the ones in the United States.

Regardless of whether the players go on to have NFL careers, in the minds of Ejike and Henry, the real gratification comes with helping kids create opportunities that can change the course of their own lives, as well as their families' lives back home.

The two brothers have dedicated their time, resources and energy to helping young athletes from their homeland turn hopes into a new reality. All the while, they haven’t lost focus on giving back to the communities that raised them.

With each athlete who gets a scholarship, the outlook for the next generation of athletes in Nigeria becomes brighter.

“I think the biggest thing the focus needs to be on here are two brothers that were afforded the opportunity to come over here, and they are doing a lot of good for kids hoping for a similar opportunity,” Richards said. “I think that is a testament to them and what they are about. It’s amazing that these guys have made this their calling in life to help these kids live a better life.”

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 40 Wide Receivers

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Wide Receivers.

 

Wide receiver recruits account for approximately 20 percent of the 2016 recruiting cycle's top 200 prospects in composite rankings. It's a position packed with playmakers from across America and beyond when you factor in Notre Dame-bound Canadian pass-catcher Chase Claypool.

Years of film study, game-action assessment and in-person camp evaluation have provided us with a clear picture of the overall wide receiver landscape, which features several standouts ready to make an immediate impact on the 2016 college football season.

Here's a breakdown of those who land in the Top 200 composite rankings, including our own B/R scores based on route running, release off the ball, agility, explosiveness, willingness to block and, of course, hands.

 

All prospects scouted by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. Players ordered by appearance in 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Why Cardale Jones Shouldn't Be the Forgotten Quarterback of the 2016 Class

Three starts, three wins, a national championship and a flirtation with the NFL draft; from Dec. 6 2014 through Jan. 12 2015, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones became the most enigmatic NFL draft prospect in the country.

Between his dominating victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game and his eventual announcement that he’d be returning to school, NFL evaluators and media members wrestled with Jones’ NFL draft value.

After an erratic seven-game start to the 2015 season and a midseason benching, the 6’5, 250-pound passer slipped from Cam Newton comparisons to off-the-radar of those covering the draft. While Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch and Carson Wentz have risen, Jones has faded into “Day 3 consideration” talk.

But quarterbacks like Cardale Jones don’t come around often. His positive attitude, arm talent, athleticism and remarkable upside don’t lend themselves to being pushed aside. And despite recent project passers like Jones slipping to Day 3 (Logan Thomas and Brett Hundley), he is a different, misunderstood NFL draft prospect.

 

Arm Talent vs. Overconfidence

Jones offers elite arm strength, and he knows it. He’s willing to take chances downfield, finish throws with defenders on him and make 20-plus-yard throws. His arm strength allows him to be late on throws and attempt vertical passes despite not being set, a skill set that excites NFL teams because he can get away with mistakes and turn checkdowns into downfield opportunities.

For example, his off-balance rollout throw against Virginia Tech is a pass that few, if any quarterbacks in college (or the NFL) can make. It’s the type of highlight that has the head coach holding his breath until the referee’s arms signal touchdown.

But that “arm talent overconfidence” is also what gets him into trouble.

Some quarterbacks take chances downfield or on the perimeter not only because they have confidence in their arm strength, but also because they trust in their anticipation and reads on defensive alignments. Jones doesn’t fit the “educated gunslinger” mold that Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco use their arm strength for.

Jones is simply overconfident in his arm, especially in his velocity control. One of his biggest areas of concern is that he doesn’t yet have a feel for the throws he can make and the ones that he should play with more control and safeness.

Jones can make every throw, but that doesn’t mean he should try. Jones tries to complete passes across the field with poor footwork and limited anticipation of defensive alignments, leading to obvious mistakes.

In many ways, Cardale Jones is similar to a young, erratic NBA player working to determine when to take a shot, and when to run his team’s offense and play under control. In Jones’ case, his big plays and big-time throws weren’t enough to overcome his bouts of poor placement and indecisiveness, and he began to stifle the Ohio State offense enough that they opted for the far more efficient J.T. Barrett. 

The main concern of Jones’s interception totals (five in his first five games of 2015 before Barrett began earning more snaps in relief) is that they stem from not anticipating coverages. Thanks to the Ohio State offense and the weapons at his disposal, Jones has the luxury of routinely having one-on-one matchups and wide-open throwing lanes to show off his arm strength.

When he’s forced to adjust in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield, Jones doesn’t have the refinement needed for NFL evaluators to be confident in a successful NFL transition. As is the case with many Urban Meyer-coached quarterbacks (and ones in similar offenses), Jones seems slow to adjust off his first read and is asked to use his running ability rather than keep his eyes downfield.

 

Lack of Starting Experience Spurs Optimism

Despite those concerns, one key part of Jones’ scouting report can’t be underappreciated: he’s made just 10 starts in his college career. While a lack of starting experience is a detriment for many quarterback passers, I believe it actually supports Jones’ top-100 draft potential.

Jones’ anticipation and overconfidence concerns don’t appear to be uncorrectable. He merely needs time to work through growing pains with multiple, consistent and confidence-instilling starts. Jones never got that at Ohio State. He entered 2015 not as the unquestioned starter, but with an obvious leash on his job; Meyer even said as much five games into Jones' college starting career. 

As we’ve seen repeatedly at the NFL level, confidence and patience are miracle drugs when trying to get the best version of a team’s starting quarterback. Inflated expectations and a short leash do the exact opposite.

Without making excuses for Jones, it’s apparent that his growth was stunted as the Ohio State quarterback. Between Meyer’s knack for poorly developing NFL quarterbacks to the handling of his collection of top passers, Jones has suffered through one of the most unique quarterback situations in recent college football history.

 

Underdeveloped vs. Raw

There’s a difference between being underdeveloped as a prospect and being raw. For some NFL draft prospects, a lack of growth despite coaching and starting experience lends itself to a fear that a prospect might never reach the ceiling his athleticism indicates. That’s especially concerning for a prospect like Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, who’s seen ample snaps throughout his college career and has seemingly regressed as a prospect.

But Jones is the epitome of raw. His quarterbacking issues are indecisiveness and overconfidence in his arm talent, two things that most quarterbacks work through early in their careers. But Jones hasn’t had the opportunity to do so. His three starts in the team’s national championship run didn’t allow him to let loose as a growing passer, and his 2015 experience didn’t allow him to work through his issues without fear of losing his starting job.

For Jones, his development is the NFL’s job now. While teams should generally lean away from drafting “project passers” early, Jones is still worth selecting highly. His rare arm talent, body type, athleticism and mental makeup could still allow him to spot start in case of a dire need due to injury. 

But more importantly, it's his promise of potential growth that is worth going head over heels for. Few quarterbacks enter the NFL ranks with Jones’ talent level, and he’s truly an untapped resource oozing with potential. Had he landed in a situation like Cam Newton’s Auburn team, Jones might have emerged as the shoo-in for the top overall pick. 

Now, he’ll be available for a mere second- or third-round pick. It’s just a matter of which team is willing to give him the confidence and patience that Urban Meyer never did. And that team won’t be sorry they did.

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Predicting All the Recruits Who Will Sign on NSD

Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is trying to stick the landing.

As the final few frames wind down before Wednesday's annual recruiting extravaganza of twists and turns comes to a culmination with 17-year-old future football stars making their ultimate college decisions in the insanity that is national signing day, the Volunteers have some serious momentum.

Major targets Nigel Warrior, Derrick Brown, Landon Dickerson, Tyler Byrd and a few commits were on campus visiting Knoxville this past weekend, so the Vols had the opportunity to make a final, lasting impression on them.

With all those players and the nation's top-ranked JUCO prospect, Jonathan Kongbo, all yet to announce their final destinations, the Vols could have a phenomenal finish.

Throw three or four of those guys into UT's class, and a haul that currently ranks 21st nationally but just eighth in the SEC, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, will shoot up the list noticeably. Considering the small numbers of this year's cycle, the Vols could wind up with a strong smaller class.

They also could crash and burn and have to settle for a class that isn't as strong as the past two years. In the wacky world of recruiting, anything can happen.

One thing's for certain, though: The Vols have set themselves up for a strong finish, and finishing with a bang could definitely be in the cards.

So, just who will Jones wind up signing on Wednesday? These things rarely wind up the way you'd expect, even this close to pen meeting paper and a fax machine making signing papers official. But where's the fun in abstaining from guessing?

Let's predict Tennessee's finish in what could be a week to remember.

 

Nigel Warrior: 6'0", 186-pound 4-Star Defensive Back, Suwanee, Georgia

For nearly two years, Tennessee has recruited Warrior as arguably the top overall target in this year's haul.

On Wednesday morning, all that hard work should pay off with a pledge from the versatile future star.

Warrior—the son of UT legend and All-American safety Dale Carter—will choose between Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Alabama. The Vols got the final visit, and they've trended with the Peachtree Ridge High School standout recently; they have 67 percent of the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions.

Jones loaded up on legacies the past three years, and many of those kids are playing prominent roles in Tennessee's return to the national picture. Warrior will fit right in.

He can play anywhere on the back level, and while Tennessee is loaded in the secondary, a player with Warrior's size, athleticism, coverage skills and versatility can certainly carve a niche right away. He'll likely be a special teams weapon and a situational DB from the start.

Warrior isn't one of these prospects who tips his hand easily, so it's certainly possible he decides to go in his own direction on national signing day. But the lure of the legacy is strong.

"I'll say it’s just wherever my heart takes me," Warrior told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan. "It'd be amazing to follow him, but then it'd also be good to be able to open up my own journey at a different school. It is what it is at the end of the day."

In the end, Warrior is just a natural fit for a Vols team that needs safeties.

 

Tyler Byrd: 5'11", 194-pound 4-Star Defensive Back, Naples, Florida

As much as Tennessee tried to convince longtime Miami commitment Byrd to visit Knoxville over the past few months, he seemed strong to the Hurricanes.

That's even with having a Vols commitment living in the same house as him, too.

But Byrd—who has lived with running back pledge Carlin Fils-aime since they were in the eighth grade—became more receptive to UT when the Vols hired former Miami coach Larry Scott. He visited this weekend along with Fils-aime.

Afterward, he may have a difficult decision to make.

"Of course, I would love to (attend the same school as Fils-aime)," Byrd told Callahan. "Being around him, we've grown to really love each other, and playing next to him and knowing he's on my team is reassuring. It gives you a sense of security because…I know, at the end of the day, I can depend on him, and I know I can trust him."

That doesn't sound like a guy who's firm to the Hurricanes, and with them having a new head coach in Mark Richt, the prior relationship can't be as strong with that group of coaches as with Al Golden's staff. So, the Vols likely smell blood in the water here.

For what it's worth, Fils-aime is trying to convince his buddy, tweeting out that he tried to lure Byrd to Knoxville with a sign:

Again, Tennessee is loaded in the secondary, but a player like Byrd is too good to pass up. He's a dynamic playmaker, and his athleticism and versatility could even lead to him playing on the offensive side of the ball, if needed.

The U.S. Army All-American would be an excellent addition to Tennessee's class, and it will be too good of an opportunity for him to pass up playing with Fils-aime.

 

Jonathan Kongbo: 6'5", 264-pound 4-Star Defensive End, Surrey, British Columbia

The one-time UT commitment never really stopped considering the Vols, and while it doesn't normally happen that a player decommits and then recommits to a school, Kongbo could definitely do just that.

He's never really given up on Tennessee.

Though he's gone on visits to USC last weekend and Florida State this weekend and also has Ole Miss as a viable candidate to win his services, Kongbo is an extremely real possibility for UT.

The longstanding relationship could wind up securing his commitment. Several Vols coaches visited him this past week to try to close the deal:

Like a lot of players in this year's target list, Kongbo isn't a chatty type who lets people know what he's thinking. The native of the Republic of Congo whose family lives in British Columbia has gone about the recruiting process professionally.

When he decided to visit other schools, he backed off his commitment. UT continued to recruit other linemen, but it kept the pressure on Kongbo, too. The strong-side defensive end from Arizona Western College continued to reciprocate the interest.

If he winds up in Knoxville, Kongbo is the kind of player who can solidify a defensive line with plenty of star power. With UT in more traditional sets under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, Kongbo can slide right in and replace Curt Maggitt opposite Derek Barnett. He also could add 15-20 pounds and play inside.

The best part about Kongbo's raw ability is that he has three years to play there, and even though he'll likely stay on the outside, that's where Tennessee probably needs him most, anyway, with 2016 likely being Barnett's final year on Rocky Top.

Kongbo is going to be getting after quarterbacks somewhere. It may as well be at Tennessee.

 

Derrick Brown: 6'4", 317-pound 5-Star Defensive Tackle, Buford, Georgia

While most of the experts on the Crystal Ball think Brown will go to either Georgia or Auburn, an out-of-the-box prediction here is that Brown will choose Tennessee on national signing day.

This is a gamble pick that very well could wind up being a swing and miss.

But every time he goes to Knoxville, Brown comes back gushing. While his relationship with Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner could win out in the end, the Vols are a dark horse not getting enough love.

Brown would step right in to the rotation at Tennessee. His family loves Jones, and Shoop had plenty of opportunities to get to know the Lanier High School star this weekend.

Still, he was mum coming off his visit to Knoxville this past weekend. If the Vols knocked the official visit out of the park, it wouldn't be a stretch to see him wind up signing with Tennessee.

Last year, defensive line coach Steve Stripling proved his recruiting chops by bringing in Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, two players who immediately found the field as freshmen. Given the fortune UT had with defensive tackles and its need for more bodies at the position, that's a strong pitch to give Brown.

The Vols desperately need Brown, who'd be the only high school defensive tackle taken by them in this year's cycle. At a position so vital to success in an SEC program, that's a virtual guarantee that Brown will be a big piece of the future puzzle, as well as a rotation guy right away.

Many may think this pick is a reach, but when you put everything together, it makes a ton of sense for Brown to play collegiately in Knoxville. The guess here is he signs with the Vols.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Ohio State Football Recruiting: Predicting All the Recruits Who Will Sign on NSD

Urban Meyer has Ohio State primed to sign one of the nation's top recruiting classes, and with 22 pledges already in the fold, the Buckeyes coaching staff is working hard to close out strong.

Seven members from Ohio State's 2016 recruiting class—all of whom are rated 4-star prospects—have already enrolled and will take part in spring practice. Factoring in the 15 other committed players, Ohio State likely has three scholarships left before reaching full capacity.

Which three recruits will the Buckeyes add before closing the books on the 2016 recruiting cycle?

The Final 3

Ohio State still has a need in the secondary and at defensive tackle, and it'll fill those holes before signing day on Wednesday. 

In the defensive backfield, Ohio State will close out with Jordan Fuller—a 4-star athlete and the No. 130 prospect overall. Fuller has been a longtime Buckeyes lean, and he'll pull the trigger and announce his commitment on Monday. 

Columbus athlete Malik Harrison will follow suit. 

The Buckeyes only offered the two-way prospect a couple of weeks ago, but that's all the time they needed to surge in front of Michigan State in his recruitment. He can either play wide receiver or linebacker at the collegiate level, but it's unclear which side of the ball he'll end up on in Columbus. What is clear, though, is that he'll be suiting up with the Buckeyes for years to come.

The final commitment of the class will come from Jamar King, a coveted JUCO 3-star defensive lineman from Ukiah, California. 

Alabama and Ohio State have an interest in the 6'5", 285-pound standout, and while both schools are running low on space, it appears that Meyer is the one making King a priority, according to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors.

That may be because Ohio State has a huge need for a defensive tackle. And while King is currently listed as a strong-side defensive end, he has the size to slide inside in the Buckeyes' 4-3 scheme—similarly to departed senior Adolphus Washington.

King, at 26 years old, will offer the Buckeyes an immediate, experienced presence in the middle of their defense. The Buckeyes will need that boost, too, after the loss of tackles Washington and Tommy Schutt.

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Clemson Gives Customized Cake to Mom of Nation's Top Prospect

Clemson really wants Rashan Gary.

The 6’5”, 293-pound defensive lineman made an official visit to the school over the weekend, and while there, his mother posted a shot of this customized Tigers cake.

Being that the Paramus Catholic (N.J.) star is ranked No. 1 in the nation by 247sports, Clemson is wise to pull out all the stops in trying to land him.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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25 Best Heisman Trophy Winners of All Time

The Heisman Trophy has had a good offseason.

Cam Newton and Carson Palmer's battle in the NFC Championship Game drew headlines for featuring two former Heisman winners. Newton won't face another Heisman winner in the Super Bowl, but his opponent, Peyton Manning, is notable for not winning the controversial 1997 Heisman, and the person who beat him, defensive back Charles Woodson, enjoyed a fond farewell tour before retiring from the NFL.

How special was Woodson's season to prevent Manning from winning? Where does Cam's undefeated 2010 campaign rank among Heisman-winning quarterbacks?

Let's rank the best Heisman Trophy winners and find out.

But before you read on...a disclaimer. This is a really hard article to write. I've used quantitative data such as stats and records, but there's an obvious element of subjectivity. I also had to account for how "important" a player or season became. That's something you can't stick in a spreadsheet.

So on that note, my apologies for not including your favorite player. Especially with the older guys, whose numbers don't compare because of how the game has changed, I had to make a few tough snubs.

Sound off below and let me know where you disagree!

Begin Slideshow

Tom Brady, Derek Jeter Reportedly to Attend Michigan National Signing Day Party

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh will be calling on some heavy hitters to celebrate this year's national signing day.

According to Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg, Tom Brady and Derek Jeter will be in attendance in Ann Arbor for the school's signing day party on Feb. 3. The Players' Tribune confirmed the report.

Alejandro Zuniga of SB Nation's Maize N Brew highlighted how star-studded the party is becoming:

Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel thought this stunt fit right in with Michigan's recent approach to appeal to recruits:

Brady is one of Michigan football's most famous alumni. He was a member of the Wolverines' national championship-winning team in 1997 and helped lead the team to an Orange Bowl win over Alabama in the 1999 season.

Since graduating from the school, Brady has become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, winning four Super Bowls and two MVP awards.

Jeter doesn't have the same kind of deep ties to the university, but he graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School and was offered a scholarship to Michigan before he ultimately entered the MLB draft out of high school.

The former New York Yankees shortstop also has a stake in the event, since the Players' Tribune, which he founded, is hosting a live stream of Michigan's NSD party.

Ever since Harbaugh became Michigan's head coach, he has thought outside the box on the recruiting trail.

He and his coaching staff traveled to seven states in eight days as part of his Summer Swarm tour during the summer of 2015. More recently, he planned a slumber party with one recruit, baked another a cake and even attended a high school class with another of Michigan's targets.

According to 247Sports' composite ranking, the Wolverines have the No. 5 recruiting class in 2016—a significant improvement from last year's 37th-ranked class. Harbaugh's recruiting methods may be unorthodox, but they're delivering big results for Michigan.

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Jake Lawler to UNC: Tar Heels Land 4-Star DE Prospect

Jake Lawler didn't wait until national signing day to make his decision. He's headed to North Carolina. The 4-star defensive end made his announcement Sunday in a Twitter post:

Lawler, who stars at South Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the No. 185 player in the Class of 2017, per 247Sports.  

He ranks ninth among weak-side defensive ends and is the third-best player in the state of North Carolina overall. The Tar Heels were considered the leader in the pack throughout the process, with 60 percent of 247Sports experts predicting he'd land in Chapel Hill. His commitment came a day after attending North Carolina's Junior Day. Duke and South Carolina also received consideration.

Lawler made 72 tackles and 13 sacks during his junior campaign. 

“Jake is a special kid—not just in the way he plays, but in the way he does everything," head coach Rocky White said, per Don Callahan of Scout. “He comes to the early morning workouts. He comes to 2:30 workouts. If we had midnight workouts, Jake would be there. He’s a true road warrior in the weight room… If you had 100 Jake Lawlers, you’d go undefeated. He has good size. He has a fast get-off and uses his hands well.”

He'll return as a senior looking to make more improvements to his size than anything. Listed at 6'3" and 225 pounds, Lawler doesn't have the strength to play defensive end at a major program yet. His speed off the snap is exceptional, but he'd get overpowered by ACC offensive linemen at this point. It's possible Lawler could move to outside linebacker if the additional bulk slows him down; we'll just have to wait to see how he develops over the next 12 months.

As it stands, North Carolina is off to a stellar start with its 2017 class. Lawler is the fourth recruit to give his verbal, with all four ranked as 4-star players. Offensive tackle Jonah Melton and wide receivers Tyler Smith and J.T. Cauthen are already signed up to play for Larry Fedora. Lawler's commitment should see North Carolina push its way close to top-10 status among 2017 classes, as it was already 19th

Comparatively, the Tar Heels arguably have a better class in place for 2017 than they do for 2016. Heading into signing day, they've landed only one 4-star recruit among 25 players and sit 34th in 247Sports' rankings. 

Fresh off an 11-win season and with the ink still drying on a fat new contract, Fedora seems to have his program on an upward swing. Lawler's commitment is just the latest piece of evidence. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter

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Baylor Investigating Handling of Past Sexual Assault Cases Amid Accusations

Baylor University may be under fire again after a report by Paula Lavigne for ESPN's Outside the Lines criticized the school's handling of alleged sexual assaults.

Patty Crawford, Baylor's Title IX coordinator, told Lavigne the school has hired an independent consultant to examine how it dealt with past sexual assault investigations.

Lavigne tells the story of a female student, Tanya, who was sexually assaulted by former Bears football player Tevin Elliott. Elliott was eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Baylor's campus police declined to help Tanya since the assault happened off school grounds, while the university's health center suggested she seek counseling from an off-campus facility because the center was so busy.

According to Lavigne, Tanya's story isn't an isolated incident:

Yet an investigation by Outside the Lines found several examples in Tanya's case, and others at Baylor, in which school officials either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence. In many cases, officials did not provide support to those who reported assaults. Moreover, it took Baylor more than three years to comply with a federal directive: In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to all colleges and universities outlining their responsibilities under Title IX, including the need for each school to have a Title IX coordinator. Baylor didn't hire a full-time coordinator until fall 2014.

Serious questions arose after the school's handling of a case involving former football player Sam Ukwuachu. Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon wrote an in-depth report in August 2015 for Texas Monthly detailing the allegations against Ukwuachu and many of the school's missteps as it investigated the claims against him.

Baylor launched an internal probe following the report, with school President Ken Starr concluding last August that an outside source would need to conduct further analysis to properly account for the school's potential failings during the investigatory process.

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The Pizza Delivery Guy Who Made It Big: The College Recruitment of J.J. Watt

Try to imagine J.J. Watt as "the guy from Pizza Hut." It almost happened.

It's amazing to think Watt was a shattered dream away from possibly being remembered as one of the best pass-rushing pizza delivery guys in the state of Wisconsin, rather than as one of the NFL's most dominating defensive linemen.

Before Watt was the award-winning, pass-deflecting, quarterback-eating, touchdown-scoring sackmaster NFL fans have grown to respect and admire, he was a guy who nearly had his football dreams turn to dust. He worked at a local Pizza Hut in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, after leaving a scholarship at Central Michigan.

Watt took the job before enrolling at Wisconsin, where he chose to play football as a walk-on. Either he was going to make it as an FBS-scholarship defensive end after leaving Central Michigan as an unsatisfied tight end, or he was going to be a statistic, someone who had a shot elsewhere but threw the opportunity away.

It was definitely a gamble. Needless to say, Watt gambled and won. In fact, he won big.

"It's been a long journey," Watt told USA Today in 2012, "but it's been a lot of fun."

 

The recruiting woes

Most of the football world now knows Watt as the 6'5", 289-pound dynamo who makes his living as a defensive end but also moonlights as a tight end, H-back or whatever other position he's called to play. John and Connie Watt, however, know him as the relatively shy Justin James Watt.

A member of the 2007 recruiting class, Watt was a fan of all sports growing up but especially loved playing hockey. He competed on youth travel teams before putting the stick down to focus on football, despite the fact that he was a tall, lanky athlete who weighed 220 pounds his junior year.  

"He had an athletic body, but the muscle maturity wasn't quite there yet," said John Watt, J.J.'s father and a retired firefighter for 30 years who also served two years as a lieutenant paramedic. "After his junior year, you could see his body starting to catch up and get to a point where there certainly was some potential there."

But Watt didn't have the monster list of offers that some may assume. As it was, there wasn't a high demand for undersized defensive ends.

Clay Iverson knows. He coached at Pewaukee High School for seven years, including Watt's junior and senior years, and he saw Watt earn offers from schools such as Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming and Northern Illinois before ultimately signing a letter of intent to Central Michigan.

"I think if anyone said they saw this coming, they should do some pre-NFL scouting—or, they're lying," Iverson said of Watt's pro career. "No one could have predicted he'd be one of the best football players in the world, but everything he told me, I never doubted. Everything he said came with a lot of hard work."

After finishing his junior year earning all-conference honors, mononucleosis robbed Watt of the chance to showcase his skills during the offseason entering his senior year. The recovery forced him to miss all of the multiple school camps and combines that would have given him the opportunities that some of his peers received.

"The end of his junior year, that was supposed to be his big opportunity," John Watt said. "He was told to take it easy or risk doing damage. [He] was kind of a dark horse, because coaches didn't get to see him. It was hard for J.J. to see some of the guys he knew get interest that he knew he should have gotten."

Connie Watt, J.J.'s mother, said that span between his junior and senior year "drove him crazy," but it also motivated him. For her, she was grateful that mononucleosis wasn't something more serious, but she noticed her son growing more and more impatient with every passing day.

"We originally thought it was leukemia. It was scary," said Connie, who runs Watt's charity, the J.J. Watt Foundation, which reaches out to schools with insufficient funding for after-school athletic programs.

"Recruiting was incredibly stressful and challenging for all of us. There were times I'd get up in the middle of the night, and he wasn't sleeping because he was worried about it. We kept telling him to stay positive and that things were out of his control. That was something he had to learn to accept." 

 

Shining late in the process

Despite Watt's then-unremarkable dimensions, Iverson was struck by how his young lineman played bigger than his size.

"He was always very aggressive and always a very hard worker," Iverson said of Watt. "He had to fight through his growth spurt, but he was always aggressive. He had a knack for making the biggest plays in the biggest games. I don't know if you can coach that."

Watt, rated only a 2-star prospect in the 2007 class by both Rivals.com and Scout.com, was able to build his reputation by way of game film—and, in some cases, other teammates' game films. John Watt remembers a time when Iverson sent film out on another Pewaukee athlete, but the coaches "asked about that No. 9 kid." That kid was Watt.

Watt also shined in big games. He had a chance to line up against St. Frances High School and offensive tackle Josh Oglesby, the top-ranked player out of Wisconsin in the 2007 class and a 5-star prospect by Rivals.com. It ended up being one of Watt's best games—one that made a solid highlight tape.

Wyoming took notice and was the first school to make an offer. Though it came late in Watt's senior year, the offer helped to get a slow recruiting process going. Central Michigan was next to make an offer, followed by Minnesota, Northern Illinois and Colorado.

Watt committed to Central Michigan following an early December 2006 visit, as he was a fan of then-head coach Brian Kelly, who now is at Notre Dame. But days after Watt's pledge, Kelly took the head coaching job at Cincinnati.

Watt switched his commitment to Minnesota later in the month, as he had become a fan of head coach Glen Mason. On Dec. 31, however, Minnesota fired Mason, leaving Watt once again without the head coach he was expecting to see as a freshman. Watt ultimately recommitted to Central Michigan on Jan. 30, 2007, and played for then-new head coach Butch Jones, who is now at Tennessee.

Central Michigan, however, wasn't what Watt expected. For starters, he was playing out of position.

"They wanted to use him as a tight end, but they used a spread offense," John Watt recalled. "His freshman year only [saw him catch] eight passes. He said, 'This isn't what I signed up for.'"

Watt decided to leave Central Michigan, give up his scholarship and give things a shot at Wisconsin, a school he admired and cheered for as a young boy. It was a huge gamble, but it turned out to be one of the best moves he's ever made.

 

Perseverance trumps all

Watt decided to walk on at Wisconsin, but to do so, he had to ask his parents to pay for a year of tuition, and he also picked up a part-time job. 

Presenting J.J. Watt, pizza delivery guy.

"It definitely gave him a look at what would happen if he didn't go to college," Connie Watt said. "It gave him the idea of working hard and show[ed] that it wasn't something he wanted to do his whole life."

"Seeing how much faith my parents put in me, knowing what it took for me to leave a scholarship, leave a MAC championship team [Central Michigan] and take a gamble, I would look like a fool if I was wrong," Watt told the Houston Chronicle back in 2012. "And I don't like looking like a fool."

Watt, who changed positions with the change in schools, knew if he didn't make it at Wisconsin, his football career was done. But he went from being a walk-on to being named the Badgers' defensive scout team player of the year as a defensive end in 2008.

He became a scholarship player who earned all-conference and All-American honors. He then decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2011 NFL draft, where the Texans selected him with the 11th overall pick.

The rest is history.

"I don't know if anyone could've predicted that this is how it could go," Watt told JerryBarca.com before the draft. "It's been an unbelievable ride. I feel like I should ask myself, 'When am I going to wake up?'"

Watt's story, indeed, is one of perseverance.

"[He] always had lofty goals, but you never doubted him," Iverson said. "I've never seen a young man so committed and so quick to put all the foolishness around him on the back burner at such a young age.

"Whatever he has inside, it's what makes the special 'special.'"

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.

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Erik Swenson to Oklahoma: Sooners Land 4-Star OT Prospect

On Saturday, Erik Swenson, the No. 29 offensive tackle in the 2016 class, announced he will play football next season for the Oklahoma Sooners.

The 6'7", 285-pound Downers Grove, Illinois, native is the fifth-best prospect in his state, per 247Sports. He originally committed to the Michigan Wolverines in 2013 but claimed the school pulled his scholarship offer in January without giving a reason, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.

Based on a quote provided by Brandon Justice of MaizeNBrew.com, Swenson seems to be at ease with his decision to attend Oklahoma:

The Sooners moved into the top 25 of 247Sports' team rankings and now have eight 3- and 4-star commitments. Here are some highlights from Swenson's junior season, when he averaged 17.5 pancake blocks per game and yielded zero sacks, per Hudl.com:

Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is looking forward to having Swenson on the roster:

Swenson should have an opportunity to fight for playing time early. The Sooners offensive line was a mess at the start of last year, using a different starting five in each of the first four games of the season, per Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World. After a loss to the Texas Longhorns, head coach Bob Stoops found a lineup that worked, which included two freshmen: Orlando Brown and Dru Samia.

The Sooners lost center Ty Darlington and guard Nila Kasitati to graduation, though, so there will be another shake-up next year.

Based on recent performance and high recruiting rankings this year, the Sooners and Wolverines should both be successful in the near future. If they happen to meet in a bowl game or the College Football Playoff over the next three or four years, Swenson will have a great opportunity to show Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh what he missed.

 

All rankings per 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Dak Prescott Named 2016 Senior Bowl MVP: Latest Comments and Reaction

Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott was named the MVP of the Senior Bowl after completing 7 of 10 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's game.

The official Senior Bowl account tweeted this after the game ended:

CBS Sports has the senior quarterback as the sixth best signal-caller in the upcoming draft class and has him projected to be taken between the third and fourth round. 

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