ATHENS, Ga. -- If history tells us anything, it’s that Josh Harvey-Clemons and Robert Nkemdiche had better avoid trouble at all costs. It’s a dangerous proposition to be ESPN’s top-ranked player in the state of Georgia.
Harvey-Clemons, a rising sophomore at Georgia, was the No. 1 player in the state a year ago. Nkemdiche was not just the top player in Georgia, but the top player in the entire country when he signed with Ole Miss earlier this month. But while it’s certainly prestigious to rank as the top player in a state that is known to be one of the nation’s most fertile football recruiting territories, it has not been the indicator of instant success that one might expect.
In tracking the careers of the state’s top 10 prospects each year since 2006, it became clear that it takes more than a lofty prospect ranking to achieve college success. The uneven career paths for Georgia’s previous top prospects attest to that fact.
Marcus Ball, Florida State: Ball (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) seemed to be on pace for stardom in the first few games of his freshman year before going down with a season-ending knee injury. He played sparingly in 2007 before leaving the program in 2008 following multiple suspensions and an academic fraud scandal that also ensnared several of his fellow FSU student-athletes. Ball transferred to a junior college and spent his last two college seasons at Memphis. He played last season for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
Eric Berry, Tennessee: The major success story in this group, Berry (Fairburn, Ga./Creekside) lived up to every bit of his billing as a recruit. He became Tennessee’s first defensive player under coach Phil Fulmer to start the Volunteers’ season opener as a true freshman and went on to become one of the top defensive backs in college football. Berry -- whose father James had been a team captain in Knoxville -- spent three standout seasons at Tennessee before becoming the No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft.
Josh Jarboe, Oklahoma: The standout receiver’s Oklahoma career was essentially over before it started. Jarboe (Decatur, Ga./Cedar Grove) was already on thin ice when he arrived in Norman following his high school arrest on felony gun charges that were reduced to misdemeanors because of his status as a first-time offender. But when Jarboe posted a profanity-laced online video that was full of violent imagery, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops kicked him off the team. He landed at Troy, where he redshirted in 2008 and played in 2009 before coach Larry Blakeney kicked him off the team there, as well. Jarboe spent a season in junior college and two relatively productive years at Arkansas State, where he became an All-Sun Belt performer and now hopes to be picked in the 2013 NFL draft.
Greg Reid, Florida State: Reid (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes) enjoyed some success in three seasons at Florida State, but multiple arrests and suspensions ultimately compelled coach Jimbo Fisher to kick him off the team in August 2012. The cornerback’s greatest success came as a return man, a position where he earned honorable mention All-ACC honors in 2010 and 2011. Following his dismissal, Reid transferred to Valdosta State, but a torn ACL cost him the 2012 season and he declared for the 2013 NFL draft instead of returning to college.
Storm Johnson, Miami (Fla): After a tumultuous freshman season, Johnson (Loganville, Ga./Loganville) announced he would transfer from Miami to Central Florida. He had averaged 13.2 yards per carry in limited work at Miami (nine carries, 119 yards) and he didn’t jibe with new Hurricanes coach Al Golden, who replaced the fired Randy Shannon after the 2010 season. But so far, so good at UCF. Johnson sat out the 2011 season under NCAA transfer rules and rushed 113 times for 507 yards and four touchdowns last season as a redshirt sophomore.
Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Crowell’s problem at Georgia wasn’t so much what he did on the field, when he was healthy. Crowell (Columbus, Ga./Carver) won SEC Freshman of the Year honors after rushing for 850 yards and helped the Bulldogs win the SEC East for the first time since 2005. His problem was that he was unreliable. He lost playing time as a freshman over disciplinary issues and finally was kicked off the team last summer following an arrest on felony weapons charges. Crowell landed at Alabama State and played immediately, leading the Hornets with 842 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
Josh Harvey-Clemons, Georgia: Perhaps Harvey-Clemons’ quiet 2012 season was a step in the right direction for the No. 1 prospects from the Peach State considering his predecessors’ histories. Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes) contributed mostly on special teams for the Eastern Division champions, totaling 14 tackles and one tackle for a loss. However, now that 12 key defensive players from last season have completed their college careers, Harvey-Clemons is in line to play a key role for the Bulldogs this fall -- with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham recently calling him “one of the best players we have.”