Auburn signee Angelo Blackson had played basketball his whole life. He worked out for basketball, conditioned for basketball, and shaped his body for basketball.
Over a year ago, after committing to Auburn, Blackson gave basketball up to focus completely on football.
A year later, the difference is staggering.
Blackson's intense focus on football has paid off, and the extremely gifted athlete from Bear, Del. has grown to an imposing 6-foot-5, 325-pounds. Needless to say, when Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell saw Blackson one month ago for the first time since last year, he was shocked.
"I thought it was a former NFL player. I went up to coach Dwayne Thomas and asked, 'who is that?'," Farrell said. "He said that's Angelo. I was stunned."
Much of Blackson's progress in the last year, his high school coach Dwayne Thomas said is due to Blackson's life making a change for the better.
After a life of parents that became unreliable and moving in with his sister, Blackson's now more stable home life resulted in being able to focus on the important things, and continue to develop as a person and a player.
"When things like that are going on, it's hard to buckle down, little things become big things," Thomas said. "But more than any coach could do, his family life has become more stable and he can go out and be what God wants him to be."
What Auburn wants him to be is an immediate impact on the defensive front. The Tigers lost five every day defensive linemen from last year's team, and were in need of defensive linemen to make quick impacts in the 2011 class.
Both Farrell and Thomas believe Auburn has found just that.
"I think he can definitely play early on," Farrell said. "This is a kid that came out of nowhere. Blackson had talked to other schools and his coach was telling schools to offer him and they never did. Auburn saw something in him.
"Physically, he's more ready to play than any defensive signee in last year's class for Auburn. He is a monster."
Farrell and Thomas agree that physically, Blackson is ready to step in and help Auburn right away in the SEC. That alone is a mighty accolade considering the SEC is the premier conference in America for athletic defensive linemen.
Thomas said Blackson's biggest strength is his unique blend of size and pure athletic ability, shown by his basketball skills that earned him a scholarship to Syracuse.
Blackson reminds Thomas of a now former Auburn defensive lineman that was fairly successful a year ago.
"He will get off the ball faster than anyone can block him," Thomas said. "His pursuit and run to the ball is incredible as well. He will get upfield like Nick Fairley. The SEC is the best conference in college football and once he adjusts, I don't think anyone will be able to block him."
Fairley, like Blackson, also had a background playing high school basketball, and Thomas believes that agility in the hips and ankles will make Blackson a stellar collegiate player.
"I loved how Nick played, at the point of attack, Angelo is so powerful," Thomas said. "He's a 1,000 point scorer in basketball, so he's extremely athletic. I've been coaching 20 plus years, and I haven't seen a combination like Angelo has."
As far as projecting how good Blackson can be, Farrell has high praise for the incoming freshman and said Blackson could compare to a former under the radar high school prospect that is now an NFL star.
Green Bay Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji was a two-star prospect from the state of New Jersey in 2004 before turning his college football career into a ninth overall pick in the NFL Draft. Farrell likens Blackson's unknown potential to that of Raji.
"You get guys like this that are good players that peak late. He is peaking from the end of his senior year until now, getting serious in the weight room, and he could end up being that guy who goes in the first round in the draft," said Farrell. "He looks unbelievable.
"Three years from now, we could be talking about Angelo Blackson as a kid that was so underrated that we had no idea what we were looking at."
Blackson recently received the good news he had been waiting on, that he was cleared to enroll at Auburn as a full qualifier. Thomas said the news was exciting to Blackson to say the least.
"I talked to him recently, and he was saying how he loves Auburn, he loves his teammates, the guys received him well, and I believe Auburn is the perfect fit for that kid," Thomas said.
Despite recruiting rankings, small school competition, and life challenges that any kid would find as tough circumstances, Blackson has persevered and Thomas believes the reigning national champions have something special.
"I believe Auburn University got a gem in Angelo Blackson."