Roy Helu Jr., an under-the-radar prospect out of high school, finished his career with 3,404 rushing yards, fourth best in Nebraska history.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers football team has been tabbed one of the favorites to win the Big Ten in its inaugural season, and one reason for that is an influx of talent from a strong 2011 recruiting class.
However, some of the lesser-known pieces of this class could potentially make bigger and earlier impacts than their heavily touted counterparts.
These underrated players have the talent and ability to make big impacts for the Huskers—what they don't have is the hype. And since the hype machine has been deadly to the careers of countless high-profile recruits, the lack of attention could be the best thing that ever happened to them.
Some recent lightly-touted recruits who ended up starring for Nebraska include Zac Taylor, Matt Slauson, Nate Swift, Joe Ganz, Roy Helu Jr., Prince Amukamara, Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard.
Not bad company.
So here's some recognition for six under-the-radar recruits who could end up contributing early and often in the 2011 season and beyond.
Sources: Huskers.com, Rivals.com
Ryne Reeves was Nebraska's first 2011 commitment. The 6'3", 300-pound in-state prospect led Crete to a perfect 13-0 season and a Class B State Title, hammering Elkhorn 34-0 in the championship game.
While it's difficult to tab Reeves an under-the-radar prospect as far as ratings go, he is not oft-mentioned in discussions of early impact players.
Reeves was a highly-rated center prospect on Rivals.com, despite playing guard in high school. Although he received a four-star designation, he is not widely considered to be a candidate for immediate playing time.
However, Reeves' frame makes him college-ready, and it just so happens that behind senior Mike Caputo at center, the Huskers are very thin.
Reeves is Nebraska's best line recruit not named Tyler Moore and has a great chance at earning some immediate playing time at center. But even if he redshirts, he could be starting in place of the departed Caputo in 2012.
Kevin Williams was another early commitment for 2011, and a big one for coach Bo Pelini.
The 6'2", 275-pound Ohio native was highly productive from his defensive tackle spot in high school, registering 268 tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 25 sacks over the course his junior and senior seasons.
His commitment was also a step in the right direction for Nebraska recruiting in Big Ten states as he chose the Huskers over offers from Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, among others. Ohio is a recruiting hotbed, and Pelini has already begun to show his influence in the state.
Williams' best bet may be to take a redshirt season in 2011 when considering the level of depth Nebraska's defensive tackle position possesses.
However, with Jared Crick's impending graduation and the possibility of Baker Steinkuhler leaving early for the NFL draft, Williams could quickly become a major contributor after this season.
Joseph Carter of Chaffey Community College in California was one of Nebraska's final puzzle pieces for the '11 class, and he could turn out to be one of the Huskers' best finds.
The 6'5", 250-pound defensive end was considered by some to be the top JUCO pass-rusher in California and received a three-star rating from Rivals.
He comes to Lincoln as a legitimate candidate for playing time at defensive end, but is very seldom mentioned among such names as Josh Williams, Jason Ankrah and Eric Martin.
While Williams and Ankrah certainly look the part and Martin had an outstanding spring, Carter could end up surpassing all three in a bid for the starting spot across from Cameron Meredith.
One of the biggest reasons for this possibility is Bo Pelini's recent track record with JUCO recruits. Guys like Dejon Gomes, Lavonte David, Brandon Kinnie and Jermarcus Hardrick have all made marks on the team, and the former three were key starters in 2010 (David and Gomes were Nos. 1 and 2 in tackles while Kinnie led the team in total receptions).
Astonishingly, those four have only six total seasons in Nebraska uniforms between them!
Pelini simply doesn't target JUCO recruits unless he thinks they will have a swift and significant impact, and Carter has the size and talent to continue that trend.
David Santos was a stat machine for Klein Collins High School, racking up 136 tackles and six sacks his senior season after recording 107 tackles and four sacks as a junior.
The Houston native reminds many of record-setting linebacker Lavonte David. Santos' tape showed instincts and athleticism that were reminiscent of David's.
His 6'0", 212-pound frame needs some muscle mass, though, and Arkansas was the only other major offer Santos had on his plate.
Good thing for Nebraska, because this kid could be a surprise contributor as a true freshman after several weeks in James Dobson's strength program.
Behind David, Will Compton and Sean Fisher, there is little linebacker depth. Santos' unique attributes may allow him to bypass a lot of unproven players and earn immediate time on the field. Quickly learning the defense will be key if this is a goal for Santos, and you can bet he's already working on it.
Even if he ends up taking a redshirt year, don't be surprised to see him starting in place of David in 2012.
Ameer Abdullah was one of Nebraska's final commitments for the 2011 class. All things considered, a good case could be made for the Homewood, Alabama product being the class's most underrated player.
Abdullah racked up 1,795 yards and 24 touchdowns on just 157 total carries, which is a whopping 11.4 yards per carry—in essence, Abdullah got a first down every time he touched the ball.
Add in his 541 yards and four touchdowns on 26 catches as well as four return touchdowns, and Abdullah was unquestionably one of the most explosive players in the state of Alabama.
Despite the fact that he did all this against top competition, he was rated just a three-star player and was lightly recruited until late in the process. While Auburn and USC made late pushes, Nebraska was lucky enough to come away with Abdullah's commitment.
The 5'9", 177-pounder's high school stats clearly prove his immense talent and, although he will not be a feature back, he'll have a great shot at earning playing time at running back and returner.
While I've maintained the opinion that Aaron Green and Braylon Heard will receive the bulk of the offensive carries behind Rex Burkhead, don't count Abdullah out of the conversation by any means. And even if he doesn't have a big offensive role next year, he has the talent to heavily contribute at both kick and punt returner.
It's hard to imagine two true freshman starting in the return game, but with Abdullah and Jamal Turner it could end up happening.
Daimion Stafford, teammate of Joe Carter at Chaffey Community College, is Nebraska's top under-the-radar recruit for the 2011 season.
The California product began the recruiting process as just a three-star prospect, but the Cornhuskers recognized his talent and were on him early and often.
After committing to the Big Red, Stafford's stock began to soar. Rivals gave him an extra star, and Florida and USC both tried to land him late.
Fortunately, Stafford not only stuck with the Huskers but also brought Carter along with him.
Stafford's 6'1", 210-pound frame is more than ready for major college football, and his tape shows he has the athleticism and instincts to be an All-B1G safety sooner or later. He recorded 147 tackles and nine interceptions in two seasons and also returned a kick-off for a touchdown in 2010.
Once again, Nebraska's recent JUCO successes cannot be forgotten. Stafford would not have been offered if the coaches weren't convinced he could be an immediate contributor.
Only time will tell whether that ends up being at safety or "Peso." Either way, if Stafford learns the defense half as quickly as Lavonte David and Dejon Gomes, he'll be a two-year starter in Lincoln.