With national signing day barely in the rear-view mirror, it's easy to get aught up in all the hoop-la surrounding these 18-year-old kids that almost no one has ever heard of before. It's also easy to forget that most of these youngsters will slip into the fog of a redshirt season, fading from memory almost as soon as they step foot on campus.
That reality got us thinking about those highly-touted yet anonymous recruits who somehow had us all tuning in to ESPNU in February of 2012. Now that their redshirt seasons are over, how many of them are ready to burst onto the college football scene and prove all of their supporters right?
It's easy to forget recruits like Lacy Westbrook and Jameis Winston when they fade into redshirt obscurity, but when spring football watchers get their first real glimpse of these future stars, the names will be etched into the memory of every fan.
Lacy Westbrook is a Rivals.com 4-star offensive tackle that committed to UCLA with the class of 2012. Westbrook has battled non-football-related health issues, and most recently underwent surgery to repair a brain aneurysm.
He is expected to make a full recovery.
His surgery kept him from enrolling in 2012 with the rest of his class, preserving his full eligibility in a “grayshirt” season. Now ready to make his appearance in UCLA true blue, Westbrook will remind everyone why he was one of the most sought-after offensive line recruits in the state of California.
And even if this 6'5”, 300-pound buffet buster wasn't all that he is, his story of overcoming life-threatening conditions is certainly inspiring.
A few weeks ago, Alabama 2012 recruit Eddie Williams may have led this list. After all, he is a former Rivals.com 5-star recruit, and is poised to make an explosive appearance on the field this fall for the Crimson Tide.
Check that, was poised.
After a February 10 arrest on gun charges, there were probably already going to be some stiff consequences for that mistake, but later that same week Williams was arrested again on unrelated charges with three other Alabama football players.
According to Tuscaloosa Police, Williams was found carrying a pistol in his pants pocket. Williams does not have a permit to own a handgun.
Later in the week, Williams was arrested again, this time for second-degree robbery and fraudulent use of a credit card.
Apparently not even the great Nick Saban is immune from issuing the odd scholarship offer to a complete bonehead of a kid. Williams (and his fellow jailbird teammates) have been indefinitely suspended while the criminal justice system does its thing.
Getting back to Williams and his potential impact; assuming Williams can make it back into the good graces of Saban (which is by no means certain), this speedster will certainly be able to instantly torch even the most seasoned of defensive backs. He possesses great speed and with good height (6'4”), he should be a tempting target for Alabama's A.J. McCarron.
Williams may miss spring ball altogether, which will certainly hurt his chances at nabbing a starting spot in the fall, but with the raw talent he possesses, he'll soon find a way onto the field—again, if Saban allows this two-time offender back in the locker room.
When a kid is 6'6” and weighs 315 pounds as a senior in high school, it's a good bet that he'll be making some waves on the college football field before too long. Ohio State's Kyle Dodson may be doing just that this spring.
Dodson is a former Rivals.com 4-star recruit out of Cleveland, and with the Buckeyes' penchant for running the ball with Braxton Miller taking the snaps, big, strong offensive linemen are going to play a very big role in 2013.
Angelo Jean-Louis was a highly-touted, Rivals.com 4-star athlete who ran into a little difficulty just after signing his letter of intent to play at the University of Miami.
As it turns out, Jean-Louis wasn't able to enroll at Miami because he wasn't able to meet the already watered-down academic requirements “student-athletes” must achieve. In fact, he wasn't even able to graduate high school.
Maybe pulling this kid out of class to host a press conference wasn't the best move.
Instead, Jean-Louis spent much of 2012 enrolled at Fork Union Military Prep Academy in Virginia trying to earn his diploma while keeping fresh on the football field.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jean-Louis still couldn't find a way into “The U” after just under a year at military school, and had to decommit. He's now headed to Marshall where he'll easily be one of the top players in Conference USA as soon as he steps foot on the field.
Okay, so that means Jean-Louis isn't technically a redshirt freshman, but with his journeyman-like route from his (first) senior season in high school and selection in the class of 2012 to the Thundering Herd, we're going to include him as a grayshirt.
At 6'0” and 205 pounds, Jean-Louis is the kind of corner you'd expect to be high recruited out of high school. His powerful size is complemented by pure speed, ability to close on the ball in a heartbeat and instinctive hands that can often find balls in the air before the receiver's.
If the academic issues haven't been too much of a distraction, he is in a perfect position to become a real superstar in Conference USA in the very near future.
Noor Davis is in line to step up and become the next impressive linebacker for the Stanford Cardinal. The defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl Game champions will need to replace a few players in a few key positions, but Davis, a former Rivals.com 4-star prospect from Florida should be everything head coach David Shaw needs, and more.
Davis has eye-popping speed, and his position as an outside linebacker will make full use of that explosiveness. Davis is also strong for someone with such amazing 4.3 speed. His closure rate is incredible, but what could make him a superstar is the fact that he almost never missed a tackle in high school.
If he can bring that kind of consistency to the college game, we're definitely looking at a future All-American.
Alex Ross is a 2012 4-star prospect out of Jenks, Oklahoma. While Oklahoma doesn't have a particular shortage of talented running backs, Ross could surprise many this spring as he rockets up the depth chart prior to fall camp.
This 6'1”, 205-pound back has size and speed that has impressed Oklahoma coaches during his redshirt season. With some talented returners sure to occupy spots on the depth chart ahead of him even after fall practices, don't expect Ross to earn a ton of playing time in 2013. Still, he's one to watch this spring, and if he can prove effective when he does get the ball, we'll be seeing more and more of him as the season wears on.
If ever there was a time Lane Kiffin could use some good news, now would be about it. Enter Zach Banner.
While USC is still muddling through its NCAA-imposed scholarship limits, Banner is a breath of fresh 5-star air to a team much in need of some young talent. Banner was the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle prospect in the class of 2012 according to Rivals.com, and with the rest of the Pac-12 smelling some blood in the Trojan waters these days, his emergence onto the field of play could be just what the doctor ordered for a program that seemed listless last season.
At 6'9” and 315 pounds, Banner is a giant man-child ready to destroy any and all defenders on which he can get his giant hands. The most impressive feat Banner has given us this far is a better-than-expected 4.2 time in the shuttle. If he can keep improving on his mechanics through the spring, don't be surprised to see him battling for a starting position in the fall—even with a roster full of returning starters.
Derrick Woods is a Rivals.com 4-star wide receiver from Inglewood, California who opted to play his college football at Oklahoma. He's a particularly strong wide out (with squats exceeding 350 pounds), but he doesn't sacrifice a ton of speed with all of that muscle.
Woods spent his 2012 season wearing a redshirt for Bob Stoops, but is ready to make an impact for the Sooners in the passing game. There are likely no fewer than five players ahead of him on the pre-spring depth chart at wide out, but that could change. We mentioned his strength for a reason, and if he can show some of that corner-plowing ability against Oklahoma's defense this spring and into the fall, he may impress coaches enough to give him some limited opportunities once the season gets underway.
When it comes to top-caliber offensive linemen these days, there's no program in the entire nation that can beat the University of Michigan.
The Wolverines consistently produce NFL talent like Jake Long (2008 NFL Draft No. 1 overall pick), and current Wolverine Taylor Lewan is another likely first-rounder in the 2014 draft. It should be no surprise then that Michigan is bring in yet another top recruit on the O-line for the 2013 season.
Kyle Kalis is a former Rivals.com 5-star commit out of Lakewood, Ohio. This 6'5”, 305-pound offensive tackle was the top Ohio recruit in 2012, but spurned his native Ohio State to play for “That School Up North.” Despite offers from seven Big Ten programs and Notre Dame, Kalis opted to play for a program with proven first round NFL Draft credentials on the offensive line, and he looks every bit to become the next big name for the Maize and Blue.
Kalis has great lockdown ability, but what sets him apart is his amazing lateral movement when starting down blitzing linebackers or moving up-field in run protection. His impressive wingspan allows him to fill holes more that twice his size, and whether Brady Hoke opts to run or pass in the future, Kalis will play a starring role on the offensive line.
There were a lot of Florida State fans excited about the decision of Jameis Winston, the former Rivals.com 5-star prospect out of Hueytown, Ala. to not only eschew his home state powerhouse programs of Alabama and Auburn, but the SEC in its entirety and instead opt for the ACC's Seminoles.
With everything that happened in 2012—from preseason hype surrounding a possible national championship run to an ACC title and Orange Bowl victory—it's easy to see why the spotlight very quickly faded from Winston.
But that spotlight is about to get switched back on, and it's likely going to be joined by the even brighter spotlight that accompanies national attention.
Winston is absolutely everything you'd expect from the nation's consensus No. 1 quarterback recruit from the class of 2012. His speed is well above average for even running quarterbacks while his 6'4” frame gives him a perfect vantage point when throwing the ball. And speaking of throwing, don't call this kid's arm a howitzer. It's more of a rail gun.
A video circulating on the Internet has Winston throwing a football over the monstrous Pi Kappa Gamma house at Florida State.
Is it any wonder he was also selected as a pitcher in the MLB Entry Draft?