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September 24, 2008

Aiono tops initial JUCO rankings

MORE: 2009 Junior College Top 100

The calls still come into the football office at Snow College on a regular basis.

On the line is LSU, Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State, BYU and about every other powerhouse program in the nation. They're all calling to find out that status of James Aiono, a 6-foot-3, 282-pound defensive end that eats quarterback sacks for dinner and asks for seconds.

Badger coach Steve Coburn gives the schools the bad news.

"Sorry, but he's going to Utah," Coburn tells the disappointed coach.

He then hangs the phone up and a few hours later another excited coach will call again. The same thing gets repeated over and over and for good reason – James Aiono is an amazing prospect. In the Rivals.com junior college top 100 released on Wednesday, Aiono is ranked as the nation's No. 1 player, and his coach believes it's a well-deserved honor.

"You bet he is the best in the country," Coburn said. "He's all that. He's very strong and explosive. He plays the end position for us, which means that his responsibility is to set the edge of the defense to get the ball turned back inside to his help. He does that very well because of his size, strength and explosiveness.

"He has great passion for the game. He pursues the ball even when it's away from him. Those strengths are real strong points for us, as well as him being a leader of the linemen."

Aiono signed with Utah out of Murray High School in February of 2007 but did not qualify academically and went to Snow. He had an outstanding freshman season at Ephraim, and has continued to dominate this season.

In the season opener against Air Force, he was double- and sometimes triple-teamed, but that didn't stop him from flying all over the football field and making plays from sideline to sideline. It's the same thing that has happened in all of Snow's other games and sparked by his great play, the Badgers are right in the thick of the national title race again.

"He's better now than he was when we got him out of high school, and he was special even then," Coburn said.

Despite the repeated pressure to look around, Aiono maintains he's steadfast in his love for Utah.

"I'm not going to let some other school try to swoop in and steal me away," he said. "To me that wouldn't really affect my decision at all because Salt Lake City is the town I grew up in and the place I want to play. I'm solid Utah no matter what."

NOT FAR BEHIND

Right behind Aiono at No. 2 in the nation is another mauling defensive lineman. USC-bound defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo of Walnut (Calif.) Mt. San Antonio C.C. also has the tools to give offensive coordinators nightmares.

Playing eight games last season after returning from his Mormon Mission in the Philippines, Fangupo had a modest 21 tackles and two sacks in 2007. But with scholarship offers from Tennessee, Oregon, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State already on the table, college coaches flooded Mt. SAC in May to witness the raw potential Fangupo displayed.

"From a physical standpoint, he has all the tools to be a great player," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Brad Hoiseth of JCGridiron.com said. "He's like getting a 7-foot center in basketball. He has the tools that you can't teach. With the right coaches, he'll play in the NFL."

Continuing the run on defensive linemen at the top of the junior college rankings is Pernell McPhee of Fulton (Miss.) Itawamba C.C. McPhee is a 6-foot-4, 270-pound strongside defensive end that had 67 tackles, 37 tackles for a loss and 19 sacks as a freshman.

He's already committed to Mississippi State after signing with Southern Miss out of Pahokee, Fla., in 2007. As a high school senior he helped Pahokee to a Florida Class 2B State Championship. Academic issues forced him to Itawamba where he has blossomed into one of the most dominating JUCO players in the country.

"Pernell McPhee is one of the best pure pass rushers to come through the Mississippi JUCO ranks in the last decade," Rivals.com analyst Lanny Mixon said. "He has a great combination of size and speed, and there's no question he is explosive off the line in passing situations. He's got unlimited potential."

The top prospect in Texas is at No. 4 in the rankings – offensive lineman Anthony Morgan of Corsicana (Texas) Navarro J.C. Guards aren't usually at a high premium in rankings in rankings, but watching Morgan get after it this season against some of the top teams in the country like Coffeyville changes that thought.

At 6-4 and 325-pounds, Morgan moves like a dancing bear. He's quick around the end on pulls and he's amazing on trap blocks on the inside. Morgan signed with Baylor out of high school in 2007, but now he's heading to Oklahoma State after turning down offers from TCU, Tulsa, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Ole Miss.

El Dorado (Kan.) Butler County C.C. cornerback Rudell Crim is the No. 5 player in the country. The 6-foot, 190-pounder already has a slew of scholarship offers from teams like Iowa State, Louisville and Ole Miss and has developed into the top lockdown man in a loaded Jayhawk Community College Conference.

Crim started as a freshman for the Grizzlies and he snagged three interceptions in 2007 and this season, he's often been tasked with facing off against the other team's top target at receiver.

"His game is the most ahead of all of the defensive backs now," Butler coach Troy Morrell said. "He's got great size, can really turn and run with the best, but what I love most about him is his instincts. This kid knows when the ball is coming and knows how to make big plays at the right time that you just can't teach."

Rounding out the top 10 is receiver Tyrece Gaines of Butler County C.C., quarterback Early James of Ellisville (Miss.) Jones County J.C., receiver Chris Matthews of Wilmington (Calif.) Los Angeles Harbor C.C., outside linebacker Marcus Ball of Poplarville (Miss.) Pearl River C.C., and linebacker Josh Tatum of San Francisco (Calif.) City College of San Francisco.



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