My latest foray into the world of high school football took me deep into the heart of Buckeye country to see the cross-town rivalry between Pickerington North and Pickerington Central. Before I get into the game recap and scouting, a few words on the atmosphere: this was the most enjoyable experience I've had at a high school game, and it isn't particularly close.
It started at the church next to the football stadium, where I got paid a dollar to park. The stands at Central were packed on both sides well before kickoff, everyone decked out in their school colors. The game ball was flown in via skydiver (seriously—I have photographic proof). It was louder than a lot of college venues. Best of all, despite this being a heated rivalry, the fans were civil—there was trash talk, to be sure, but nothing that went beyond that. At one point, the Central mascot walked up to me on the sideline and asked if I was enjoying the game.
The game itself wasn't the expected tight contest, as North—0-5 to that point against Central, including a playoff loss—broke it open in the second half and ran away with a 37-0 victory. It was a very emotional experience for both Michigan commits. North's Jake Butt embraced teammate and Northwestern commit Godwin Igwebuike in the waning minutes, triumphant in a long-awaited victory. On the opposite sideline, Central's Taco Charlton sat alone, head buried in his hands, barely acknowledging those that came up to console him.
This is how rivalry games should be, and it was a pleasure to be there to witness it.
[Video, photos, and scouting report after THE JUMP.]
Soundtrack: "Melting Pot" — Booker T. & The M.G.'s
North TE/DE Jake Butt (2013 commit): Butt finished the game with nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown; he also contributed a critical fourth-down sack and a handful of tackles from his defensive end spot. North moved him around a fair amount on offense, lining him up out wide, in the slot, and down on the line, and he looked comfortable running routes from each spot. While he's not a freak athlete, he's got more than enough speed and acceleration to get off the line, and he's a matchup problem for linebackers and defensive backs alike—too quick for the former, too big for the latter.
Butt did a great job of snatching the ball away from his body and caught everything thrown his way. While he could be a little sharper out of his breaks, he runs crisp routes and positions his body well to give his quarterback a big target while warding off the defender. He was able to find space up the seam on multiple occasions but was also comfortable working on the perimeter, at one point catching back-to-back out routes when Central cheated to the inside in coverage. He's not going to juke past too many defenders after the catch, but he usually finds a way to fall forward for extra yardage.
As impressed as I was with Butt as a receiver, I was equally so with his blocking. He uses his hands well to get into a defender and knock him off the ball, and he's quick to get to the second level. At the 1:48 mark of the highlight video, you can see him chip Charlton on a combo block, then smoothly transition to burying a defensive back on the edge. On the very next clip, he knocks a defensive end three yards off the ball before finishing with a pancake. He did draw a holding call when blocking downfield (2:27 mark), but I didn't agree with the call from my vantage point.
Michigan's recent tight end recruits are players best suited for either playing on the line (A.J. Williams) or as an H-back (Devin Funchess, Khalid Hill); after seeing him last weekend, I'm convinced the Wolverines found a very complete tight end in Butt.
North RB Godwin Igwebuike (2013 Northwestern commit): I was focused mostly on Butt and Charlton when North had the ball, but I can't do this writeup without commenting on Igwebuike. While he didn't have his usual big numbers—he came into the game averaging over 14(!) yards per carry—with Central keying on him heavily, he looked quite impressive, especially on a 32-yard touchdown on a screen pass. He's got a solid build, impressive agility, and the ability to make an impact as both a runner and receiver. Igwebuike seems like a perfect fit for Northwestern's offense; he's a guy I expect to be a thorn in the Big Ten's collective side down the road.
Central DE Taco Charlton (2013 commit): The first thing that stood out about Charlton is his size—not only does he tower over his teammates, he's very stout in his lower body and looks like he could easily play at 260-270 pounds in the future. Despite the added bulk compared to last year, he moves very well, both with his straight-line speed and agility in tight quarters.
Despite having a reputation as a pass-rush specialist, Charlton was instrumental in limiting Igwebuike on the ground, finishing with ten tackles and 1.5 sacks. He was largely tasked with keeping contain, and I don't recall a single instance where a running play got outside of him if it went to his side. While he sometimes allows offensive linemen to get their hands into his chest off the snap, he did a solid job of engaging and using his hands to shed blocks. He played a very disciplined game against the run, showed off a very high motor—especially impressive since he also moonlighted at tight end and on special teams—and always seemed to end up around the football.
As a pass-rusher, Charlton showed off more of a power game than what I've seen from him on camp film, getting his hands inside the blocker and bull-rushing to great effect. He still has that impressive speed around the edge and got pressure on a couple of speed-rushes, but for the most part he went right at his blocker—likely due to his contain responsibilities against the run.
Overall, I was very impressed with Charlton as an all-around end, which I didn't expect given that he's known almost entirely for rushing the passer. He played a very intelligent game and sacrificed his personal stats—at least sack-wise—to make sure he helped limit North's vaunted rushing attack.
Both Butt and Charlton were clearly the leaders of their team, as well—Taco got involved not just with the defensive huddle (at one point I overheard him barking out instructions to his defensive backs), but also the offense and special teams. His competitive drive and passion for the game were apparent as well; he took the loss hard, quite understandably in a rivalry game in which he played his tail off. Though Charlton did blow off interviews after the game, I'd much rather see that from a high school kid than a player who doesn't seem affected by a crushing loss.
Mostly shots of the pre-game festivities, plus the touching bro-hug between Butt and Igwebuike and Charlton's Agony of Defeat series, since I was mostly focused on filming video during the actual game.
Other Games From The Weekend
A huge thanks to users ehatch and brendandavis22 for going out and scouting games this weekend. There's an extensive diary from ehatch on 2013 OL commit Chris Fox, while brendandavis22 posted a quick forum topic and accompanying video on Csont'e York.
One thing I must ask is that readers of the blog do NOT present themselves as representing MGoBlog, and please do not interview recruits after the game—there's too great a likelihood of committing a recruiting violation, so please refrain from interviewing commits and other prospects.
The plan is to check out 2014 DE Malik McDowell for the first time as Detroit Loyola takes on Our Lady of the Lakes at U-D Jesuit on Friday night.