Very few have the talents to man the position.
To excel as a hybrid linebacker/safety in college football's new era of pass-happy attacks, a player must have a combination of toughness, athleticism and intelligence.
The emergence of the spread offense has forced defenses to adapt. The answer for defenses has been taking high school safeties and turning them into hybrid linebacker-types who rely on their versatility to be playmakers.
No position on defense requires more versatility or more specialized recruiting than the hybrid linebacker spot. Teams have been looking for ways to get faster on defense for years USC and Texas were among the first to use undersized but speedy linebackers but the hybrid position requires more than just speed.
It requires versatility and smarts.
On first down, they could be asked to hold their own in coverage against a running back or slot receiver; On second down, they could be asked to shed a pulling lineman and support against the run; Then, on third down, be asked to blitz the quarterback.
A player with the athletic ability to handle all three requirements and the football I.Q. to read and react to whatever the offense runs brings a wealth of possibilities for a defense. And a wealth of unpredictability against an offense.
It's a position that asks a lot of those who play it but also allows those players to be main playmakers in their defensive system.
"It's an attractive position," Oklahoma State linebacker coach Glenn Spencer said. "As a high school player (you see) you get to blitz, you get to play the run a little bit, you play the pass.
"He's got to be the most versatile player on the field for the defense."
Both in-state schools have had success converting high school safeties into linebackers.
Andre Sexton was the trailblazer at the position at OSU while Keenan Clayton was one of the first to make the switch at Oklahoma. Heading into the 2011 season, both schools have multiple players who fit the description.
Oklahoma freshman Tony Jefferson and sophomore Joseph Ibiloye often line up at linebacker despite starring at safety in high school. That duo has followed in the footsteps of Clayton, a standout safety at Sulphur Springs (Texas) High School who had a solid career with the Sooners before being drafted by the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.
Just two games into his freshman year, OU coach Bob Stoops was already praising Jefferson's playmaking and smarts.
"He's played great," Stoops said in mid-September. "Tony has also been really good and disciplined for a young guy and really plays smart to understand positioning, understand alignments, to recognize formation, what's coming to him, all of that. He's played really well so far so it's exciting to see."
At Oklahoma State, freshman Shaun Lewis is the lone Cowboy at the STAR (hybrid) linebacker position who did not come out of high school as a safety prospect. James Thomas, Joe Mitchell and incoming freshman Lyndell Johnson were high school safeties before making the move to linebacker at OSU.
While Lewis wasn't a high school safety, he excelled at the position taking over as the starter late in the year and helping fill the void left by Sexton, a four-year starter for the Pokes. He joined Jefferson as the Big 12's Co-Defensive Freshmen of the Year.
"(Shaun) is going to give you what Andre Sexton did, with a little more athleticism," Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said.
The recruiting of prep safeties and making them versatile linebackers is a trend that's unlikely change anytime soon. With the spread offense continuing to have success, defenses will continue to look for ways to be more versatile.
"It's like a quarterback deal where you try to sign one of those (hybrid players) per year," Spencer said.
Several defenders have made an impact as 'Star' (hybrid) defenders for Oklahoma. Here are recent examples of prep safeties who have made the transition to the Star linebacker spot for OSU.
Bio: Houston (Texas) Cypress Falls, Class of 2005
Sexton was one of the top ranked safeties in Texas in 2005. After a redshirt season, Sexton became one of the best defenders to come through the Cowboy program in recent memory. The Houston native was a four-year starter who finished with 319 tackles which is tied for ninth all-time at OSU.
Bio: LaMarque (Texas), Class of 2007
Thomas was one of the top ranked safeties in Texas in 2007. After a redshirt season, he backed up Andre Sexton before becoming a starter this season. Shaun Lewis became the starter midway through the season but Thomas maintained a prominent role on the defense, particularly on passing downs, finishing with 49 tackles.
Bio: Katy (Texas) Morton Ranch, Class of 2009
The high school safety made an impact on special teams as a freshman last season. He was one of the stars of spring in 2010 and provides excellent depth at the STAR position heading into spring.
Bio: Plano (Texas) East
A safety prospect with the willingness to hit and excellent size, Johnson is one of the Cowboys recent signees. He's expected to add to the depth and athleticism at the position when he steps on campus.
* Note: Shaun Lewis, OSU's current starter at Star linebacker, was a linebacker prospect out of Missouri City (Texas) Hightower, earning UnderArmour All-American honors.
Several defenders have made an impact as hybrid defenders for Oklahoma. Here are recent examples of prep safeties who have made the transition to the hybrid linebacker spot for OU.
Bio: Sulphur Springs (Texas), Class of 2005
Ranked the No. 3 safety nationally and No. 74 overall on the Rivals 100 in 2005, Clayton moved to linebacker heading into his junior season with the Sooners. He responded with 84 tackles as a junior then 72 tackles as a senior before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Bio: Garland (Texas) South Garland, Class of 2008
Ibiloye, ranked No. 90 on the Rivals100 in 2008, was highly recruited out of high school spurning offers from USC, Miami (Fla.), Michigan and others to play at OU. The redshirt sophomore earned three starts for the Sooners in 2010, recording 13 tackles. He enters spring ball listed as a backup linebacker and starting nickel back.
Bio: Chula Vista (Calif.) Eastlake, Class of 2010
Listed as a safety, Jefferson started eight games as a true freshman becoming the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year. The California native excels at making plays around the line of scrimmage and looks like he could emerge as a star on the Sooners' defense in the next few seasons.