There he was, a Clemson offensive lineman strolling down the streets of Kyoto, Japan, all 6-foot-5 of him.

Before you get images of a giant surrounded by little people, Kalon Davis stops you like the blocker he is.

"At this point, I'm the biggest guy here, too," Davis chuckled during a phone interview after he returned to South Carolina.

So true. When was the last time you bumped into a beefy offensive lineman shopping for produce at the convenience store? Davis did get his fair share of stares -- and even a few people who stopped and asked for a cell phone picture -- but none of that felt out of the ordinary for a guy already used to being a big man on campus.

[+] EnlargeDavis
Courtesy Clemson AthleticsClemson offensive lineman Kalon Davis lifted and watched tape with the Ritsumeikan University football team while he studied in Kyoto, Japan.
In fact, not much felt out of the ordinary while he studied abroad for two months in Japan -- a requirement for his modern languages major. Not speaking only Japanese. Not taking buses and trains only. Not commuting an hour and a half to do a work out.

While his teammates lifted back home, Davis lifted with a Japanese college football team and also played club soccer, while also taking classes in Japanese language and Japanese culture.

"The environment was different, but the day-to-day living wasn’t much different for me because I was still a student-athlete," Davis said.

Davis always has been fascinated with Japanese culture. He used to sit for hours watching his brother and sister play video games, either on Nintendo or Atari. Then when he got older, he started to play, too. When he arrived at Clemson, he began to study computer science so he could learn how to animate for video games. He also had a minor in Japanese.

But as his interest in Japanese grew, he switched majors. Davis started learning Japanese his sophomore year, and is now proficient. During his time in Kyoto, he stayed with a host family in a duplex. His bedroom was sparse -- a thin futon mattress on the floor surrounded by floor mats. He would leave the house at about 10 or 11 every morning, go to class at the local arts college, then take a bus and train up an hour and a half to Ritsumeikan University to work out with the football team there. Most nights, he did not get back until 10 or later.

Being immersed in the culture was a big thrill, and so was helping out the football team. He was given the coveted No. 52 jersey, an honored number. Davis helped teach the team about fundamentals and certain plays run in America. He learned certain plays specific to Japanese football. Ritsumeikan does not run a hurry-up. Instead, it is a power-heavy offensive team. So Davis spent time breaking down game tape of Stanford's offensive line against Notre Dame. He also watched most of Clemson's games from last season with the team.

"With the football team, there were a couple people who spoke really good English but I wanted to practice my Japanese with them and if I ever had to talk to the whole offensive line or offense, in a team meeting or something, I always had to speak Japanese," he said.

Spending two months away from the football program might give a coach a major bout of angina. But because Davis was able to work out every day and keep up with football, he returned to Clemson in the best shape of his life.

He also returned to three standard questions from teammates?

How was Japan?

How was the football team?

Did you bring me anything back?

Davis tried shopping for Ritsumeikan T-shirts, but could not find any in his size. He bought one, and it barely fits.

OK, so maybe Davis is a little bit bigger than the average person walking down the Kyoto streets.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Welcome to SEC media days!

It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.

But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the actually season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.

It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:

1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we got to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now, his coach and teammates have to do that.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama may be picked for the fourth time in five years to win the SEC.
2. Bama talk: For the first time since the 2011 SEC media days, Alabama arrives without the title of defending national champs. The Crimson Tide didn't even make it to the SEC title game. But that won't matter. Alabama will still steal the show. Everyone is here to see Nick Saban and ask questions about why Alabama couldn't get it done last year. We'll hear questions about the present and future for Alabama. And with so much talent returning, Alabama will likely be picked to win the SEC for the fourth time in five years.

3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the head man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?

4. Muschamp's hot seat: After 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Outside of last year's atrocity, Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.

5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri's Maty Mauk threw for 1,071 yards with a 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in place of the injured James Franklin.
6. Quarterback composure: A lot of talented quarterbacks left this league after last season, but we'll get our fill of quarterbacks this week. Marshall might be absent, but we'll hear from Jeff Driskel, Dak Prescott, Dylan Thompson, Bo Wallace and Maty Mauk. All these guys could have big years and will be crucial to their respective teams' success. Can Driskel rebound after his early, season-ending injury? Is Thompson ready to replace Connor Shaw? Can Wallace finally find some consistency? And can Prescott and Mauk prove their 2013 success wasn't just a flash in the pan?

7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last year, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person, who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.

8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the actual people playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff? What do they think?

9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more and more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is actually enough?

10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!

SEC Media Days Live (12-7 p.m. ET)

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It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 
The time for leniency has ended. The use of “internal discipline” is no longer enough. Nick Saban needs to tighten the reins on his program, make an example of someone publicly, and send the message to every one of his players that the offseason has ended, the time for work is here and any instances of poor behavior will not be tolerated.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFollowing yet another brush with the law for an Alabama player, it's time for Nick Saban to take a disciplinary stand.
Alabama has had its name dragged through the mud enough since the end of last season. Saban has dealt with enough negative headlines to know it’s time for more proactive measures.

You could live with Kenyan Drake making a bone-headed decision by disobeying an officer earlier this month. He was trying to get to his car. He wasn’t thinking and he was arrested. You could handle the repercussions coming behind closed doors without condoning the action that led to his arrest. And, frankly, the same could be said for Altee Tenpenny, who wasn’t arrested but was given a citation by police in April for possession of a controlled substance.

Both cases were enough to raise your eyebrows at. Neither was enough to spike your blood pressure.

But Jarran Reed's subsequent arrest this weekend for suspicion of driving under the influence has finally moved the needle. We’ve hit the proverbial “three strikes and you’re out” phase of this annual offseason game we play in major college football where one arrest leads to another and suddenly we start to see a trend. Next we question the health of the program as a whole and wonder aloud whether the coach truly has a handle on things.

Now, it must be said that Saban deserves the benefit of the doubt in such matters. We’ve never had to wonder whether discipline is a part of his process. But even he isn’t immune to the arrest bug. Even he can’t avoid the increasing sound of police sirens at his program’s doorstep.

Now is the time for Saban to step up and deliver a message.

Now is the time to right the course and get his team's full attention.

Fall camp begins in only a few weeks. The start of the season is less than two months away. Alabama has enough questions on the field; the Tide don't need negative attention off it. There’s a new quarterback to break in, two new offensive linemen and a defense that would be described as “rebuilding” if it were any place other than Alabama. If the Crimson Tide want to return to the national championship picture, they can’t afford another issue to tackle.

Drake, Tenpenny and Reed are all in Saban’s doghouse now. So is linebacker Dillon Lee, who was also arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in April. If this keeps up, there won’t be enough room to hold all the team’s disciplinary problems.

Eventually you have to say enough is enough and put a bar on that doghouse door. Eventually you have to show that once you go in, you might not be allowed out so easily.

That time is now for Saban and Alabama. Leniency can no longer be afforded. Decisive, heavy-handed action is needed. The season is almost here, and every player and every coach must get the message loud and clear that mistakes will no longer be tolerated.
Just when you thought you'd seen everything on social media, the athletic directors from Kansas State and Mississippi State took things to a different level Friday.

K-State's John Currie and Mississippi State's Scott Stricklin apparently agreed to a home-and-home series on Twitter. The two ADs went back and forth before agreeing to a deal. Obviously it is a tenative plan, but it came together in a matter of hours.

If only LeBron had accomplished things this quickly.

It all began when Currie invited Stricklin to bring his team to play some football at Bill Snyder Family Stadium:

Stricklin responds with suggested years for the series: Currie's response: Deal done.  
Troy AikmanUSA TODAY SportsTroy Aikman played under Barry Switzer in Oklahoma before enrolling at UCLA.
Have you logged on Twitter today? Turned on the TV? Went to the grocery store or picked up your child from the babysitter? Then chances are you know the King has returned.

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.



That has us at CFB Nation thinking: Which college football players originally left home only to transfer back to put together a successful career? So we racked our brains and came up with a handful of the most successful transfers from the last 25 years of college football. The condition, obviously, is the transfer had to be made back to a school in their native state or at least within 100 miles, give or take a few.

If LeBron ever asks, they can all attest that there truly is no place like (playing at) home.

QB Troy Aikman, UCLA (by way of Oklahoma)

The California native left the Golden State and played his high school football in Oklahoma before enrolling with nearby perennial power Oklahoma, led by legendary coach Barry Switzer. Aikman was promised the Sooners' offense would be more passer-friendly, but when Aikman broke an ankle Switzer went back to the wishbone offense. The Sooners went on to win the national championship under the direction of a freshman quarterback, essentially closing the door on Aikman's Oklahoma career. The Covina, California, product returned to the state and enrolled at UCLA. In his first season with the Bruins, Aikman was awarded with the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. He led UCLA to consecutive 10-win seasons and finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1988. He was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1989 draft and is a three-time Super Bowl champion.

 Joe FlaccoMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco transferred to Delaware to play near his hometown in southern New Jersey.
QB Joe Flacco, Delaware (by way of Pittsburgh)

Technically Flacco did not return to his home state of New Jersey. However, Delaware's campus is less than an hour from Flacco's South Jersey home, making it a closer option than in-state Rutgers, the only FBS program in the state. Flacco played sparingly his first two seasons at Pitt before transferring to FCS powerhouse Delaware. He took the Blue Hens to the FCS national championship and his name is littered throughout the school's record book. He was taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and has a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award in his trophy room.

QB Scott Frost, Nebraska (by way of Stanford)

Rarely does an elite prep player from Nebraska leave the state, especially during the Cornhuskers' glory years under Tom Osborne. That's what Frost did, though, spending two seasons at Stanford before returning to the nation's heartland. In his first season, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. As a senior, he led Nebraska to an undefeated record and a share of the national championship. He was the first quarterback in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.

QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (by way of Michigan)

The second-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2007, Mallett signed with then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr as the heir apparent to senior Chad Henne. However, spread-option coach Rich Rodriguez replaced Carr at season's end, prompting the traditional pocket passer Mallett to transfer. The Batesville, Arkansas, native moved home to play for the Razorbacks and Bobby Petrino, and he had two exceptional seasons. A two-time All-SEC second-team selection, Mallett threw for more than 3,600 yards in both of his seasons in Fayetteville and led the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl in 2010. He finished seventh in Heisman voting that season.

WR Randy Moss, Marshall (by way of Notre Dame and Florida State)

Transferring was not entirely up to Moss, whose own transgressions cost him the opportunity to play at his dream school, Notre Dame, and under coach Bobby Bowden, who told Sports Illustrated in 1997 Moss was just as gifted as Deion Sanders. Notre Dame denied his enrollment for his role in a fight, and Florida State removed him from the football team after he tested positive for marijuana, violating his probation. Moss transferred to Marshall, which at the time was a Division I-AA school, allowing him to play immediately. In two seasons, he accumulated 174 receptions, 3,529 yards and 55 total touchdowns. He was taken in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft and is considered one of the greatest receivers in league history.

Cameron NewtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesGeorgia native Cam Newton won a Heisman Trophy after transferring to Auburn.
QB Cam Newton, Auburn (by way of Florida and Blinn College)

Much like Moss, Newton's transfer issues were self-inflicted. Urban Meyer removed Newton from the Gators' roster following charges of felony burglary, larceny and obstructing justice stemming from an incident in which he stole another student's laptop. He enrolled at Blinn College (Texas) and led the program to the junior college national championship. The following season, Newton was the starting quarterback at Auburn and won a second consecutive personal national title, leading the Tigers to an undefeated season and BCS trophy. He won the Heisman Trophy in the weeks leading up to the BCS national championship. He declared for the NFL draft in the days following the national title and went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. He was the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time Pro Bowler.

Honorable mention: Urban Meyer, Ohio State (by way of Bowling Green, Utah and Florida)

So he isn't a player and technically never transferred, but it certainly has a transfer feel to it. He left Florida after the 2010 season, sat out 2011 and then was named Ohio State's coach before the 2012 campaign. An Ohio native, Meyer's first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. Even as the coach at other programs, he always spoke fondly of former coaches Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce, who hired Meyer away from a Cincinnati high school.

 

This week ESPN.com spent time looking at the future of college football, so here are a few players returning home -- not all are eligible in 2014 -- who could be the next impact transfers.

QB Jacob Coker, Alabama (by way of Florida State)

Coker is immediately eligible and is the favorite to be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback for the opener. He left Florida State after the 2013 season after losing out on the job to Jameis Winston.

QB Brandon Connette, Fresno State (by way of Duke)

The change-of-pace and red zone quarterback for the Blue Devils' run to the ACC championship, Connette left for Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

QB Tyler Murphy, Boston College (by way of Florida)

Murphy is from Connecticut, but there aren't many FBS programs up in New England, and Boston is only 100 miles from Murphy's hometown. The BC coaches believe Murphy is a better player than he showed at Florida and can help Steve Addazio take the program to the next level.

LB Mike Mitchell, Texas Tech (by way of Ohio State)

A blue-chip prospect in the 2013 class, Ohio State was considered the long-time favorite for the athletic product. He signed with the Buckeyes but only lasted one season before transferring to Texas Tech, which was not a finalist during Mitchell's recruitment.

DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA (by way of Notre Dame)

This situation got a little ugly last summer. Vanderdoes was the center of a signing day controversy as Notre Dame listed him on their list of signees before Vanderdoes publicly committed at his announcement later in the day. Before ever playing a down for Notre Dame, Vanderdoes decided he wanted to enroll at UCLA, but Notre Dame would not grant him a release. He petitioned the NCAA and was able to play at UCLA this past fall.

The ACC's nice guys

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College football fans sure find easy targets to wear the black hat. Whether it's a coach bouncing from school to school, a recruit flipping to a rival or someone who just can't avoid making headlines, there remains no shortage of villains in this sport.

That doesn't mean it's without guys worth rooting for, though. Here, we give you five ACC guys whom even rival fans have to appreciate for what they do on Saturdays and beyond.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Rodriguez
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtWR Daniel Rodriguez walked on at Clemson after serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Daniel Rodriguez, Clemson. The Tigers receiver served roughly 18 months in Iraq and one year in Afghanistan. He served in the Army from 2006-10. He earned a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal With Valor Device. Just watch this "College GameDay" feature on him. One of the better moments all of last season was Rodriguez scoring a 2-yard touchdown against The Citadel on Military Appreciation Day. He enters his senior year with 10 career catches for 30 yards and five punt returns for 31 yards. You don't see stories like Rodriguez's every day, and he certainly helps put the term "hero" in perspective.

Laken Tomlinson, Duke. Tomlinson arrived in Chicago from Jamaica at the age of 10, with little knowledge of the game of football. His recruitment and background is very similar to that of "The Blind Side," with Tomlinson ultimately committing to David Cutcliffe and a then-rebuilding Blue Devils program. He took part in a service trip two years ago in Ethiopia to help construct freshwater wells for local communities. He's blossomed into a pretty good offensive guard, too, earning All-ACC honors during Duke's run to the Coastal Division crown last season.

Kevin Haplea, Florida State. You're out for the season with a torn ACL. So what do you do? If you're Haplea, you help start a charity chapter at your new school. The Penn State transfer founded the Seminoles' chapter of Uplifting Athletes, which, coincidentally, holds its first event, "Lift for Life," today. The fundraising effort raises awareness and research money for rare diseases, with FSU's chapter championing Fanconi anemia, which is the disease that coach Jimbo Fisher's son, Ethan, was diagnosed with. A redshirt senior, Haplea could see his role expand this year, complementing Nick O'Leary in FSU's two-tight-end sets.

Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville. With both of his parents in jail, Mauldin bounced between different foster families before one of his foster mothers introduced him to football in high school. He's excelled since, registering 9.5 sacks last season and earning second-team all-league honors from the American Athletic Conference. Mauldin does no shortage of community work as well.

David Durham, Pitt. The starting defensive end has done no shortage of work around his new community since transferring from Ohio State prior to the 2012 season. Durham has hosted youth football clinics, wrapped and delivered Christmas gifts to families in need, volunteered with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and, most recently, was part of a group of Pitt players who visited an orphanage in Haiti in May for a weeklong mission trip. Durham was the Panthers defense's winner of the Ed Conway Award this spring, which goes to the most improved player.
We've already covered the conference's potential villains, so it's only natural that we move on to the good guys.

You won't find them in comic books or out in the Big Ten footprint fighting crime. But even opposing fans won't find it all that difficult to root for this cast of characters. Some overcame injuries or other obstacles, some have been wronged, and others just seem like genuinely good people.

There are certainly plenty of other athletes and coaches whom this could apply to, so it wasn't easy just picking a handful. But true heroes don't expect media attention for their good deeds … plus, we had to cut this list off somewhere.

So, in alphabetical order, here are the unmasked Big Ten heroes:

[+] EnlargeNebraska
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah, left, decided to put the NFL off for another year and return for his senior season at Nebraska.
Ameer Abdullah, running back, Nebraska: About 100 juniors declared early for this year's NFL draft, and no one would've blamed Abdullah if he decided to join the herd. Instead, he decided to stay -- and he's said all the right things. As the youngest of nine children, the other eight of whom have earned college degrees, Abdullah stressed the importance of his education and finishing that degree. When a lot of other players are chasing dollar signs instead of diplomas, that's a refreshing viewpoint. Added Bo Pelini: “He's an All-American on the field. He's an All-American off the field.”

Adam Breneman, tight end, Penn State: Forget the fact he remained loyal and committed to the university throughout the sanctions, when he could've bolted to the likes of Florida State or Notre Dame. He's also used his football celebrity to champion a few charitable causes, something more common for coaches than players. In high school he started “Catch the Cure,” which helped raise more than $200,000 to fight Lou Gehrig's Disease. During his Under Armour jersey presentation two years ago, he even helped man a booth outside the auditorium to seek donations. Currently, he's the secretary of Penn State's nonprofit chapter of “Uplifting Athletes,” which raises money for the Kidney Cancer Association. You don't have to like the Nittany Lions, but you have to like what Breneman's doing.

Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator, Rutgers: Underappreciated. Underestimated. Underdog. That's why Friedgen is under two other heroes on this list. It's easy to root for someone who appeared to be unfairly punished – and is now seeking out justice on the gridiron. Friedgen is just about the only head coach to win conference coach of the year and then be fired that same season. It happened with Maryland in 2010; now, he's helping oversee a Rutgers offense that people aren't expecting a lot from. He's in the same division as the Terps -- heck, they're on the schedule this year -- and Friedgen has a chance to show Maryland it made a mistake. He certainly could've handled the dismissal better, but it's hard to blame him and easy to wish him well. As long as you're not a Terps fan, that is.

Jerry Kill, head coach, Minnesota: Stop me if you've heard this before. “I'm rooting against them when they play us, but I'm wishing all the best to ________ the rest of the season.” Chances are Kill's filled in quite a few of those sentences the past few years. He has refused to let epilepsy get the best of him, and his longevity's been a testament to his toughness. He's been a coach since 1985, and he just led the Gophers to back-to-back bowls. Plus, he recently started a new epilepsy foundation for young patients, and he put $100,000 of his own money toward that. How can you not root for this guy?

Jake Ryan, linebacker, Michigan: Torn anterior cruciate ligaments are usually big setbacks, something that means missed seasons or at least gradual returns. Not for Ryan. The Michigan linebacker, a team captain last season, was on crutches last spring and returned in time for the Oct. 12 game against Penn State. Said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison: “If he ever truly logged the hours of extra treatment and extra rehab that he has done since the day that happened, I think it would floor you.” Nothing has really been handed to Ryan, as he wasn't a highly sought-after recruit. But he's worked hard and now finds himself on the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik and Nagurski awards. It's his final season at Michigan, and big things are expected from him.

Heroes on deck: Tracy Claeys, Stefon Diggs, Herb Hand, Jeremy Langford, Venric Mark

Five SEC players to root for

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On Thursday, we examined five individuals who could be potential SEC "villains" in 2014. And while some people love to be "haters" let's be real, most of us like to feel good about who we root for. If you feel like the player you like is also generally a good guy off the field and does the right things, it makes you feel that much better when he scores a touchdown or makes a big tackle on Saturdays.

With that in mind, let's keep it positive today and discuss five guys that are worth rooting for this season, in alphabetical order:

Luke Boyd, LSU: Boyd's name might not be one known to SEC fans but he has quite a story. The 27-year-old walk-on is an active-duty Marine who served the last five years, including six months in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, he was promoted to staff sergeant. He walked on with the Tigers last season and dressed for home games and hopes to find his way onto the field as a special-teams contributor this season. Another interesting nugget: He was a guest at the 2012 NFL draft where, in full uniform, he announced the Seattle Seahawks' third-round pick -- Russell Wilson.

Shon Coleman, Auburn: Former Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, leaves some big shoes to fill. Coleman, who was his backup at left tackle last season, is a candidate to replace Robinson and what a story it would be if he does so. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Coleman was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in spring of 2010 shortly after he signed with the Tigers out of high school. He was able to overcome that and saw his first collegiate action last season. To get to that point is impressive, to finish it off by becoming a starter this year would be a storybook-like development.

Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: He's only a sophomore, but he is the model physically (5-foot-11, 194 pounds) and athletically when it comes to playing cornerback and is already the conference's best at the position. He has the right stuff mentally to be the heartbeat of that Florida defense. A third-team Associated Press All-American last year, Hargreaves is also one of the nicest guys you'll meet, a coach's kid who is incredibly humble.

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: Prescott is already a talented quarterback who emerged into a real playmaker for the Bulldogs last season. He's a true leader and played through injuries last season and more importantly, the death of his mother, Peggy, who lost her life at 52 after a long bout with colon cancer. He returned to practice shortly after his mother's burial and played later that week against Texas A&M and compiled 303 offensive yards (154 rushing; 149 passing) and two touchdowns in a 51-41 loss. His toughness, both physical and mental, is one of his best qualities.

Deterrian Shackelford, Ole Miss: A rare sixth-year senior, Shackelford missed two whole seasons after an ACL injury that was worse than initially thought when he suffered it in 2011. After missing the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he returned last season to play every game at linebacker and finished seventh on the team with 44 tackles and fourth on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. He is in the mix to be a starter for the Rebels at linebacker this season and one of the most respected players on the team. After football, he said he wants to be an athletic director or high school principal to positively impact teenagers.
Unfortunately it's the time of year when off-the-field missteps litter the headlines as college football players remind us they aren't much different than many other college students outside of their athletic endeavors. And while occasional misdeeds are getting the headlines other college football players are going out of their way to make a positive impact.

With that in mind, it's never a bad time to look at guys who impact their football team on the field yet strive to have a positive impact on their worlds off the field as well. Here are five Big 12 players to root for this fall, regardless of your normal allegiances:

Deep snapper Nate Boyer, Texas

If you aren't cheering for Boyer to excel, something is wrong with you, die-hard fans of the Sooners, Bears, Red Raiders included. His road to becoming the Longhorns long snapper has been well-documented, from his exploits as a Green Beret to his time in Darfur. Boyer has been a solid special teams' contributor at UT during the past two seasons. The recipient of the 2012 Disney Spirit Award, which is given annually to college football's most inspirational figure, Boyer is entering his final season at UT.

Quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor

Petty isn't just exceptional on the field. He's a guy whose impacts lives off the field as well. The reigning Big 12 offensive player of the year is active in Big Brothers, Big Sisters and FCA. He also has spent time in Kenya on a mission trip with fellow Baylor athletes in 2011 and was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year in 2013. On the field, Petty is a guy who knows how to lead, shoulders the blame during tough times, brings a positive attitude to the Bears' football squad and elite production behind center. Petty's exploits during his time in Waco, Texas are probably coming to an NCAA student-athlete commercial near you at some point in the future.

 

Defensive end Ryan Mueller, Kansas State One of the Big 12's top sack masters, Mueller befriended Kaiden Schroeder, a nine-year-old boy who suffers from Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Their relationship lead to one of the Big 12's most memorable moments in the spring when Schroeder scored a touchdown in the Wildcats' spring game. Mueller, who had 11.5 sacks in 2013, was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year and has been named as one of KSU's captains for the 2014 season.

Cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas Another guy who is active with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Shepherd also volunteers at local elementary schools. He won KU's Galen Fiss Award, which is given for exemplary service to the community and campus. On the field, he's a impact cornerback and kick returner for the Jayhawks leading KU with 15 passes defended in 2013. He was a finalist for the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year.

 

Quarterback Trevor Knight, Oklahoma

Knight is just starting to approach his potential on the field but he's already made a mark off it. The Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP has gone to Haiti twice as a member of OU's “Sooners4Haiti” contingent and is active in FCA, often appearing as a public speaker when his schedule allows. On the field, he's developing as a leader and playmaker and could rise to battle Petty for All-Big 12 honors with consistent performances in 2014.

 

Five Pac-12 players to root for

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
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There is no shortage of players who will excite on the field in the Pac-12 this season, but it's not all about on-field performance. Whether it's for their off-field contributions or their on-field demeanor, here are five guys worth rooting for even if they don't play for your team.

Taylor Kelly, quarterback, Arizona State: Quick, who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback last season -- UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Arizona State’s Kelly? Outside the Pac-12, the assumption would probably be Hundley, and that would be wrong. Kelly quietly led ASU to the best regular-season record in the Pac-12 last season and has a likely NFL future. His time in Tempe hasn’t been one big party, either. The Master’s candidate volunteers at local schools two days a week and is heavily involved in the Scholar Baller leadership and outreach program, for which he teaches high school students about leadership and character among other things. Kelly is also an accomplished drag racer, but that passion is currently on hold at the request of ASU coach Todd Graham. As a result of his vast car knowledge, Kelly has turned into the de facto mechanic for the ASU football team.

[+] EnlargeMariota
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsWhen Marcus Mariota isn't piling up big stats on the field, he can usually be found studying somewhere.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon: After passing up a good shot at being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to return to school, Mariota has all the makings of a Heisman Trophy favorite. And he won’t come with much controversy. If Andrew Luck set the standard for unassuming superstar quarterbacks in the Pac-12, Mariota isn’t far behind. He’s quiet, he’s polite, he’s humble and while pursuing a degree in General Science, he has developed a reputation as one of the most studious athletes on campus. For those looking for reasons to root against him, as an individual, it will be hard to justify.

Toni Pole, defensive tackle, Washington State: When Pole intercepted a Keith Price pass in overtime and nearly returned it for a touchdown in the 2012 Apple Cup, he created a memory Washington State fans will remember for a long time. For many, that is not the only lasting impression he has produced. Pole is a frequent volunteer in the Pullman community, and his philantrophic efforts have included helping to put on “Butch’s Bash,” a holiday party for local kids. He makes trips to the local senior center where he plays games with the residents and is musically inclined. When the Cougars are on the road, he can be found playing the piano in hotel lobbies and has sang the National Anthem at women’s basketball games.

Ty Montgomery, receiver, Stanford: Stanford coach David Shaw has said Montgomery has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but after big junior year with the Cardinal, Montgomery didn’t even consider a pre-graduation jump to Sunday football. He didn’t even ask for an evaluation from the NFL or for a draft-round projection, which is common for draft-eligible players. He chose Stanford largely for academic reasons and chose to stay for the same. As soft-spoken as they come, Montgomery has already been named to the Maxwell and Hornung Award watch lists and is one of the more dynamic kick returners in the country.

Stefan McClure, cornerback, Cal: After a solid true freshman season in 2011, McClure appeared on his way to a great career for Cal. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but it’s not for a lack of talent. He sat out the 2012 season rehabbing a torn ACL, then suffered another torn ACL five games into last season. If there is anyone who could use some good vibes coming his way, it’s McClure.

Player list for ACC media days

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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The 2014 college football season is inching ever so closer, with ACC media days set to take place in less than two weeks.

The league released its list of players who will be attending the July 20-21 event at The Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here they are:

BOSTON COLLEGE
C Andy Gallik, R-Sr.
DB Dominique Williams, R-Sr.

CLEMSON
QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
DE Vic Beasley, R-Sr.

DUKE
OG Laken Tomlinson, R-Sr.
LB Kelby Brown, R-Sr.

FLORIDA STATE
QB Jameis Winston, R-So.
CB P.J. Williams, Jr.

GEORGIA TECH
OG Shaquille Mason, Sr.
LB Quayshawn Nealy, R-Sr.

LOUISVILLE
WR DeVante Parker, Sr.
DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr.

MIAMI
RB Duke Johnson, Jr.
LB Denzel Perryman, Sr.

NORTH CAROLINA
QB Marquise Williams, Jr.
LB Norkeithus Otis, Sr.

NC STATE
RB Tony Creecy, R-Sr.
DE Art Norman, R-Sr.

PITT
WR Tyler Boyd, So.
DB Ray Vinopal, R-Sr.

SYRACUSE
OT Sean Hickey, Sr.
LB Cameron Lynch, Sr.

VIRGINIA
RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
SS Anthony Harris, Sr.

VIRGINIA TECH
WR Willie Byrn, R-Sr.
DT Luther Maddy, DT

WAKE FOREST
FB Jordan Garside, R-Sr.
CB Kevin Johnson, R-Sr.
Keith Heckendorf lives the college football grind, where days are eaten up in meeting rooms or on the practice field, in long car rides or on the phone. It is easy to become completely consumed, to lose track of time and perspective.

Whenever that happens, all he does is look at the light blue band on his wrist.

B. Strong.

B. Strong. For Bryce.

[+] EnlargeBryce Heckendorf
Courtesy of Heckendorf familyBryce Heckendorf is fighting a rare genetic disease that affects the nervous system. His uncle, Keith, is an assistant with the Tar Heels.
While Heckendorf works in Chapel Hill as a North Carolina assistant, his nephew lives nearly 1,000 miles away in Wisconsin fighting Krabbe disease, a rare genetic disorder that impacts the nervous system. Bryce Heckendorf, 14 months old, is slowly dying. He can no longer swallow. Or smile. Or roll over. Or move his arms and legs. Nobody will ever know the sound of his voice.

He spends most days sleeping, snuggled up with his mommy or daddy. Those snuggles are all that make him happy.

Doctors do not expect him to live past 2.

"How do you wrap your head around why is this happening to this little boy?" Keith Heckendorf said in a recent phone interview. "You look at him and he's the cutest, most precious little boy and if you didn't know any better, you wouldn't know anything was wrong with him. But he's at the point now where he should be talking, he should be crawling around and he can't do any of that stuff. It's just so hard."

The diagnosis was incomprehensible to the Heckendorf family. Bryce was born completely healthy, a beautiful boy with blonde hair and clear blue eyes. He hit all his milestones like any growing, healthy baby. Then around 5 1/2 months, he started regressing. He no longer used his arms and legs as actively. He could no longer hold himself up in a sitting position.

Doctors were initially puzzled, and referred the family to several hospitals in the area. Multiple tests were done, including MRIs, EEGs and a spinal tap. Blood was taken to determine whether Bryce was suffering from a genetic condition.

The family got the tragic news in November. Keith was in Pittsburgh the night before North Carolina played the Panthers when his brother, Kyle, called.

"You don't know what to say or what to do," Keith said. "We try to cherish every moment we can with him."

Both Kyle and Jenna are carriers for Krabbe disease, which affects about 1 in 100,000 births. Jim Kelly's son, Hunter, also had Krabbe disease and lived to the age of 8. When both parents are carriers, they have a 25 percent chance of delivering a baby with the disease.

[+] EnlargeBryce Heckendorf
Courtesy of Heckendorf familyThe Heckendorf family promotes making the screening for Krabbe disease a routine part of newborn tests.
Bryce was the first child born to Kyle and his wife, Jenna. Neither had any idea they were carriers for the disease until Bryce was diagnosed. Only 4 states test for Krabbe disease during routine newborn screenings, one reason why there remains so little awareness about the disease. While there is no cure, if the disease is detected at birth, bone marrow or cord blood transplants could be used as a treatment. Both the Kelly and the Heckendorf families are advocating for Krabbe disease to be included in routine newborn screenings.

Costs for treating Krabbe disease are also high even with insurance, given the various medications used, doctor visits and hospital trips. A golf tournament fundraiser and barbecue -- Birdies & Bogies for Bryce -- will be held this Saturday in Mosinee, Wisconsin. Keith and the entire family will be there. Kyle hopes Bryce is feeling well enough to attend a small portion.

In addition, Keith and his wife came up with the idea for the B. Strong bands to raise money and awareness. Several North Carolina players wore the bands in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati. Keith coaches the quarterbacks. Each one wears the bracelet, too.

"I know for me, I wear the bracelet every day and it's a constant reminder to what's really important," Keith Heckendorf said. "We live and work in a profession that is 100 miles an hour every day of the week, every day of the year. This has been good for me to every once in a while step back and say as hard as we're working ... I'm pretty fortunate to be in the position I'm in and I'm blessed. You hate for something like that to do it for you, but this has probably brought our family so much closer."

Bryce has required 24-hour care for months. Kyle and Jenna had to leave their jobs as teachers, though Kyle plans on going back in the fall. Bryce is now fed through a button in his stomach. Feedings can take up to 2 hours because he has to eat slowly. If he eats too fast, he could vomit. Either Kyle or Jenna is always with him, mostly holding him because that stops his fussiness.

An occupational therapist, physical therapist and hospice nurse come once a week to help, along with a big support group of friends and family. But all the help in the world, all the love and support in the world, cannot change the inevitable.

Their baby is being taken from them every second of every day, and they are powerless to stop it. Just 15 months ago, Kyle and Jenna sat ready to give Bryce anything he wanted. They still do that today, only they can't give him what they want most.

So life takes on a newer, different meaning. Each day that passes becomes more important than the last. Because it means one more day with their baby.

"It's been extremely difficult knowing that day is going to come where we have to say goodbye," Kyle Heckendorf said. "But we're also thankful we are able to spend as much time with him as we possibly can. We can love him, snuggle him, give him kisses, rather than taking life for granted and something unexpected happening, where you don't have that opportunity to say goodbye.

"We're thankful for that."
Arizona has quickly developed a reputation for recruiting innovation -- and fun -- with a series of YouTube videos this offseason.

SportsNation

What is your favorite video the Arizona football program has produced this offseason?

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    51%
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    13%
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    10%
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    26%

Discuss (Total votes: 871)

It has produced four videos that have combined for more than 400,000 views on YouTube since the first one was released in March. While the videos are primarily to help the program's recruiting efforts, they have doubled as way to keep Arizona fans -- and those throughout college football -- entertained during the wait for the regular season.

Today, we're asking which #OnToTheNextOne production this offseason has been your favorite.

And the nominees are:

Arizona Fast #TheNewNormal

The newest installment, released this week, emphasizes that Arizona football does "everything fast."

.

Hard Edge

It's High Noon in Old Tucson, where you can meet the coaching staff in a trailer for the 2014 season.

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Hard Edge II

Another 2014 trailer in Old Tucson that features some of the Wildcats' most high-profile players, including some that have departed for the NFL.

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Arizona Speed

Coach Rich Rodriguez spoofs the movie "Speed," in a way to come out against the proposed 10-second rule.

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Chris Conley’s recent cinematic adventure was quite an accomplishment.

Georgia’s senior receiver might make his name on the football field, but he grew up in a geek culture. His chiseled 6-foot-3, 206-pound frame is SEC, but his passions scream Comic-Con.

Months before Saturday’s highly anticipated debut of Conley’s no-so-amateur “Star Wars” short “Retribution,” Conley fidgeted in a rolling chair under the fuzzy lighting of a conference room inside Georgia’s football facility as he discussed the process of his project.

There was anxiety and excitement on his breath when he spoke about his film and how he dove headfirst into the project with football very much the center of his college life.

“I just kind of blindly picked up the phone and started recruiting people to be part of this team,” Conley said.

[+] EnlargeChris Conley
AP Photo/ Richard ShiroChris Conley has 81 catches, 12 for touchdowns, in three seasons at Georgia.
Conley’s mind has always been filled with comics, superheroes and science fiction. His real movie-making days began with a stop-motion animation film starring Legos he made with his brother Charles, whose middle name just happens to be Xavier, making him Charles Xavier for all you "X-Men" fans.

He and his brother both made comics that stretched from three to seven pages long, but Conley insists that Charles was the more artistic one.

And to tackle “Star Wars” seemed ideal. He was introduced to the series through the original three and he grew up with the most recent trilogy, causing him to embrace all six movies.

“To a kid, who doesn’t know any better, those [recent three movies] were amazing,” Conley said with a smile. “Everybody in my generation doesn’t understand what purists complain about because we’re like, ‘We love the whole thing.’”

Equipped with state-of-the-art computer graphics, slick choreography and a heart-pounding soundtrack, Conley brought to life an action-packed, 26-minute ride inside Georgia’s campus through a George Lucas-like lens.

“I like to be an avid learner, so it’s been a real learning process to learn how to do film and how to do it the right way, being someone who’s never gone to film school,” Conley said.

He started gathering his team in December. Writing, casting and choreography bled into February, when filming officially started. Conley, meanwhile, was entering spring practice as one of Georgia’s top returning receivers, doing morning mat drills with teammates.

“This was a unique experience,” Conley said. “I’ve worked on some small projects, but nothing ever this big. This is the first time that I’ve had about 60 people who are all looking at me for the answers, like when to be where and how we were going to go about things.”

Conley was learning the directing ropes. He was learning terminology, ordering shots, learning how to conduct himself on set, learning how to properly schedule shoots, figuring out framing, finding the right lighting, structuring blocking and studying how people react to what he said on set.

Interacting with people came naturally, but learning how to actually direct them was challenging, Conley said.

He also successfully juggled the sport he loved, academics and his ever-growing passion through discipline and cutting into one of his favorite activities.

“Planning a production takes a ridiculous amount of time,” Conley said. “The question when I told my coaches was where are you going to have time to do that, and I said, 'I don’t know.' So that time really came out of my sleep. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours up and planning this stuff because I couldn’t take anything out of my football obligations.”

The first weekend of shooting took 23 hours. The following Monday, Conley was up at daybreak for mat drills. He never let the movie become a distraction, which helped raise the respect his teammates had for him, Mason said.

“He’s a senior who’s been around a lot and he’s made plays, so guys kind of shut up and listen when he talks,” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “Guys know that he’s different. He’s not saying one thing and doing the other. Guys know that he’s genuine.

“Conley is the guy that you want modeling the name of Georgia and the name on the back of your jersey.”

Now we’ll find out how difficult it is to be a famed director and star SEC receiver. After catching 45 passes for 651 yards and four touchdowns last fall, Conley will be asked to do even more in 2014. With Malcolm Mitchell recovering from an ACL injury, Conley assumed the role as No. 1 receiver and dominated the spring.

Conley had time to direct and write a movie while playing a diabolical Sith lord. Returning to the gridiron shouldn’t be an issue.

“He represents his name and Georgia well, to a ‘T,’” Mason said. “Then, you take a guy who is a big, tall receiver, who just as far as the football field is another great weapon for us.

“He’s a guy that we feel if you leave one-on-one, it’s a mismatch. Conley’s just one of those guys that we feel if it’s in the red zone or in the middle of the field, we have to find ways to get him the ball.”

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