College Football

Remembering the Last 10 Heisman Trophy Winners as Recruits

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2014

Remembering the Last 10 Heisman Trophy Winners as Recruits

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    By the time the likes of Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow won the highest individual honor in college football, they were known as much by their Heisman Trophy wins as the careers that preceded those awards.

    But before they ever threw their first collegiate pass, scored their first touchdown or gave their first postgame interview, each of them was just an unproven recruit with varying levels of hype and potential.

    As we creep ever so close to the latest national signing day, when the possible Heisman winners of 2014 and beyond fax in their binding letters of intent, it's time to look back at how we saw some of college football's most famous stars as high school and junior college standouts.

    (NOTE: All rankings, ratings and stats courtesy of 247Sports.com)

2013: Jameis Winston

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Year recruited: 2012

    Star rating: 5

    National rank: 15th

    Jameis Winston came to Florida State with plenty of hype and high expectations after accounting for 43 touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback from Hueytown, Ala. He was the top-rated player at his position in the 2012 class and because of his baseball talents was also drafted in the 15th round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers.

    Winston chose Florida State over Alabama, LSU and Stanford, but because of the presence of quarterback EJ Manuel he redshirted as a freshman in 2012.

    He made his collegiate debut on Labor Day in 2013, completing 25 of 27 passes in a win at Pittsburgh. En route to winning the Heisman and leading the Seminoles to the national title, he was tagged with the nickname "Famous Jameis."

2012: Johnny Manziel

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Year recruited: 2011

    Star rating: 3

    National rank: 393rd

    Johnny Manziel put up big numbers at Kerrville (Texas) Tivy and got interest from many schools. Most of them weren't in Texas, though, and as the 13th-rated dual-threat quarterback he initially committed to Oregon. He was part of the same recruiting class as Marcus Mariota, which would have made for some fun training camp competitions, but after a few months of heavy recruiting from Texas A&M he flipped and signed with the Aggies.

    Manziel didn't play as a freshman in 2011, the last season Texas A&M was coached by Mike Sherman. When Kevin Sumlin took over in 2012, he named Manziel the starter...and so rose the legend of Johnny Football.

2011: Robert Griffin III

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Year recruited: 2008

    Star rating: 4

    National rank: 250th

    Robert Griffin was a two-sport star from Copperas Cove, Texas who had set numerous state track records while also excelling as a dual-threat quarterback. He was rated as the fifth-best player at his position in 2008, behind the likes of Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Florida State's EJ Manuel and Oregon's Darron Thomas.

    Griffin originally committed to Houston, but when Art Briles left that school to take the Baylor job Griffin de-committed and eventually signed with Baylor. He had a solid freshman year, then missed most of his sophomore season in 2009 after tearing a knee ligament. His 2010 comeback was strong, setting the table for the 2011 Heisman-winning season in which he threw for 4,293 yards and accounted for 47 touchdowns.

2010: Cam Newton

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Year recruited: 2007, 2010

    Star rating: 5

    National rank: 63rd (2007), 2nd (2010)

    Cam Newton had the distinction—whether that's good or bad—of going through the recruiting gauntlet twice. Both times he was highly coveted, with the latter situation leading to an NCAA investigation.

    As a high school superstar from Westlake High School in Atlanta, Newton was rated the No. 63 prospect in the 2007 recruiting class and the third-best dual-threat quarterback, behind Virginia Tech signee Tyrod Taylor and Clemson signee Willy Korn. Newton signed with Florida and was part of the nation's top-ranked recruiting class.

    Newton played sparingly as a freshman in 2007, then was injured and took a medical redshirt in 2008. In November of that year he was arrested for allegedly buying a stolen laptop computer, and in 2009 he left Florida and enrolled at Blinn Junior College in Texas.

    He led Blinn to a national championship and was ranked as the No. 2 JUCO prospect, eventually signing with Auburn and leading the Tigers to the 2011 national title while grabbing the Heisman along the way. Newton's recruitment out of Blinn became the focus of a major NCAA investigation into claims that his father attempted to solicit money from schools to get Newton to play there, with the NCAA ultimately determining that Auburn committed no wrongdoing.

2009: Mark Ingram

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Year recruited: 2008

    Star rating: 4

    National rank: 214th

    Mark Ingram just squeaked into the 4-star ranks during his senior year at Southwestern Commencement Acadamy in Flint, Mich., where he rushed for 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns that season. He was considered the 23rd-best running back in his class nationally on a list that didn't include any notable future college standouts.

    Ingram had offers from schools throughout the country, but ended up at Alabama and put together a solid career that included 42 rushing touchdowns in 41 games. His sophomore campaign in 2009 included the Heisman honor, amazingly the first (and only) in Alabama's storied history.

2008: Sam Bradford

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Year recruited: 2006

    Star rating: 3

    National rank: Unavailable

    Sam Bradford was a solid pro-style quarterback coming out of Oklahoma City Putnam City North. His numbers weren't that spectacular, and he didn't garner nearly the attention of fellow 2006 class quarterbacks Tim Tebow, Mitch Mustain, Matthew Stafford or Josh Freeman. He chose Oklahoma over Iowa State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

    Bradford ended up winning a six-way battle for the Sooners' starting quarterback position in 2007, and the rest was history. He broke numerous school records for passing en route to the 2008 Heisman, then, after he chose to come back to Oklahoma for the 2009 season instead of going pro, he suffered two shoulder injuries that cut his college career short.

    Despite needing surgery, Bradford ended up as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL draft.

2007: Tim Tebow

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    Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

    Year recruited: 2006

    Star rating: 5

    National rank: 17th

    Tebow was the nation's top-rated dual-threat quarterback coming out of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and all the big boys wanted him. He visited Alabama, LSU, Michigan and USC before eventually signing with Florida, where coach Urban Meyer had been keeping close tabs on him throughout a stellar prep career that saw him throw for 9,800 yards and 95 touchdowns and run for nearly 3,200 yards and 62 scores in three seasons.

    Though not a starter as a freshman, Tebow was heavily involved with the Gators offense, coming in as a run-first quarterback in goal-line situations. Once he got the starting job in 2007, he put together one of the most storied careers in collegiate history.

2006: Troy Smith

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    KIICHIRO SATO/Associated Press

    Year recruited: 2002

    Star rating: 4

    National rank: Unavailable

    Smith was one of the most highly regarded dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of Cleveland's Glenville High School, where he played alongside eventual Ohio State teammate Ted Ginn Jr. Smith was one of those late bloomers in the recruiting process, though, getting most of his attention in the final months before the 2002 signing day. He didn't visit Columbus until two weeks before signing day, eventually choosing the Buckeyes over West Virginia.

    Smith was part of the same recruiting class for Ohio State that included Maurice Clarett and Justin Zwick, the quarterback Smith would replace in 2004. Smith was in and out of the starting lineup until 2006, when he put together a season that led to his landslide Heisman victory.

2005: Reggie Bush

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Year recruited: 2003

    Star rating: 5

    National rank: 16th

    Bush was recruited out of La Mesa (Calif.) Helix, where he played with eventual NFL No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith. He was a top target of six top-flight programs, eventually choosing USC over Notre Dame, Oregon, Stanford, Texas and Washington.

    All three of Bush's seasons with the Trojans were electrifying and full of amazing highlight-reel plays, making him one of the most memorable players in college football history. His 2005 Heisman Trophy was vacated five years later as a result of NCAA violations during his time at USC, sanctions which are still impacting the football program.

    Bush was actually considered the third-best running back in his recruiting class, behind South Carolina signee Demetris Summers and Georgia signee Kregg Lumpkin. Summers played two seasons with the Gamecocks before being dismissed from the team for drug use, while Lumpkin had an injury-plagued career with the Bulldogs.

2004: Matt Leinart

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Year recruited: 2001

    Star rating: 5

    National rank: Unavailable

    Matt Leinart was recruited out of high school back before the advent of online scouting services and various rankings and ratings, but there's no doubt he was a highly regarded quarterback. According to USC's website, Leinart came to the school from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei as a Parade All-American as well as an All-American selection of publications such as Super Prep and Prep Star.

    Despite that pedigree, Leinart redshirted in 2001 and didn't throw a pass in 2002. It wasn't until 2003 that he replaced 2002 Heisman winner Carson Palmer and threw for more than 3,500 yards and 38 touchdowns as a sophomore.

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