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Instant impact (cont.)

Posted: Monday August 13, 2007 12:21PM; Updated: Tuesday August 14, 2007 10:40AM
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Torrey Davis, DL, Florida

Joe McKnight
USC running back Joe McKnight has already created a major buzz around practice.
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High School: Seffner (Fla.) Armwood

The Gators defensive line returns just one starter and coach Urban Meyer will look to the unit's six recruits to help rebuild the most dominant force in last year's run to the national title.

Chief among those freshmen is the quick-footed 6-6, 290-pound Davis, a U.S. Army All-American. Rivals.com ranked him as the Sunshine State's top recruit after he recorded 72 tackles and 16 sacks as a senior. He's already getting significant reps all over the defensive line, but he'll likely make his biggest impact at tackle, with Florida trying to take pressure off ends Derrick Harvey and Jermaine Cunningham.

Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia

High School: North Fort Myers (Fla.)

Devine's turbulent path to Morgantown has been well publicized. Now it's time to see the stuff of YouTube legend in action.

The West Virginia backfield already includes two Heisman candidates in Steve Slaton and Pat White. Adding the electric Devine (who will be used in the backfield, as a slot receiver and on kick returns) gives opposing defensive coordinators an additional freakish athlete to worry about.

At 5-6, 175 pounds, Devine's size and durability have been a question mark. But his high school coach, James Iandoli, is confident the player who ran for 2,148 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior can make a seamless transition into the college game.

"I thought that when he stepped off the Pop Warner field onto the high school field: 'How's he going to adjust to let alone high school but varsity level as a freshman?'" Iandoli said. "By Week 3 he was ready to take a Division-I starting tailback's job. I know it's the next level and stuff, but I'm pretty optimistic to be honest with you."

Ronald Johnson, WR, USC

High School: Muskegon (Mich.)

Offense. Defense. Special teams. "RoJo," as they're calling him in Troy, can do it all. In one game during his senior season he touched the ball four times, totaling 310 yards and four touchdowns. He was Rivals.com's top-ranked wide receiver, and that's the where he will probably make the biggest immediate impact.

The Trojans have gaping holes at receiver with the departures of Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. Junior Patrick Turner is the most experienced returner at the position. The 6-foot, 177-pound Johnson, who spurned his home-state Wolverines to join USC, will get every opportunity to help fill the void.

"He's a little bit new to the position ... so there's a lot of things that are new to him, but you see a lot of natural ability in him," USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. "He's got exceptional hands, very good speed, has a good feel for the game."

RoJo and his blazing 4.4 40-speed are also getting a look on punt returns.

Willy Korn, QB, Clemson

High School: Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes

Much like Clausen's situation in South Bend, Korn was an early enrollee and is vying for playing time on a team that will be using a first-year starter. The only difference is Clemson's staff is already saying the team's most decorated quarterback recruit since Steve Fuller in the 1970s won't be taking the first snap when the Tigers open the season against Florida State on Labor Day -- but that doesn't mean it will stay that way.

Junior Cullen Harper entered fall camp as the Tigers' No. 1 quarterback, but Korn -- a Parade All-American who threw for 3,485 yards and 39 touchdowns as a senior -- advanced quickly up the QB chain during the spring, going from fourth-string to backup in just 15 practices.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rob Spence has said publicly that there's a discernable gap between the two signal-callers, but if Harper falters in his first season as the starter, it will be time for the fan-favorite, Korn.

Joe McKnight, RB, USC

High School: River Ridge (La.) John Curtis

Trojans quarterback John David Booty has seen enough of McKnight to hand the nation's top-ranked running back a couple of lofty compliments.

"It's almost like he has the speed of Reggie [Bush], but the hands of Steve Smith, if you believe that," Booty told the Orange County Register. "It is kind of like that in a way. It's really special."

While the Trojans have a crowded backfield with 10 running backs on the roster, the shifty jack-of-all-trades will assuredly touch the ball. As a senior in high school, he had 709 yards and 14 TDs rushing, 735 yards and 13 TDs receiving, three punt return TDs and averaged 34.6 yards per kickoff return.

McKnight won't likely beat out senior Chauncey Washington or sophomores C.J. Gable and Emmanuel Moody, but Sarkisian raves about the Louisiana native's skill set.

"I think the thing that you'd like out of a running back is that versatility, the ability to do more than one thing, and Joe's been able to do three and four types of things out of that position, which is very critical if you want to be an every-down back," he said.

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