There were numerous players throughout the ACC who made quantum leaps in their careers this past season, transitioning from the supporting cast to a starring role. Some came off the bench, others finally realized their potential. In no particular order, here’s a look at the league’s 10 most-improved players in 2010:
Dontrelle Inman, WR, Virginia: He went from eight receptions in 2009 to 51 in 2010. Inman ranked No. 6 in the ACC in yards per game (67.9) and No. 10 in receptions per game (4.2). He led the team with 815 receiving yards and had the 13th-best receiving output in ACC history with 239 receiving yards at Duke.
Antwine Perez, S, Maryland: The career backup and former USC transfer finally had the breakout season many had been waiting for. He had a team-high 11 passes defended (three interceptions/eight pass breakups). He was fifth on the team with 74 tackles, including seven TFLs, and he had three fumble recoveries.
Julian Burnett, LB, GT: He began the season on the bench, undersized for a typical 3-4 defense, but ended up leading Tech in tackles (89). He had 42 solo tackles, one interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Quinton Coples, DE, UNC: He went from backup defensive end to first-team All-ACC defensive tackle. He had 15.5 TFLs, 10 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and was fourth on the team in tackles with 59.
Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: He wasn’t even an honorable mention all-conference selection a year ago, let alone on anyone’s NFL draft board. After a breakout season in 2010, he was a first-team unanimous All-American, the Bronko Nagurski Award winner and the No. 1 projected NFL draft pick by several experts. He improved from three sacks to 15.5 and 11 TFLs to 26.
Earl Wolff, S, NC State: After starting just four games in 2009 as a redshirt freshman, Wolff was one of the team’s top defenders, leading the Pack in tackles with 95, including two sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He also had one interception, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Brandon Jenkins, DE, FSU: Following a 2009 season in which he played as a true freshman, Jenkins was named the team’s most-improved defensive lineman following spring drills last year and he continued it into the fall. He had 21.5 TFLs, 13.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. He also had two pass breakups and four quarterback hurries.
Jim Noel, S, Boston College: The true sophomore earned his first start against Florida State and finished with four interceptions and one pass breakup. He had 10 tackles in his starting debut against the Noles and had two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown.
Virginia Tech kicker Chris Hazley: He joined the program as a walk-on in 2007 and his patience and practice finally paid off. He earned a scholarship this past preseason and all-conference honors this postseason. He set a school record for consecutive field goals made in a season with 21. He made 21 of 22 field goals.
Cooper Helfet, TE, Duke: The junior college transfer enrolled at Duke last January and was a backup on the depth chart entering the fall. He caught 34 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns. He started for the first time against Georgia Tech and had six receptions for 92 yards. He also caught seven passes for 122 yards against Virginia.