Two at the Top
Gholston and Gardner stand alone
For the last two seasons, we have had William Gholston and Devin Gardner at the top of our Michigan state rankings. In fact, both have subsequently been moved into five-star range as one of the top 50 players in the country. The debate has raged, especially over the course of their senior years as to who is #1 and who is #2. This is not quite Mario Williams-Reggie Bush, but it is similar and similarly, will probably not be solved any time soon.
As someone who has been forced into putting someone one and someone two, it has not been easy and I've flip-flopped many times. Both have been dominating at times and both have their areas they need to work on. With Gardner, he had an incredible senior season, leading his team to wins over Ohio powerhouses Lakewood St. Edward and Steubenville, which the Vikings would not have made the playoffs without. He was not done there though, as he took his team to the state title game. His detractors would point to that game, a 27-6 loss to Lowell as evidence he is not ready for prime time. Those people likely did not see the previous playoff games, where he passed for 11 touchdowns and ran for seven. Gholston was dominating in the regular season and then may have gained some separation at the Under Armour All-American Game where Scout analysts felt he was the most college ready player there. His naysayers would say the actual game, where Gholston notched one tackle, is more idicative of where he stands than the practices. With both, judging them off of one game is a disservice to the careers they have had.
In the end, all we know is that we don't know. However, I do have a feeling that in three or four years, if both are All Big Ten, All-American types on the verge of being drafted into the NFL, no one will care. Gholston's rare physical gifts and his week of dominance against the nation's best in Orlando give him the edge, but regardless of the ranking, the state has been lucky to have these two on their fields and representing Michigan.
Where these players are ranked may be a surprise, here's why
Mylan Hicks (3) - His game film really does not do justice to his talent and an ankle injury that cut short his senior season really has him under appreciated. This is the only guy I've seen have much success covering Kyle Prater. I've also seen him lock down nearly everyone he went up against at our combines, then at the Sound Mind Sound Body and Michigan State camps. No one threw his way in the Renaissance games I saw. His footwork and recovery speed are there and he also has the right mentality for a cornerback. You could have made cases for a handful of guys in the third spot, but since we are in the business of projecting collegiate success, I think Hicks has the tools to become a great college player regardless of what his senior year was like.
Robert Bolden (4) - He's a guy I got a lot of questions about, mostly from non-Penn State fans wondering how a four-star quarterback headed to a Big Ten school is not filling the stat sheet the way you might expect. Well, not everyone has to throw for 4,000 yards to be a great quarterback prospect and Bolden's run in the playoffs this year, culminating with a fine performance in a state championship game loss show what everyone has been seeing in this kid. He is smooth, has a great arm and is mobile enough to make plays outside the pocket. I like his attitude and intelligence as well. I know Penn State has another quarterback coming in who is ranked higher than Bolden, but I would not discount seeing Bolden end up under center in the near future.
Austin White (5) - As a sophomore, White was arguably the top player in this class in the state. Stevenson went to the state title that year and since then, has quitely made the playoffs, but not made the same splash. Maybe for that reason, I felt people around the state forgot about Austin a little bit. He's a versatile back who can catch the ball out of the backfield, a good thing considering the offense he is about to play in. He has some filling out to do, but he already runs bigger than his size. To me, he's been one of the more underrated guys his last two seasons.
Max Bullough - Max has everything you need to be a great college player and he closed his high school career in style, with a great state title game performance. I think it will take him a bit to adjust to the level of competition, but once he does, he'll be a starter at MSU.
Ricardo Miller - He is physically one of the more college ready kids in the state. As the year went on, he made more and more big plays for Pioneer, including their playoff loss to Canton where showed why he was so highly recruited. He has to work on his consistency, but he has great work ethic and I think he'll do that.
Dior Mathis - He's one of those kids who I think found the perfect situation for him.
Oregon is a great fit for him in my opinion. His speed is elite and he made a lot of big plays for Cass as a senior. He then showed up in a big way at the U.S. Army All-American game, with those at practice saying he made a lot of plays on the ball.
C.J. Olaniyan - I love this kid's potential, but some of the guys above him had better senior years, so he moved down just a hair. He has to bulk up, but his athleticism can't be taught. He has the long, lean frame to add that weight and become a top flight pass rusher and Penn State always seems to develop their defensive linemen.
Johnathan Hankins - He is another who I have had a lot of question on based on his offer list, which included some of the best schools in the country. He had a great senior season and I think he has the chance, if he puts in the work, to be a very good college player. He's a big bodied kid with athleticism, rare to find. That said, I thought the guys above him were a little more consistent. In this top heavy year in the state, being in the top 10-25, to me, means you're a really good player.
Guys who don't necessarily get the pub, but who will make impacts.
Matt Zakrzewski - I think this kid may end up being the sleeper of the Big Ten let alone the state. He hits, he covers, he does everything on the field. He'll have to adjust to playing closer to the line of scrimmage (he was a high school safety), but I think he'll do that and get on the field early for Indiana.
Cody Kater - He can barely be considered a sleeper anymore after another state title, but I still feel he's not talked about as much as he should. He picked up a few BCS offers late and switched his commitment over to Cincinnati, a place I think he'll do quite well at.
Tony Lippett - This high school quarterback showed me big time playmaking skills as a safety and wide receiver this summer. Then he went out and confused me a little by playing so well at quarterback during this season. Ultimately, I think he will still be a wideout at MSU, but he could play almost anywhere on the field.
Tony Jones - I'm not sure why he was so slept on. Then he committed to Northwestern, an out of state school and I think the people in-state sort of forgot about him. Put on the tape though and see a kid who can stretch the field and make things happen after the catch. I also believe he is going to the ideal offense for him.
Chance for Redemption
Two much maligned prospects have a chance to quiet the doubters
There might not be two kids in this class I want to see succeed more than Joe Boisture and Jeremy Jackson. Simply because these two have taken their share of heat from internet posters and bloggers.
Boisture had a great junior season at Goodrich, but his senior season after transferring to Saline, was tough. He was hurried, hit and did not put up the numbers expected. At Michigan State though, he will have a much better offensive line and weapons around him. He graduated early, giving him a leg up on learning the playbook and adjusting to college football. At 6'6, once he starts to fill his frame out, he will have the prototypical size.
Jackson's speed has been questioned, as well as his lack of eye popping numbers. However, he is a good route runner and has outstanding hands. I don't know that I've seen him drop a pass. Like Boisture, he too graduated early. He may not ever be the go-to guy at Michigan, but I think he'll be a reliable, move the chains guy and red zone target.
In both cases, I hope both of these young men are able to shut out the negativity that has been out there and make the most of their opportunities at the college level.