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December 27, 2012

JUCO rankings: Long on talent

THE LIST: Class of 2013 JUCO Top 100

Deon Long is actually 21 years old. It only seems like he's 30.

The headliner of this year's Rivals.com junior college Top 100 has lugged around a load of buzz for years. He was a certifiable high school star. At one time, he was the No. 1 prep school player in America. He made a brief stop at the University of New Mexico, and now he's the country's top junior college prospect.

The Iowa Western wide receiver's road to the BCS level wasn't short, but every winding inch of it was decorated with accolades.

Long was the same old Long this season. Sub-4.4 speed? Check. A pair of NJCAA records? Check. A junior college national title? You get the point.

Impressive as his season was, though, it somehow seems even more so when his position coach offers some perspective. Long may be the oldest player in this year's ranking, but it might be wise to hold off on the corny over-the-hill jokes.

"He did all it while only playing in two fourth quarters all year," said Iowa Western offensive coordinator Mike Strohmeier. "He was actually pulled by halftime in most games. I truly believe he will make an immediate impact at Maryland."

There's little reason to question Strohmeier's projection. Long racked up 100 receptions for 1,626 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. All three statistics ranked first among junior college players. Early in the year, he hauled in 20 passes in a single game. His stats only restate everything people knew long ago: Deon Long is a special talent. Always has been. Always will be.

There's a reason he's the first five-star junior college prospect since Cameron Newton.

"He has shown he can do it at all levels," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "He has taken a very, very roundabout route to college. But we feel he's the kind of player that can come right in at Maryland and be an all-conference difference maker and in a year or two be an NFL first-round talent."

The names listed directly after Long's in the rankings have a bit of NFL flavor as well. Defensive tackle Lavon Hooks (No. 2) and tight end Beau Sandland (No. 3) will arrive on their respective Div. I campuses with NFL-ready bodies. Of course there's work to be done when it comes to on-field performance, but each is far and away the most college-ready player at his position.

"When you see Sandland, you can be fooled into thinking you're looking at an All-American -- that's how good he looks in jersey," said Rivals.com west recruiting analyst Adam Gorney. "His build is unique for a high-level BCS tight end, let alone a junior college player. He's a monster and plays angry. There isn't a bit of fat on him."

As is the case most years, the 2013 rankings feature a fair share of once-touted players with fading stars. Arizona Western receiver Markeith Ambles (no. 46) was a five-star recruit out of high school before off-field problems forced him out of USC. Tight end Cameron Clear, a Texas A&M signee and the 47th-ranked junior college player, was arrested for theft while playing for Tennessee two years ago.

But perhaps the most intriguing second-chance player in this class is defensive end Chris Martin. Martin, who checks in at No. 13 in the rankings, was arrested for possession of marijuana at Florida and brought down more controversy when he unloaded on former Gators head coach Urban Meyer via Twitter shortly thereafter.

Martin was a 2010 Army All-American and has never been short on skill. It's the whole self-control bit that has been his undoing in the past.

"He's is still a very talented kid and he has had impressive moments at junior college, but he hasn't been able to raise his game and prove he can do it on the college level like Long has," Farrell said of Martin. "He originally committed to Charlie Weis when he was at Notre Dame and then flipped to Cal when Weis was fired. He transferred to Florida where Weis was the offensive coordinator. Now he's heading to Kansas where Weis is the head coach. He's never played a down for the man, but maybe this time he can get it right."

The top-ranked quarterback on this list is Iowa Western's Jake Waters. Waters, a Kansas State commit, was named NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year after completing 72.8 percent of his passes and throwing for 3,194 yards, 34 touchdowns and two interceptions.

As for uncommitted players, Hutchinson Community College's Ben Bradley remains the top prize. The No. 4 junior college player in the nation led his team to nine wins this season and anchored one of the country's best defenses. He lists 21 offers and is considering Missouri, Nebraska, Missouri, Miami and Tennessee, among others.



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