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May 7, 2012

Lunt heads list of impact early enrollees

Oklahoma State is replacing its 28-year-old quarterback with a guy who just graduated from high school.

Five months after leading Rochester (Ill.) High School to a second consecutive state championship, Wes Lunt has been named Oklahoma State's starting quarterback. The early enrollee won the right to replace Cleveland Browns first-round draft pick Brandon Weeden after going 15-of-23 for 215 yards with two touchdown passes and no interceptions in the Cowboys' spring game.

According to Oklahoma State's records, no true freshman quarterback has started a season opener since at least 1950. The last true freshman quarterback to start any game for Oklahoma State was Tone Jones in 1993.

"I'm overwhelmed," Lunt told reporters last week after receiving the news. "It's such a humbling experience. Coming in early, I knew I had a chance to compete for the job, and to get it is just overwhelming. I know that we're still going to compete through summer and two-a-days, so it's not over."

Lunt represents the most notable example of a newcomer who helped his case by enrolling early and participating in spring practice. But he's not alone.

Now that spring practice has wrapped up at campuses across the country, here's a look at 15 early enrollees who participated in spring workouts and could have featured roles this fall.

This list isn't reserved for true freshmen. It also includes junior college transfers and prep school products. But in all cases, the people on this list will be making their major-college football debuts this fall.

EARLY ENROLEES TO WATCH IN 2012
Rating: Four stars (No. 61 overall)
High school: Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove
The buzz: Although Armstead didn't commit to Oregon until Jan. 29, he still was able to participate in spring practice after enrolling in time for the spring quarter. Armstead remains a work in progress, but the 6-foot-8, 297-pound freshman's potential was evident all spring. While Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti hasn't ruled out the possibility of Armstead redshirting, it's hard to imagine the Ducks waiting a year to utilize his pass-rushing ability.

Rating: Three stars
High school: Lutcher (La.) High
The buzz: Tulane obviously isn't as heralded a program as any of the other schools on this list, but anytime a recruit exits spring practice as a first-team cornerback just a few months after graduating from high school, it demands attention. Batiste earned a spot atop the post-spring depth chart after scoring on a 66-yard interception return in Tulane's spring game. Batiste collected 122 tackles his senior year at Lutcher (La.) High.

Rating: Three stars
Junior college: Northeast Mississippi
The buzz: The obvious choice for a high-profile Alabama newcomer is running back T.J. Yeldon, a five-star recruit who ran for 88 yards on 16 carries and caught five passes for 91 yards in a spring game. Yeldon certainly should get plenty of playing time while backing up Eddie Lacy, but we decided to use this space to mention Belue, who's more likely to open the season in the starting lineup. Alabama must replace first-round draft choice Dre Kirkpatrick and fifth-round pick DeQuan Menzie at cornerback. Dee Milliner has pretty much locked down one starting position. The other spot likely goes to John Fulton or Belue, though the Tide often have three cornerbacks on the field at the same time.

Rating: Four stars (No. 60)
High school: Tallahassee (Fla.) North Florida Christian
The buzz: The latest in a long line of heralded Florida high school recruits to sign with Clemson, Blanks did enough this spring to show he deserves some kind of role in the Tigers' secondary as a true freshman. Blanks made seven tackles in the spring game and showed signs of emerging as the Tigers' main nickel back.

Rating: Four stars (No. 111)
High school: Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain
The buzz: Bolden earned plenty of respect this spring for his fearless attitude and physical style. Bolden probably won't crack the starting lineup this fall, but he should earn a spot on the two-deep and get plenty of playing time. Michigan safety Jarrod Wilson is another early enrollee who showed enough promise this spring to warrant some type of role on the field this fall.

Rating: Four stars (No. 133)
High school: Miami (Fla.) Norland
The buzz: It's tough to say how much Brown helped himself by enrolling early. Louisville closed all its workouts except for the spring game, which Brown sat out because of a minor knee injury. But it wouldn't be a surprise at all if Brown moves into the starting lineup at some point in his freshman season. Louisville coach Charlie Strong has shown in the past he won't hesitate to give featured roles to true freshmen. Brown probably would move into the outside linebacker spot vacated by Preston Brown's likely switch to middle linebacker.

Rating: Three stars
Junior college: Fort Scott (Kan.)
The buzz: Gunter worked out with the first-team defense just about all spring at Miami. He closed spring practice by forcing a fumble, breaking up a pass and leading all players with seven tackles in the Hurricanes' spring game. Miami is loaded at safety with the return of Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque, but the Hurricanes could use some help at cornerback. Gunter looks ready to pitch in.

Rating: Four stars (No. 15 JUCO prospect)
Junior college: Northwest Mississippi
The buzz: Hawkins wasted no time establishing himself as a front-runner to open the season as Texas' starting left tackle. Hawkins earned first-team NJCAA All-America honors last season and was named the nation's No. 15 junior college prospect. Texas has an outstanding defense, but the Longhorns' chances of competing for BCS bids again depend on whether their offense can improve. And that offense won't get much better if Hawkins struggles to adjust to Big 12 competition.

Rating: Four stars
Junior college: Rochester (Ill.)
The buzz: Lunt could have the toughest job of any true freshman in the country as he attempts to replace Weeden, who led Oklahoma State to a Big 12 and Fiesta Bowl title last season before moving on to the NFL as the owner of all the school's major passing records. Lunt, the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class, seems up to the challenge. He threw for more than 7,000 yards with 65 touchdown passes and eight interceptions his last two seasons in high school while playing in an offense that resembles Oklahoma State's scheme. Lunt had been competing with junior Clint Chelf and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh.

Rating: Four stars (No. 48)
High school: Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook
The buzz: Marshall missed the spring game with a pulled hamstring, but he showed enough before the injury to demonstrate why he was rated as the No. 2 all-purpose back in the 2012 recruiting class. Marshall has a good chance of splitting carries with sophomores Isaiah Crowell and Ken Malcome this season, but he will get more competition this summer when true freshman Todd Gurley - the nation's No. 42 overall recruit - arrives on campus.

Rating: Five stars (No. 1 prep school prospect)
Prep school: Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy
The buzz: Metoyer initially signed with Oklahoma out of high school as part of the 2011 class, but he was unable to qualify and ended up spending a year at Hargrave. Now that he's gotten his academics in order, Metoyer is ready to make up for lost time. Metoyer caught six passes for a game-high 72 yards in Oklahoma's spring game. "He's a guy that can be a big-time impact for us offensively," Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel told reporters afterward. Metoyer collected 108 receptions for 1,540 yards and 23 touchdowns his senior year at Whitehouse (Texas) High.

Rating: Four stars (No. 218)
High school: Citra (Fla.) North Marion
The buzz: Florida didn't have anyone compile more than 432 receiving yards last season, so the Gators obviously need guys who can spark their dormant passing attack. No wonder the Gators were so excited to see Pittman adapt so easily to college football this spring. Pittman, a true freshman and Rivals250 recruit, had a 43-yard reception in the spring game. Those types of plays should help Pittman earn ample playing time this fall.

Rating: Three stars
Junior college: Riverside (Calif.)
The buzz: Smith didn't arrive at Texas Tech with much of a reputation. Smith's other offers came from the likes of Nevada, New Mexico, New Mexico State and San Jose State. But he has wasted no time making an impact. Smith quickly has established himself as the favorite to open the season as Texas Tech's starting middle linebacker. Smith made plenty of plays in just about every scrimmage and picked off a pass in the spring game.

Rating: Four stars (No. 4 prep school prospect)
Prep school: Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy
The buzz: Ohio State needs someone to emerge as a playmaking receiver now that third-round draft pick DeVier Posey has moved on to the NFL. Ohio State didn't have a single player accumulate more than 294 receiving yards last season as Posey played in just four games. Thomas, the nephew of former USC and NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, is eager to fill that void. Thomas caught 12 passes for 131 yards in Ohio State's spring game. He compiled 86 receptions for 1,756 yards and 21 touchdowns his senior year at Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft High.

Rating: Two stars
High school: Katy (Texas)
The buzz: Thompson has been billed as an heir apparent to playmaking receiver Tavon Austin, who is preparing for his senior season. But if Thompson keeps performing the way he did this spring, the Mountaineers will find ways to utilize both Austin and Thompson this fall. The 5-foot-7 dynamo caught eight passes - the most of any player - for 66 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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