Previously: S Vlad Emilien, S Thomas Gordon, CB Justin Turner, CB Adrian Witty, LB Isaiah Bell, LB Mike Jones, LB Brandin Hawthorne, DT Will Campbell, DE Anthony LaLota, DE Craig Roh, and OL Michael Schofield.
|Scottsdale, Arizona - 6'7" 272
|Scout||4*, #20 OT, #274 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #16 OT, #194 overall|
|ESPN||81, #12 OT, #148 overall|
|Other Suitors||Miami (That Miami), Minnesota, Arizona State, Oregon|
|Tom interviews Lewan and Roh.|
|Notes||Chaparral(Craig Roh). Dad played for Gophers.|
Taylor Lewan was virtually unknown until he transferred to Chaparral and his high school coach moved him to offensive tackle (he had previously been a defensive lineman; all of his video on the youtubes remains DL highlights). Three games later, Lewan was sitting on two dozen offers and getting called "the hottest prospect in the country" by the recruiting sites. (Example 1. Example 2. Example 3.) He was quickly bestowed four stars in the next re-rank, got an invite to the ESPN All American game, and embarked on a college visit tour featuring Minnesota (where his dad played in the 80s), Michigan, Oregon, and some local schools. Shortly after the Michigan visit, he committed.
That's a a whirlwind four months for a guy who had a single offer from Utah State when he attended the USC Rising Stars camp in July.
If your pattern recognition is good, or even adequate, or even sucky, you are likely to feel some sense of déjà vu as you read the upcoming scouting evaluations, random quotes from his coach, and so on and so forth. That's because Lewan fits squarely in a number of Rodriguez recruiting themes:
- Teammates. Craig Roh committed to Michigan the summer before Lewan blew up and was a major factor in his decision for M.
- Athletic offensive linemen. When this site profiled Michael Schofield it noted the kid ran track (hurdles!) his first couple years in high school and had a very respectable 40 time; Lewan, as you'll see, has a similar ability to move in space.
- Frame and upside. Like DE Anthony LaLota, Lewan is new to his position and still very raw. He's got a great frame to back on defender-crushing pounds but will need some time to do so; Rodriguez has faith in Barwis to get it done.
On with the talking. First, ESPN's scouting report:
He is a tall and lean kid with a good build, but he is lean for an offensive tackle and will need to work to add more bulk to his frame. He is a kid who plays hard and is very productive. He makes good initial contact and will flash the ability to generate power from his hips and when he does that he can drive a defender off the ball. He is a tall kid though that needs to watch his pad level and focus to stay low. He is very good with his hands as both a run and pass blocker.
… Will hop at times and open quickly, but displays the tools to be a college left tackle. Lewan has some parts of his game to keep developing and needs to add bulk, but this is a good offensive tackle prospect that also possesses nice upside.
This will quickly become the resounding chorus: development, bulk, upside. When Bruce Feldman took in the USC Rising Stars camp last year Lewan was in attendance and eye-catching, though obviously raw:
He is, of course, still very raw, and that certainly showed some times Wednesday. In fact, Lewan had a turn for his one-on-one rep just as Pete Carroll walked over and stood right behind the DE. Lewan got beat to the outside for a sack. Carroll motioned for Lewan to go again, this time against a different DE, who then beat the Arizona product with a quick inside move. Once again, Carroll had Lewan line up. This time, the third defensive end got the sack on a bull-rush.
Lewan looked disappointed but he didn't seem to stay down for long and went on to acquit himself pretty well the rest of the day. Later, he made a joke about it. "I guess that's why I signed up for the two-day camp."
Rivals also commented on Lewan's appearance at the camp, saying no one was "put together as impressively" from a "looks standpoint", which is a nice way of saying "needs development and bulk but has upside." His father noted his youth and inexperience at the time:
"He's just 16 and won't be 17 until late July," said Lewan's father, Dave. "He also is just learning the offensive tackle position. He was a defensive tackle, but he'll now be the starting left tackle for Chaparral. He's still got a lot to learn about the position, but everybody we've talked to has been very impressed with how quickly he's picking things up."
Lewan did get the hang of things as the season progressed. In the aftermath, he was named to Scout's All State team. The list constructor was enthusiastic: "had such a great season, I considered him for player of the year honors."
Now how about a barrage of quotes from his coach? When Lewan committed, his coach echoed the overall sentiment:
"That's the best athlete I've ever seen at offensive lineman," Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle said. "I was at ASU for a year (as a graduate assistant) and coached some good offensive linemen, some that are in the NFL. He's a better athlete than those guys. Not a better lineman yet, but a better athlete. He's just raw. His upside is huge."
“Michigan is getting, in my opinion, the steal of this year's recruiting class in the country,” Ragle said. “I know that's a bold statement to make, (but) this kid’s ability on the field won't be questioned. He's as good an athlete on the offensive line as I've ever seen.”
"He's as good athletically as any guy I have ever coached," Ragle said. "The thing that makes him so special is his upside when you think he's only been coached at the position for about eight months. But the one intangible that's most impressive is his nastiness --Taylor wants to burry someone on every play, and you can't coach that."
“I tell college coaches all the time: ‘you’ll be hard pressed to find a more athletic lineman than this guy.’ "
Charlie Ragle is somewhat enthused here. I detect a hint of enthusiasm.
So, yeah, this is a guy to stash on the bench for a year while he learns the Tao of Barwis. Then he is to be unleashed. Rodriguez as paraphrased by the Daily:
He’s physical, he can run … he’s got that type of body that we like to build on. … one of the best tackles we saw on film all year. … Father was an OL at Minnesota, so he knows what the Big Ten is all about
This Max Preps guy describes that body in… uh… a way. Definitely some sort of way or fashion:
Most 275-pound high school kids have flab, but Lewan looks like a strong dancer in tights.
And let's give the final tantalizing word to ESPN:
Lewan's development into a top-15 offensive tackle has been nothing short of amazing. We feel Michigan is getting an offensive lineman with perhaps the best upside we have seen at the position in recent years.
Okay, okay. All that sounds pretty freaking great but here's where I have to play party-pooper: redshirt freshman Dann O'Neill has disappeared into the background at Michigan, passed by Patrick Omameh and hardly mentioned on the recruiting sites outside of threads like "whatever happened to Dann O'Neill?" While O'Neill still has plenty of time to get his strength up and technique together, he's gone from the #1 OL recruit in his class to probably #4, as Barnum, Omameh, and Khoury all seem closer to the field.
Upside is just upside, and if you put it on the field you're not going to fare well. Lewan's got a ways to go and there are many pitfalls along the way from high school OT to Jake Long. Speaking of…
Why Jake Long? No pressure, kid! Well, 1) Lewan likes Long a lot and compares his game to the Destroyer of Ends, 2) by the end of Long's recruiting cycle he was a mid-four star who probably would have been in the same area Lewan ended up if the sites were ranking out to 300 back then, and 3) "perhaps the best upside we have seen at the position in recent years."
Etc.: Picture above regarded as "hott".
Guru Reliability: Moderate to high. All Star game appearance and a solid consensus, but that consensus is "we really, really like this guy's upside but can't rank him in the top 100 because he's only played OL for one year."
General Excitement Level: High. Good rankings, good kid, good fit. Not "very high" because it seems like he's got to do more development than most before he's college-ready.
Projection: Assured redshirt and then thrown into the tackle deathpit as a redshirt freshman; more likely his first shot at a starting job will be as a redshirt sophomore. It's tough to project offensive linemen with any confidence, but Lewan's athleticism will serve him well in Michigan's scheme and he's got a good shot at being a multi-year starter.
|Orland Park, Illinois - 6'6" 272
|Scout||4*, #10 OT, #135 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #18 OT, #221 overall|
|ESPN||77, #42 OT|
|Others||#171 to Takkle|
|Other Suitors||Notre Dame, Penn State, Miami|
|June commit article.|
|Notes||Little brother is an OL prospect in class of 2010.|
Michigan didn't need a huge offensive line class one year after taking six big uglies and graduating zero, but you never want fewer than three and you always want quality. Michigan picked up three four-stars: check. Michael Schofield was the first. Schofield holds the record for most unexpectedly annoying name to google because he shares a name with some character on "Prison Break," but the assembled intel follows. Warning: this stuff is always sparser for offensive linemen, whose skills remain arcane to all but a select few.
Schofield's rankings are all over the board, with ESPN saying "meh," Rivals saying "hey, pretty good," and Scout very enthusiastic indeed. Scout's rating was a huge late change, too, as when Schofield committed they had him an anonymous three star. Then Schofield attended a high school all star game in Hawaii (good choice, that) and seriously outperformed then five-star Morgan Moses($). Scout shot him up to the #10 tackle in the country.
College coaches didnt wait that long, as by June Schofield had picked up offers from Michigan, Penn State, Notre Dame, Miami (That Miami), Oregon, and a dozen others.
Here's a backhanded compliment from Tom Lemming:
“He’s the first good catch for Michigan out of Chicago in some time,” recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “In one or two years, he can really develop into an All-American. He has a lot of potential.” …
… it wasn’t his makeup [uh? –ed] that caught the attention of recruiters, rather it was his feet.
“When you watch him on film, he can really move,” Lemming said. “He can slide and mirror.”
Michigan's offensive scheme prizes agility in its linemen. This would seem to be a good fit, especially because this seems insane for a guy who's now 6'6", 275:
In his first two years at Sandburg, Schofield ran the 110 high hurdles for the Eagles’ track team, winning a conference title his freshman year and finishing second his sophomore season. He also moved up to the varsity team for the state tournament during his sophomore year, finishing sixth in sectionals.
“[College recruiters] like hearing he ran track his freshman and sophomore years,” said Sandburg football coach Dave Wierzal, who also coaches Schofield in track. “After his sophomore year, he continued to fill out and grew taller. He turned out to be really something to get excited about.”
Lemming also adds he has "perfect size" for left tackle.
While there has been some buzz that Quinton Washington could step right onto the field this fall*, this is Rodriguez on Schofield at the signing day press conference:
”Very aggresive, physical player. … He’ll grow into the type of player that we want. … The foundation that we’re building up front is key to our offense.”
That says redshirt. This Rivals AMP piece echoes the above, emphasizing his mobility, upside, and need to see a college strength and conditioning program:
Especially impressive when double team blocking or down blocking on the of tackle play. Could come out of his stance lower with more knee bend but does a great job of hand control. Really works his hands into the frame of the defender and doesn't allow defensive man to spin out of the block. Moves feet well and gets great knock back off the line of scrimmage. Runs well for a large lineman; gives effort downfield to get the extra block. Has even showed the ability to cover punts. Pass protection is sound; sets back and, as in the run game, has active hands in stopping and controlling the pass rusher. Has a tendency to over extend at times allowing defender the opportunity to go underneath.
Pretty positive and then… eh… 77. I think a large portion of the difference here is ESPN's tendency to fire and forget on a scouting report; it seems like there's a lot more movement on Rivals and Scout and Schofield was a guy who didn't start rising nationally until he hit the camp circuit hard in the summer between his junior and senior years. Both Rivals and Scout evaluations are based on tape and in-person sessions, with Rivals being the first to rate him highly and Scout coming around later; ESPN's ranking seems like it's based on old information.
In any case, Schofield is highly-rated by two of the three scouting services, seems a good fit for the offense, and has a lot of nice offers. The chance of success here is high.
Why Jeff Backus? Well, I dunno. There aren't many differences between the playing styles of offensive linemen that filter down to the layman's level. So that's just a shot in the dark, really.
Guru Reliability: Moderate; big spread in the rankings here.
General Excitement Level: As high as it gets for non-slam dunk offensive linemen. Schofield is a highly-rated kid with a lot of nice offers who seems to fit the offense precisely, but offensive linemen are hard to project.
Projection: Obvious redshirt and then a candidate to start at left tackle as a freshman; more realistically will probably have to wait until his sophomore year.
*(This is doubtful given the excellent depth on the interior created by Steve Schilling's move and Washington's lack of an early enrollment, but the possibility has been thrown out there. That gives an indication of readiness, if nothing else.)
|Princeton, New Jersey - 6'6" 260
|Scout||4*, #15 DE, #116 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #11 SDE, #215 overall|
|ESPN||80, #13 DE|
|Other Suitors||Notre Dame, Penn State, Florida, Stanford|
|YMRMFSPA||Alain Kashama… except good!|
|AA game roundup. Hello: Anthony Lalota.|
|Notes||Early enrollment. Teammate (Tyler Stockton) committed to ND.|
Anthony LaLota came to the attention of college recruiters via a very strange and nasal route: Terry Bowden. Bowden met LaLota's father at some corporate event, got LaLota's film, and then devoted one of his columns to the kid and his upside. Key graf that's not getting ahead of ourselves at all:
I've broadcasted several University of Virginia football games over the last couple of years and he reminds me very much of Howie Long's son, Chris.
Yes, Chris Long as in the guy taken right after Jake Long in last year's NFL draft. Schwing.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. LaLota may have Chris Long upside, but his rep was that he was big and raw. Then he showed up at 230 pounds—which you'll note is a full 30 pounds less than the number above, which was harvested from dozens of internet links and Michigan's official site—and started practicing at Greg Robinson's DE/LB hybrid spot. He could probably snap 90% of this blog's readership in half, but he's not so big in context.
He's raw, at least. Notre Dame Scout.com guy Mike Frank:
"When you watch him, he's just an extremely athletic kid that just runs real well, plays aggressively, pretty big kid that just plays very well," he said. …
"I think he's one of those 'projectable guys,' a guy who's not ready to play from day one because I think he might need a little work on technique. But he's a guy that's got so much athletic ability that you think that it'll be a short time before you see him on the field," Frank said.
Frank also called LaLota "an ideal candidate defensively."
LaLota's coach echoed the sentiments about his athleticism:
“Just an endless amount of potential. Runs like a deer; doesn’t get tired. He’s relentless just keeps going after the ball. Could play offensive or defensive tackle. Ton of potential. Only played 12 games of football in his entire life. He continues to learn, and a kid that has Ivy League grades, as well.”
His position coach agrees:
"His upside is just absolutely out of sight," adds Law, who played at Rutgers. "Right now he's still learning, but he's learning fast. He has all the natural skills to be a big-time player in college."
When LaLota showed up at the Army game, he showed off his potential… and how far he has to go. He went mostly unmentioned, but Rivals' Barry Every filed this report:
ASSETS: Excellent height, great frame and long arms.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Really needs to work on pad level at the point of attack. He cannot get by on size and strength alone against this level of competition.
WHAT WAS MOST IMPRESSIVE IN PRACTICE: Seems to be a high-effort guy that really wants to get better as a defensive end.
CONCLUSION: Most likely a redshirt candidate next season as he continues to learn his position and acclimate to playing against stiffer competition. His excellent frame is meant for long-term success.
LaLota was the only Michigan commitment of the eight who attended an All America game to not impress. Rivals chucked him down 90 spots and Scout took back their fifth star after he struggled with more experienced opposition. He remains in the 100-200 range on all three sites, so that's not a disaster.
Obviously, the Anthony LaLota word of the day is "potential." Of this he has a ton. Despite having only a single year of college football under his belt, by March schools from every BCS conference had offered, including Penn State, LSU, West Virginia, and Boston College. By June, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Florida had added their names to the list. Yow.
Michigan will have to wait and see whether he's the guy who got all those offers or the guy who couldn't quite hack it at the all star game. Though his stock has dipped of late, LaLota's inexperiece means he's barely scratching the surface of his ability. Think of him as a 6'4", 230 version of Press Your Luck. No whammies.
Why Alain Kashama? Kashama, a Canadian, was also a very large, extremely athletic defensive end with little experience. He did exactly nothing in his Michigan career until the very end of it, when he owned Florida in the Outback Bowl, but his athleticism took him on a five-year tour of NFL practice squads. LaLota projects better because he's better scouted and had a boatload of offers.
Guru Reliability: High. All Star appearance.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Though the guru reliability is "high," they all say LaLota is a boom-or-bust sort. We won't know what Michigan will get out of him for at least a couple years.
Projection: LaLota showing up 30 pounds light might actually be a boon for his chances at early playing time, as he's slotted into this spinner position and, given his athleticism, seems like an excellent fit for the spot. Still, he's so new to the game a redshirt seems likely, and preferable.
|Detroit, Michigan - 6'5" 317|
|Scout||5*, #6 DT, #35 overall|
|Rivals||5*, #5 DT, #26 overall|
|ESPN||79, #21 OT|
|Other Suitors||Miami, LSU, Alabama, Florida|
|Chaos. Otters. Hello.|
|Notes||Early enrollee. Cass Tech.|
Will Campbell is an extremely large, extremely nerve-wracking person in an extremely silly getup above. (He's "Thor"; there was some photoshoot with Michigan high school players themed to be comic book heroes. Which, guy who came up with that idea: thank you.) Here is a silly dance:
That is the Will Campbell commit dance, which he only executed after arriving at the Army All-American game and declaring Michigan to be off his list and LSU his leader. Let's just get it out of the way: yes, it is a little annoying that Campbell decided he needed to give me and a lot of other people a heart attack for purposes of self-glorification. Kids these days, lawn, baggy pants and the goo-goo eyeball glasses drinking their milkshakes and bler bler bler. If it makes you feel any better, Campbell seems like a lighthearted giant a la Terrance Taylor, not a raging narcissist. Or at least no more of a raging narcissist than the average enormous muscle-bound 18-year-old who is 100% sure he's going to the NFL.
Also something that should make you feel better are salivating reports like so from the Army All-American game:
6-0/310, Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech
He is a full grown man out on the gridiron even when compared to some of the nation's best offensive and defensive linemen. Most of the centers really struggled with the snap for two reasons - one they are new at it and two Campbell was bringing the most powerful bull rush they have ever seen. Just ask Nick Alajajian what it feels like to keep this future college star from getting into the backfield.
Campbell actually played both ways in that game:
"He's enormous, he's explosive and he's really athletic for a big guy," Smith said. "He's a fast learner. He's a fun-spirited kid who loves the game and that's why we're able to move him on both sides of the ball because he can pick it up. He just enjoys playing the game."
Though he avoided some things:
Campbell is one of the biggest players in the Army game, but he's apparently not ready for the roller coasters when the teams visit Six Flags on Tuesday night.
"There's a weight limit on those things," he said. "I might be on the tea cups."
When it was over, Rivals named him the second-strongest DT in the country and the top run-stuffer. It's hard for defensive tackles to make a big impact at the Army game itself, but Campbell did swallow a couple guys whole. More from his Army AA coach:
"Campbell is a true Warren Sapp kind of athlete," Smith said. "I saw him out there catching punts, catching passes and then he's making all those tackles on the defensive line. He's fast, he's strong, athletic and he's big."
Ok, scouts and a particular high school coach think he's a beast. That's nice. Now add the rest of college football to the list:
DT William Campbell, Detroit Cass Tech: LSU and Miami are getting official visits, but USC seemingly has this one right. The Trojans aren't pushing hard for Campbell despite his talent because they seem to be hearing what I am hearing: Campbell will end up at Michigan in the end.
A stat update from halfway through the season has some eyepopping numbers:
The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder anchors both lines for the Technicians and has proven unbeatable in one-on-one situations. That's why teams have consistently double-, and at times triple-teamed him. Despite all of that attention, he has managed to rack up 25 tackles, including 12 for loss and nine sacks, while also forcing two fumbles. He has been the engine for a defense that has pitched three shutouts in five games and given up only 13 points all year.
Campbell ended up tacking on officials to Florida and Alabama. Let's play Jeopardy(!). LSU, Florida, Miami, USC, and Alabama. What are five schools that desperately wanted to add Campbell to their class? Correct. We would also have accepted "a short list of the top five recruiting schools in the country." Everyone wanted the guy. (Perhaps the scariest mind-juju yet in USC recruiting was their decision to avoid Campbell simply because they didn't think there was much chance to land him. 1) Prescient. 2) Who does that? USC does.)
It is worth noting the dissenting vote from ESPN, which said he was a pretty good prospect but not the budding superstar the other two sites did:
We recognize he has plenty of talent, but he fell short of a 150 grade at this time. We also feel he is not a defensive lineman at the college level -- he will be a better fit on offense. He reminds us of former Cass Tech prospect Joseph Barksdale, a defensive tackle prospect who will be playing offensive tackle this year for LSU. Campbell may enter college as a defensive tackle, but we think, much like Barksdale, he will end up on offense. Campbell is a big, but raw prospect who needs to keep developing his game.
I've said this before, but a recap: the difference between Barksdale and Campbell is that a lot of colleges, including Michigan, were recruiting Barksdale as a tackle—that was part of the rift between he and Michigan—while Campbell was recruited almost exclusively as a defensive tackle. Also, while ESPN ended up right about Barksdale's collegiate position they were still wrong to rank him so low: Barksdale became LSU's starting right tackle as a true sophomore and is on track to be an excellent three-year starter.
Also detrimental to ESPN's cause here is their directive to totally ignore the Army game (which also them to underrate Justin Turner after his dynamite performance there). Campbell showed and impressed, as noted above, and justified his position high atop the Scout and Rivals lists.
Ironically, it was ESPN that provided the picture that had everyone thinking "schwing" or "oh god if he goes to LSU I'm going to shoot myself"; let it stand as Will Campbell's image until such time as it's replaced by one with a winged helmet:
Okay, so: five-star recruit with offers from everyone at a position where there is one obvious starter—sophomore Mike Martin—and then a Canadian who didn't see much time at all last year and people switching positions from defensive end or even fullback. Also the above picture. Initiate the Thor era now?
Eh… sort of. As is often the case with enormous manbeasts that you could slice open with a light saber and use as an emergency tent without them so much as noticing, Campbell has some weight issues. And running issues:
"The hardest part is the running," he said. "The first day, we ran like eight gassers and like eight 40's. That just killed me. That was the hardest."
Campbell, who is listed by Michigan at 6 feet, 5 inches and 317 pounds, said he actually weighs 335 pounds, thanks to too much eating and inactivity before arriving in Ann Arbor. Besides shedding 20 pounds, Campbell wants to put himself in position to be a starter this season.
But he's gon' work:
"I'm going to work hard, there's no doubt about that," Campbell said. "If I work hard enough, most likely I will be starting."
Concerns about raw technique are almost definitely legit, as Campbell could throw anyone in the PSL into the ballcarrier without learning about leverage. His early enrollment will help with both that and his conditioning; chances are he is not NFL ready just yet. A year of promise beckons; it's just too bad there's no one in front of him to take the tough minutes.
Etc.: He wants #73 and knows who Zoltan is.
Why Gabe Watson? Watson was an in-state man-mountain rated about where Campbell is; Watson also had some weight issues and nice-guy issues, and a lot of people thought he didn't quite live up to his rating, which is a little silly since he was two-time all Big Ten and is an NFL starter. Also, Campbell appears to be an enormous two-gap space-eater, who's not going to get after the passer much, which makes him more in the Watson mold than the Branch mold.
Guru Reliability: Well, outside of ESPN: high. All-star game and multiple combine appearances, and offers up the wazoo.
General Excitement Level: Very high. Ratings + offers = very high likelihood to be a multi-year starter and NFL draft pick.
Projection: Immediately into the defensive tackle rotation, probably behind Sagesse to start. Potentially works his way into a starting job by the end of the year; sophomore through senior year he should be somewhere between Watson and what Watson could have been if he was mean.
|Pahokee, Florida - 6'0" 181
|Scout||3*, #33 WLB|
|Rivals||3*, #35 OLB|
|ESPN||78, #39 OLB|
|Other Suitors||Tennessee, WVU, USF, Louisville|
|Notes||Early enrollee. Pahokee (Odoms, Smith). Florida small schools defender of year. Also: shirtless.|
Brandin Hawthorne is the one linebacker recruit in the class who actually played, you know, linebacker in high school and is scheduled to do so in college. Isaiah Bell and Mike Jones were safeties; high school linebacker Cameron Gordon is going to play wide receiver, at least for a while.
Irony enters the party now: Hawthorne is smaller than all of those guys. Generously listed at 6-foot-nothing, Hawthorne is safety- or even corner-sized. He was used mostly as a lightning-quick wrecking ball at Pahokee; check his eyepopping TFL stats:
Hawthorne finished last year [his junior season] with 80 tackles, and 31 of those were for losses. He forced two fumbles and recovered two more last season.
So he's just like Shawn Crable, if Crable was six to eight inches shorter. So he's just like Chris Graham, if Hawthorne was a stiff, clunky guy incapable of shedding blockers and not much for changing direction. He's not like either, actually. I mean, just look at the guy. Linebacker? In college? Er. There's a reason Hawthorne is well down in the rankings. When you have to make statements like this…
“Don’t let size fool you,” Hawthorne said. “There’s a grown man inside me.”
…you're going to be fighting an uphill battle. Also, you have something in common with Charlie Weis.
However, there are other reasons, reasons he got offers from Michigan and a wide variety of other schools:
On the college scene, Hawthorne's ''stock is exploding,'' according to Blue Devils coach Blaze Thompson. Hawthorne is ranked No. 17 on recruiting analyst Larry Blustein's Palm Beach list. He also has received plenty of offers, but has ''only five that I'm really concerned about'' -- Michigan, South Florida, Louisville, Tennessee and West Virginia.
His teammates certainly aren't surprised at the attention.
''Brandin's a monster,'' [Pahokee corner Willie] Hickman said. ``He goes 100 percent -- the whole play, the whole game -- he's just a monster. It's good to have him on your team. You don't have to sit around and wait for somebody else to make the play, because he's going to make the play.''
ESPN, oddly, had few concerns about size($), at least in the long term:
Hawthorne possesses all the physical tools for a college program to mold into a disruptive perimeter player at the next level if they are patient with his development. He can run, close, and hit and has incredible upside. Tall, rangy frame with a very long wingspan; should play at close to 225-pounds at next level while retaining his good play speed and athleticism.
They did say he needed "major bulk and size" before he was college-ready, but was "greatly underrated and is a definite late bloomer with a ton of natural gifts to develop at the next level." They then rated him the #39 OLB, which is about where everyone else rated him. So go figure.
Teammate and recruiting kerfuffle origin Nu'Keese Richardson echoes the "monster" diagnosis:
"I've never seen anyone hit like Hawthorne, even Janoris," Richardson said. "Brandin Hawthorne will make you think twice about coming his way."
So does his coach:
Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson has a nickname for senior linebacker Brandin Hawthorne.
It's "psycho." But he means that in the nicest way.
And so does he (link ibid):
"He says that because there's nothing I fear," Hawthorne said. "I don't care how big you are, I'm a get you."
I'm a get you. Those four words come from a kid in Pahokee, Florida, where the only industry just got bought by the government and linebackers get murdered for being in the wrong part of the muck and kids chase rabbits for something to do, and represent the vast gulf in culture between the old guard and the new better than anything I've run across so far. Hawthorne's home life… probably a bit different from your average Massey or Boren. The fact that Hawthorne and Smith fit in so well with the coaches recruiting them they would commit to Michigan sight unseen (and, unlike DeQuinta Jones, stick to that commitment) indicates a shift in philosophy. It's not seismic if you've got Forcier and LaLota and Roh and Turner and Gordon and etc etc etc, but it's real.
I've brought this up before in these profiles: Michigan is recruiting kids with an eye towards the future of offense, and this is most obvious at linebacker, where corner-sized Hawthorne is the only high school linebacker arriving. They are also recruiting kids who don't have much other than football, for whom buy-in is not an option to think about if they don't want to go plow driveways for dad.
I like Hawthorne's attitude and ability to turn opponents into random high-velocity subatomic particles; I like the fact Michigan jumped on him with an early offer and pursued him without reservation. I like the fact he has a place he'd like to visit but not live. I wish he had more than one big offer (Tennessee) outside of Michigan, and wish he wasn't so small. Hawthorne seems rated about right to me, and is a guy who is about 50-50 between starting and fading into Bolivian.
Why Ian Gold? It's not a very good comparison, since Gold was moved from running back, but Gold was an undersized but quick WLB, good in coverage and a dangerous blitzer.
Guru Reliability: High. No reason he'd be overlooked.
General Excitement Level: I have hard time getting over how small he is. On the other hand, Hawthorne seems likely to make the most out of his physical attributes, and if ESPN thinks he's got the frame that's a good sign. Here's a passage that sums all that up:
When Cardinal Newman hosted Pahokee this year, Crusaders kicker and punter Brendan Gibbons was rumored to be headed to Michigan. Blue Devils linebacker Brandin Hawthorne, one of this area's meanest hitters, already had made an oral commitment to the Wolverines.
So when Hawthorne had a chance to drill Gibbons after a punt - which he did at least once the previous season - he let up. "I'm not going to knock you out this time since you're going to Michigan," Hawthorne said after the play.
Gibbons was grateful, although at 6-foot-0, 212 pounds he is roughly Hawthorne's size.
I dunno, evil, vicious, bullet… kicker-sized linebacker. Moderate, I guess. Anyone you're expecting to put 40 pounds on may come out the other end of that incapable of moving his neck and stuff.
Projection: Very, very probable redshirt, and then I think he'll have to wait for Mouton to graduate. Redshirt sophomore before he's got a real shot at the field; may be better suited for a 3-3-5 than a more traditional D.
|Youngstown, Ohio - 6'0" 209
|Scout||3*, #46 S|
|Rivals||3*, #26 OLB|
|ESPN||81, #11 S, #95 overall|
|Others||#94 to Takkle.|
|Other Suitors||WVU, Cinci|
|Hello: Isaiah Bell|
|Notes||Teammate of Toussaint. UA game participant.|
Isaiah Bell's March commitment was one of Michigan's first of 2009. Bell was one of the few Midwestern recruits Rich Rodriguez had a pre-existing relationship with, and that relationship paid off:
"West Virginia was always one of my top choices, but then I found out coach Rod was leaving for Michigan, and that's what made them move up to No. 1 on my list," Bell said. "I remember it was real late at night and me and my family were up discussing which school was best for me and I said 'I'm going to sleep on it and when I wake up whatever college is on my mind, that's the school I'm going to commit to.' When I woke up, Michigan was there."
Offers as early as Bell's early usually indicate kids of significant talent, but he was just a random three-star safety/linebacker (and wide receiver and kick returner and punt returner) who happened to be the teammate of more exciting RB Fitzgerald Toussaint until ESPN saw fit to slather heaps of ridiculous praise on him:
I don't know if the "I" in Isaiah stands for interception or the "B" in Bell means big playmaker, but one thing for certain, this guy is a good football player. … Rules the secondary as a free safety. Has great instincts and plays outstanding zone coverage especially in the three deep. … A real competitor who can break a game wide open. … A magnificent kickoff return specialist … Can change direction without loss of speed or balance. Bell will be a big time player at a big time college. Just a little fundamental work is needed.
Emphasis mine: the laws of physics do not apply to Isaiah Bell! Get that weak shit out of here, physics!
Elsewhere in "ESPN loves Isaiah Bell":
- Looked "good on the hoof" at his NIKE camp: "It's hard not to see a potential 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame in two or three years."
- In ESPN's category rankings of safeties they declared it "astonishing" how someone Bell's size can play three-deep coverage; anyone who recalls the way the 2008 defense played underneath routes will be relieved to read this: "Besides quickness out of his break, he displays catch-up speed in running down receivers in the open field … he should be an excellent hook and curl defender."
ESPN would run a contentious chat later in the year that had a lot of questions like "Will Campbell and Justin Turner WTF?" from Michigan fans. Bell's name came up:
As far as Bell goes -- we feel this is a kid with tremendous upside and a great blend of size, speed and ball skills at the safety position. He has a really long, rangy frame that has a ton of physical development left while retaining his good speed and athleticism.
- In an article on ESPN 150 sleepers, he came in for major praise:
Impressive now, but the No. 91-ranked player has a ton of upside projected to the next level, both physically and athletically. … His biggest recruiting dilemma, and perhaps the major root of his national obscurity, may be trying to figure out what position to play him. He rules the secondary as a free safety but is built more like an outside linebacker. His continued physical development should dictate eventual position and success. His great instincts and competitive nature will make him a valuable football player at the college level, regardless of position.
After all that, ESPN slotted Bell in their top 100 and gave him an invite to their All-Star game. Because obviously they had to.
Unfortunately, no one else thought much of him except "TAKKLE," which is associated with SI and rated him about where ESPN did. Takkle's been around for a few years now but I don't know how much credence to lend those rankings. I do tend to favor Scout and Rivals assessments, and as you can see above both were pretty meh on Bell.
Part of that may be position uncertainty, but Bell projects as an outside linebacker in college and impressed in that role during the UnderArmor game:
With the employment of a lot of Cover 3, this week's practice has showcased several safeties playing down in the box over slots -- and looking impressive. Black's Isaiah Bell (Youngstown, Ohio/Liberty) came into this game with a reputation for his great run-stopping skills, but he has surprised me with his ability to open his hips and turn and run with faster slots. On a few plays, Bell even mirrored a quicker Andre Debose (Sanford, Fla./Seminole) tightly out of his breaks and made plays on the ball.
Rivals also named him one of the best players on his team:
8) S ISAIAH BELL6-1/209, Youngstown (Ohio) Liberty
After struggling through the first practice and temporarily moving to linebacker, Bell found his rhythm starting on Day Two. A big safety, he was able to come up to the line of scrimmage and stop the run as well as cover the inside receivers. Though he could add some bulk and be a very good outside linebacker at Michigan, he has the instincts of a safety in the passing game. Sunday's game proved that as he finished second on the team with five tackles and also added a pass breakup. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
He slotted in just ahead of five-star all-everything QB Russell Shepard(!). Strangely, this impressive performance had zero impact on his ratings. He checks in as the #27 player in Ohio at Rivals, one slot below a guy going to Akron. He's not even close to getting a fourth star. So… top ten player at an All-Star game or not quite good enough to beat out a MAC prospect? I don't know.
Oh, hell, let's add one more log to the fire of confusion:
Simply put, Isaiah Bell is the best safety nobody is talking about.
He has the instincts of a linebacker against the run and is a very good sized safety. The 6-2, 215 pounds seems a bit on the small side. …
Bell has the wingspan of a lineman. In fact, I would not be surprised if he ends up growing into a linebacker. He has a nice frame and I have noticed these long limbed kids tend to fill out a good bit. He is big enough to take on blockers and still make plays but he is fast enough to make plays in the open field. Once he finds the ball, he closes like nobody’s business.
But Bell has such tremendous ball skills that he could just as easily be a free safety. He has the best ball skills I have seen from a projected safety in this class.
That's from Duane Long, an Ohio recruiting scout, in a blurb about the #29 player in the state. WTF.
So… yeah. Here's some video, you may as well make up your own mind. No one else is saying anything that makes sense.
As for yrs truly's opinion: I'm more excited about Bell than his ratings might indicate. In the new era of spread-mad football it's critical to have guys who can cover like Bell apparently can and not like, say, Johnny Thompson does. Or, more to the point, doesn't. No offense to Thompson; it's just he was born 20 years too late to be a linebacker. A guy with Bell's versatility could be a major asset if he pans out. Everything I've read on Bell is extremely positive, and there are more opinions out there than just that of sometimes-wack ESPN. I don't get the three-star ratings from Scout and Rivals given what even their analysts have said, and think Bell is one of the most underrated guys in the class.
Why Prescott Burgess? Bell isn't ranked anywhere near as high as Burgess, a consensus five-star recruit, was, but Burgess turned out to be somewhat overrated. In any case, both are Ohio safeties who are destined for OLB; Burgess was also pretty good in coverage. They're about the same size, too.
Guru Reliability: Low despite an All-Star appearance. There are two warring camps and no internal consistency with his ratings.
General Excitement Level: I think he's better than the three stars he's been awarded by the major sites outside of ESPN but he is definitely a project; I'd say high.
Projection: Redshirt, ,and then think he's the most likely of the OLB recruits to win a job early. High ceiling.