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October 18, 2007

Rivals.com's staff of recruiting analysts offer thoughts on things they learned while on the road scouting some of the nations top prospects in this week's edition of From the Road. Here is a closer look at some of the sights, storylines and recruiting scoop from the big weekend in high school football.

From the Road Gallery

Mike Farrell, Rivals.com Recruiting Analyst
Controlling the line: Five-star offensive tackle Lucas Nix from Jefferson Hills (Pa.) Thomas Jefferson led his team to a 35-14 victory over Washington (Pa.) Trinity Senior, a team led by four-star linebackers Mike Yancich and Andrew Sweat last Thursday night.

The game was tied at 14 at halftime until Jefferson came out in the second half and ran the ball 27 straight times, mostly behind Nix. Nix dominated the line of scrimmage, often getting to the second level and he and his fellow linemates simply wore down their opponent.

Nix proved to be the real deal not only on offense but on defense as well. He has impressive size and moves well for a big man. On defense, he gets down the line of scrimmage well and pursues plays. He needs to keep his feet more often and not get tangled up in traffic as much, but his future is on offense anyhow.

On offense, Nix gets off the ball well, uses his hands to lock up defenders and uses his size and agility to drive block. He didn't pull often as it was mainly smash-mouth football, but when he did he showed good mobility. And he consistently got to the second level.

Big Ten 'backers: For Trinity Senior, Yancich was the more impressive of the two linebackers. He has a longer frame, longer arms and has better pursuit speed. Yancich avoids blockers well and keeps his feet although he can be swallowed by bigger blockers at times. He has fluid hips and drops into coverage well.

Sweat was a little more stocky than expected as he doesn't have a long frame or long arms. He's a physical player and good at the point of attack and takes good angles, but he's not as fast as Yancich sideline to sideline. Sweat looks like a pure inside linebacker while Yancich could play either outside or inside.

Both linebackers also play running back on offense but neither has a future on offense at the next level. Sweat is built more like a fullback and is a more physical runner while Yancich has lighter feet and is more elusive but can get tripped up more easily.

Junior to watch: Jefferson has top 2009 prospect Brock DeCicco who has a great frame. He's a legit 6-foot-4 and looks about 215 pounds. He plays tight end and defensive end and could have a future at either. He didn't make a big impact in the game overall, especially once Jefferson started running the ball every play, but he moves well and looks the part. He's one to watch.

Barry Every, Rivals.com Recruiting Analyst
South Florida commit stuffs the run: LaGrange (Ga.) Troup County star defensive lineman Corey Grissom spent most of the game trying to make up for his offense's ineffectiveness in the Tigers' 10-6 defeat to Harris County. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound lineman was a run-stopping machine, recording 13 tackles and five tackles for loss. The South Florida commit has great lateral movement and his motor carries over from play to play.

Also helping stuff the Harris County running game was junior Tay Irvin. At 6 feet and 320 pounds, Irvin has a powerful first step which allowed him to get into the backfield and amass 17 tackles and four TFLs. Another defensive stalwart was senior linebacker Robtavious James, who started the game off with three consecutive tackles and finished with eight solos and six assisted tackles. Though James may be a little undersized at 5 feet 11, 185, he was by far the fastest player on the Tigers defense.

Offensively there was one super standout in junior offensive tackle Chris Burnette. Burnette is approximately 6 feet 4, 295 and moves like a dancing bear, running down field picking off linebackers one by one. Burnette also sports a 1300 on the SAT and that will truly help him become a nationally coveted recruit.

Houdini Shaw lights it up: Gainesville, Ga., was the sight of an offensive explosion. The visiting Flowery Branch Falcons lead by senior quarterback Jaybo Shaw came from behind to beat the Red Elephants of Gainesville 49-38.

The first half was all Gainesville. The Red Elephants jumped out to a 28-14 first-half lead paced by the receiving tandem of Tyler Adetona and Gerald Ford. The 6-foot-2 1/2, 205-pound Ford ended the game with 12 catches for 141 yards and one touchdown. Adetona would not be outdone by his teammate, as he finished with seven catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns.

The second half was all Flowery Branch, as Shaw ran for 230 yards and four touchdowns while passing for 170 yards and a touchdown. I nicknamed the Middle Tennessee State commit "Houdini" because of his ability to get out of the backfield when it looked impossible.

Shaw was able to shake off mistakes from the first half to help Flower Branch turn things around.

"You can't let things bother you. I've learned to have a short term memory," Shaw said.

Jaybo would not be the only Shaw to do his part in the comeback. His brother, sophomore Connor Shaw shined in every facet of the game. Connor finished with 35 yards rushing, 15 yards receiving, one touchdown pass on a statute of liberty play, one fumble recovery, three tackles and a 24-yard punt return. Connor displayed great acceleration going from stopped to full speed in a very short time. After the game, I asked him what team he grew up following and he just did the Gator chomp with his arms.

Other players to keep an eye on are junior Josh Jackson, a 6-3, 255-pound defensive lineman for Gainesville, who has the frame to play strongside defensive end or defensive tackle at the next level. For Flowery Branch, Izaan Cross, a 6-4, 255-pound defensive lineman/H-back finished the game with six tackles, one TFL, and two quarterback hurries.

Unheralded stars carry Cedar Grove to victory: In a Saturday afternoon matinee in Atlanta, it was a pair of unheralded skilled players that bailed the Cedar Grove of Ellenwood, Ga., out in its 20-17 come-from-behind victory over St. Pius X of Atlanta.

St. Pius X built a 10-6 halftime lead behind the strong running of sophomore fullback Cole Moon, who finished the game with 128 yards rushing and one touchdown.

The 6-foot-3, 195- pound back was hard to tackle, as he plunged up the middle of the Cedar Grove defense. Also starring for the Golden Lions was senior kicker/punter Chris Philpott who added a 39-yard field goal and several long touchbacks, one as deep as three yards past the end line. Philpott's kickoffs had great height, and his first punt went for 52 yards.

Everyone knows the senior dynamic duo of athlete Xavier Avery (Georgia commit), and wide receiver Joshua Jarboe. They both played a part in the comeback with Avery coming up from his safety position to make several stops, and Jarboe catching a key two-point conversion.

But it was junior tailback William Pratcher, and senior wide out Harold Turner doing most of the offensive damage. The 5-9, 185-pound Pratcher showed great speed once he hit the open field on his way to a 130-yard, two touchdown performance. Turner though slight in stature at 5-8, 165, was the go-to guy on third down and long. He had a knack for catching the ball in traffic, and turning short passes into long gains.

Turner has apparently been a big help to one of his high-profile teammates as well.

"Turner is my guy, he has taught me everything I know about playing receiver," Jarboe said after the game.

Jeremy Crabtree, Recruiting Rivals.com Recruiting Editor
St. Louis stars: Somebody needs to offer a scholarship to Rayon Simmons.

The 5-foot-8, 192-pound all-purpose running back from St. Louis Christian Brothers College High continued to shred defenses this season with a big game against rival St. Louis University High School this past Friday night. Simmons rushed for 238 yards and scored three touchdowns. For the most part he got the better of the matchup between close friend and star 2009 running back Ronnie Wingo. Simmons scored on rushes of four, 15 and 19 yards and his combination of tough running and low center of gravity made him almost impossible to tackle.

Simmons gobbled up yards all night long, but that's nothing new for him. He's scored 16 touchdowns on the ground this season and he's already racked up 1,578 yards. Every time Simons has touched the ball this season, he's averaged 10.2 yards. And when he was done Friday night, he was able to get bragging rights in a rivalry game that's been played for more than 80 years.

What's amazing about Simmons is that nobody really is even recruiting him.

He proved on Friday night that he's definitely a Division I prospect, but the only looks he's currently getting are semi-regular attention from schools like Miami University, Northern Iowa and Northern Illinois. He said Kansas and Akron have recently inquired about him. Somebody needs to offer him a scholarship, because he could definitely be a serviceable player on special teams or used as a third-down feature back.

He has this certain toughness and knack for making big plays that's tough to measure with his height or his 40-yard dash.

"It is kind of frustrating to not have anybody recruiting me," Simmons said. "But I can't really control all of that. All I can control is what I do out there on the football field. I'm going to keep working hard and doing everything I can on the field to impress somebody. I'm hoping somebody will come through and offer me a scholarship, but all I can do now is help my team keep working hard to get to the playoffs.

"We've won three in a row now, and we've got districts coming up. This is when you have to step up."

Speaking of stepping up, that's exactly what Wingo did on the game's first play.

The 6-foot-2, 206-pound running back took the first play from scrimmage 80-yards for a touchdown. He bolted through the line on the left hand side on a simple dive play and before the linebackers or safeties could even get near him he was gone untouched for the score.

There's no question that Wingo is one of the fastest players in St. Louis and that touchdown run was a perfect example. When he was a freshman he won the AAU Junior Olympics national championship in the 200 meters, and he's been clocked as fast as 10.78 seconds in the 100 meters.

"Ronnie's a can't miss guy," SLUH's 19-year coaching veteran Gary Kornfeld said.

"I've been around coaching for 30 years now, and I'm shooting you straight. This kid is about as big time as they come. If he's not somebody's No. 1 running back, then he'll be somebody's best cover corner. He's spending some time there at cornerback in spot situations for us, but he's too good to not keep giving him the ball on offense. I know Ron Zook at Illinois was impressed with him when he was up there, and they offered him on the spot. He's about as big of a can't miss guy that we've had around here in a long time."

He made a lot of tacklers miss on Friday night.

While he didn't get the best of his matchup against Simmons, Wingo still put up 179 yards on 22 carries for an 8.1 yard average.

On the season, he's lugged the ball 185 times for 1,126 yards and 6.1 yards a carry. SLUH isn't the most physically impressive team up front, so those numbers are especially impressive when you consider that.

Wingo is definitely a tall, long-strider that has home-run ability on almost every play. He was especially deadly on toss sweeps where he could bolt by defenders with his speed and gait. But he also exhibited a real sense of toughness that comes from running up the gut a lot on simple dive plays.

It's not far to compare anybody to Adrian Peterson, because he was the nation's No. 1 player coming out of high school and is a star already as a rookie in the NFL, but Wingo's build is eerily similar to when Peterson was a junior in high school. And the way that SLUH used Wingo in a single-back set was just like how Palestine used Peterson in high school and how Oklahoma used him throughout his three years there.

"You might catch him one game when it seems like he had an off night," Kornfeld said. "But when the game is over, you look at the numbers and he's still put up 150 on you. I have no doubt he'll be one of the most heavily recruited players in St. Louis next year."

Another 2009 back to watch: St. Louis is also home to another big-time prospect at running back in the junior class.

Wentzville (Mo.) Timberland star Montee Ball has been shredding defenses this season and has put himself on the map with college coaches that regularly recruit St. Louis.

The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder was at the Columbia NIKE Training Camp earlier this spring and was solid there, and he's put up some sick numbers so far this fall.

In a 34-27 overtime loss to Washington on Friday night, Ball rushed for 260 yards on 32 rushes for an average of 8.1 yards a carry. He got into the end zone on runs of 17, 65 and 1-yard. On the year he's already near the 2,000 yard mark with 1,775 yards and 18 scores.

"I don't know if he's as fast as the kid at SLUH, but few are," Timberland coach Craig Collins said.

"But Montee is a tough runner that really gets the job done for us. We know we can count on him to always pick up positive yards, and he can turn any play into a touchdown if you give him the slightest chance."

Early pledge: St. Louis Gateway tight end Sheldon Richardson ended the recruiting process before it really could even get started with a commitment to Mizzou on June 12. The 6-foot-4, 281-pounder has had a good season so far, according to his coach, Melvin Walls.

"He did get in a little trouble last week and got kicked out of the game and he had to miss (last Friday's) game," Walls said. "But that doesn't take away what he's done on the field for us. He's such a big factor in everything we do. When we need a big catch, Sheldon's the man. When we need a big play on defense, he does it too."

Walls said Richardson is a solid Mizzou pledge but that hasn't stopped others from sending plenty of mail and from calling him to ask about his prize recruit.

"As you can see," Walls said pointing to a pile of letters for Richardson, "other teams aren't going to stop sending him mail and trying to recruit him. He's just that good."

Walls also said he's got a freshman running back Anthony Pierson (5-11, 170) that could be the next big thing in St. Louis.

"You need to write his name down," Walls said. "He'll be somebody that'll be nationally recruited."

Barton Simmons, Rivals.com Recruiting Analyst
Battle in the Bluegrass: Fresh off of receiving a fourth star and being included in the latest edition of the Rivals250, Aaron Boyd and his Henry Clay team took the field in Lexington, Ky., against Bryan Station. The game didn't provide much suspense but it did provide a good look at some of the Bluegrass state's more talked about recruits.

On the night, Boyd was clearly on a different level than his peers. He is tall at 6 feet 4 and he is a thick, physically imposing receiver. He caught the ball well with his hands and uses his big frame well. He took one of his five first-half catches for a 30-yard score off a dig route.

Due to the level of competition, Boyd seemed to be on cruise control for most of the 35-7 win. He played both sides of the ball, cornerback on defense, but was never really tested on the defensive end.

The only question mark in Boyd's game on the night was that despite his size, he didn't play very physical on the perimeter as a blocker. He also had a tendency to go through the motions on plays away from him, but the lack of competition and the two-way duties may have played a role in that.

On the opposite sideline, Bryan Station featured two two-star recruits in Terrell Combs and Minnesota commit D.L. Wilhite. Both players are big athletes that are likely defenders on the next level.

Wilhite is a 6-4, 235-pound running back who didn't get many opportunities to get to the second level against Henry Clay's defense. In Bryan Station's offense, Wilhite is a big back who can be tough to tackle with one defender. At the next level, he projects more as a fullback or possibly a strongside defensive end. Wilhite ran the ball hard but never showed the speed to break free against a stingy Blue Devil defense.

Bryan Station's second big athlete, Combs, struggled as well. Combs is quite a sight, standing 6-2, 250 playing flanker and free safety. He is athletic for a player his size but his playing weight should probably be closer to 220 pounds if he projects as a safety in college. He is clearly a strong kid but his strength goes to waste at times because of his reluctance to get involved in contact. On the night, Combs was never much of a factor on either side of the ball despite some creative attempts to get him the ball on offense and numerous passes and runs to the second and third level on defense.

Small school star? The catalyst for the majority of Henry Clay's offense on the night was quarterback Ryan Phillippi. At only around 5-10 and with a slight frame, Phillippi may struggle at quarterback at the next level but he did show plenty of playmaking ability and some quick feet outside of the pocket. His quickness and athleticism could make him a quality cornerback or slot receiver at a Div. I-AA type school.

From the Road Gallery

Previous From the Road: Sept. 6 | Sept. 13 | Sept. 20 | Sept. 27 | Oct. 4 | Oct. 11

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