Friday, May 16, 2014
Second-year stars: Virginia
By Matt Fortuna
The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference — the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.
Running back Taquan Mizzell is a breakthrough candidate for Virginia.
Class recap: Virginia coach Mike London brought in the nation's No. 34 recruiting class in 2013, the sixth-best among ACC schools. The highlight of that class was four-star running back Taquan Mizzell of Virginia Beach. The 22-man haul also featured four other four-star prospects, in addition to three-star receiver Keeon Johnson, who made his presence felt last season by catching 20 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown in eight games. The Cavaliers played 12 true freshmen in 2013.
Second-year star: Mizzell (5-foot-10, 190 pounds)
Recruiting stock: Mizzell was the only member of Virginia's class who was in the ESPN 300. He was the nation's No. 9 running back and No. 75 overall prospect, and he starred in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, returning a kickoff 72 yards to set up the winning score for the East team. Nicknamed "Smoke," Mizzell rushed for more than 3,500 yards during his high school career and accounted for more than 2,000 all-purpose yards during his senior season.
2013 in review: Mizzell played in 10 of 12 games, rushing 45 times for 184 yards and a touchdown. He caught 29 passes for 164 yards and another score. He also tallied 347 yards on 21 kickoff returns. Mizzell missed two games with a lower extremity injury.
2014 potential: Potential is the perfect word to use when talking about Mizzell. He embraced comparisons to Miami's star tailback, Duke Johnson. Things didn't go so smoothly for Mizzell early on, but he is optimistic that he can take off in 2014, especially now that he is healthy. He ran track this spring, and the football staff raved about his attitude. Can he become one of the best running backs in the ACC? Life could be a little bit more difficult without tackle Morgan Moses, whom the Washington Redskins drafted in the third round last week. And with the Cavaliers returning their top-two rushers from last season in Kevin Parks (1,031 yards) and Khalek Shepherd (304 yards), the big numbers might not be as easy to come by. But Mizzell has taken all of the right steps going into his second season, and is, by all accounts, well on his way to reaching his potential.
Also watch for: You cannot overlook Johnson, who had a reception in all eight games he played in last season and had the most receiving yards by a Virginia true freshman in 14 years. Three-star receiver Andre Levrone could also see some opportunities after redshirting last year, as he impressed on the scout team. Also keep an eye on three-star, 6-foot-6 offensive lineman Eric Tetlow, who appeared in five games in 2013 and emerged this spring as Virginia's front-runner to start at center.