College coaches looking for talent on the defensive line need to look no further than the top prospects in the junior college ranks. The first Rivals.com Junior College Top 50 for 2011 features three defensive linemen in the top spots, including No. 1-ranked Jesse Williams of Arizona Western C.C.
Behind Williams is Butler County C.C. defensive end Cornelius Carradine and College of the Sequoias defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Digging even deeper into the top 10 shows how hot a commodity defensive linemen are as Gulf Coast C.C. defensive tackle Johnathan Jenkins is at No. 7, East Los Angeles College defensive end Lavelle Lincome is at No. 9 and Hinds C.C. defensive end Leon Mackey is 10th.
In most years, there's a clear No. 1, but this year the battle for the top spot was close between Williams and Carradine.
Williams, a 6-foot-4, 330-pound terrorizing defensive tackle originally from Australia, got the nod and already has offers from Alabama, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, LSU and Ole Miss. What makes Williams' story even more unique is that football is still a relatively new game to him. Williams was raised in Brisbane, Australia, and picked up on American rules football in his mid-teens.
"The road for Jesse's success started when he was spotted by the University of Hawaii coaching staff as a 16-year-old at a tournament here in Australia," Steve Box, Williams' former football coach and mentor in Australia, told Rivals.com.
"The landscape opened up at that point. Hawaii offered and he actually accepted, but a few logistical hurdles saw a change in plans. The defensive coordinator at Arizona Western Community College saw Jesse at a camp with the Australian national team, and an opportunity opened up in Yuma. The rest has been all on the back of his physical skills, drive and performance."
Williams played basketball and rugby in high school, and rugby is where he first made his name. He played club football for the Bayside Ravens Club Team and later for the Australian National Team, where he was one of the team's more dominating athletes. But make no mistake, football is now his meal ticket to the next level.
"At this point, I think Jesse realizes that he has the ability to play this game at the professional level if he continues to work at it," Arizona Western coach Tom Minnick told Rivals.com. "Part of what he's going to be looking at during the recruiting process is which of these schools have the kind of coaches that have proven they can help him get to the NFL and succeed there."
Carradine was one of Ohio's top prospects two years ago when he ranked as the No. 18 player in the state. He was only a three-star prospect, but would have ranked much higher if his academics were in order. He visited both Illinois and Michigan, and had offers from Cincinnati, Michigan State, Minnesota, N.C. State, Pitt and Wisconsin before he landed at Butler County.
He quickly made an impact for the Grizzlies, racking up 90 tackles and 20 tackles for loss as a freshman. In the season opener against highly regarded Navarro College, Carradine had eight tackles, four for loss, three sacks and a quarterback hurry.
"I've had a chance to coach some tremendous defensive end prospects in my time at Butler County," Grizzlies coach Troy Morrell said. "But I think there's no question Cornelius is special and will go down as one of the best I've been around. He's so big, strong, physical and explosive."
Butler County coaches don't let their players get too involved with recruiting during the season, but Kansas State, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Ohio State, Purdue, Texas Tech and countless others are already in hot pursuit of Carradine.
Right behind Williams and Carradine is former Army All-American Sheldon Richardson. The Missouri commitment failed to qualify out of high school and ended up at College of the Sequoias. As a freshman, he finished with a team-leading 65 tackles, 17 for loss and three sacks in 10 games.
Rounding out the top five is Southwestern C.C. running back Aaron Harris and Fort Scott C.C. cornerback Joe Williams. Harris rushed for 1,169 yards and 14 scores as a junior and already has offers from Hawaii, Cincinnati and San Diego State. Fort Scott coach Jeff Sims calls Williams a future NFL player and the top prospect on his team, which features five players ranked in the top 50.
Keep an eye out on Coffeyville C.C. athlete Nu'Keese Richardson and receiver Duron Carter this season. Both are quickly making an impact for the Red Ravens after struggling through off-the-field issues at their first stops on the D-I level. One Jayhawk Conference insider said both "have NFL written all over them if coaches can overlook their previous problems."
Richardson was one of one of the nation's most ballyhooed recruits before signing with Tennessee in 2009. It was in Knoxville where he ran into trouble and was charged with three counts of attempted robbery for an incident at a Pilot convenience store near campus. Richardson pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted robbery but was still kicked off the Tennessee roster.
Carter's academic troubles forced him to withdraw from Ohio State and head to Coffeyville. The son of Buckeyes legend Cris Carter had been ruled academically ineligible for the Rose Bowl against Oregon and sat out all of spring practice because of academic reasons.
Talent in the desert
Arizona Western is also home to two of the nation's top defensive back prospects: Isiah Wiley and Justin Rogers. Wiley, an Arkansas, commitment comes in at No. 21 and Rogers, a Texas Tech pledge, is the No. 24 player. Both currently rank as three-star recruits, but could move up the charts with solid sophomores seasons.
K-State back on juco trail
Bill Snyder has always done a tremendous job of mining juco talent and this year is no different for the Kansas State coach. The Wildcats have three commitments that rank in the top 50. The headliner is four-star defensive end Meshak Williams at Hutchinson C.C. Hutch coach Rion Rhoades believes Williams will be an immediate impact player for the Wildcats.