Being a professional football scout is a dream job compared to recruiting for college football. In the pros, you make a list of who you think the best players are coming out of college, and when it’s your turn in the draft, you simply select the best player available and he’s on your team. In college, though, there’s a lot of convincing that you have to do as a recruiter to get a player to come to your school.
For the most part, smaller schools are eliminated from getting any highly-rated high school players due to their lack of resources. However, there have been a handful of instances in which a smaller school outside of the power five (and especially the Southeastern Conference) has landed big names. Here are five of those times when the little guy got the big fish.
Ofa Mohetau (BYU)
When he was coming out of high school in 2002-03, ESPN said that Ofa Mohetau could be the best offensive guard in a decade. That’s why it stunned so many people that Mohetau decided to move from Texas to Utah, signing with BYU. However, his playing career seemed to vanish as soon as he stepped on campus.
Mohetau decided to join Texas Tech after nearly three years at BYU but didn’t get any playing time. He was left off of the 2007 roster without much fanfare and never made it to the NFL. In fact, he stayed off the grid for the most part and moved back to Texas.
Ed Oliver (Houston)
The Houston Cougars became a Power 5 conference team when they joined the Big 12 in 2023, but in the years leading up to that move, they were a G5 team that was part of Conference USA then the American Athletic Conference. During their AAC days, Houston landed their biggest recruit yet when they signed defensive tackle Ed Oliver.
Oliver was one of the 20 highest-rated prospects in the 2016 class, and he definitely lived up to that billing. Oliver was named an All-American in all three of his NCAA seasons and won the AAC Defensive Player of the Year award in 2017. Oliver wound up becoming a top 10 selection in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills.
DeAndre Brown (Southern Miss)
There were three receivers ranked ahead of DeAndre Brown in the class of 2008 and they all ended up being amazing (Julio Jones, A.J. Green, DeVier Pose). DeAndre Brown was the other big five-star receiver coming out of high school that year, and he surprised everyone when he decided to enroll at Southern Miss instead of Auburn, Florida, and LSU.
Brown played for three seasons at Southern Miss, collecting 2,207 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns in 30 games. Wanting to avoid injury, he declared for the 2011 NFL Draft, but was not selected. He spent time on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad but never suited up for an NFL game.
Michael Bush (Louisville)
It doesn’t sound too wild at the moment to think about Louisville grabbing a five-star recruit every now and then. After all, they are in one of the Power 5 conferences (ACC) and have produced some incredible talent including NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. There was a time, though, when Louisville was just a basketball school in Conference USA.
It was at that time when the Cardinals landed one of the highest-rated running backs in high school history, Michael Bush. Louisville didn’t have to go far on the recruiting trail for Bush since he was raised in the city and wanted to stick around for his college years. Bush collected over 2,500 rushing yards at Lousiville and another 3,250 in the NFL.
Travis Hunter (Jackson State)
When former NFL legend Deion Sanders took over the head coaching duties at FCS school Jackson State, there were a lot of highly-recruited high school players who were interested in joining him. The biggest coup that Sanders pulled off at Jackson State (before leaving for Colorado) was landing Travis Hunter, the top-ranked player in his class.
Hunter had been considered a lock to play for Florida State, but changed his mind at the last moment and went to the small HBCU school. Hunter played just one season with Jackson State, though, as he joined Sanders at Colorado. Still, he was able to put up 141 yards of offense with two touchdowns while also recording 15 tackles at Jackson State, and nobody will forget the recruiting trail that Sander’s blazed at Jackson State in 2022.