Top defensive prospects make news at Northside
Northside High School in Warner Robins, Ga., finished the season ranked No. 7 nationally on the ESPN High Elite 25, and it was perhaps the hottest prep program on the recruiting trail this week. On Thursday, we caught up with Eagles head coach Conrad Nix to get the latest recruiting details on two of the nation's top defensive prospects, ESPN 150 Watch List outside linebacker Eric Fields (Warner Robins, Ga./Northside) and fellow Watch List defensive end Abry Jones (Warner Robins, Ga./Northside).
Coach Nix, coming off back-to-back state championships, confirmed that Jones verbally committed to Georgia earlier in the week, and told us the Bulldogs are getting one heck of an in-state defensive lineman.
"Abry has great ability and good range from his defensive end position with his long arms and wingspan," Nix said. "He does not stay blocked for long and is real mobile adjusting to quarterbacks and running backs in space."
Nix, the father of current Miami Hurricanes offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, said he wouldn't be surprised to see Jones work his way into the rotation early at Georgia with the graduation of several top Bulldog defensive linemen upon his arrival. Nix acknowledged his standout end still has some work to do in the trenches to succeed at the next level.
"He still needs to work on his upper and lower body strength for college," Nix said. "Coach Smith, our defensive line coach, has done a good job teaching him how to squeeze the run and play with good angles, but he needs to continue understanding the game and recognizing blocks."
While Bulldogs fans landed Jones this week, Clemson Tiger fans may have to wait a bit for an official verbal from Northside's standout linebacker. Nix indicated that the initial reports this week on Fields' commitment were a bit premature, but Fields was definitely leaning strongly toward the Tigers.
The legendary Georgia prep coach was complementary about his highly coveted linebacker's skills -- as he was with Jones.
"He [Fields] is a high-motor, high-energy kid," Nix said. "I know you guys [Scouts Inc.] see his range, and Eric just has great explosiveness on contact. He has that ability to always stay on his feet and does a great job slipping under blocks."
Nix also gave his insight on what Fields needed to work on to make an impact at the college level.
"Eric needs to get bigger through his upper body; every guy at the college level is going to be bigger and stronger," Nix said. "But he will work at it; he is great in the weight room and excels at all the power exercise."
Nix said he is happy for the recruiting notoriety his two junior standouts are receiving at Northside and has enjoyed coaching them for the past two seasons. Like most veteran coaches, Nix made it clear that his most coveted players still have one more year left to prepare for college and lead their football squad to another title. It won't be easy; every team will once again be gunning for the Eagles next fall.
Junior tight end Jake Golic (West Hartford, Conn./Northwest Catholic) committed to play for Notre Dame this week following in the footsteps of his older brother Mike Jr. (West Hartford, Conn./Northwest Catholic), a talented center and 2008 Irish signee. Both sons will carry on the family tradition started by their father Mike Sr., who currently is an ESPN personality and had a decorated career in South Bend as a defensive lineman. Like his brother, Jake is a bit undersized and he doesn't possess the eye-pooping measurables of a prototypical Division I, tight end prospect. However, he is far from just a token pickup by the Irish.
Jake is similar to Mike Jr. in that they are both good football players and overachievers to a certain degree; they mask their lack of ideal measureables with tough, fundamentally sound play and great determination on the football field.
As a junior, Jake hauled in 21 passes for 410 yards (19.5 average) and two touchdowns for Northwest Catholic high school. The Fighting Irish's first pledge of 2009 took a lot of snaps split off the line in the game films we viewed and showed good hands and receiving skills. Golic has the frame to really bulk up and develop as an in-line blocker; he is a guy who will be able to zone block and seal the edge with his athleticism and aggressiveness. We expect Jake to redshirt as a freshman, which would allow him to gain the necessary bulk and strength to play as a true tight end at the college level. The physical tools are there for him to develop into a quality player college, without the help of the Golic name.
LSU rode the wave of the BCS national title down the stretch signing an impressive class, which was ranked just outside the top 10, in 2008. The Tigers continue to stay hot, having already assembled a great class thus far for next year. The Tigers' 2009 class looks to be filled with its fair share of stars and top-to-bottom quality.
Athlete Russell Shepard (Houston/Cypress Ridge) will likely be one of the top overall players upon the release of the ESPN 150, but it is the nucleus of committed prospects, without the elite blue-chip label, that might be even more impressive. Landing linebacker Kevin Minter (Suwanee, Ga./Peachtree Ridge) this week is an example of the great scouting and recruiting job Les Miles and his staff have done in the early going. They are finding great football players.
Here is a at some of the Tigers' better recruits for 2009:
OLB Kevin Minter: He lacks great height and speed measurables on paper, but Minter is explosive at the point of attack, fast attacking on the perimeter and has the versatility to play all three linebacker positions
CB Janzen Jackson (Lake Charles, La./Barbe): He's the son of a football coach and it shows. He offers great size, range and run support skills from his corner position, and Jackson is arguably one of the better form tacklers in this entire class.
OG Joshua Downs (Bastrop, La.): Downs is an athletic offensive tackle prospect who could be a very good guard at the next level. He is a little short at 6-foot-2, but he moves extremely well and uses all 267 pounds against the opposition.
RB/Ath Drayton Calhoun (Tucker, Ga.): He is not overly flashy and doesn't look like a prototypical running back prospect with his wiry frame, but Calhoun is darn productive and very versatile as an offensive skill player.
RB Michael Ford (Leesville, La.): An injury-plagued junior season might have turned off some programs. But Ford is a strong, decisive cutter and could grow into a workhorse for the in-state Tigers.
QB Chris Garrett (Tupelo, Miss.): One of the better quarterbacks to come out of Mississippi in recent years, there is a very high ceiling for Garrett's development.
DE Michael Brockers (Houston/Cesar E. Chavez): He could get in the mix early as a pass-rusher. Once Brockers fills out his frame, he should develop into a well-rounded, productive end at the college level.
Phillip Fulmer has been under some pressure of late. This week's commitment from ESPN Watch List wide receiver Je'Ron Stokes (Philadelphia/North East), however, has to have Volunteer fans excited. Stokes could be an immediate, much needed vertical threat for Tennessee. With his elite speed, Stokes should be a fine complement to 2008 signee Rod Wilks (Smyrna, Tenn.), a more physical receiver.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level. Tucker has served as a recruiting coordinator for two nationally ranked Division II colleges. Most recently, he was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator for Merrimack College, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Division II playoffs.
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