Above: Camp highlights from Michigan, courtesy of Allen Trieu. His defensive highlight reel, which inexplicably cannot be embedded, is available here.
One of the fastest-rising prospects in the state of Ohio is 2013 Cleveland Shaker Heights athlete De'Niro Laster. Despite being a part-time JV player as a sophomore, he recorded 65 tackles and six sacks at linebacker and tallied over 600 yards and six touchdowns as a receiver in 2010, according to Scout, and he's off to a strong start to his junior season. At around 6'3", 215 pounds and still growing, I think Laster projects as either a linebacker or tight end at the next level, although all four recruiting services currently list him as a wide receiver.
De'Niro currently holds offers from Akron, Bowling Green, Duke, and Temple, and already has interest from schools such as Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oregon, Pitt, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and, of course, Michigan. I caught up with the rising junior last night for an interview, and he showed a lot of interest in the Wolverines:
ACE: How's your recruitment going so far? What teams have shown the most interest in you?
DE'NIRO: Everything is going really good. I've been getting a lot of interest from almost every school in the nation, and for different positions. I've been talking to a lot of coaches, a lot of coaches like me at linebacker now, outside linebacker, which I thought I could play at the next level. A lot of coaches still like me at receiver, but I play [well] at both, so I don't mind playing anywhere.
Some top programs that have been showing interest are Ohio State, Michigan is starting to show more interest, and I really like them, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, USC, Michigan State, it's really a lot. Notre Dame…
ACE: Do you have any early favorites out of that group?
DE'NIRO: I don't have a top [list], not in order. I like Michigan a lot. I've been trying to get in contact with them, but I know they're busy. The week of the Notre Dame game I talked to somebody and I was supposed to go up there for a game, and they wanted me to bring some film too from this year, but I wasn't able to make it. But I like Michigan, I like Ohio State, Indiana, West Virginia, [and] Tennessee, right now.
ACE: You mentioned trying to come and visit. Do you have any plans for visits this season, or are you just focusing on your season right now?
DE'NIRO: Our team isn't doing so well, so I'm just trying to finish up the season, but I do plan on making it up to the Ohio State-Michigan game. We play a lot on Saturday, so I haven't made it to any college games this year yet.
ACE: Which specific Michigan coaches have been in contact with you, and what position are the Wolverines recruiting you for?
DE'NIRO: I think [my Michigan recruitment] got started because I went to a camp, it was a Michigan camp, with Raw Talent, the people I work out with. I did really good, I shined there, I showed my talents up there. Coach Jeff [Hecklinski], he's the receivers coach, I talked to him once and I've been trying to contact him some more but he's been very busy. I don't know [regarding position]. They just want me to bring film up so they can decide. A lot of teams, they're recruiting me for different positions.
ACE: You've mentioned playing wide receiver and linebacker. Where do you think you'd fit best at the next level?
DE'NIRO: To be honest, at the next level, I think linebacker, just because I think I have a lot more to go. I'm 6'3", 215 right now, and I've been gaining 20 pounds every offseason, so I just think linebacker would be the best fit. I'm having a real good season at linebacker.
ACE: I know your team hasn't been doing too well, but how have you been doing personally this year?
DE'NIRO: On defense, I have 77 tackles so far and six sacks, and we've got four more games to play, so I've been doing real good as far as on defense. On offense, I'm versatile, I play anywhere my coaches want me to. They've moved me to receiver, then they moved me to tight end, run me some routes at tight end, so that's going good too. But our team hasn't been doing what we're capable of doing, so I haven't been able to really excel like I want to on the offensive side. I have three touchdowns, and somewhere around 25 to 30 catches, but I'm not sure exactly.
ACE: In terms of your game, what do you think are your biggest strengths, and what are you trying to work on before you get to the college level?
DE'NIRO: My biggest strengths, I know a lot about football, I think I have a high football IQ. I take pride in the game. I go study film by myself all the time, and I think that's been really helping me out a lot this season. As far as physically, I'm a lot stronger than a lot of people, so that makes a lot of stuff easier. During the offseason, I always work on speed and quickness, and I will always want to increase that some more. You can never not want to increase that.
ACE: Any idea when you'd want to start wrapping up your recruitment? Do you have a timeline in mind, or are things pretty open?
DE'NIRO: Things are pretty open. I wanted to, maybe if everything is going well, try to get it done before my senior year, but for right now everything is pretty much open.
Thanks to De'Niro for taking the time for the interview. One thing to keep an eye on in his recruitment is that he's teammates with highly-touted 2013 defensive tackle Donovan Munger, another recruit on Michigan's radar. There's been some talk the two could be a package deal, but it's very early on in the process and those things have a way of falling through pretty often. Ohio State is also going after Munger, so this could once again become a battle between the two fierce rivals, possibly for both Shaker Heights prospects.