Freaks Week: Calvin, Peterson and the Top 10 ‘Freaks’ of last decade

Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Taylor Mays are some of the Freakiest athletes college football has seen.

Brian A. Westerholt”, Jeff Gr/Getty Images

I’ve been doing the Freaks list for almost a decade, but this is the first season we’ve ever done a Freaks Week.

So, it’s a fitting time to revisit some of our all-timers with a Top 10 on favorite college football Freaks of the past decade.

One guy I would’ve loved to have room for on this was Troy LB Kanorris Davis, who was connected to one of my favorite videos.

It’s him vaulting clear over 6-foot Troy punter Will Goggans (of Santa Claus beard fame) in the weight room.

[Freaks Week: Top 20 for 2014 / Top 10 ‘Freak’ recruits / All-Freaks Team]

Here’s the video, and below are the Top 10 Freaks of the past decade.

10. Bruce Carter, LB, North Carolina (2010)

Butch Davis’ Tar Heel teams were loaded with freaky defensive players. Carter, a three-year starter, was certainly one of them. The former high school QB set UNC linebacker records in the power clean (374) and the vertical jump (40.5 inches). The 238-pounder had also been clocked at 4.39 in the 40 and bench-presses 440. However, he ends up on this list because of being able to do all that despite the diet he had.

I’d asked him how strict his diet was, and he told me how much McDonald’s he ate. Pretty much every day, he said. "I usually get three double cheeseburgers, medium fries, large tea and a six-piece McNuggets. I don’t think eating healthy as far as eating salads and that stuff really works for me."

Carter, a projected first-round pick, blew out his knee in his senior season but is off to a good start to his NFL career. Last season, he was second on the Dallas Cowboys in tackles despite being placed on IR for the final five games of the season due to an elbow injury.

9. Rylan Reed, OT, Texas Tech (2008)

A one-time Arkansas tight end recruit, who opted to sign with the Chicago White Sox as a pitcher, Reed had quite a backstory too. He once retired Barry Bonds in a spring training game, and reportedly had a 96 mph fastball, but it didn’t get him to the majors after four minor league seasons.


Then, he had to overcome a bout with cancer where he had part of his colon removed. He signed with Tech as a 6-7, 270-pound tight end but grew into an imposing 300-pounder who benched a school-record 625 pounds. Reed also was more than just a weight-room warrior. In the Gator Bowl, he helped contain Virginia’s Chris Long to three tackles and no sacks.

Unfortunately for Reed, at his Pro Day, after benching 225 pounds 41 times at his Pro Day, he blew out his knee on his first attempt at the 40 and never played in the NFL.

8. Marcus Cannon, OT, TCU (2009)

Once on a visit to TCU, I’d asked All-American DE Jerry Hughes whether there were any freak athletes in the Horned Frogs program. He paused for a moment, then began to shake his head and tell a story. The subject: Cannon, TCU’s 6-5, 350-pound starting right tackle, who had offered to bet Hughes a few years earlier over whether the mammoth offensive lineman could pull off a double front flip off a diving board. Hughes jumped at the bet, then watched in amazement as the TCU big man went all Cirque du Soleil on him.

"I can do a double front flip, a one-and-a-half and some other stuff off the board," Cannon later told me. "I used to be a lifeguard."

That story not only earned Cannon, also a standout shot putter on TCU’s track team, a spot on the 2009 list but also the title of being the world’s most improbable diver since Rodney Dangerfield climbed up poolside. Cannon, though, was more than just a diving-board Freak. At the Combine, he vertical jumped 30.5 inches despite weighing 358 pounds. Last season, he started six games on the O-line for the New England Patriots.

7. Dekoda Watson, LB, FSU (2009)

Yeah, his workout numbers were terrific, but Watson makes this list for some geometry and one of the best quotes we’ve seen. An FSU rep told me the school had measured Watson’s chest at 48 inches and his waist at 26 inches. Right, 26.

The quote: "Right now I’ve been doing ab workouts like it ain’t nothing," Watson told the Orlando Sentinel. "I’ve got abs to my throat almost."

Watson, a seventh-round pick who now plays for the Jaguars, lit up the NFL Combine too. At 6-3, 226, he ran 4.40, verticalled 40 inches and long jumped 11-2. 

6. Taylor Mays, S, USC (2009)

An enforcer in the Trojans’ secondary, the super-sized DB once KO’d three Arizona Wildcats in one game. He was also well-known for his eye-catching training numbers for such a big dude.

Coaches said he could easily be a ripped 6-3, 240-pounder if they wanted him to get a little bigger, and his weight got up to 238 pounds when he headlined the 2009 team and he still verticalled 41 inches and broad jumped 11-4. Mays didn’t disappoint when he showed up at the NFL Combine. At one point, the NFL Network had him clocking an unofficial 4.24 40, but it was later put down as a 4.43. He also jumped 41 inches and 10-10 in the broad jump.

In the NFL, Mays, a second-round pick, has had an up-and-down career, where he has started 10 games in four seasons.

5. Margus Hunt, DL/KB, Southern Methodist (2012)

A 6-8, 280-pound Estonia track star, Hunt had an 82-inch wingspan, yet despite those long arms could still bench 225 35 times. 

Hunt, of course, also had quite the backstory: He won gold medals in the shot and discus at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing, becoming the first junior athlete to ever achieve such a double. He didn’t leave his country and move to Dallas to play college football. He moved to Texas to train with track coach Dave Wollman, but SMU hasn’t been able to get back its men’s track program.

Hunt still wanted to train with Wollman, who had mentored another decorated discus thrower from Estonia. To help cover the cost of tuition, Wollman figured with Hunt’s size and athleticism, he might be able to help the Mustangs football team. After Hunt blasted blocking sleds and ran a 4.70 40 during a tryout, June Jones said, "Oh yeah, I’ll take him."

Wollman predicted to me Hunt would rep 225 pounds 45 times the next year at the NFL combine and clock a 4.60 40-yard dash. Turns out, Wollman was spot on with the 40 prediction as he protégé did run an official 4.60 in Indy, but Hunt fell short on the bench, getting “only” 38 reps. He also broad-jumped 10-1. Hunt blocked an NCAA record 17 kicks for the Mustangs and now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals.

4. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma (2006)

Like Johnson, Peterson’s more than backed up any claims of Freakish athleticism, but we still love the anecdote told by an OU staffer about how the star tailback could hold 80-pound dumbbells in each hand and making a standing jump to the top of a 36-inch high wooden box.

Oh, and the Minnesota Vikings perennial All-Pro also clocked a 4.40 40 and vertical jumped 38.5 inches weighing 217 pounds.

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (2013)

Last year, thanks to Clowney, we got a new gauge for Freakiness: The Tendo. It’s an electronic power and speed analyzer (a speedometer of sorts) invented in Slovakia and has been around for about a decade in the U.S. strength and conditioning community.


"It measures velocity and power in meters per second," explained Joe Connolly, the Gamecocks’ head football strength and conditioning coach. "It’ll give you a power number, and it’s expressed in watts. It takes into account body weight and different things. (Clowney) is in the 8000s — and we’re talking repetitive numbers in the 8500-range — and there isn’t anybody on the team within 2000 of that. Clowney has a 8655-watt peak power reading. The closest number that a teammate has is a 6800-watt peak power reading. This differential is pretty vast. One major difference is JD can produce this kind of power repeatedly. Nobody else can do that."

Clowney’s workout numbers according to Connolly drew a lot of skepticism. The DE, he said, vertical jumped 38 inches and clocked a 4.54 40 weighing 274 pounds. But then in Indy, Clowney backed it all up. He ran a 4.53, vertical jumped 37.5 inches and broad jumped 10-4 weighing 266 en route to becoming the first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans.

2. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech (2006)

There’s often skepticism at the numbers coaches tell me their guys have put up either in the weight room or on the track. Johnson is one of the few guys whose workout numbers we had actually weren’t as jaw-dropping as the ones he generated at the NFL Combine.

At Indy, Johnson measured in at 6-5, 239 and clocked a 4.35 40 with 42.5-inch vertical, which was on par with what Tech coach Eric Ciano had told me, but the 11-foot, two-inch broad jumped proved to be almost half a foot less than the 11-7 he vaulted for the NFL.

Johnson, now 28, is putting together a Hall of Fame career for the Detroit Lions, having already been to four Pro Bowls and setting the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season (1,964).

1. Owen Schmitt, FB, West Virginia (2006)

There have certainly been faster guys and guys who jumped higher than the 6-foot-3, 255-pound fullback, but no Freak had a more colorful story. 

"He’s a mutant," said Mike Barwis, WVU’s former strength coach who himself is now a reality TV star on Discovery’s “American Muscle” show. When I wrote about the former walk-on for ESPN Magazine, I did so in a comic book treatment. That style just seemed like an ideal way to tell his story.

Schmitt was born with a cleft lip and palate and would later undergo a trio of excruciating surgeries, where doctors reconstructed his face with bone from his hip. He’d later transformed himself into a budding local football star in small-town Wisconsin and became a 1,000-yard tailback at Division III Wisconsin-River Falls who decided to see if he could play at a higher level. He shopped himself around, twice approaching Maryland, which finally said they had no use for him.

In the WVU weight room, he put up ridiculous numbers, hang-cleaning an unheard-of 480 pounds. Barwis told me that Schmitt did eight bench reps at 405, and "there ain’t many people in America who can do it for one." Schmitt also had surprising speed, clocking a 4.6 40 and once ran through the Georgia D in the Sugar Bowl for a long touchdown. His bruising style also translated into a bunch of bent facemasks. One of them used to sit on Rich Rodriguez’s desk in Morgantown.

Schmitt spent five seasons in the NFL before returning to West Virginia, where he still has folk hero status. He traded in his helmet for a guitar and now often plays for country bands (the Davisson Brothers Band among them) around the Mid-Atlantic region.

Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for and FOX Sports 1. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.