Reaching Beyond the Stars

Analysts work hard in order to rank the top high school prospects, as it is their job to identify the next collegiate stars. Of course, there is that occasional prospect that slips between the cracks.

Though that particular prospect may not receive much notoriety or "stars" out of high school, he is able to surpass expectations and become a 3-4 year starter on the next level. Sometimes college coaches just do a good job at developing and getting the best out of these overachievers, or maybe the coach just saw something in that player that no one else did. Whatever the reason, there is no doubting that the Tigers have had their share of players that have reached beyond the stars.

It was a play that could have turned the game. The Tennessee running back took off left taking the Clemson defense with him, only to hand off to one of the Volunteers' speedy wide receivers. The Volunteers had taken advantage of an aggressive Tiger defense and now all that stood between the ball carrier and a sure touchdown was the Georgia Dome's green turf. The play had worked to perfection. Or had it?

Out of the middle of the pack squirted a brief hope in the form of an undersized linebacker who now had the task of making an unassisted tackle on a faster guy in the open field. The result was a beautiful solo tackle in open space, a 12-yard loss and another stalled drive for Phil Fulmer and the Volunteers.

Such things were the norm for LeRoy Hill, who himself received a measly two stars when he picked Clemson for his college football career and education. The Peach Bowl tackle was only one of a whopping 27 tackles for loss for Hill who was relentless in chasing down ball carriers time and time again in 2003.

Even so, Hill's diminutive size or maybe his lack of notoriety coming out of high school has the experts doubting in 2004. They think that with the loss of tackles Donnell Washington and Dejuan Polk, Hill will not be able to match 2003's production. In fact, national experts have rated Ahmad Brooks, a highly touted high school star in 2001, as the top linebacker in the ACC even though he didn't have near the production of Hill last year. Although publicity has not followed Hill throughout his football career, success has and a solid 2004 will prove Leroy Hill is the top linebacker in the ACC despite the "experts."

Out of Obscurity

One decided to back away from his only other offer, East Carolina, in order to wear the Clemson orange. He had a one star rating and a dream to play at the Division I level. Another came without any stars at all or a scholarship for that matter and only became a Tiger after he was denied a chance from his childhood favorite Georgia.

In fact, the starting interior for the Tiger offensive line only averaged one star between them when they started their Clemson career, and although none of their names will be mentioned for All-American or preseason awards you won't hear any crying from Clemson fans. In fact the Tiger interior is considered to be one of the offense's strengths and when all is over Cedric Johnson, Tommy Sharpe and Chip Myrick should all have three years as a starter at Clemson University, a credit to the Clemson coaches who evaluated and developed this outstanding group.

A Patchwork Job

Jamaal Fudge was too small, Travis Pugh too slow and Tye Hill was a track athlete, not a football player. Yet if Miami ends up losing Antrel Rolle for the season, it would be hard to argue that these three players don't help make up the ACC's top defensive backfield in 2004.

Fudge wasn't wanted out of high school by the big three in Florida, so he headed for Tigertown to a group of coaches who accepted him willingly and hoped to develop him into a top-notch defensive back. Now Fudge is being considered one of the top safeties in the league after a 100+ tackle season and 4 interceptions. He should sign a pro contract after his career at Clemson is over.

Coach John Lovett has not only done a great job with Fudge, but has combined the talents of Justin Miller with a bunch of two star scrubs to form the strongest unit the 2004 defense has to offer.

Rising Stars

Make no doubt about it, most analysts do a great job identifying future talent. No one can deny that Airese Currie, Kelvin Grant and Justin Miller are deserving of the four and five stars they received out of high school, but it is the great job that the Clemson staff has done developing the lesser known athletes that has them contending on the national level.

Which begs the question, who will be this year's Jamaal Fudge or LeRoy Hill? Could it be former two star stud Gaines Adams that steps out of the shadows or maybe Reggie Merriweather who was overlooked by many schools because of his lack of size?

Either way, if the history holds true, we should be able to expect big things from players that at one time had small expectations.

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