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Friday, January 29, 2010
Recruiting nobodies who made it big on offense

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

This is my annual public service announcement to SEC fans as national signing day approaches.

Don’t sweat the three-star or even the two-star prospects that sign on the dotted line Wednesday. It’s not always about the stars. In fact, it’s rarely about the stars.

To prove that, here’s a look at a different kind of All-SEC team from the last five years.

These are guys who weren’t on everybody's prep All-America teams and rated no higher than three stars in most cases, yet ended up being All-SEC players and/or successful NFL players.

We’ll start with offense:

QB Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt: He had some interest among the lower tier Big Ten teams as a safety, but Vanderbilt offered him as a quarterback about a month before signing day. Cutler would go on to be the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft.

RB Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss: He’s been perhaps the best running back at the Senior Bowl practices this week after becoming the first player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards and have 500 yards receiving in the same season. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t rated among the top 100 prospects in Florida his senior year of high school.

RB Jacob Hester, LSU: One of the stars of the Tigers’ 2007 national championship team, Hester played nose guard his first two years of high school in Shreveport, La. In some quarters, he was a two-star prospect. Until LSU promised him he could play running back, some of his best offers were as a fullback or linebacker.

WR Sidney Rice, South Carolina: There were concerns about his speed coming out of high school, and he wasn’t even ranked among the top 10 players in the state of South Carolina. Suffice it to say that he’s one of the top 10 receivers in the NFL right now.

WR Earl Bennett Vanderbilt: A Birmingham, Ala., product, Bennett didn’t get much of a sniff from Alabama or Auburn, but went on to set the SEC career record with 236 catches at Vanderbilt. He’s the only player in league history to reach the 75-catch plateau in three different seasons.

AP Randall Cobb, Kentucky: A quarterback in high school, Cobb was one of those guys a lot of schools weren’t sure where he would play in college. He wanted a shot at quarterback and has proven the last two seasons to be one of the most versatile player in the SEC.

TE Jacob Tamme Kentucky: His scholarship offer was initially pulled by the Wildcats because they decided they liked somebody else better. Rich Brooks re-offered Tamme when he replaced Guy Morriss, and it’s a good thing. Tamme ended up catching more passes (133) than any other SEC tight end of the last decade (2000-09).

OL Clint Boling Georgia: He’s started since he was a freshman and has lined up just about everywhere up front for the Bulldogs while earning first- or second-team All-SEC honors both as a sophomore and junior. Georgia beat Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Duke and Wake Forest to get Boling.

OL Mitch Petrus, Arkansas: He wasn’t ranked anywhere (statewide or nationally) after coming to Arkansas as a tight end, but earned first-team All-SEC honors this season by the coaches and is participating in the Senior Bowl. He was a second-team All-SEC selection in 2007.

OL Chris Williams, Vanderbilt: Despite being a Baton Rouge, La., product, Williams wasn’t recruited by LSU. He weighed 245 pounds when he came out of high school, but left Vanderbilt as one of the top tackles in college football and was taken 14th overall in the 2008 NFL draft.

OL Antoine Caldwell, Alabama: Only 250 pounds when he finished high school, Caldwell was anything but a national recruit. But he blossomed at Alabama and earned first-team All-America honors as a senior in 2008 and was the rock of that offensive line.

OL Jonathan Luigs, Arkansas: A two-star prospect from Little Rock, Luigs wasn’t listed among the top 10 prospects in Arkansas his senior year. He wound up winning the Rimington Trophy in 2007 as the most outstanding center in college football.

Noting: Just looking at this past season alone, there were several guys who had big years that weren't rated through the roof coming out of high school. Ole Miss' Shay Hodge and Auburn's Darvin Adams combined to catch 18 touchdown passes. Neither was among the top 15 prospects in his state. Two of the best freshmen in the league were Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks and Vanderbilt's Warren Norman. Both were three-star prospects. Defensive end Marcell Dareus, who was the defensive star of the BCS National Championship Game, wasn't one of the highest-rated prospects in Alabama's star-studded 2008 signing class. Linebacker Nick Reveiz was the leader of Tennessee's defense in 2009 and one of the Vols' most productive players until he hurt his knee, and he was a former walk-on.