The world of college sports is what many identify as a symbol of the American dream. Between two goal posts, above the rim, on field and inside the sacred space of the locker room, dreams are fueled and hopes are realized. It's a melting pot of backgrounds and hometowns, a national stage for untapped talent, a beginning and an end. Any athlete will attest to both the pain and the ecstasy that comes as a result of competing for the coveted title of being number one. These athletes embodied that spirit, one full of drive and motivation to be the best of the best and they still carry the titles to prove it. With the force and compulsion to be the best comes the responsibility and expectation to always be remembered as so, and to deliver the magnitude of that capability. Whatever obstacles may appear or the doubters might say, these athletes took it to the house and delivered throughout their college careers. Remembered as college stars and dutifully so, their professional appearances fell short of the hype and predictions of continued greatness. Shrouded in controversy, plagued by injuries, or just unable to get into the groove or find the pace of the professional stage, the following is my list of the top 15 athletes who peaked in college.
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15 Andre Ware - Houston
1989 All-American, Heisman Trophy winner and Houston QB, Andre Ware threw a record 49 touchdowns that same year and is said to have changed the game a little over 25 years ago. The first African-American to win a Heisman, Ware completed 63.1 percent of his passes in the '89 season and tied or broke 27 NCAA records. He was then drafted 7th overall, where he produced a mere five NFL touchdowns and played four seasons before leaving to play in the Canadian Football League.
14 JaMarcus Russell - LSU
JaMarcus Russell, starting QB for LSU from 2004-2006, threw 28 touchdown passes in the 2006 season alone, while averaging over 8 total yards per play for 2006 season. JaMarcus Russell would become the first overall draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2007, where he stayed for only three seasons before completely dropping out of the NFL. Offering up only 18 career touchdowns against 23 interceptions, Russell went from first pick to ghost in no time at all.
13 Alonzo Highsmith - University of Miami
A star for the Miami Hurricanes of the 1980s, running back Alonzo Highsmith had 25 career touchdowns and nearly 3,000 combined yards. Highsmith was the third overall pick by the Houston Oilers, where he spent his first three NFL seasons. It was with the Oilers that Highsmith earned all 10 of his NFL career touchdowns, not earning a single one in the next four seasons that he split between the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Barely breaking 1,000 rushing yards during his entire NFL career, Highsmith was one of the more noticeable college stars to flop on the professional stage.
12 Jason White - University of Oklahoma
Despite two BCS National title appearances and earning the coveted Heisman trophy in 2003, QB Jason White not only went undrafted in the 2005 season, he never played a single down in the NFL. Jason White’s story sounds similar to many star college QBs who made this list, as he had 81 career passing touchdowns during his college career, but couldn't make an impact in the pros. After his stint as training camp fodder for the Tennessee Titans, White left the world of football to become a businessman.
11 Matt Leinart - USC
2004 All-American and Heisman trophy winner, Matt Leinart threw for over 10,000 career passing yards and had a couple of national championships during his college career. Entering his first year of professional football, Leinhart suffered injuries that affected his throwing ability, a lingering factor that overshadowed his entire NFL career. After eight seasons with three different teams, Leinart finished what was supposed to be a top NFL career with 15 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and a career 70.2 passer rating.
10 Mateen Cleaves - Michigan State University
A three-Time All American, Mateen Cleaves led Michigan State to the 2000 NCAA National Championship. The sole three-time all American out of Michigan State’s basketball program takes to the sidelines these days with a mic in hand. During this year’s Final Four, Cleaves had the opportunity to announce, alongside other analysts, for his alma mater’s home games. A first round NBA draft pick by the Detroit Pistons, Cleaves only averaged 5.4 points per game in his rookie season, which is the most he'd average over his career. In 2006, after six seasons in the NBA, Cleaves left to pursue other passions and now holds the title of musical talent manager.
9 Greg Oden - Ohio State University
Many remember Greg Oden as the freshman wonder of the 2006 NCAA Basketball season, who was drafted as the number one pick for the NBA 2006-2007 season by the Portland Trail Blazers, one pick ahead of Kevin Durant. With such an explosive freshman year, there was no question as to whether the young star would put up similar numbers in the NBA. Due to quite unfortunate circumstances, Oden missed his entire rookie season to a knee injury, the same injury took a toll on the rest of his career. Playing a mere total of 82 games during his five years with the Trail Blazers, Oden was able to win a ring as bench player for the Heat. He didn't play last year, but rumors have begun to circulate that he's gearing up for an NBA comeback.
8 Christian Ponder - Florida State University
An athletic and successful Florida State Seminole, Ponder threw 49 touchdown passes and rushed in 10 scores, to land amongst the top ranks of the ACC. After those performances, Christian Ponder went as a first round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings, spending his rookie year as backup quarterback. However, a glimmer of hope appeared during Ponder’s sophomore year, as he threw for nearly 3,000 passing yards and 18 touchdowns, yet that's as good as it would get for Ponder in Minnesota. He was released by the Vikes, before catching on with the Raiders where he was released after a lackluster preseason performance. .
7 Seth Curry - Duke University
Seth Curry is the son of former NBA player, Dell Curry, and the younger brother to Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Sadly for Seth hasn't been as good as his family during his NBA career. Averaging 17.5 points his senior year at Duke University, with a solid 13.2 the previous year, Curry went undrafted in the 2013 NBA draft. From that point, he's caught on with a few teams on short contracts and has played in the D-League, not really transferring his college success to the big leagues. In four NBA Games, he's hit one shot for a grand total of three points. He recently signed a multi-year deal with the Kings, so he has time to turn it around.
6 Keith Lee - Memphis State
During Keith Lee’s four year college career, he led Memphis State to four consecutive NCAA appearances, including a trip to the Final Four in 1985, and is the Memphis Tigers all-time leading scorer with 2,408 points. That same year, his number was retired and Lee was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Three time All-American was traded just minutes after the draft to the Cleveland Caveliers, where he played for two seasons and suffered a major leg injury, which forced him to retire at the age of 26.
5 Danny Wuerffel - University of Florida
Leading the NCAA in consecutive years for touchdowns, with a total of 37 in 1995 and 41 in 1996, Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman trophy in 1996. Despite that, he was only a 4th round draft pick to the New Orleans Saints, where he was unable to achieve the success he found in college. Some say the pace of the NFL affected Wuerffel, as he would go on to score only 9 touchdowns during his three seasons with the Saints, pairing that with 16 interceptions. After a total of six seasons in the NFL, Wuerffel ended his professional football career after a weak 2002 season with the Washington Redskins.
4 Vince Young - University of Texas
A dual-threat QB out of the University of Texas, Vince Young broke many of the school records while taking his team to a national championship. The 2006 first round draft pick by the Tennessee Titans looked ready for the professional stage during his rookie season, winning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. However, after five seasons riddled with injury and drama at Tennessee and a closing season with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he started three games and looked terrible, Young found himself out of the league.
3 Tommie Frazier - Nebraska
As the starting QB for Nebraska, Frazier was able to win back to back National Championships (1994 and 1995) and have an impressive career record of 33-3, despite having to miss seven regular season games in 1994 due to a blood clot in his left leg. Throwing for over 3,500 yards and 43 touchdowns at Nebraska, Frazier should have had a clear shot at a robust NFL career. Unfortunately, the aforementioned blood clot, a side effect of Chron's disease, saw him not get drafted and never get a chance in the bigs. In 2013, Fraizer entered the College Football Hall of Fame.
2 Peter Warrick - Florida State University
Peter Warrick finished his college career with over 3,500 receiving yards, 32 receiving touchdown and as a two-time All-American. Warrick was known as the most dynamic player for FSU during the 1990s, a time when the Seminoles ruled the NCAA championship conversation. He would be drafted fourth overall by the Bengals, but only scored 18 receiving touchdowns in his six NFL seasons. Warrick seemed to fizzle out from the dynamic college star he was during his time at FSU.
1 Tim Tebow - University of Florida
Sadly, Tim Tebow’s professional career just doesn’t hold a candle to his college reign. After a two year break from the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles almost gave him a chance this season, but Tebow was dropped in pre-season, “We felt Tim has progressed, but we didn’t feel he was good enough to be the (No.) 3 right now,” Eagles head coach, Chip Kelly, said. What a long way to fall from two national championships and a Heisman in three seasons as starting quarterback for the University of Florida.
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