As colleges get ready for the start of preseason practice, some of the players who garnered so much attention on the recruiting circuit for the last year are about to introduce themselves to the rest of the college football world.
We finally know where these guys have chosen to go to school. Now the real questions start.
Will some former five-star prospects prove they're worth all the hype? Could a hole on a team's depth chart allow a sleeper recruit to contribute right away? Which junior college prospects can step into featured roles immediately?
We're trying to provide some early answers to those questions by offering lists of five true freshmen or junior-college transfers in each conference who could make immediate impacts. The series starts today with a look at the Atlantic Coast Conference newcomers.
P Cason Beatty Particulars: 6-3/231; Charlotte Olympic Recruiting rating: Two stars Buzz: Florida State must find someone to replace Shawn Powell, who led the nation with an average of 47 yards per punt as a senior last fall. Powell's departure leaves Beatty as Florida State's lone scholarship punter. Beatty participated in spring practice to get a head start on his new assignment, though he still must hold off a challenge from walk-on Dillon Kidd. Beatty, a former high school quarterback, started punting in 2010 and averaged 43.1 yards per attempt his senior year.
RB J.C. Coleman Particulars: 5-7/176; Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith Recruiting rating: Four stars (No. 3 running back and No. 101 overall player) Buzz: This selection represents a slight leap of faith, but Virginia Tech's lack of experienced running backs should give Coleman an early opportunity. David Wilson's decision to turn pro after the 2011 season left Virginia Tech without any running backs who gained more than 30 yards last year. Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes likely will open the year as Virginia Tech's starting tailback, but Coleman will be right behind him. Coleman enrolled early and earned plenty of praise during spring practice. He rushed for 4,416 yards in his high school career and accumulated at least 1,400 yards and 20 touchdowns each of his last two seasons.
WR Stefon Diggs: Particulars: 6-0/185; Olney (Md.) Good Counsel Recruiting rating: Five stars (No. 2 wide receiver and No. 8 overall player) Buzz: Diggs didn't commit to Maryland until Feb. 10 -- nine days after National Signing Day -- but he should prove worth the wait. His arrival gives Maryland the playmaker it lacked during a miserable 2-10 campaign last fall. Diggs showcased his big-play ability in high school last fall, as 10 of his 13 touchdowns covered at least 37 yards. He's the first five-star recruit to sign with Maryland since the Terps landed offensive lineman Bruce Campbell out of Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy in 2007. He should add some star power to a receiving corps that returns seniors Kevin Dorsey (45 catches, 573 yards, 3 TDs last season) and Kerry Boykins (37-430-0).
CBs Ladarius Gunter and Tracy Howard Particulars: Gunter: 6-2/195; Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. Howard: 5-11/170; Miramar (Fla.) Recruiting rating: Gunter: Three stars. Howard: Five stars (No. 1 cornerback and No. 13 overall player) Buzz: Howard selected Miami over Florida and Florida State on Signing Day and therefore didn't get to enroll in time to participate in spring practice. But his extraordinary talent suggests he still should make an immediate impact this fall. Gunter was at Miami in time for spring practice and performed well enough to exit the spring atop the depth chart at one cornerback spot. Although Miami senior Brandon McGee is a returning starter at one cornerback position, the other spot is up for grabs. That should allow Howard and Gunter to compete for immediate playing time. Howard played on Miramar's Class 6A state championship team as a sophomore and recorded 10 interceptions his senior year.
RB Duke Johnson Particulars: 5-9/183; Miami (Fla.) Norland Recruiting rating: Five stars (No. 1 all-purpose back and No. 30 overall player) Buzz: Miami returns just two players on each side of the ball who made at least nine starts last season and signed the nation's ninth-ranked recruiting class in February, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Hurricanes have multiple players on this list. Johnson rushed for 1,957 yards and 29 touchdowns last season while leading Norland to the Class 5A state championship. Lamar Miller's decision to enter the NFL draft leaves Miami's top returning rusher as Mike James, who ran for only 275 yards last season. James should enter the season as Miami's No. 1 running back, but Johnson also figures to get plenty of carries right away.