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The Freak List: The 10 craziest athletes in college football

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SMU DE Margus Hunt has an 82-inch wingspan and benches 225 pounds 35 times. (US Presswire)  
SMU DE Margus Hunt has an 82-inch wingspan and benches 225 pounds 35 times. (US Presswire)  

I've been compiling the annual Freaks List for almost a decade now. It's a top 10 that spotlights the top workout warriors or players who amaze their teammates and coaches with what they can do in the weight room, on the track or in some other "wow" aspect of athleticism. Over the years, the Freaks List has featured guys ranging from Calvin Johnson to Adrian Peterson to Owen Schmitt to a bunch of guys who ended up getting drafted by the Raiders. Anyhow. With a big thank you to coaches, players and sports information directors around the country, here is the 2012 Freaks List. (I considered any players who are already on campus and will be eligible this fall.)

1. Margus Hunt, SMU, DE/KB: The native of Estonia sounds like a PlayStation football creation: A 6-foot-8, 280 pounder with an 82-inch wingspan. Yet despite those long arms, he can still bench 225 35 times, and his coach, SMU track coach Dave Wollman, predicts Hunt will rep it 45 times next year at the NFL combine and clock a 4.60 40-yard dash. Hunt has cleaned 384 pounds, snatched 345 and vertical jumped 36 inches. "He's off-the-scale powerful," said Wollman. "On that kind of frame, seeing the cleans and the snatch go that high to the ceiling, it is amazing."

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Hunt is a prodigious track talent. He won gold medals in the shot and discus at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing, becoming the first junior athlete to ever achieve such a double. He didn't leave his country and move to Dallas to play college football. He moved to Texas to train with Wollman, but SMU hasn't been able to get back its men's track program. Hunt still wanted to train with Wollman, who had mentored another decorated discus thrower from Estonia. To help cover the cost of tuition, Wollman figured with Hunt's size and athleticism, he might be able to help the Mustangs football team. After Hunt blasted blocking sleds and ran a 4.70 40 during a tryout, June Jones said, "Oh yeah, I'll take him."

That move has paid off nicely for the Mustangs on the gridiron. Hunt has blocked 14 kicks in three years and had 7.5 tackles for loss last season, including a breakout three-sack performance in SMU's bowl win over Pitt.   Wollman has coached 19 Olympians in his career and Hunt has the athleticism and is hard-wired to become No. 20. "He's the most kinetic aware of any athlete I've ever had," Wollman said, launching into a dissertation about Hunt's wondrous hand-eye coordination and a remarkable acute level of body awareness. As a football player, Hunt is still pretty raw, having only played -- and trained for the sport -- for just a few years. He says this offseason he's working to get his legs bigger and hopes to lower his center of gravity. Hunt has even put his track career on hold for football, which has bothered some folks back home, he said: "I was called a national traitor because I 'started doing some stupid sport.' My mom reads the Internet comments. I had to calm her down. But no matter what, Estonia will always be my home country."

Wollman is optimistic that his protégé won't just make it in the NFL soon, but that Hunt's visibility and what he's done for Mustang football will also help bring the men's track program back to SMU. 

2. Devin Taylor, South Carolina, DE: When you're on a team with Jadeveon Clowney (a 6-6, 260-pounder with a 37.5-inch vertical) and you're the biggest freak in the program, that's saying something. The 6-7 Beaufort, S.C., native was an intriguing prospect that the Gamecocks' arch-rival Clemson never offered. Taylor, who won the state high school triple jump title, had good but not great football film. His demeanor, though, also made him a tough prospect to gauge, recalls the Gamecocks' D-line coach Brad Lawing. "People weren't sure about him. He was very intelligent, but he's an introvert," Lawing said.

Gamecocks DE Devin Taylor is 6-foot-7 and 267 pounds but has change-of-directions skills like a 5-9 corner. (US Presswire)  
Gamecocks DE Devin Taylor is 6-foot-7 and 267 pounds but has change-of-directions skills like a 5-9 corner. (US Presswire)  
The veteran D-line coach admitted he tested Taylor in summer camp: "I do 'combatives' with him. I'm gonna punch you as a O-lineman. I tried to punch a hole in his chest. Well, I could see how fired up he got. His eyes got red. He about whipped my ass when he came with his best pass rush move and it was violent." The Gamecocks' staff was sold.  Taylor has blossomed in Columbia in a spectacular way. He arrived at 215 pounds, but now is an explosive 267-pounder who just broad-jumped 10-feet, 11-inches, verticals in the high 30s and has change-of-direction skills like a 5-9 cornerback. He has started 32 games in his career and has 27 TFLs and 15.5 sacks. Not bad for a guy who was once ranked as the 21st-best player in the state of South Carolina by one recruiting site and touted as the 93rd-best defensive end prospect by another. And the guy is still developing. Adds Lawing: "He probably just started shaving last year."

3. Justin Hunter, Tennessee, WR: The Vols' 2011 season was torpedoed when the 6-4, 200-pound big-play wideout was lost for the year in mid-September with a torn ACL. On 33 career catches in a little over one full season of college ball, he has caught nine TDs and is averaging a gaudy 22 yards per reception. Vols coaches breathed a big sigh after watching Hunter score on a 50-yard TD reception on the first possession of the second spring scrimmage last month. 

Hunter is a spectacular talent: he has been timed at 4.42 electronically, has broad-jumped over 11 feet, and vertical jumped 41.5 inches. As a track athlete he has high jumped 7-3 and long jumped more than 26 feet. If Tennessee has any shot of getting back to being a top 15 team this season, it is going to need a huge year from Hunter.

4. Marquise Goodwin, Texas, WR: One of the fastest men in college football, the 5-9, 177-pounder, also a first-team Academic-All-Big 12 player, may make it to the Olympics as a long jumper. Last weekend, Goodwin won his second consecutive Penn Relays long jump title. He also runs on Texas' 4x100 relay team. As a football player, he's caught 94 balls for 1,024 yards and four TDs while totaling almost 2,000 all-purpose yards in his career at Texas.

5. John Simon, Ohio State, DL: It seems like the Youngstown product has been on this list dating back to the days of Manny Lawson/Vernon Davis. As a 16-year-old, Simon could do 31 reps at 225 when he was turning heads at Cardinal Mooney High, setting weight room records for that storied Ohio prep program. There are heftier D-linemen, but perhaps none who are as strong pound-for-pound. The 6-2, 270-pound Simon is the definition of the word powerhouse. His relentless approach is just as evident on the field as it is in the weight room. "Donald Duck could be the strength coach if John Simon were the only guy in the weight room," said Urban Meyer. According to Mickey Marotti, who has trained more than his share of Freaks in his days at Florida, Simon benched 225 38 times, timed a 4.6 40 and broad jumped more than 10 feet, but the new Buckeyes strength coach says the Freakiest thing about the defensive tackle is his weight room intensity. And, it's that which makes just as big of an impact on his teammates 365 days a year as it does on his opponents on game day.

6. Knile Davis, Arkansas, RB: The 225-pound Texan has been blessed genetically, but also has had more than his share of bad fortune to overcome. In 2007, he broke his right collarbone. In '08, he broke his right ankle. In '09, he re-broke his right ankle. Later that year, his stepfather passed away from lung cancer. In 2010, Davis broke his left collarbone. Then on the eve of last season, he broke his left ankle, which forced him to miss the 2011 season. However, Davis, a 1,300-yard back in 2010, sure seemed like he's ready to rip up the SEC again when he put up eye-catching numbers in Arkansas' offseason conditioning tests a week before spring ball started. Davis had the fastest 40-yard dash time on the team at 4.33, his pro agility test was a blazing 4.04. He also benched 415 pounds (fifth-best on the team), squatted 570 (3rd best on the team) and did a chin up totting 364 pounds (totting an extra 139 lbs. worth of weight attached to his frame.)

7. Marcus Davis, Va. Tech, WR: The Hokies have produced more than their share of jaw-dropping 40 times in recent years, and they've done so again. Still, even the most skeptical would come away impressed with Davis, a 6-4, 228-pound former QB-turned-wideout, who set a VT record with a 44-inch vertical to go along with a 4.37 40, which for our purposes trumps (barely) the case of 260-pound DE James Gayle, who posted a position-record 39.5-inch vertical and a 4.44 40-time.

8. Jay Prosch, Auburn, FB: A transfer from Illinois, where he earned Freak status for power cleaning more than 400 pounds, the 255-pound fullback has impressed the Auburn folks on the field and in the weight room. Earlier this spring, Prosch broke the Tigers record in the power clean that was previously held by Jay Ratliff and Ronnie Brown when they each did two reps at 371. Prosch did his power-clean double at 380. And, Auburn strength coach Kevin Yoxall said that was after Prosch had just come off surgery. Prosch also was electronically timed at 4.72 in the 40. "He's well over 250 and he looks like he weighs 230," said Yoxall, adding that people probably should've known the guy was blessed with some great genetics all the way back to when he was a toddler. Yoxall's proof: he saw a picture of a young Prosch at 7 holding up some big fish he'd caught. "He was jacked at 7 years old."

9. Blaize Foltz, TCU, OG: The Horned Frogs O-line had a Freak a few years back in agile giant Marcus Cannon (a 350-pounder who could do a double front flip off a diving board.) Foltz, a first-team All-MWC guard in 2011, doesn't possess that kind of flexibility, but he's probably as strong as any man in college football. The 6-4, 310-pound movement science major benches 580 pounds, squats 800, incline benches 530 and has cleaned 430. "Honestly, we've gotten to a point where we stop him now for safety sake," says TCU O-line coach Eddie Williamson. "He could probably do even more than what those numbers indicate if we didn't."   

10a. Marqise Lee, USC, WR: Projected by many to play safety for the Trojans, Lee outshined his former high school teammate, five-star WR recruit George Farmer, from the moment both arrived at USC. By the end of the 2011 season, Lee may have even surpassed star Robert Woods. (Lee caught 39 passes for 609 yards and six TDs in USC's final four games of the season.) Lee's athleticism had Lane Kiffin saying the rising sophomore could leave the school as the program's best receiver ever. This spring, the 6-1, 200-pound Lee moonlighted as a long jumper on the USC track team where he had Trojans coaches raving there, too, after leaping 24-4. Lee said he's found that the jumping training has helped hone his body control and anticipation as a receiver, which means he may be ready to take another leap as a football player this fall.

10b. Eric Richter, Colorado, DT: The 6-3, 315-pound Californian only got in action for seven plays last fall for the Buffs, but it's not for a lack of strength. When CU players were tested this offseason on the bench press, Richter banged out 51 reps at 225, 10 more reps than he did a year ago. "He doesn't need a cheerleader, he doesn't need a audience," says CU strength coach Malcolm Blacken, "he just needs a lot of weight on the bar to get motivated.  A strength coach's dream -- a real living and breathing Frankenstein!"

Just Missed the Cut: William Gholston, Michigan State, DE; DeAnthony Thomas, Oregon, RB/KR; Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse, DB; Eric Reid, LSU, DB; Hunter Furr, ECU, RB; Samuel Harvill, K-State, DL; Rashad Ross, ASU, WR; Jamie Collins, So Miss, LB; Kelvin Benjamin, FSU, WR; Denard Robinson, Michigan, QB; Jordan Phillips, OU, DT; Dri Archer, Kent State, RB; Jesse Williams, Alabama, DT; Lerentee McCray, Florida, LB; George Atkinson III, Notre Dame, RB; and Pat O'Donnell, Cincy, punter.


Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.
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