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February 10, 2010

Walk-ons go from no stars to shining stars

This time a week ago, college football enthusiasts were counting stars and celebrating (or lamenting) their team's recruiting classes.

No doubt, rosters filled with four- and five-star prospects create visions of glory in future years.

But history shows that there will be some future standouts who had no stars affixed to their names last week. In fact, players who didn't even receive a scholarship offer will emerge as stars in a year or two.

Here's an alphabetical list of some of the nation's top players who originally were walk-ons.

G Howard Barbieri, Rutgers
Although he has spent most of his time at guard, he can play any position on the offensive line. He has made 13 career starts, is the Scarlet Knights' most experienced lineman and will be the centerpiece of next season's line.

G Doug Bartels, Northwestern
A walk-on in '07, Bartels broke into the starting lineup at right guard in the fifth game of the '08 season. He has made 22 consecutive starts and is expected to extend that streak this fall.

SS Marcus Bartels, Florida Atlantic
He joined the team in '07. This past season, he became the starter in the third game. He finished the season as FAU's leader in tackles with 112.

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech
Bedford didn't receive a scholarship until the start of the 2009 season, then earned first-team All-ACC acclaim while blocking for the nation's second-most productive rushing offense.

SS Jordan Kovacs, Michigan
He made the team at an open tryout over the summer and was in the starting lineup by September. In October, he had 17 tackles against Michigan State and 11 against Iowa. He finished the season as the Wolverines' second-leading tackler with 75 stops. He also had a pick and two forced fumbles.

WR Scotty McKnight, Colorado
McKnight was invited to walk-on in '06 and led the Buffaloes with 43 receptions in '07. Last season, he led Colorado with 76 catches for 893 yards and six touchdowns. He'll likely leave Boulder as the school's career leader in receptions and receiving yards.

DE Josh McNary, Army
He walked-on in '07 and quickly distinguished himself. This past season, McNary ranked fourth in the nation in sacks (12.5) and third in tackles for loss (22.5).

SS Andrew Rich, BYU
Originally a walk-on after transferring from Snow Junior College (Utah), he earned a couple of starts as a sophomore in 2008 and emerged as a full-time starter in '09. He had 85 tackles and four interceptions en route to earning second team All-Mountain West Conference honors.

RB Chad Spann, Northern Illinois
In his third season after walking on, Spann led the Huskies with 1,038 rushing yards and was named first-team All-MAC. Last season, he had eight multiple-touchdown games - which is more than any other returning running back in the country.

WR Alex Torres, Texas Tech
He originally enrolled at the Air Force Academy, where he did not play football. After leaving, the El Paso, Texas, native decided to give college football a try. He contacted Texas Tech and was given the chance as a walk-on. This past season, he led the Red Raiders with 67 catches for 806 yards and six touchdowns.

OT Mike Remmers, Oregon State
He was forced into the starting lineup and played well for seven games in '08 when starter Tavita Thompson was ruled ineligible. Remmers earned a scholarship last spring. He has made 20 career starts, including 13 in a row, for one of the Pac-10's most productive offenses.

WR Graham Zug, Penn State
A reliable receiver, Zug was awarded a scholarship before the '08 season. This past season, he made nine starts and led with Nittany Lions with seven touchdown catches. His 46 receptions for 600 yards were the second-most on the team. He had three touchdown grabs against Michigan and seven catches for 96 yards against Ohio State.

There are numerous kickers who began as walk-ons. Here's a look at three of the best:

Casey Barth, North Carolina
He began his career in 2008 as a walk-on and was given a scholarship following that season. This past season, he converted 21-of-25 field-goal attempts - which included a streak of 16 in a row - and he was a second-team All-ACC selection.

Alex Henery, Nebraska
This past season, he earned second-team All-Big 12 recognition after converting 24-of-28 attempts (85.7 percent). Three of his misses were from at least 50 yards, and he connected twice on 50-plus-yard kicks.

Grant Ressel, Missouri
He won the job as the Tigers' starting kicker last August, then converted 65 of 66 kicks (field goals and extra points) to set an NCAA accuracy record with a 98.5 percent conversion rate. He was named first-team All-Big 12.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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