Every elite high school football player aspires to be listed among the best of the best by the recruiting services, but the real challenge is making those distinctions stick once you get to college.
It hasn't been sunshine and rainbows for all of the expected super talents coming out of high school and heading into the ACC. Among the disappointments of the last decade are former Virginia and Heritage High running back Michael Johnson, former Miami linebacker Willie Williams, former Florida State quarterback Xavier Lee, former FSU wide receiver Fred Rouse and former Maryland defensive end Melvin Alaeze.
Then, there are the guys that take all the glowing scouting reports and positive ink from high school and seamlessly transfer it into big things on the college level. Four of the five biggest breakout players in the ACC this season fall into this category. Here's a look at them:
-Duke Johnson, RB, Fr., Miami
As an 18-year-old kid, you know you've already put yourself in position for celebrity status in south Florida when you're a Miami native, you're averaging 12.2 yards every time you touch the ball out of the backfield for "the U" and none other than noted Hurricanes booster and 2 Live Crew frontman Luther Campbell is tweeting that you're going to be the best running back in school history. Such is the life of Johnson, who was considered one of the nation's top 10 running backs in the class of 2012 by most recruiting analysts. He's third in the ACC with 159 rushing yards, but he's posted those yards on just 13 carries. He's by far the brightest spot on an offense that has otherwise been abysmal (88th in the nation in total offense; 338.5 yards per game).
-Stefon Diggs, WR, Fr., Maryland
He's listed as a wide receiver, but that only begins to scratch the surface on his role. Coach Randy Edsall won't shy away from any opportunity to put the ball in Diggs' hands. He's already one of the primary multi-tasking players in the ACC. Through two games, Diggs has 89 yards receiving, 84 yards on punt returns, 25 yards on kickoff returns and 20 yards rushing. He's averaging 109 all-purpose yards per game. He was one of the nation's top three receivers or athlete prospects in just about every analyst's rankings, and he's done nothing to make the athlete rankings seem foolish.
-Tim Scott, CB, So., North Carolina
After starting eight games last season, and finishing second on the team with six pass breakups, Scott was well on his way to becoming one of UNC's most dangerous players in the secondary. Though he wasn't an elite recruit coming of Colonial Forge High in Fredericksburg, he's playing like he was one. He's come out this season and staked his claim in the first few games as one of the ACC's best up-and-coming ball-hawks with two interceptions (tied with Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller for conference lead). Just 10 starts into his college career, Scott is already be on a level all his own among ACC cornerbacks in terms of coverage skills.
-Stephone Anthony, LB, So., Clemson
Given all the pre-college accolades this kid received, his fast track to success isn't much of a surprise. He got a good taste last season of what kind of responsibilities he'd have as Clemson's middle linebacker, playing in 13 games (starting three), averaging about 23 plays per game and finishing with 32 tackles. This season, he already has 16 tackles in two starts. There may not be a defensive player in the ACC that had more pressure on him to produce big results in his career than Anthony coming out of high school. He's living up to the lofty expectations thus far, but he still needs to do more.
-James Wilder, RB, So., Florida State
With Wilder (16 carries for 126 yards and a tied-for-ACC-best four touchdowns), Devonta Freeman (17 carries for 133 yards) and Chris Thompson (nine carries for 57 yards), there isn't another backfield in the conference with more potentially explosive options than FSU. If Anthony is the young defensive player with the most to prove in the ACC, Wilder is the offensive equivalent. He was also considered a can't-miss lock to be a star coming out of high school. Last season and the offseason was difficult for him. He only had 35 carries for 161 yards as a freshman, and he got into legal trouble twice. He has serious competition in FSU's backfield, but a 7.9 yards per carry clip thus far is encouraging.
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