Who’s the best prospect that I have ever seen? I often get asked that question.
Before I answer I must say that I have had a blessed career of covering college football recruiting since 1992. I have had the opportunity to evaluate and track thousands of prospects and so many elite recruits over the past 22 plus years.
Lets reminisce and look back at some outstanding offensive recruits (I will stick to skilled guys and later on I will look back on some pretty special guys on defense).
The names you will read about will have a southern flavor because I have spent a good majority of my time as a recruiting analyst covering prospects in the southeast region. I was based in Atlanta, Ga., and am now in St. Petersburg, Fla. I broke into the business working at SportSouth (then a part of Turner Networks and now part of Fox Sports) on a television show called Countdown to Signing Day (CTSD). We highlighted all the top recruits in the South as well as featured some of the very best prospects from all over the country. It had an incredible 14-year run.
Who are the bluest of blue chip recruits I have seen over the past two-plus decades?
My first class back in 1992 highlighted a young man from Baton Rouge (La.) Catholic named Warrick Dunn. What a way to start, right? Dunn was the first of so many elite running backs from the state of Louisiana over the years. Remember Travis Minor (Baton Rouge Catholic)? There was also Cecil Collins (Leesville), Anthony Thomas (Winnfield), Joe McKnight (River Ridge John Curtis), Shyrone Carey (New Orleans Shaw) and I am sure I am forgetting a player or two. Just last year our top prospect in the country for Scout.com was from New Orleans St. Augustine, running back Leonard Fournette.
Other top flight backs were Nick Maddox (Kannapolis, N.C./Brown), Frank Gore (Coral Gables, Fla.), C.J. Spiller (Lake City, Fla./Columbia), Travis Henry (Frostproof, Fla.), Jabari Davis (Tucker, Ga.), Dontae Walker (Clinton, Miss.), Demetris Summers (Summerville, S.C.), George Lombard (Atlanta The Lovett School), Patrick Pass (Tucker, Ga.), Sony Michel (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) and too many others to mention.
In 1997 Jamal Lewis (Atlanta, Ga./Douglass) and Jasper Sanks (Columbus, Ga./Carver) were the nation’s top two backs. I had Sanks one and Lewis two. The following fall I was at a Douglass practice and there was an older gentleman taunting me from afar. It was Lewis’s father talking smack, saying I had the wrong guy at No. 1. Of course he was right and I was wrong. It has happened a time or two over the years.
There have been some great ones outside the region like Adrian Peterson (Palestine, Texas) and Kevin Jones (Springfield, Pa./Ohara) and more recently Reggie Bush (La Mesa Helix) and DeAnthony Thomas (Los Angeles Crenshaw).
How fitting it is that my favorite back is from Louisiana? It’s Kevin Faulk. He actually starred at quarterback for Carencro. Simply, Faulk was dazzling with the football in his hands. He was the ultimate weapon in space and simply electric. He went on and had a brilliant career at LSU and was a good player for a long time in New England.
Like running back, the wide receiver position is a very tough call because there have been so many dynamic athletes over the years. The most notable name now of the bunch is obviously Calvin Johnson (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek). He was kid that we absolutely loved in high school and [Scout.com] had him rated higher than anyone. To think there were a handful of college coaches at the time that I spoke with that were highly skeptical of his upside as a wide receiver. They thought he lacked speed and was a likely tight end.
Another one of my favorites was Andre Johnson (Miami Senior). He was simply a physical freak.
In that same category was Julio Jones (Foley, Ala.). He will always be linked to A.J. Green (Summerville, S.C.). Who’s better between these two? I couldn’t answer that then and I still can’t now.
Percy Harvin (Virginia Beach Landstown) wasn’t half bad either. I say that kiddingly. He was another level like everyone mentioned here.
I also remember when I met and saw Sammy Watkins (Fort Myers, Fla./South) play for the first time. I was actually at at 7-on event in Tampa to see his older brother Jaylen play. I didn't know about Sammy until that day. Yeah, he was pretty darm good then too.
But one wide receiver stood just a bit better to me and that was Randy Moss. I never had the pleasure of seeing him in person at Bell, W.V./DuPont high school but his high school film is one of the best I have ever seen. He was a gazelle and the biggest freak of them all. Some coaches at the time called him the best prospect that they had ever seen.
I will keep it short on tight end. Believe it or not, Glen “Big Baby” Davis was an outstanding football prospect as a tight end, offensive tackle and defensive tackle. Big Baby was just a big athlete. At one time we had him ranked as a top five overall recruit in the nation. If you don’t believe me, check out this film here.
Have you seen a tight end with that kind of size run a bubble screen and do 360-spin moves in the open field? It was a first for me. That video crashed our servers... twice. Davis gave up football to concentrate on basketball his senior season at Baton Rouge University Lab.
A pretty recent recruit that is just as impressive as anyone I have seen at this level is O.J. Howard (Prattvile, Ala./ Autauga Academy). This small school kid has a chance to be the next elite tight end for the Crimson Tide and that’s exactly what I thought he was in high school. Howard is a superior athlete with size and length.
Arguably the greatest player of this generation is Peyton Manning (New Orleans Isidore Newman). To think, I actually sat in studio with him in 1994 on the set of CTSD. Then, Manning won the Bobby Dodd Award given by the Atlanta Touchdown Club over Josh Booty (Shreveport, La./Evangel Christian Academy). It was the high school equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. It never crossed my mind at the time that this tall, skinny kid from New Orleans, who was headed to Knoxville, would become an all-timer.
Manning and Booty started a terrific QB run of recruits, especially in the south. A few years later Tim Couch (Hyden, Ky./Leslie County) and Quincy Carter (Decatur, Ga./S.W. DeKalb) came out the same year in 1996.
It was these two that got me in a little trouble in the offices of our TV show because I selected Carter over Couch as our first team All-South quarterback. That was certainly going against the grain because Couch was considered the top prospect in the country. It’s not that I didn’t like Couch. I loved him. But to this day, Carter was one of the best I have ever seen. He was big. He was athletic. He could run like a deer and had that rocket arm. In the end we took the easy road and went with both.
Remember, in the mid-90s there was no internet. There were no cell phones. You actually called these guys on a phone that had a cord that was attached to a wall. The only all-star games were between the states like Florida/Georgia or Alabama/Mississippi. There wasn’t 7-on-7 or a camp/combine every weekend of the year. Combines were on the verge of starting. Heck, we had what we called Countdown Combines at the Atlanta Falcons practice facility somewhere around this time.
Moving on, there was one year we had Brodie Croyle (Rainbow City, Ala./Westbrook Christian), D.J. Shockley (College Park, Ga./North Clayton), and Adrian McPherson (Bradenton, Fla./Southeast) in the same class. It’s funny. I have seen Shockley out and about a few times over the last few years and I tease him, asking him what things would be like if he and these other guys were part of today’s class of quarterbacks? It was just so different back then.
A few years after there was another trio in Tim Tebow (St. Augustine, Fla./Nease), Mitch Mustain (Springdale, Ark.) and Matthew Stafford (Dallas Highland Park). You can’t forget about Brock Berlin (Shreveport, La./Evangel Christian Academy), Chris and C.J. Leak (Charlotte, N.C./Independence ) and Jameis Winston (Hueytown, Ala.). Terrelle Pryor (Jeannette, Pa.) was an incredible athlete playing quarterback.
Ryan Perrilloux (LaPlace, La./East St. John), like Carter, was a supreme disappoint because of actions away from the game. Perrilloux was Winston with a better arm, if you can imagine that.
Like I said that’s a nice run of signal callers.
But the guy I would rank above all others is the one and only Ronald Curry (Hampton, Va.). Curry made all-state four times as a quarterback and made all-state as a safety and punt returner three times. He was also second team all-state as a punter as a junior and senior.
The numbers Curry put up simply were staggering. He finished his Hampton career with a state record 11,519 total yards and 8,212 yards passing. Curry finished with 90 passing touchdowns, 74 rushing touchdowns, and 22 returns for touchdowns. He was the consensus No. 1 player in the nation, won virtually every national award and was the USA Today Player of the Year (’97) and was their first team quarterback twice (their first ever junior selection).
More importantly, Curry led his team to three consecutive state championships. Hampton only lost one game with Curry at the helm and that was his freshman season.
Curry’s high school coach, Mike Smith, once told me that if he had Ronald as an 8th grader he would have been his varsity starter. Bobby Bowden said after his recruitment that Curry was the greatest prospect he had ever seen.
Curry had it all: size (he was 6-feet-2), the big arm, lighting quickness and blazing speed. We are talking about one of the greatest high school athletes of the last quarter century.
Just how athletic was Curry? He accomplished the unimaginable – he was a national player of the year in not just one, but two sports (basketball was the other). Curry led Hampton to a state basketball championship in 1996. He set school records in basketball for points and assists. Curry averaged 21.9 points, 5.7 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game as a senior and 23.5 points and 5.7 assists as a junior.
Can you imagine if Ronald Curry was a recruit today? Oh my.
Curry committed early in the process to Virginia but then opened things back up. Florida State and North Carolina both made a huge push. National Signing Day came and went and Curry didn’t sign with UVA or anyone else. Then, in late March, seven weeks after Signing Day, the Ronald Curry recruiting saga finally end as Curry selected the Tar Heels. The state of Virginia was in shock. The recruiting combination of Mack Brown and Dean Smith in Chapel Hill was too much to overcome.
I still get the question all the time – who’s the best prospect I have ever seen? My answer is always the same – Ronald Curry.
At least that’s my answer for offense and I don’t have to ever think twice about it.
I do love to reminisce.