For the sake of this article, the PantherDigest.com would like to look at the opposite side of the spectrum. The focus of this article will deal with sleepers. "Sleepers" can be defined as players that were ranked relatively low but have the potential to emerge as big time performers on the next level. Four players fall into this category: linebacker Max Gruder, defensive tackle Wayne Jones, defensive end Justin Hargrove and wide receiver Aundre Wright.
Sleeper #1 ~ Linebacker Max Gruder
Max Gruder is sick and tired of hearing the label "too small and too slow." He's quick to dispel any disparaging label. When questioned about his size, he's quick to tell you he's a legitimate 6-foot-2 inches, 225 pounds. When questioned about his speed (a touchy subject), Mad Max is quick to tell you he runs a legitimate 4.5 forty-yard dash. It's safe to say that Gruder is an intense individual.
How intense is this future Panther? Max has printed and pasted the photos of his future competition at middle linebacker on the walls of his bedroom. Gruder was named First-team All-North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association. He registered 111 tackles, 17 tackles for losses, 2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries this season. Scout.com ranks Max one of the top 35 prospects in the state of North Carolina. Watching film on Gruder will remind many Panther fans of former Panther standout Brian Guzek. Fans can only hope that Max can replicate Guzek's career.
Sleeper #2 ~ Defensive Tackle Wayne Jones
Jones was a mammoth 350 pounds during his junior season. His considerable size was a detriment on the football field. After his stepbrother Atrell Hawkins Jr. (New England Patriots) decided to have a stern discussion with Wayne about the virtues of conditioning, he dropped 30 pounds entering his senior year. Jones performance improved exponentially his senior season. He was the Johnstown area's fourth-leading tackler with 86 tackles, including 68 solo from his nose tackle position.
Despite his wide-body physique, Jones has a surprisingly strong off the ball and a powerful run stopper. Head Coach Dave Wannstedt has gravitated towards smaller, faster defensive tackles. Wayne will add much needed size to the Panthers defensive line. Jones is just scratching the surface of his talent and he he'll have additional time to further develops his physique. Rumor has it that Strength and Conditioning Coach Buddy Morris is anxious to work with him. One can only hope he avoids the infamous pink "I work out at Curves" T-shirt.
Sleeper #3 ~ Wide Receiver Aundre Wright
Wright may be the most underrated recruit to sign on to the Panthers football recruiting class of 2007. Although somewhat small at 5-foot-11 inches, 185 pounds, he's very strong for his size and a legitimate speed merchant. Coach Wannstedt and several members of the Panthers coaching staff compared Aundre to former Miami Hurricane Santana Moss. Wright is capable of running a legitimate 4.3 forty-yard dash.
Aundre will play slot receiver and return specialist for Pitt. He had 22 receptions for 409 yards (18.6 average) and 5 touchdowns during the 2006 season. Wright has dreamed of playing for the Panthers and he fulfilled his dream when he signed his letter of intent to play for Pitt. Aundre is talented, mature and hungry to contribute. Look for him to immediately take the field next season.
Sleeper #4 ~ Defensive End Justin Hargrove
Hargrove was the "forgotten man" in the class of 2007. He had enrolled at Pitt in January and will have true freshman eligibility for the 2006 football season. At 6-foot-4 inches, 245 pounds, Justin is a physical specimen capable of running a 4.6 forty yard dash.
Hargove's senior season was cut short due to a brain contusion from head to head contact during a game. He had 13 tackles and one sack in less than two full games as a high school senior in 2005. He has since been cleared by his team of physicians and he's hungry to play football. Justin worked diligently in the weight room and he's capable of bench pressing 410 pounds and squatting over 500 pounds.
Hargove may be an afterthought for many fans at this time, but he has the size and speed to make an impact on the next level.
Harry G. Psaros can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.