Remembering Top 2014 Heisman Contenders as College Football Recruits

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystAugust 20, 2014

Remembering Top 2014 Heisman Contenders as College Football Recruits

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    Florida State QB Jameis Winston starred at Hueytown High School in Alabama.
    Florida State QB Jameis Winston starred at Hueytown High School in Alabama.Credit: 247Sports

    Every Heisman Trophy campaign comes from humble beginnings. Dedication and attitude are developed during youth football, before physical and mental maturity transform boys into young men at the high school level.

    Many of the perceived 2014 Heisman contenders carved out reputations as elite playmakers at early stages, receiving plenty of interest from collegiate recruiting departments. Piles of letters arrived first, eventually followed by formal scholarship offers.

    The choices these prospects made on national signing day sent them down a path toward stardom that could ultimately lead to the winner's podium in Manhattan this December. Now established college standouts, the fates of their quests for individual glory and overall program success hang in the balance each week for the next four months.

    Before we focus on what lies ahead for these difference-makers in 2014, let's take a look back to simpler times, when the national spotlight didn't shine nearly as bright.

    Here's a review of the recruitment processes that put these Heisman hopefuls in position to excel.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State (Class of 2012)

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Composite Ranking: 5-star; No. 15 overall; No. 1 dual-threat quarterback

    School: Hueytown High School (Hueytown, Alabama)

    High School Highlights

    Jameis Winston was a two-sport sensation, splitting time between the football field and baseball diamond, just as he does at Florida State. While earning accolades as the class's premier passer, he dominated at the plate and on the mound, collecting seven home runs and six complete games as a senior.

    His 2011 season concluded with USA Today first-team All-American honors. Winston starred in a spread offense based out of a shotgun set, given the option to improvise as plays progressed.

    He led Hueytown to the Class 5A state semifinals as a senior, throwing for 2,424 yards and 28 touchdowns. Winston flashed his rushing skills with an additional 1,065 yards and 15 scores on the ground.

    The four-year starter wrapped up his high school career with 9,853 total yards and 103 touchdowns. He was named co-MVP at the Elite 11 finals and MVP of the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game after tossing two touchdowns.


    Journey on the Recruiting Trail

    Winston strongly considered staying in his home state to sign with defending national champion Alabama. An official visit to Tuscaloosa two months shy of signing day preceded trips to Stanford and Florida State.

    LSU also stayed in the mix before he announced the Seminoles as his choice on national television.

    "Well, you know, it's been tough, tough the whole time," Winston said (h/t "I feel confident in my decision. I think I want to be a Florida State Seminole."

    His college football future became momentarily murky in June 2012, when he was selected by the Texas Rangers in the MLB draft. He elected to decline a pro baseball contract and will be eligible for the draft again next year.

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor (Class of 2010)

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Composite Ranking: 3-star; No. 818 overall; No. 30 pro-style quarterback

    School: Midlothian High School (Midlothian, Texas)

    High School Highlights

    Bryce Petty missed time during his senior season due to an MCL injury, limiting him to just nine total touchdowns. His 2007 campaign was far and away the most successful, as he earned first-team All-District honors.

    During that junior season, he threw for 2,042 yards and tallied 21 total touchdowns, per Petty's Baylor bio. He took over as Midlothian's starter in 2006, earning District 15-4A Offensive Sophomore of the Year honors.


    Journey on the Recruiting Trail

    Petty committed to Tennessee prior to his senior year, but that plan became derailed when Volunteers coach Philip Fulmer stepped down. His replacement, Lane Kiffin, wasn't nearly as enamored with the Texas prospect.

    "Petty waited for a call. And he waited. And waited," wrote Andy Staples of "Petty eventually learned his scholarship would be honored, but he knew he wasn’t wanted."

    With Knoxville no longer in the picture, he weighed grayshirt offers from Virginia Tech and Baylor. This designation meant that the 2009 high school graduate would have waited to enroll until January, 2010, and would have become a member of that recruiting class.

    He chose the Bears, a team led by rising star Robert Griffin III. Petty expected to compete at quarterback, but coach Art Briles left the door open for a position change.

    “He’s a guy that we believe has the ability to come in here and play a couple of positions for us—certainly quarterback being one of them," Briles said on signing day.

RB Todd Gurley, Georgia (Class of 2012)

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Composite Ranking: 4-star; No. 74 overall; No. 7 running back

    School: Tarboro High School (Tarboro, N.C.)

    High School Highlights

    Todd Gurley established himself as a national recruit before his senior season, then capped things off with a 2011 campaign to remember. He dominated throughout a run to a third straight 2A state championship.

    Gurley gained 2,600 total yards for Tarboro, reaching the end zone 38 times. He came up huge in the title game, rushing for 242 yards and four touchdowns.

    His efforts as a junior included 1,472 rushing yards and 26 scores. Gurley earned North Carolina Associated Press Player of the Year honors in 2011.

    Journey on the Recruiting Trail

    This process went deep into the cycle, as Gurley didn't reveal his intentions to join Georgia until just three weeks before national signing day. Though he held offers from the likes of Auburn, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, it became a two-team race.

    "It was very difficult, and it kind of came down to Clemson and Georgia," Gurley told Kipp Adams of after his decision. "I grew up wanting to play for Clemson, but deep down inside, Georgia was where my heart was at."

RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (Class of 2011)

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Composite Ranking: 3-star; No. 485 overall; No. 25 athlete

    School: Homewood (Birmingham, Ala.)

    High School Highlights

    Ameer Abdullah flashed dual-threat capabilities out of the backfield while playing on both sides of the ball at Homewood. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards and grabbed 24 receptions as a junior, when he emerged as one of the top offensive prospects in Alabama.

    His senior season saw a spike in production. Abdullah ran wild in 2010, gaining 1,800 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground.

    He added 33 receptions for 515 yards as a senior, per his Nebraska bio. Abdullah also showcased the athleticism Cornhuskers fan have become accustomed to, returning four punts for touchdowns.

    Journey on the Recruiting Trail

    Nebraska managed to lure Abdullah to Lincoln despite dealing with a collection of potential SEC suitors that offered more ideal proximity. He visited Tennessee and Vanderbilt before announcing his commitment in January just six days after spending time on campus.

    The Cornhuskers extended an offer earlier that month.

    "I loved their weight room, their tradition and the fact Nebraska is the team in that state," Abdullah told Jeff Sentell of after his first visit. "There's no Auburn and Alabama dividing it up. There's no pro team. Everyone in that state pulls for Nebraska."

QB Brett Hundley, UCLA (Class of 2011)

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Composite Ranking: 4-star; No. 69 overall; No. 4 dual-threat quarterback

    School: Chandler High School (Chandler, Ariz.)

    High School Highlights

    The Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year in 2009 was a highly efficient passer during his upperclassman career, compiling 36 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. Brett Hundley connected on 62 percent of his passes as a senior, tallying 2,348 yards and 20 scores.

    He did plenty of damage with his legs, burning defenses with designed runs and effective scrambles when the pocket collapsed. Hundley rushed for 2,064 yards and 21 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons combined

    His success earned him an invitation to the Under Armour All-American Game, where he took top honors in the Skills Challenge passing competition.

    Journey on the Recruiting Trail

    Hundley fielded offers from predominately Pac-12 programs, though Texas A&M was a notable exception. After mulling opportunities at Oregon and Arizona, he focused on UCLA and Washington as his top choices.

    The Bruins received a pledge just a few games into his senior season and held off others who continued to recruit. Hundley, who grew up in Arizona, expressed an interest for a change in environment upon his commitment.

    "I love beaches," Hundley told Craig Morgan of MaxPreps in September 2010. "And the beaches are five minutes away from UCLA."

RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (Class of 2012)

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Composite Ranking: 4-star; No. 258 overall; No. 18 running back

    School: Bradford High School (Kenosha, Wisc.)

    High School Highlights

    The 2011 Associated Press All-State selection was a productive playmaker during each of his four seasons at Bradford. Gordon hit the ground running with more than 500 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns as a freshman, per his Wisconsin bio.

    He logged consecutive 1,000-yard seasons as a sophomore and junior, rushing for 34 scores in the process.

    Bradford erupted as a senior, surging through defenses for 2,009 rushing yards and 41 total touchdowns.

    Journey on the Recruiting Trail

    Gordon was always bound for the Big Ten, but the Badgers weren't his initial choice. He committed to Iowa shortly before his senior season.

    He visited Madison that October and watched Wisconsin defeat the Hawkeyes. Gordon switched his allegiance before the end of the season, spurning Iowa and altering the conference landscape for years to come.

    "I liked Wisconsin’s atmosphere a little bit more better than I liked Iowa’s, and my family was closer to Wisconsin," he told Scott Dochterman of the Iowa City Gazzette. "Just little things like that that played a factor toward the end with me making my decision."

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon (Class of 2011)

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Composite Ranking: 3-star; No. 518 overall; No. 19 dual-threat quarterback

    School: St. Louis School (Honolulu, Hawaii)

    High School Highlights

    Marcus Mariota was the top-ranked 2011 recruit in Hawaii, punishing opponents with elite athleticism. He led St. Louis to a state championship as a senior, his lone season as a varsity starter, completing 65 percent of pass attempts, per his Oregon bio.

    Mariota threw 32 touchdown passes that fall, compiling 2,597 yards through the air. He added 455 rushing yards, averaging nearly eight yards per carry en route to eight scores.

    Journey on the Recruiting Trail

    Hundley and Mariota both viewed Washington as a legitimate top option before signing elsewhere. The latter was certainly more of a mystery because his one year of starting experience came in the most isolated recruiting region in America.

     “I think he was an unknown because he didn’t play," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told Adam Jude of The Seattle Times last season. "The more you talked with people around the high school and the football team, he kind of just took on this legendary-like status of just a great person, great student. And then to watch him play—I can remember calling Chip [Kelly] and going, ‘This guy’s unbelievable.’"

    Washington attempted to make a late push for his commitment, but Mariota found a home in Eugene.

    “Credit to Oregon—they went for it on him before we did,” former Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian told The Seattle Times. “We tried to come in late, and he stuck with his commitment to Oregon. He’s a heck of a player for them. What can you say?”

RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (Class of 2012)

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Composite Ranking: 5-star; No. 28 overall; No. 2 running back

    School: Daphne High School (Daphne, Ala.)

    High School Highlights

    Named Mr. Football in Alabama as a senior, T.J. Yeldon proved to be a dangerous weapon in different phases of the Daphne offensive attack. Punctuated by a 2,000-yard senior season, he rushed for 4,653 career yards, according to his Alabama bio.

    Yeldon provided a versatile downfield target in the passing game and used his quickness to turn short-yardage receptions into highlight-reel plays. He racked up 1,502 receiving yards, pushing his career offensive output to 6,155 yards.

    His accomplishments included 73 total touchdowns. He helped lead the team to a 6A state championship as a junior.

    Journey on the Recruiting Trail

    Yeldon is one of many talented Alabama athletes who was torn between two in-state powerhouses. He found himself in the cross-hairs of both the Crimson Tide and Auburn during an illustrious high school career.

    A prized prospect in the football-frenzied state, Yeldon certainly felt pulled in both directions. In fact, he actually committed to both programs.

    Auburn picked up his pledge during the summer before his senior season. That verbal pact remained intact until December, when he flipped allegiances to Alabama.

    "I have a lot of respect for Auburn, the coaches and all of the people there, but at the end of the day I feel like the University of Alabama is the best situation and fit for me and my family," Yeldon told Don Kausler Jr. of after his decision.

    All recruit ratings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.