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December 15, 2012

College standouts look back at recruitment


MORE: Te'o grateful for faith, teammates

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

The change from high school to college can be radical for anyone. Add a blue-chip athlete into the mix and in some cases, you've got culture shock.

Even former Rivals100 members such as Manti Te'o, Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Jones -- players who have blossomed into some of the most decorated in college -- can relate.

Leaving high school at Laie (Hawaii) Punahou for Notre Dame was not so easy for Te'o.

As the No. 12 overall player in the Class of 2009, Te'o chose one of the most prestigious schools in the country, spurning a multitude of more culturally comfortable West Coast suitors.

At the Lombardi Awards ceremony in Houston, Te'o said the change was more than he expected.

"It was very difficult for me to adjust at first," he said. "It was harder than I thought it was going to be."

Now a senior, Te'o won the Lombardi Award and finished as the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. He also accepted the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player; the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker; the Maxwell Award, given to the most outstanding player; the Nagurski Award for the top defensive player; and The Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

He was the best player on one of the nation's best defenses and will lead the Fighting Irish into the BCS National Championship game against Alabama.

"I never thought all of this would happen," Te'o said. "I didn't think it would be like this at all, but I am not sure anyone really does.

"When I first got on campus, it took some time. I went from a really big fish in a small pond to an itty-bitty fish in a big, blue ocean."

Clowney was the biggest catch in the high school football fishing hole.

Coming out of Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe, he was the No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2011 and chose to stay close to home.

Just finishing his true sophomore season at South Carolina, the Bednarik, Nagurski, Lombardi and Hendricks award finalist said that his coaches were quick to eliminate any hype he thought his five-star status carried.

"A lot of the guys on the team tried to make a big deal about it when I first got on campus," Clowney said. "They were cracking jokes mostly, but they made a big deal about it. That all ended pretty quickly because the coaches came in and squashed the talk. They made sure I knew that I would have to work hard and that what I did in high school didn't mean anything to anyone in the SEC."

Clowney has justified the early hype by setting a South Carolina record for sacks in a season (13.0), tackles for loss in a season (21.5), and sacks in a single game (4.5 versus Clemson).

Jones said that through his initial recruitment, he was just trying to keep his head down and improve.

"I never looked at it like I was bigger or better than anyone," he said. "I was just working hard to better myself and help create opportunities for myself."

The No. 72-ranked player in the Class of 2009, Jones left Columbus (Ga.) Carver for the top school in what was then the Pac-10.

Jones was immediately put onto the field at USC. He played eight games as a true freshman on special teams and as a backup linebacker. During a game against Oregon , he suffered a neck injury -- diagnosed as spinal stenosis -- that ended his career with the Trojans.

Jones said that a lot of his change came after he suffered the setback at USC and he returned to Georgia.

"The transition from one school to the other was harder for me than going from high school to college," he said. "I had a new frame of mind and a new responsibility.

"I wasn't new to the game, but I was new to the team. They welcomed me like I was family and that made it easier."

Jones was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-SEC selection, an All-American and a finalist for the Nagurski, Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi awards.

Even as the honors pile and spectacular seasons come to a close, players say that the first step is always the hardest.

Clowney was named a consensus All-American and has another season in college, yet he said he still does not get preferential treatment to which some high school players might feel entitled.

"None of (how the coaches treat you) changes," he said. "You have to keep working and earning everything."



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