Commentary | Game-changing decisions show importance of picking the right college football program

Area's five worst and five best college choices of the past 25 years

adell@bradenton.comJuly 28, 2013 

The high school football season will soon be here and soon afterward the top players will have to decide on college.

It is the most important decision to date for most of these 17- and 18-year-olds and can have a huge impact on their lives.

Some make good decisions and some make bad. Here is a sampling from the last 25 years.

Five worst decisions

• BRION CARNES, Manatee-Nebraska

This is the perfect example of what can go wrong. Carnes was the earliest commit in history of USF football, but when Bulls head coach Jim Leavitt was fired in Carnes' senior year, chaos ensued. New USF coach Skip Holtz gave the quarterback an ultimatum and took away his offer when Carnes didn't meet it. Western Kentucky and Willie Taggart offered, and Carnes was set to go there and compete for the starting quarterback job. But his cousin, Nebraska great Tommie Frazier, convinced Carnes to sign with the Cornhuskers. It didn't work out, and now Carnes is at Northern Iowa competing against a returning starter, Sawyer Kollomorgen, who threw for 2,460 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. Can't help but wonder if Carnes is putting himself in another difficult position.

• MIKE BLAKELY, Manatee-Florida

Rated the nation's sixth-best running back, Blakely left high school early to be at Florida's spring practice. Urban Meyer, who recruited Blakely, quit. Blakely didn't fit in with new coach Will Muschamp and left. He landed at Auburn, where a crowded backfield limited him to only 33 carries (153 yards), and he left in disappointment. His next destination could be Hutchinson Community College (Kan.). A year there would make him eligible for a four-year program with two years eligibility, and that place could be USF, where head coach Willie Taggart has proven astute with reclamation projects.

• KEDRIC JOHNSON, Palmetto-Florida

When he walked through the graduation line in 2009, Johnson likely could've walked into the starting lineup at defensive end for USF. Instead, Meyer talked him into coming to Florida, and he accepted, though it was clear playing time would be a lot more difficult. Johnson was among a slew of players under Meyer who were arrested (his for marijuana possession) in 2011, suffered numerous injuries, never saw much playing time and has transferred to Division II Fort Hays State University. If he had gone to USF originally, he might be on Mel Kiper's big board for next year's NFL draft.

• JON DOWLING, Southeast-Florida

Considered one of the best defensive backs in the country, Dowling seemed to get caught up in the loose ship Meyer was running and left Florida after his freshman season. He

transferred to Western Kentucky and has resurrected his career after two years under the tutelage of Taggart, now at USF. Dowling enters next season on the Jim Thorpe watch list given to the nation's top defensive back. He had six interceptions last season and was a first team All-Sun Belt Conference selection. A good season could make him an NFL first-round pick next spring. He turned a bad decision into a good one.

• ADRIAN MCPHERSON, Southeast-FSU

Some might dispute this, but those familiar with the environment at Florida State in the early 2000s say if the quarterback would have picked any other school, he would have avoided the trouble that ended his college career prematurely and nullified his great talent. He almost went to North Carolina and at the very least you have to believe things would have turned out better there. The former Mr. Florida football and basketball standout would likely be in the NFL today if he picked any other school than FSU.

Five best decisions

• WILLIE TAGGART, Manatee-Western Kentucky

Few college choices have turned out better. Taggart's spawned a 20-year friendship with the Harbaugh family that led to Taggart becoming a head college football coach (now at USF). It started when then-Chicago Bears QB Jim Harbaugh came to Bradenton to recruit Taggart for his father, Jack, who was head coach at WKU. Taggart said he never heard of WKU, but went there, set 11 school records and had his number retired. Taggart has often said going to WKU changed his whole life. No one could argue that.

• MISTRAL RAYMOND, Palmetto-USF

This has to be the strangest recruiting story of them all, but it ended with Raymond going from unwanted walk-on to NFL draft pick. The defensive back was at Ellsworth C.C. (Iowa) when he called his mom. She was screaming that her house was under attack by gunmen who it was later learned had mistaken her home for that of a drug dealer. Raymond returned to Palmetto determined to watch over his family. He had no scholarship, but begged USF to take him as walk-on. After a year on the scout team, he earned a starting spot and received a scholarship his senior year. He turned himself into an all-conference defensive back and was drafted by his current team: the Minnesota Vikings. A perfect rags-to-riches story with all the Hollywood trimmings.

• MIKE JENKINS, Southeast-USF

Jenkins had his choice of nearly any college following his senior season in 2003, but he chose a USF program that was in its infancy. That drew some criticism. Jenkins wanted to stay close to home because of family concerns and turned himself into a first-round NFL draft choice and first team All-American cornerback. He teamed with Trae Williams to form what some called the best college football cornerback tandem in the country. Mel Kiper had him top senior cornerback in the country in 2007.

• ACE SANDERS, Manatee-South Carolina

Sanders' was a brilliant choice and shows how much it helps when you have a father who played college football at the highest level and pro ball. USC coach Steve Spurrier wasn't turned off by Sanders' 5-foot-8 frame, which frightened other big programs, and he is an expert at churning out receivers. His decision to make Sanders a punt returner was key in Sanders becoming a fourth-round NFL draft pick this year. Father knew best on this one.

• JAWARSKI POLLOCK, Southeast-North Carolina

At 5-foot-8, Pollock faced the same dilemma Sanders encountered, despite setting the county single-season receiving yardage record (1,344 yards on 19.3 yards per catch) and returning punts and kickoffs. He went to UNC, a basketball school, and set a school single-season record for receptions with 71 in 2003. He received only two Division I offers -- Pittsburgh was the other -- and certainly picked the right one. Imagine if McPherson would've been his QB at North Carolina. Life might have turned out much different for both, though Pollock had a highly successful college career.

5 others who had good college careers:

• Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Lakewood Ranch-Tennessee State-NFL)

• Randy Kelly (Manatee-juco-Arkansas)

• Terron Sanders (Southeast-Florida)

• Ronald Harper (Southeast-juco-Murray State-NFL briefly)

• Chad Lee (Southeast-Louisville)

5 whose careers didn't live up to expectations:

• Hunter Ovens (Cardinal Mooney-Virginia Tech)

• Dyral McMillan (Southeast-Miami-USF)

• Reggie Davis (Southeast-Florida)

• Eric Williams (Manatee-Purdue-WKU-Texas A&M Commerce)

• James Buchannan (Cardinal Mooney-FSU)

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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