“I’m way more comfortable,” Gardner said. “Last year was my first year starting, and it was rough, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of adversity. A lot of adversity I fought through, and I feel like I did a really good job of never giving up, never giving up on myself and my teammates. I feel my teammates recognized that, and my coaches recognized that, and I feel like that will help me.”
Blake Countess was sure he wanted to go to Michigan. He committed on December 17th of last year, when Rich Rodriguez was hanging by a thread, and hardly wavered after some guy he'd probably never heard of was installed in the aftermath of the bowl debacle. So maybe it's not a surprise that when he does an interview he seems like a kid who Has The Proverbial "It" Together. For example:
“Nobody really knows if [Rodriguez is] going to be there next year or not,” Countess said. “But going into this process, [I knew] college football coaches come and go. That's just how it works. My dad told me whenever I got a new offer that I should pick a school based on where I'd want to be if I wasn't playing football. [He said], ‘That's where you're going to be happiest.' With Michigan, I'm hoping Coach Rod is going to be there. If not, I picked a school that I like no matter what.”
Raise your hand if you sounded that mature at 17. Right, that's a small slice of the women and only the women. Default coach quote:
"He's worked really, really hard for it," said Milloy who also recognized Countess for his academic achievement and strong character.
"He's a great kid, he's a good student, he's a gentleman," said Milloy. … "He's just a really nice kid, he's fun to be around and I've never heard anybody, teacher, player, opposition ever say anything bad about him."
In addition to being the opposite of a flake, Countess is a heavily scouted, fairly OMG shirtless cornerback who played the position for the duration of his career. The rankings you see above have a little wobble but not much in the grand scheme of things: Countess is somewhere between tenth and twentieth amongst cornerbacks nationally and somewhere in the 150-250 range overall according to all four (yes, there are now four) services.
Countess is small. He checked in at 5'9" and 166 pounds at the UA combine he attended and any randomly selected scouting report on him will mention it: "despite his size," "physical player for his size," "an inch or so smaller than you'd like," etc, etc, etc. He'll probably hit the field at Michigan ten or so pounds heavier—he'll have had a year to add some muscle—but that height isn't going anywhere even when the roster declares him a 6'9" power forward.
However, that might be his only drawback. We've established he's a solid dude, and all those scouting reports that mention his size as a drawback spend the rest of their reports going "dang." He ripped the turf up at that UA combine, drawing a headline on ESPN:
If his performance during Friday's National Under Armour All-American Combine is any indication, cornerback Blake Countess could very well emerge as one of the top prospects at his position on the East Coast during the 2011 recruiting cycle.
Countess was outstanding in all phases of the combine, which included testing, position drills and 7-on-7 work for the skill position prospects at the event. He ran one of the fastest 40-yard dash times at the event (4.54 seconds), ran blistering times in the short shuttle (3.94 seconds) and L-cone (6.5), had a 36.5-inch vertical leap and bench pressed 185 pounds 10 times. Countess also was very smooth during position drills and was good in coverage during 7-on-7 work.
At the time he only had offers from Maryland and Wisconsin, but after that performance he picked up another dozen, most prominently from Penn State, Tennessee, and Arkansas. That list is short of all-conquering but is impressive. ESPN reiterated their impression after he showed at a Nike camp in May:
Another corner who came in to the camp with a big reputation and definitely lived up to it was Blake Countess. Countess was very active during the 7-on-7 session and took as many reps as any of the defensive backs. His ability to break on the ball and his quickness in exploding out of his backpedal were very impressive.
That camp included Michigan target and eventual Alabama commit Hasean Clinton-Dix and Army AA teammate Jonathan Rose.
Moar camps. After that, or before that, or possibly during that, Countess went to more camps. Then after, during, or before more camps, he went to more more camps. He attended everything he could reasonably get to and caused scouting report after scouting report to drop from the heavens.
The 5-foot-10, 171-pounder was all over the field, jumping routes and showing good instincts. Countess is very low in his backpedal, changes direction quickly and is aggressive. He can play off coverage as well as tight but his strength is in zone coverage.
Another eval praises his hips, recovery speed and ball skills while claiming he needs to be lower in his backpedal—uh, but the other guy nevermind—and complains about his height; a third says "it's his confidence and short-term memory that sets him apart from the average college prospect."
Countess attended an "MD Elite Showcase," where he ran a similarly blazing shuttle and did his best Shakira impression (non-making-out-with-Pique edition):
Countess had the best testing day of anyone, running a low 4.5 40-yard dash and posting an amazing 3.95-second shuttle. In the one-on-ones he was physical off the line, flipped his hips well and showed good hops and ball skills. Although he's not the biggest cornerback, he plays bigger receivers well and is adept at playing the ball in the air and timing his jumps.
Someone randomly reported an ND offer at that time, FWIW. Countess attended a "Premier" showcase that may actually be the "Elite" showcase and, well, you know: ball skills, "top notch" acceleration, "smothered" receivers. Finally, there's a reference to a DFW-esque "New Level Athletic Event" at Rutgers during which he "shut down some of the best talent on the East Coast."
After his senior season Countess was an Army All American and came in for the usual round of scouting that implies, and by now it's just the same: hips on a swivel, physical, ultra-competitive, short. The only variation from the usual is concern about "faster, quicker receivers looking to take him deep"—in the Army setting his recovery speed seemed lacking. Former UNC ball magnet Dre Bly was still proffered as a comparison. On the other hand, a second evaluation says he has "no problem" running with the fastest receivers there and praises him for jumping a slant(!) for an INT. There is the usual stuff about how he's small and light.
All of these camps saw Countess rise in the rankings. In June he was hanging on at the bottom of the Rivals 250; as you can see above he moved up more than 100 spots in the final rankings. The biggest leap came midway through Countess's senior season when Rivals slid him up from 245 to 156:
"Countess showed real physical toughness and a willingness to come up and hit in game action, something we questioned based on his size," Farrell said. "He's as fluid as we thought, very smooth and an all-around terrific cornerback."
Any concerns from the Army appearance didn't appear impact his stock.
The universal chorus on Countess has been established: "prototypical cover corner" who lacks the ability to thump running backs at the LOS a la Marlin Jackson and will make fade routes scary but does everything else.
Why Courtney Avery++? As a recruit Avery was far less hyped but he's had a year to defy those rankings. Those ended up pessimistic because he was more of a quarterback than a defensive back in high school. Last year he showed those proverbial hips on a swivel as he established himself the best of last year's defensive back crop. He's in line to be a three-year starter.
Avery is an inch or two shorter than you'd like but he's not preposterously small a la Boubacar Cissoko. Though willing, he probably needs a year or two to get the strength necessary to tackle collegians. He has a knack for staying close to opposing receivers and playing the ball while it's in the air.
As far as the increment, Countess will enter college with a lot more polish and should press for playing time even without someone's ankle exploding. I think we might have more information on Countess than we do on Avery even after the latter's been on campus a year.
Guru Reliability: Very high. Countess was healthy, attended every camp he could, was an Army AA, and played at one of the most heavily scouted high schools in the country. He's also a cornerback, where athleticism rules all. If they're going to be right about anyone it's Countess.
General Excitement Level: High. There are a couple settings above high—very high and vast, FWIW. Countess seems like as close to a sure thing as you can find: good student, good kid, good player who's had every pore analyzed by a half dozen scouts. He's got a ceiling a 6'0" version of himself wouldn't have; barring injury he seems like he will scrape that ceiling.
Projection: His height will always be a hindrance but if I had to bet he starts for three years and ends up an All Big Ten sort of player. Will not redshirt since he's polished and will probably be better than anyone behind the starters on day one; solid favorite to take over for Woolfolk next year.
My favorite part of these profiles is when we get a YMRMFSPA that helps put them in perspective. But I feel like that feature loses value when the player mentioned is someone so young. I'd rather that player be someone from the past - even if it is slightly beyond recent memory.
In the case of Avery, I think that's a pretty weak comparison. He came in as an athlete who played a variety of positions in high school. Countess was a full-time corner. Avery was a part-time starter thrust into action before he should have been and did okay. We know very little about him, making any comparison shaky.
What about Todd Howard? I can't find old recruiting information on him, but he was an undersized corner who played a LOT during his career. He got burnt more than his share of times but also set records for PBUs. He was always a notch below the elite corners (Law, Woodson, Jackson, Warren) but a reliable starter for a long time.
YMRMFSPA is supposed to be what the kid ends up being if he works out to expectations. Todd Howard was smallish, but not that small -- and he was not all that fluid. I think the recruiting rankings are equal but Howard's not something to aspire to.
If Cissoko had worked out then we'd have our swivel-mite cover corner comparison. FWIW Brian went with Chris Houston as his comparable for Boubi in '08.
However he just might get another inch or two. 17-year-old athletes are usually a bit ahead in the growth spurt department, meaning they're not going to get substantially taller. But we have several examples -- Woolfolk is one -- of CBs who didn't finish growing height-wise until after college.
Anyway there's just very few high-quality DBs in Michigan history who weren't big. The Law-Woodson-Marlin-Hall-Warren line were all about 6'0 to 6'1 coming out of high school.
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I agree with you in the sense that Howard's career isn't something you'd set your goals for given his penchant for getting burnt on big plays. However, he was also a multi-year starter on decent defenses. His biggest problem was that he wasn't good enough to be a #1 corner and thus was an easier target than the guys playing on the other side of him (Jackson & Hall).
If Countess can some in and be a multi-year starter who alternates between being good (lots of PBU and targeted frequently) and being just a touch beneath the NFL-quality corners we hope for - that's not too bad. Maybe a Howard ++ would be better.
I agree that there aren't a lot of choices out there for successful under-sized corner in Michigan history. Cissoko was too small and struggled in his brief stint. Avery has barely played and still has a very unknown projected future. Markus Curry was a better comparison for a fringe starter prospect like the other recruits in this class. I looked through the Bentley archives back to the mid 80's and most of the recognizable names were 6' or taller.
Howard was my age ('98-'01 seasons), thus was opposite Whitley for most of his career. I think he only got to be opposite Marlin after the freshman, No. 20-wearing Jackson won the spot from LeSeuer mid-way through Howard's senior year. Anyway Whitley nominally held the No. 1 corner spot when they were together, except when Plaxico was murdering puppies and the staff threw a sophomore David Terrell out there in desperation.
Arggh -- Future Star of the XFL Whitley. Only Michigan player I can honestly say I always hated.
Markus Curry had some hype, actually. ESPN thought he was the best punt returner in the nation. He, Marlin and Shazor were considered an A+ haul at defensive back, though Curry was probably the low man on there. Brian mentioned he didn't remember Curry with much hype, but I succinctly remember ESPN's last year of recruiting info not being behind a pay-wall and lots of excitement around the Brother of Julius.
Anyway Curry was also true 6'0" -- he was one of the guys who used to come into Cafe ConXion when I "worked" there and he was the same height as me. (Note: Baraka was listed as 6'0" and he was at least an inch or two shorter.)
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(Except I added another year). Howard made a few key plays, but always seemed to go for the big hit or try to make a play on the ball, rather than just make a play, which resulted in the many broken plays. He was smaller, but he was quick. I think his biggest problem was his decision making skills. Morgan Trent seemed to have similar problems of trying to make a big play rather than make the stop.
I agree that I am hoping for much more from Blake who seems like a really smart corner.
"Be excellent to each other and...party on dudes!." -Abraham Lincoln
We brought in a number of corners in this class, but hopefully Countess shores up one spot for a number of years, and all those other guys compete for the other spot. That's gives us a good chance of having two good to very good corners on the field at once.
It also will allow guys like Taylor and Hollowell to redshirt, since we'll probably only sign one CB recruit in the 2012 class.
I could definitely see Avery and Countess across the field from each other next year and the following year. After that it could be Countess and a number of guys, depending on who we pick up this class and next. Avery is going to be a stud, IMO, and I really think it is him and Woolfolk at CB this season. Countess seems to be polished enough to get some backup duty in there along with Floyd. And I agree, with a player like Countess, it allows Taylor, Hollowell, and maybe even Brown to redshirt and get bigger / stronger.
“What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve and those who stay will be champions.” - Bo
Speculating somewhat irresponsibly, it appears to me that his abilities in that area are very good at the HS level, which would make him merely "good" in college.
I don't see breakaway speed or otherworldly moves in those videos ... just a guy that's a few notches above his peers physically. To put it another way, he doesn't look like "Jeremy Gallon, Apopka" in those clips. Gallon is another topic, of course, but he seemed like an appropriate comparison here.
I often forget about the last class due to there already in the fold here and stalking the current high school kids. This is why I love this place during the post Football/Basketball season. As always I hope these kids redshirt for selfish reason and hopefully not needing to throw them out there. BC is my second favorite behind Kellen Jones for 2011.
You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know. And then you get free.
He plays bigger than his size, good motor, not afraid to step up into the run game and drop his shoulder. I agree w/ Brian, this kid's going to be an excellent player for the maize and blue! I cannot wait to see him in action next year!