Which unsung recruits from the 2012 class turned in surprisingly big-time college careers?
Ranking 2012 2-Star Recruits Who Became Stars
For all of the attention that was directed toward uber-recruits, such as Dorial Green-Beckham and Shaq Thompson, four years ago, it’s typically the far more anonymous two-star athletes who wind up making or breaking the eventual grade of a program’s recruiting class. These undeveloped prospects represent the foundation for so many squads that are fortunate to land even one blue-chipper in a cycle, let alone several of the so-called can’t-miss prospects.
Every fall, there are handfuls of untapped athletes who soar well beyond forecasts, making their high school ratings appear unenlightened, and qualifying their coaching staffs as borderline geniuses. They blossom late, overachieve, and forever say buh-bye to the day when NFL scouts, pro agents, and media members couldn’t pick them out of a lineup.
While there were many rags-to-riches tales from the Class of 2012, a select few stood out for the length of their growth over the course of four short years. Though they may have begun with a mere two-star—or lower—designation and no national notoriety, all have authored four or five-star careers, with a high probability of continuing to play on Sundays.
*Each player’s two-star (or lower) ranking was determined by Rivals.com in 2012
15. QB Zach Terrell, Western Michigan
Terrell chose Western Michigan over Kent State and Illinois State four years ago, the first step to becoming one of P.J. Fleck’s cornerstones in Kalamazoo. A starter since his redshirt freshman season in 2013, Terrell has one more year as a Bronco to completely rewrite the school’s record book. The All-MAC distributor has played a seminal role in Western Michigan’s recent resurgence, throwing for 55 scores and just under 7,000 yards over the last two seasons.
14. DE Nate Meier, Iowa
Kirk Ferentz has long been successful at signing gritty, blue-collar football players and finding a place where they can contribute. In the case of Meier, who played eight-man football in tiny Tabor, IA, that meant playing defensive end in a linebacker’s body. Instead of playing at Northern Iowa or South Dakota, his other two offers, Meier excelled in Iowa City, peaking with 76 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss and 6.5 sacks as a senior.
13. S Orion Stewart, Baylor
Had it not been for a very late offer from Art Briles, Stewart likely would have played for Memphis or Wyoming. No other Big 12 school showed interest in the Waco native, who has been paying dividends to the home team ever since. Stewart picked up where former Bear S Ahmad Dixon left off, earning first-team all-league honors in 2014 before suffering through an injury-plagued junior year. He’ll use his final season to impress pro scouts and serve as one of the vocal leaders of the D.
12. NT Ryan Glasgow, Michigan
If Glasgow was going to play his college ball at a major program, it would be as a walk-on, since only FCS schools were showing serious interest. He decided instead to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Graham, who also got to Ann Arbor without the security of a scholarship. By 2014, Ryan was a starter. And by last year, he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer, despite missing the final four games with a pectoral injury. He has one final year to anchor the interior of the vaunted Wolverine run D.
11. CB Damontae Kazee, San Diego State
When Kazee signed in 2012, no one within the program was concerned about losing him after his junior year. But the reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year almost bolted before deciding to return to the Mesa for one more year. It wasn’t long before Kazee was outperforming his high school ranking and locking down receivers as if he belonged in the Pac-12. He had eight picks last year, despite being routinely avoided by opposing quarterbacks.
10. CB Eric Murray, Minnesota
Until the Gophers reached out, Murray had no offers. Not one, so the Milwaukee native figured he was headed to a lower division. But Minnesota quickly realized it had a gem. Murray lettered as a true freshman, started his final three years and earned All-Big Ten honors in 2014 and 2015. There’s a spot on an NFL roster waiting for Murray, an unlikely journey for the kid who was rummaging for scholarships just four years ago.
9. DT Harold Brantley, Missouri
Brantley was a late addition to the 2012 class, an untapped project the Tigers went all the way to Hershey, Penn. to sign. And he’s proven to be worth the risk and the long trips. Brantley started to contribute toward the end of his redshirt freshman season, setting the stage for a breakout sophomore campaign in 2014. Though undersized, he plays with a great motor and explosive get-off. In 2015, Mizzou really missed Brantley, who spent the entire year recovering from a car accident.
8. WR Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts
How far beneath the radar was Sharpe coming out of Piscataway (N.J.) High School? Even the program in his own backyard, Rutgers, didn’t offer. Pitt was the only Power Five school that showed serious interest in Sharpe, who decided instead to rewrite the Minutemen record books over the course of four years. Setting the stage for what will be a career on Sundays, the 2015 Biletnikoff Award semifinalist finished his college career with 277 catches for 3,486 yards and 16 touchdowns.
7. LB Nick Vigil, Utah State
Vigil arrived in Logan as a wiry running back, minus much fanfare. He leaves as a decorated linebacker coming off back-to-back First Team All-Mountain West seasons. Vigil packed on weight, embraced his new position and transformed into a tackling machine for the Aggies. He registered well over 100 stops in 2014 and 2015, generating enough attention from NFL scouts to convince him to leave Utah State at the end of his junior year.
6. DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
Britz is the latest in a long line of under-recruited players who’ve thrived in Manhattan under Bill Snyder. Britz is the quintessential blue-collar, try-hard Wildcat who never allows the chip to come off his shoulder. The former wrestler was a four-year mainstay up front for Kansas State, earning at least honorable mention All-Big 12 in each of his final three seasons. This past year, Britz rose up to the league’s second team by making 11 stops for loss and four sacks.
5. DT Adam Gotsis, Georgia Tech
No one had any idea four years ago what to expect from Gotsis, because he’d spent most of his athletic career playing Australian Rules Football Down Under. But it wasn’t long before his strength, instincts and agility were helping flatten his gridiron learning curve with the Yellow Jackets. He started 37 consecutive games on the Flats, budding into an All-ACC performer in 2014. Gotsis started the first nine games last season before being injured, and will continue his career in the NFL.
4. S Derrick Kindred, TCU
The Frogs rarely beat Texas on the recruiting trail, but they’ve routed the Horns the past two seasons because of emergent players like Kindred. TCU plucked Kindred out of San Antonio without much competition from the rest of the Big 12, and then promptly developed him into one of the league’s most feared safeties. Kindred really took off in the second half of his career, earning First Team All-Big 12 in 2015, and is now poised to take his brand of no-nonsense punishment to the pros.
3. LB Joe Schobert, Wisconsin
Two stars would have been cause for celebration for Schobert, who was completely overlooked by recruiting services … and college programs. The gangly record-setting running back was prepared to attend FCS North Dakota , when Bret Bielema offered an opportunity to walk on with the Badgers, a team with a long history of thriving with non-scholarship players. Schobert earned a free ride a year later, and then tore through opposing front walls in his final two seasons. In 2015, he tied for eighth nationally with 19.5 tackles for loss to be named First Team All-Big Ten.
2. CB Xavien Howard, Baylor
True, Baylor is attracting a different caliber of recruit these days. But Howard is proof that the program can still generate tremendous value from its less heralded signees. He drew very little attention coming out of high school in Houston, yet had the size, speed and raw athleticism to intrigue Art Briles’ staff. Howard was a two-year starter in Waco, picking off 10 career passes and earning a spot on the All-Big 12 First Team in 2015. Now 6-2 and 200 pounds, he’s left for the NFL Draft with a year of eligibility remaining.
1. LB Tyler Matakevich, Temple
It’s uncommon for the state of Connecticut to produce football stars. But nothing about Matakevich’s trajectory has been common. The Stratford product attended prep school after high school, getting noticed by the Owls, Akron and essentially no one else. But Matakevich’s determination, instincts and toughness were instantly evident in Philadelphia. From his rookie year, he was the quintessential tackling machine, becoming just the seventh player in NCAA history to amass at least 100 stops in all four years. The exclamation point came in 2015, when Matakevich was named consensus All-American and the winner of the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy.