What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the Fourth of July?

Besides the debauchery of Joey Chestnut inhaling 70-plus hot dogs in 10 minutes at Nathan’s in Coney Island.

It’s fireworks.

Those colorful explosions that light up the night sky and make us go oooh and aaah are an Independence Day tradition. But they also serve to remind us that there’s only about a month left before college football teams return to campus to begin setting off some fireworks of their own.

Not the literal kind, of course.

We’re talking about the kind provided by players with the potential to make us go oooh and aaah every time they touch the ball.

In honor of the Fourth of July, here’s a Saturday Road list of every ACC team’s most explosive playmaker entering the upcoming 2024 season.

Boston College: QB Thomas Castellanos

Whether by design or accident, then-coach Jeff Hafley hit on a winner when he sent Castellanos in to replace starter Emmett Morehead less than a quarter into last year’s season opener. The UCF transfer wasn’t able to rally the Eagles from behind in a loss to Northern Illinois. But he proved to be the catalyst for a campaign that completely changed the trajectory of BC’s program.

Castellanos is a true dual-threat quarterback who injected a badly needed jolt of energy into an offense that was one of the worst in the ACC the previous year. He ranked third in the conference in rushing with 1,128 yards while passing for 2,248 yards and accounting for a combined 28 touchdowns while leading the Eagles to 7 wins, including a Fenway Bowl victory against new ACC rival SMU.

Not bad for a player described by the Orlando Sentinel as “a 6-foot, 190-pound quarterback who was lightly recruited out of high school and doesn’t have any notable accomplishments on his college football resume.”

Cal: RB Jaydn Ott

Ott might not be well known among fans on the Atlantic side of the “All Coast Conference.” But he enters the league as one of the most electric – though underrated – players in the country. He led the dearly departed Pac-12 in rushing last year at 108.5 yards per game and comes into 2024 ranked No. 4 among returning running backs by Pro Football Focus.

He’s more than just a combination of power and speed at 6-foot, 200 pounds. He’s the motor that drives the Bears. He rushed for 150 yards or more in 4 of his team’s 6 wins last season. And his contributions aren’t limited to scrimmage.

With Cal needing a win to gain bowl eligibility and trailing 7-6 late in the 1st half of its regular-season finale against UCLA, Ott was sent in to return the ensuing kickoff after UCLA’s go-ahead touchdown. It’s something he’d never done before. But you’d never know it by watching him go 100 yards for a momentum-changing touchdown that sent the Bears on to a season-defining victory.

Clemson: LB Barrett Carter

We usually associate explosiveness with offense, but it can be just as prevalent and even more game-changing on the defensive side of the ball. Just ask Pro Football Network, which describes Carter as an “Extremely explosive, amped-up athlete who moves with bristling, unyielding energy.”

He is a physically gifted 6-1, 230-pound linebacker who could potentially have been a 1st-round pick had he chosen to enter this year’s NFL Draft. But he surprised everyone by announcing plans to return for his senior season, citing “unfinished business.”

Carter is a heavy hitter and sure tackler with the speed to get into opposing backfields and the athleticism to hold his own in pass coverage. He’s almost certain to improve on last year’s totals of 62 tackles in 2023, 9.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks and 6 pass breakups in the absence of bookend Jeremiah Trotter Jr.

Duke: QB Maalik Murphy

Manny Diaz has yet to coach a game at Duke. But he’s already scored a victory – and a massive one, at that – by landing Murphy to run his offense. Murphy is a former 4-star recruit who got caught in a long jam behind Quinn Ewers and Arch Manning at Texas. He gave a glimpse of his explosive playmaking potential during Duke’s spring game.

Even though statistics weren’t kept in the Blue-White scrimmage, numbers aren’t necessary to describe the excitement Murphy generated in his 1st public performance in a Blue Devils uniform. He showed off his strong arm and athleticism on a 40-yard touchdown strike to a well-covered Jordan Moore that accounted for the game’s only touchdown.

He’s sure to get better and produce even more big plays as he becomes more familiar with the playbook, his surroundings and his new teammates this fall.

Florida State: WR Malik Benson

Other than quarterback, Mike Norvell’s top priority in the offseason was replacing the firepower the Seminoles lost in the receiving game with the departures of top pass catchers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson. He accomplished that goal by swooping in after Nick Saban’s retirement at Alabama and landing Benson off the transfer portal.

Despite the pedestrian numbers Benson posted in his only season with the Crimson Tide – 13 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown – he’s already shown how explosive he can be at the junior college level. In 2 seasons at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, he set records by catching 102 catches for 2,206 yards and 21 touchdowns.

He made an immediate impression during his first spring practice at FSU. And while he left the Seminoles’ Spring Showcase with a leg injury, Norvell said he’ll be fully recovered from the start of fall camp.

Georgia Tech: WR Eric Singleton

Singleton was the highest-rated recruit in coach Brent Key’s first recruiting class and he more than lived up to the hype by leading the Yellow Jackets with 47 catches, 706 yards and 6 touchdowns. His contribution helped Tech improve from 115th to 28th nationally in total offense while earning him a 2nd-place finish behind NC State’s KC Concepcion in the voting for ACC Freshman of the Year.

Between the natural improvement that happens between a player’s freshman and sophomore season and the return of record-setting quarterback Haynes King, Singleton has the potential to become one of the ACC’s premier receivers in 2024 while propelling the Yellow Jackets even higher in the league standings.

Louisville: Edge Ashton Gillotte

Gillotte is a quarterback’s nightmare who emerged as the ACC’s premier pass rusher during a breakout junior season that helped fuel the Cardinals’ run to the ACC title game.

At 6-3, 275 pounds, he has the quickness to get into the backfield consistently and the power to do damage once he gets there. He led the ACC with 11 sacks last season while adding 14.5 tackles for loss, 45 tackles and 3 forced fumbles on the way to 2nd-team All-American honors.

Gillotte isn’t just the best player on one of the league’s stingiest defenses a year ago. He’s the heart and soul of the Cardinals – a high-energy player who keeps his teammates engaged with his energy and emotion.

Miami: WR Jacolby George

Xavier Restrepo gets most of the attention. And he’s earned it as the Hurricanes’ leading receiver with 85 catches. But it’s George who stands to benefit most from the arrival of top transfer portal acquisition Cam Ward because of his history of big-play pyrotechnics.

George put up impressive numbers of his own in 2023. He caught 57 passes for 864 yards and 8 touchdowns. He ranked among the ACC leaders with an average of 15.2 yards per reception and was No. 1 in the league with 12 contested catches and 540 yards after contact, according to PFF.

George saved his most explosive performances for the biggest stage. He burned rival Florida State for an 85-yard touchdown in which he outmuscled 2 defenders before outrunning everyone else to the end zone. He also had a 64-yard grab in a win against Texas A&M.

North Carolina: RB Omarion Hampton

For all the attention quarterback Drake Maye generated as the eventual No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft, it can be argued that Hampton was actually the focal point of the Tar Heels’ offense last season.

The elusive junior running back almost single-handedly prevented UNC from an upset loss at the hands of Appalachian State by rushing for 234 yards on 26 carries. And his 1,504 rushing yards and 5.9 yard per carry led the ACC.

With his explosive first step into the hole and ability to elude defenders beyond the line of scrimmage, he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball. And that’s not an exaggeration. He once scored 7 touchdowns in a single playoff game as a high school senior in 2021 and his 16 total touchdowns (15 rushing, 1 receiving) were the most in the ACC in 2023.

NC State: WR KC Concepcion

Forget the ACC. Concepcion is one of the most electric, charismatic and explosive players in college football. His emergence as a big-play threat is the primary reason, along with an elite defense, that the Wolfpack were able to overcome a stumbling start, quarterback issues and the absence of a reliable running game to win 9 games and finish 3rd in the ACC.

The Freshman All-American caught 71 passes for 839 yards and 10 touchdowns. Six of which came during State’s 5-game winning streak to end the regular season. But because of the Wolfpack’s other offensive issues, that was only the tip of the iceberg of his contributions in 2023.

To offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s credit, he found a number of creative ways to get the ball into his best player’s hands. Concepcion lined up as a slot, an outside receiver and running back while also carrying the ball 41 times for 320 yards. He even threw a 17-yard touchdown pass against Virginia Tech.

Expect more of the same this year, especially with the addition of transfer quarterback Grayson McCall and more talent surrounding him.

Pitt: WR Konata Mumpfield

Mumpfield was one of the most sought-after receivers on the transfer market last year after earning Freshman All-American honors at Akron in 2022. While he put up respectable numbers in his first season with the Panthers – 44 catches for 576 yards and 5 touchdowns – they were viewed as something of a disappointment.

Like NC State’s Concepcion, Mumfield had the misfortune of playing in an offense struggling with quarterback consistency. He also shared targets with teammate Bub Means, who the New Orleans Saints drafted in the 5th round. Mumfield has that same kind of potential, assuming that coach Pat Narduzzi has found someone capable of delivering the ball to him.

SMU: WR Brashard Smith

The Mustangs have plenty of returning talent from last year’s American Athletic Conference championship team, including triggerman Preston Stone. None of those players, however, comes close in the explosiveness department to incoming Miami transfer Smith.

Not convinced?

Let’s let Smith’s performance do the talking, specifically, his electric 98-yard kickoff return in the Hurricanes’ win against Texas A&M.

There was no juking. No cutbacks. No broken tackles. The 5-10, 196-pound speedster just caught the ball, accelerated straight ahead and breezed past the wall without being touched and outran everyone the length of the field to the end zone.

Smith caught 22 passes for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns. But with both Restrepo and George returning, he decided his best option was to find someplace that would allow him to show off his explosiveness a little more often.

Stanford: QB Ashton Daniels

The Cardinal are clearly a work in progress under coach Troy Taylor. But even though they stumbled to a 3-9 record in his first season after a successful run at FCS Sacramento State, they at least discovered in Daniels a foundation upon which to build.

The sophomore started 10 games, completing 59% of his passes for 2,247 yards and 11 touchdowns. Five of those scoring passes went for 40 or more yards. He also finished 2nd on the team in rushing.

His promise for the coming season showed in a standout performance against eventual national runner-up Washington. Daniels threw a scare into the Huskies by throwing for 367 yards, rushing for 81 and accounting for 3 touchdowns while keeping Stanford within a field goal until the final 2 minutes. His 448 total yards in the game, which ended in a 42-33 loss, were the 2nd-most in scoring history.

Syracuse: TE Oronde Gadsden II

Gadsden doesn’t just possess elite physical skills. He also has the NFL in his genes as the son of a former Super Bowl champion who caught 22 touchdown passes with the Cowboys, Steelers and Dolphins during the 1990s.

At 6-5, 216 pounds he’s got the kind of size that allows him to outreach smaller defenders for 50-50 balls. But he also has extraordinary leaping ability that makes his catch radius even larger while adding soft hands and nimble feet to the equation.

While there might be a lingering question about Gadsden’s health after missing all but the 1st game with an injury last season, there’s no doubt about his playmaking ability after recording 61 receptions for 969 yards and 6 scores while lining up both in the slot and a tight end as a sophomore in 2022.

Virginia: S Jonas Sanker

Ever notice how the best defensive players always seem to find a way to be around the ball?

It’s an instinctive skill that can’t be taught. And Sanker has it. A 3-year starter for his hometown Cavaliers, the Charlottesville native put that ability to good use last season to become the first UVa player to surpass the 100-tackle mark since Quin Blanding in 2017. His 107 total tackles ranked 3rd in the ACC and his 6.1 solo stops per game were the 2nd-most in the country. He also had 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, helping him to earn first-team All-ACC recognition.

Sanker has good size and length at 6-1, 210 and is agile enough to move up and play the slot when the need arises. Although he’s not the kind of defender that will make the highlight reels with interceptions and spectacular returns. But you don’t want to be a receiver or ball carrier on the business end of his explosive hits.

Virginia Tech: QB Kyron Drones

Not since Michael Vick finished 3rd in the Heisman voting as a freshman in 1999 have the Hokies had as dynamic a dual-threat performer at quarterback as Drones. A former 4-star prospect who transferred from Baylor, Drones took over the starting job 2 games into the season after Grant Wells was injured and immediately energized an offense that ranked near the bottom of the ACC in 2022.

He threw for 2,085 yards and 17 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions. He also ran for 818 yards and 5 scores while improving Tech’s scoring average by more than a touchdown per game. His game-changing ability was on full display against Tulane in the Military Bowl when despite playing in monsoon conditions, he ran for 176 yards and threw for a pair of scores in guiding Tech to a convincing 40-21 victory.

Drones isn’t well-known nationally. Yet. But with virtually all his supporting cast returning, including leading receiver Jaylin Lane and top rusher Bhayshul Tuten, he could easily become a breakout Heisman hopeful on a dark-horse ACC contender.

Wake Forest: RB Demond Claiborne

Explosive wasn’t a word used often to describe the Deacons’ offense in 2023. But that might have been different had coach Dave Clawson done a better job of taking advantage of the most dynamic playmaker on his roster.

Case in point: Claiborne made his presence known by running a kickoff back for a 96-yard touchdown against Virginia Tech. But even though Wake couldn’t get anything going offensively, touched the ball only 3 times from scrimmage in a 30-13 loss to the Hokies.

On those occasions in which Claiborne was given a chance to get into a rhythm, he delivered in a big way. He ran for 165 yards on 24 carries against Vanderbilt and 96 yards on 14 attempts against Pitt, which, oh by the way, happened to be 2 of the Deacons’ 4 wins.