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Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Top 2014 junior college classes

By Craig Haubert

National signing day is quickly approaching, but first up is the midyear junior college signing period. The opportunity for juco prospects to sign with Football Bowl Subdivision programs starts Dec. 18, and several prospects have already made commitments. More commitments are likely to come between now and the start of the signing period, but with the release of the ESPN JC 50, let’s take a look at five programs (in alphabetical order) having success on the juco recruiting trail.

Arizona: The Wildcats have commitments from a half-dozen junior college prospects. Only one verbal, LB Antonio Smothers (Scottsdale, Ariz./Scottsdale CC) is in the ESPN JC 50. Smothers can give them a big, physical downhill run defender between the tackles. They might sit outside the top 50 in the recruiting rankings, but DT Jeff Worthy (Santa Ana, Calif./Santa Ana College) and OL Kaige Lawrence (Victorville, Calif./Chaffey) are solid pickups in the trenches. With the secondary featuring several upperclassmen, they also bring in some help with CB Patrick Glover (Gilbert, Ariz./Scottsdale CC) and instinctive and aggressive S Jamie Byrd (Dade City, Fla./Iowa Western).

Auburn: As the Tigers continue a remarkable turnaround under first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, they look poised to remain strongly in the mix of the competitive SEC. Included in a top-20 recruiting class is a strong crop of junior college prospects. Currently committed are five JC prospects, including top-ranked WR D’haquille Williams (Reserve, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast). If the Tigers can sign the talented, big receiver, he can provide them with an immediate big-play target. The group also includes a trio of linemen, led by DT Dalvon Stuckey (De Funiak Springs, Fla./Pearl River CC), one of the top DL prospects in this juco class. A top-10 prospect overall, he can give Auburn a tough and active player to join some very promising young defensive linemen they already have, such as DT Montravius Adams and DE Carl Lawson.

Kentucky: As Mark Stoops tries to turn around the Wildcats program coming of a 2-10 first season, he is turning to the juco ranks for some defensive help. All four of their JC commitments are on the defensive side of the ball, led by ESPN JC 50 DT Cory Johnson (Chambersburg, Pa./ASA College), who should be able to come in and quickly contribute to a DT group that will lose several players. Johnson might be the only top-50 member of the group, but the other three verbals are all solid prospects who could potentially help a defensive unit that was near or at the bottom of several categories within the conference.

Oklahoma State: Already with one of the top scoring offenses in the nation, the 10-1 Cowboys are poised to bring in one of the top offensive weapons in this JC class in Tyreek Hill (Garden City, Kan./Garden City CC). The No. 1-rated athlete and No. 4 overall, Hill can provide playmaking ability from the backfield, as a receiver and in the return game. Oklahoma State also has verbals from a pair of defensive prospects in DT Jeremiah Ledbetter (Gainesville, Ga./Hutchinson CC) and LB Devante Averette (Iowa Falls, Iowa/Ellsworth CC), both of whom can come in and contribute as tough run defenders.

Tennessee: Butch Jones has been very active on the recruiting trail with his first full class and part of what is currently the No. 2-ranked class nationally is a strong group of JC prospects. They have commitments from five junior college prospects and all five are rated within the ESPN JC 50, led by top-rated DT DaVonte Lambert (Milledgeville, Ga./Georgia Military College). Joining the disruptive top-10 prospect in the trenches is one-time Texas Tech verbal Owen Williams (Macon, Ga./Butler CC) and both should provide needed help to a DL unit that utilized several seniors this season. This group also includes one of the top wide receivers in the nation in Lavon Pearson (Quincy, Calif./Feather River College), the No. 2 prospect overall. The Volunteers recently had good success with a JC receiver in Cordarrelle Patterson and could now have another highly productive target in transfer Pearson.

Of note: A key thing to remember is it’s not always about numbers, especially when it comes to junior college prospects. At times, just one or two pickups who can fill a need can mark success. Both Alabama and Georgia have only one verbal from a JC prospect, but both are ranked in the top 10 nationally and are No. 1 at their respective positions. The Crimson Tide have a verbal from OT Dominick Jackson (San Mateo, Calif./College of San Mateo) and Georgia from CB Shattle Fenteng (Loganville, Ga./Hutchinson CC). … South Carolina has commitments from a pair of ESPN JC 50 defensive tackles in Jhaustin Thomas (Decatur, Ga./Trinity Valley CC) and Abu Lamin (Fayetteville, N.C./Fort Scott CC). … Kansas State, which has traditionally had success mining the JC ranks, currently has two verbals, led by ESPN JC 50 LB D’Vonta Derricott (Garden City, Kan./Garden City CC). … Cincinnati, Texas Tech, Mississippi State and West Virginia are among programs with multiple commitments from juco prospects.