ACC Impact Recruits
By Matthew Osborne
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These high-profile recruits are poised to make a huge splash in the ACC next season.
While most college coaches prefer to redshirt as many incoming freshmen as possible, situations always arise where a first-year player is forced into early action at the collegiate level.
As high school seniors across the nation have faxed their letters of intent to their college programs, let’s take a look at one prospect from each ACC team’s recruiting class who is a likely candidate to see the field as a true freshman.
Boston College: MLB Steven Daniels (Worcester Academy) Worcester, MA
Once the Eagles received the expected news that All-American linebacker Luke Kuechly was foregoing his final year of eligibility to enter the 2012 NFL Draft, the BC coaches immediately began to look at their options at middle backer for next season. With no particular player on the current roster popping out as a potential replacement, why not look at a guy who played his high school ball at the same school as Kuechly (St. Xavier in Ohio)? Daniels took a post-graduate year, but don’t take that to mean that he doesn’t have skills. He is a ferocious, physical player who also has a very high football IQ. The Eagles need help at middle backer next year, and Daniels already might be their best option.
Clemson: DT Carlos Watkins (Chase HS) Forest City, NC
Watkins plays at a position that was a huge area of need for Clemson in this recruiting class. It just so happens that he is also the highest-rated commit in the Tiger’s 2012 class. While defensive tackle is not normally a position where true freshmen get a great deal of playing time, the Tigers simply cannot afford to keep a player of Watkins’ caliber off of the field when they are in desperate need of depth along the middle of the defensive line. Presenting a large presence at 6-4, 280-pounds, Watkins moves incredibly well for a man of his size. In fact, he frequently took snaps at linebacker, fullback and even wide receiver for his high school team. There is no guarantee that Watkins will earn a starting assignment, but it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will be a regular in Clemson’s rotation at defensive tackle.
Duke: OLB Deion Williams (Lutheran HS – Orange County) Orange, CA
Linebacker has been a big area of concern for the Blue Devils over the past couple of seasons, particularly on the outside. The Duke coaching staff has been looking for a dynamic outside linebacker capable of making big plays in both the running and passing games, and they believe they may have found that player in Williams. A versatile defensive prospect, Williams lined up at numerous positions for his high school team this year, including defensive end. He shows a good burst off the snap and he has excellent strength and power, thanks to his solid core. His speed has improved tremendously over the past year and he is now physically ready to handle the grind of a full ACC season next year.
Florida State: RB Mario Pender (Island Coast HS) Cape Coral, FL
Although Devonta Freeman played well at running back for the Seminoles as a true freshman this past season, Florida State is still looking to get its ground game back on track. Pender will immediately be the most balanced running back on Florida State’s roster when he enrolls in June. He has a very sturdy build (6-0, 215), but still has the elusiveness and speed to hit the big play on a consistent basis. With the Seminoles signing three elite running back prospects in the past two recruiting classes, there is sure to be some tough competition during the summer camp. Regardless of what happens, however, I expect Pender to receive his fair share of carries next season.
Georgia Tech: DE Francis Kallon (Central Gwinnett HS) Lawrenceville, GA
Francis Kallon is the most unique recruiting story that we have seen in quite some time. He never played a down of organized football until his senior year of high school, yet he received more than ten scholarship offers before playing in his first game. That alone should tell you what type of athleticism Kallon possesses. The Yellow Jackets have struggled mightily to get to opposing quarterbacks under Al Groh, and they desperately need a player who can come in and cause havoc in opposing backfields from day one. While Kallon will be somewhat of a project due to his lack of knowledge and technique, you simply cannot teach his supreme athleticism. He has a strong desire to learn the game, and his work ethic could eventually make him a defensive starter next year.
Maryland: RB Wes Brown (Our Lady Good Counsel HS) Olney, MD
Running back was a big position of need for Maryland in this class, and Randy Edsall and his staff did excellent job recruiting that position this year. The Terrapins signed three running backs in the class of 2012, but none were more impressive than Wes Brown out of Our Lady Good Counsel High School. Brown was long thought to be a heavy Vanderbilt lean, but ultimately chose Maryland due to its close location. As a runner, Brown will not amaze you with his speed, but he has outstanding balance and great vision. He uses subtle fakes to get defenders off balance and then uses his power to run through their arm tackles. Coach Edsall will fall in love with his north-south running style, which is why there is a good chance that Brown will be the Terp’s starting running back next season.
Miami: WR Angelo Jean-Louis (Palm Beach Central HS) Wellington, FL
Although Miami running back commit Duke Johnson is sure to get plenty of playing time as a true freshman, wide receiver was truly the biggest position of need for the Hurricanes in this class. This was made evident by the fact that Miami signed six wide outs this year. Jean-Louis is the highest-rated wide receiver amongst the six, and it is easy to see why. Listed as one of the best overall players at the Under Armour All-American Game, Jean-Louis alleviated any concerns about his hands by catching everything thrown in his general vicinity all week. He is a very physical receiver who uses his strength to outmuscle smaller defenders. In addition, he also has fairly good speed and quickness, making him a very tough cover for any corner. Miami is in need of a serious playmaker out wide and Jean-Louis will undoubtedly be given an opportunity to prove himself this summer.
North Carolina: DT J.J. Patterson (Roanoke Rapids HS) Roanoke Rapids, NC
UNC is losing four key players off of 2011’s defensive line and they will need at least one of their true freshmen defensive linemen to step in and make an immediate impact. The best bet for that player is J.J. Patterson. Tipping the scale at over 300 pounds, Patterson already has the size to compete at the collegiate level. He also has surprising quickness for his stature, although he does need to improve his conditioning so that he can exert maximum effort for consecutive plays. The Tar Heels have a rich tradition of producing quality defensive linemen, and they have shown that they are not afraid to play young players if they are the best option available. Expect Patterson’s reps to increase throughout the season as he continues to improve his stamina.
NC State: WR Charlie Hegedus (Lassiter HS) Marietta, GA
Wide receiver was a big position of concern for the Wolfpack heading into the 2011 season, and it will be a big concern yet again heading into next year. Tobias Palmer will be the only returning wide receiver with more than 20 career catches for NC State next season, so the Wolfpack will be in dire need of some production from their young group of wide outs. In particular, the Wolfpack need a receiver with some size who can make big plays down the field. At 6-2.5, Hegedus will provide Mike Glennon with a large target in the passing game. Hegedus has more than just a nice frame, however; he also has good speed and runs outstanding routes for such a young player. His willingness to block should also win him major points with head coach Tom O’Brien.
Virginia: OLB Eli Harold (Ocean Lakes HS) Virginia Beach, VA
Linebacker isn’t necessarily a position where the Cavaliers are going to need a young guy to step up and make plays, but whenever you sign the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country, it is a pretty safe bet that he will make an immediate impact. Harold is one of the best athletes in the entire 2012 class. He is such a great athlete that he actually spent the majority of his senior season playing wide receiver. While he does not have a lot of experience at linebacker, his freakish athleticism should make for a very seamless transition. Harold is prepared physically for the grind of major college football, and the Virginia coaches are sure to find a way to get their gem of the 2012 class on the field early in Charlottesville.
Virginia Tech: RB Drew Harris (Downingtown East HS) Exton, PA
With the Hokies set to lose their top two running backs for the second year in a row, the door is wide open for four-star prospect Drew Harris to win the starting job as a true freshman. Harris has the size (6-1, 205) to be an every down back for the Hokies, but he also has the speed and elusiveness to break an occasional long run. His style is a perfect fit in Frank Beamer’s offense, which is actually one of the main reasons that he chose to play his college ball at Virginia Tech. Harris accumulated more than 20 scholarship offers before the start of his senior season, so there is no doubt that he possesses the talent to become an elite runner in the ACC.
Wake Forest: TE Anthony Rook (Rose HS) Greenville, NC
Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe has never been a fan of playing true freshmen, but occasionally a situation arises where the Demon Deacons’ head man simply doesn’t have a choice. While the tight end situation might not be that dire at Wake Forest, the Deacs did lose their top two tight ends from this past season. Although Rook still needs to add weight to his frame, he is a tremendous athlete who can be used as a weapon in the passing game. Rook often lined up in the slot for his high school team, so he runs very good routes and is used to having the ball in his hands. He might only be inserted into the game on a situational basis, but just getting onto the field as a true freshman at Wake Forest should be considered an exceptional accomplishment.