By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
February 2, 2005
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Many times the big-name high school players have also become big-name college players. So what constitutes a big-name high school player anyway? Certainly anyone who earned prep All-America recognition or was heavily recruited has to be considered.
Then, once in school, they must be able to parlay their tremendous billing into effective play on the field. Here is a for-fun list of 10 top Mountaineer football prospects over the past 40 years that were able to transform the hype into outstanding careers at WVU:
Harris, QB, Pittsburgh, Pa.
There was never any doubt about Major Harris’ athletic ability and star
power, just doubts about whether or not he could play quarterback in
college. That’s why hometown Pitt took a pass on the city’s player of the
year and Sporting News Top 100 prospect. But Harris proved that he could not
only quarterback a Division I program, he could do so at the highest level.
Twice Harris was a Heisman Trophy finalist and was a two-time ECAC player of
the year, leading the Mountaineers to the Fiesta Bowl to play Notre Dame for
the 1989 national championship. Harris was one of a handful of college
quarterbacks to both pass for more than 5,000 yards and run for more than
2,000 yards during an exciting career that gave him coast to coast fame. And
while Harris could never quite duplicate that same magic on the professional
level, he still remains one of Eastern college football’s most exciting
Cobourne, RB, Cherry Hill, N.J.
A serious knee injury kept many of the big schools recruiting Avon Cobourne
from staying on him, including Tennessee, but West Virginia stuck with him
throughout and wound up getting one of New Jersey’s top runners. Cobourne
was rated the ninth-best player in the state by the Newark Star-Ledger as a
senior despite missing most of his senior campaign at Holy Cross High
School. Yet he was able to completely recover and made an immediate impact
at WVU, rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a redshirt freshman and winding
up as the Big East’s all-time leading rusher. Cobourne’s 5,164 career yards
also ranks him among the top 15 all-time leading ground gainers in NCAA history.
The Cherry Hill, N.J., native signed a free agent contract with the Detroit
Lions and spent his rookie NFL season as a backup running back. Last year he
was a member of the Lions practice squad before recently signing as a free
agent with the Miami Dolphins. Cobourne gets the nod over Zereoue by staying all four years at WVU.
Zereoue, RB, Hempstead, N.Y.
Running back Amos Zereoue was a late addition to the Mountaineer roster in
1996, but the former Long Island rushing champ proved to be well worth the
wait. Zereoue set Long Island records of 5,360 yards and 59 touchdowns at
W.C. Mepham High School, earning Street & Smith All-America recognition. The
two-time Thorpe Award winner as Long Island’s top prep football prospect got
his WVU career off with a big bang, taking his very first college carry for
a 69-yard touchdown on national TV against Pitt. Zereoue established school
standards for season and career rushing yards and finished with two of the
school’s five-best single-game rushing efforts (234 yards against Notre Dame
and 228 yards against Rutgers). Zereoue was the ECAC player of the year in
1997 and also earned All-America recognition. He was drafted in the third
round by the Pittsburgh Steelers and plays today for the Oakland Raiders.
Buggs, WR, Atlanta, Ga.
Bobby Bowden’s first major foray into the South landed him wide receiver
Danny Buggs from Atlanta. Buggs was an all-state receiver at Avondale High
School who also excelled in basketball and in track as one of the South’s
top sprinters. Buggs scored 30 points at the Georgia state track meet and
set state records in the 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, 440-yard run and the
broad jump. Danny was forced to sit out a year at WVU in 1971 to concentrate
on academics after turning down offers from Arizona State, Clemson and
Florida State, but Bowden's patience was rewarded in 1972 as he immediately became one of the East’s
most exciting players. The Kodak All-American was the first pass catcher in
school history to post back-to-back 100-yard receiving games and he had one of
the most dominant seasons in school history as a sophomore in 1972 when he
scored a touchdown every five times he touched the ball as a three-way
threat. He later excelled professionally with the Washington Redskins.
Owens, RB, Stroudsburg, Pa.
Running back Artie Owens led Stroudsburg High School to an 11-0 record and
set the state record for rushing yards in a season at the time with 2,061.
He was listed on the Kodak All-American prep football team in a backfield
that included Ohio State’s Archie Griffin and Oklahoma’s Tinker Owens, but
he took a back seat in PA that year to Aliquippa superstar runner Tony
Dorsett. Still, Artie scored 42 touchdowns his senior season and was an AP
and UPI all-state selection. West Virginia coach Bobby Bowden won out over
Arizona State and a host of other schools for Owens’ services, and Owens
later became the school’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard ballcarrier and
all-time leading rusher for nearly two decades. Artie spent five seasons in
the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.
Braxton, RB, Vandergrift, Pa.
West Virginia coach Jim Carlen won a tough recruiting battle for nearby
Connellsville High School star running back Jim Braxton, an all-everything
ballcarrier who gained 1,485 yards by all methods and won three games with
last-second heroics. A Big 33 all-star game participant, Braxton soon became
West Virginia’s best all-around player who distinguished himself first as a
powerful runner and later as an All-American tight end. Braxton was a
third-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills and became a critical
component in Buffalo’s “Electric Company” rushing attack featuring tailback
O.J. Simpson. As a lead blocker, Braxton paved the way for Simpson to become
the NFL’s first 2,000-yard rusher. Braxton himself nearly topped 1,000 yards
during his best NFL season in 1975.
Rembert, WR, Okeechobee, Fla.
Speedy 6-foot-6 wide receiver Reggie Rembert was exactly what the doctor
ordered for West Virginia University when the Mountaineers were able to
pluck the junior college All-American out of Independence (Kan.) Community
College in the summer of 1987. Rembert made an immediate impact, catching 23
passes for 516 yards and seven touchdowns as quarterback Major Harris’ main
deep threat in 1988. As a senior, Rembert increased his numbers to 47
catches for 850 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Okeechobee, Fla., resident was
able to parlay those stats into a second-round selection in the NFL draft
and a brief three-year career in the pros.
Sauerbrun, K, Setauket, N.Y.
Long Island’s Todd Sauerbrun was considered one of the nation’s top prep
kickers at Ward Melville High School, once booting a New York state-record
62-yard field goal. One high school scouting service listed him as a
third-team All-American and Sauerbrun eventually proved his worth at WVU as
a punter – not as a place kicker as was the original intention when he
was signed. Sauerbrun went on to set an NCAA record with a 48.4 punting
average in 1994 on the way to becoming the school’s sixth consensus
All-American. Today Sauerbrun is an all-pro kicker with the Carolina
Panthers. Ironically, also in WVU’s 1990 recruiting class was Allan Hancock
Junior College punter Mike Vanderjagt, who later became a pro-bowl kicker
for the Indianapolis Colts.
Wilson, RB, Weirton, W.Va.
Weirton’s Quincy Wilson became the first runner in West Virginia history to
rush for more than 3,000 yards in a single season, finishing with an
astounding 3,262 yards in 1998 to rank third nationally with an average of
233 yards per game. Wilson led Weir High to the ‘98 state title and finished
his career with 6,161 yards to break Robert Alexander’s state standard.
Wilson was rated the nation’s 56th-best player by Tom Lemming and
the 85th-best player by Sporting News, extending West Virginia’s
great tailback tradition started by Adrian Murrell and continued by Amos
Zereoue and Avon Cobourne. Wilson’s breakout season came in 2003 when he ran
for 1,380 yards to earn third team AP All-America honors. Wilson’s 2,608
career rushing yards place him fifth in school history and he finished the
2003 season ranked 12th among all NCAA runners. Wilson was a
seventh-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons and later was signed as a
free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals, where he remains today.
Alexander, RB, South Charleston, W.Va.
When it comes to blue chip football recruits, no one ever signed by West
Virginia University has come close to matching the prep pedigree of
South Charleston All-American running back Robert Alexander. The prep PR
machine labeled him ‘Alexander the Great’ as a three-time high school
All-American runner and the nation’s top running back in 1977 by Joe
Namath’s Prep Sports. The Parade All-American was personally courted by West
Virginia governor Jay Rockefeller, where in the governor’s mansion, he
announced his decision to stay home and attend WVU over the likes of USC,
Tennessee, Ohio State, Penn State and Maryland. Alexander ran for nearly
6,000 yards and scored almost 575 career points in high school, but endured
a tough adjustment in college and nearly became the school’s biggest bust
until Don Nehlen revived his career. Scrapping the veer, Nehlen put
Alexander in the back of his I-formation attack and gave him the football.
In his very first game for Nehlen in 1980, Alexander ran for 187 yards and
finished the season with more than 1,000 yards. Alexander spent a short time
in the pros with the Los Angeles Rams.
Worth Mentioning: Garrett Ford, Carl Crennell, Dale Farley, Marshall Mills, Walter Easley, Fulton
Walker, Steve Grant, Adrian Murrell, John Browning, Aaron Beasley and Gary Stills.
West Virginia University has also managed to thrive by getting players that were overlooked by others, but later developed themselves into college and professional standouts. Here’s a for-fun list of 10 no-name recruits who went on to make it big:
Bulger, QB, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Skinny 167-pound quarterback Marc Bulger started one season at Pittsburgh
Central Catholic High School, earned all-city honors but failed to even earn
a sniff from hometown Pitt -- then at the bottom of the Big East. All Bulger
managed to do was roast his hometown school for more than 1,000 yards and 11
TD passes in three games on the way to setting more than 30 WVU records
including career passing yardage (8,153) and career touchdown passes (59).
Bulger’s unlikely rise continued in the pros when he beat out St. Louis Rams
all-pro quarterback Kurt Warner for the starting job and was named MVP of
the 2004 Pro Bowl. Today he is perhaps the richest WVU football player in
school history. Not too bad for a guy who didn’t want to play football his
sophomore year in high school because he was afraid the seniors were going
to make him shave his head (a true story I got from his younger sister Meg).
Talley, LB, Cleveland, Ohio
Six-foot-three, 185-pound Darryl Talley was a sometimes-linebacker
sometimes-fullback at Shaw High School in East Cleveland, Ohio, that missed
the last seven games of his senior season with a broken ankle. Still, WVU
assistant coach Gary Stevens liked what he saw of Talley and envisioned him
one day creating havoc as an outside linebacker. Little would Stevens know
that he delivered the Mountaineers their third-ever consensus All-American,
a 15-year NFL veteran, and three-time all-pro pick for the Buffalo Bills.
WVU students loved Talley’s bone-crushing tackles almost as much as his
sleek, black jacket with the word ‘Assassin’ inscribed on the front that he
always wore around campus. That jacket was a warning for the tough guys not
to try anything stupid, which they never did with Talley anyway.
Renaldo Turnbull, St.
That West Virginia University found Renaldo Turnbull in the Virgin Islands
playing seven-man football says all you need to know about his prep
pedigree. No, the Tom Lemming Prep Football Report doesn’t travel south of
Miami, Fla., to evaluate high school football players. And no, Turnbull
didn’t de-commit from anyone. Throw in the fact that the Mountaineers
offered Turnbull a scholarship on the suggestion of WVU basketball coach
Bobby Joe Smith and now you’ve really got something to chew on. Turnbull, a
tight end-turned-linebacker, not only turned into one of the school’s
best-ever pass rushers, but he also became a first-round draft pick and a
Pro Bowl player for the New Orleans Saints. Amazingly, Turnbull came in the
same 1985 recruiting class as another super sleeper: Mike Fox.
Anthony Becht, TE,
Drexel Hill, Pa.
West Virginia super sleuth Bill Kirelawich found his Dilithium Crystal in
the form of Drexel Hill, Pa., wide receiver Anthony Becht, beating out the
likes of Indiana, Pa., Delaware and Drexel to get him. In fact, Becht
admitted to me last year that Kirelawich actually had to exaggerate the
number of schools recruiting him just to get the other WVU coaches to sign
on to the fact that they were inking a slow wide receiver that didn’t have
single Division I offer. But in warp-speed fashion, Becht transformed
himself into a hulking tight end that could catch the football and became a
No. 1 draft pick by the time he left school in 1999. Today he plays for the
New York Jets.
Rich Braham, OT,
Rich Braham is the perfect example of what hard work and a burning desire to
succeed can do for a football career. Braham came across town from
University High School as a walk-on tight end and developed himself into an
All-American tackle and was a key member of the school’s 1994 Sugar Bowl
team. Braham then parlayed that into a long and productive NFL career with
the Cincinnati Bengals. Today, after playing through several injuries,
Braham is considering coming back for a 12th season in 2005.
Jerry Porter, WR, Washington, D.C.
Former assistant coach Jerry Holmes, a WVU standout defensive back and a
long-time NFL performer, found Superman attending Coolidge High School in
Washington, D.C. Superman turned out to be Jerry Porter, who played quarterback, wide
receiver, fullback, halfback, defensive end, safety and cornerback during
three varsity seasons, was a forward on the basketball team and played
baseball. He possessed a 40-inch vertical jump, threw a football 80 yards
with one hand and 50 yards with his other while on his knees (I personally
saw him do it at the Carrier Dome the day before playing Syracuse in 1997),
ran a 4.4 forty-yard dash and later grew to 220 pounds at WVU. You can just
imagine the battle that took place between the offensive and defensive
coaches for his services and it eventually took the Mountaineers all four
years to get him in the right place: wide receiver. Today, Porter’s
impressive figures with the Oakland Raiders are due to earn him seven
figures as one of the NFL’s top free-agent wideouts.
Mike Fox, DT, Akron,
West Virginia once again played a hunch. This time it was with Mike Fox,
beating a small collection of MAC schools for this tight
end-turned-defensive terror. Mountaineer defensive coaches watched Fox’
motor constantly revved to full speed as a freshman on the scout team before
turning him loose on opposing quarterbacks a year later. Fox helped West
Virginia to the 1988 national championship game against Notre Dame and got a
Super Bowl ring as a backup defensive tackle with the New York Giants in
1991. Fox also played for the Carolina Panthers where he became one of the
franchise’s most popular players.
Oliver Luck, QB,
Cleveland St. Ignatius quarterback Oliver Luck’s college choices came down
to Harvard, Yale and West Virginia, which makes you wonder just how smart he
was considering the Mountaineers were coming off back-to-back losing
seasons. But Luck knew what he was doing and eventually steered WVU to a
remarkable victory over Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl -- considered one of
the school’s greatest all-time victories. Luck took several school and
Eastern passing records with him to the pros where he played for the Houston
Oilers before giving football up prematurely to become a successful sports
administrator. And yes, Luck was a wonderful student at WVU earning a 3.96
grade point average and becoming a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship.
John Thornton, DT,
WVU bird dog Bill Kirelawich may not have won many head-to-head recruiting
battles with Penn State, but he uncovered plenty of hidden treasures like
tight end John Thornton at The Scotland School in the middle of nowhere. The
Philadelphia native was full-speed ahead at WVU as a defensive tackle
playing for Kirlav, turning himself into an automatic double-team for
opposing offensive linemen. Thornton then kept right on going into the NFL
where he played in a Super Bowl for the Tennessee Titans. Today you can
watch him on Sundays with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Brian Jozwiak, OT,
Catonsville, Md., defensive tackle Brian Jozwiak’s prep resume was barely a
few sentences long when West Virginia coach Don Nehlen offered him a
scholarship in 1981. The Baltimore honorable-mention all-metro player soon
grew into a mammoth tackle that not only formed a clear path for WVU
ballcarriers, but also blocked out the sun for Mountaineer
quarterbacks. Jozwiak served up more pancakes than the Grandville Lunch (WVU
old-timers can appreciate that reference) as the school’s fourth consensus
All-American in 1985. He was also a first-round NFL draft choice of the
Kansas City Chiefs.
RETURN TO SIGNING DAY SPECIAL