Commentary

Skill-position talent shines in Steel City

Originally Published: March 1, 2009
By Bill Conley | Scouts Inc.

More than 700 athletes took to the turf Saturday at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex in Pittsburgh. Football players -- primarily from Pennsylvania and neighboring Ohio -- traveled to "Steel Town" to display their talents. A number of defensive backs, corners and wide receivers put up the numbers on the physical tests that coaches like to see. This is another step high school athletes must take to prove they have the speed, change-of-direction and leaping ability, and power to go along with their position-specific football skills to play at the next level.

Junior Standouts

Cullen Christian, CB, Junior, Pittsburgh/Penn Hills

After watching this athletic defensive back run, change direction and jump, it's easy to see why he has more than 10 offers as a junior. Christian is being courted by schools such as Michigan, Pitt, West Virginia, Maryland and Illinois. His shuttle and 40-yard-dash times were very solid Saturday in Pittsburgh, but the real eye-opener was his vertical jump. Christian leaped just under 40 inches, with a 39.4. Look for him to be one of the top corners in the state going into his senior campaign. Last season he had 35 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a number of passes broken up. Look for those numbers to get even better.

Brendon Felder, ATH, Junior, Monroeville, Pa./Gateway

Felder is a man on the move in more than one way. This highly touted athlete -- he can play running back, wide receiver and corner -- made the big move from Boston's St. John's Prep to Pennsylvania powerhouse Gateway High. Felder's speed and quickness were on display Saturday; he had a 4.52 40, an impressive 4.0 shuttle and a solid 33.6 vertical jump. His overall SPARQ score topped the magic 100-point mark to prove he has the physical qualities that matches his performance on the field. Schools such as Maryland, UConn and Boston College are showing the most interest in this talented athlete, but in-state schools Penn State and Pittsburgh also have Felder on their radar. Look for his stock to keep going up if he keeps impressing at future camps.

Doran Grant, CB, Sophomore, Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary

Although he wasn't the biggest defensive back at the combine in Pittsburgh, he was one of the most impressive, with an overall SPARQ score of 109.17 and a vertical leap of 40 inches. This two-sport athlete at St. Vincent is hearing from colleges coast to coast, including UCLA, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Virginia. Grant was a productive cornerback this fall, with three interceptions, two of which he brought back for touchdowns, along with a fumble recovery that was also scooped up and returned for six points. Grant's solid shuttle time of 4.07 seconds is proof of his quickness, which helped him block five kicks on special teams last season.

Kenny Wilkins, DE/OLB, Junior, Washington, Pa./Trinity

Wilkins was one of the most striking big men at the Pittsburgh combine. This 6-3, 220-pound defender ran a solid 4.7 40. He had a very good day and was physically one of the most impressive-looking athletes at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex. Wilkins already has picked up offers from Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Boston College and North Carolina State. He will be making the rounds this spring on several other campuses for spring games. The sleeper school may be Ohio State, where his former high school teammates Andrew Sweat and Andrew Miller play. Wilkins is a very good defensive player who definitely passes the "eyeball" test.

Physically Impressive

P.J. Jones, QB, Junior, McKees Rocks, Pa./Sto-Rox

No one looked better on the hoof than this 6-3, 218-pound gunslinger. Although his physical testing numbers weren't exceptional, they were solid. It's easy to understand why Penn State is excited about his early verbal commitment. Jones tallied 24 touchdowns via the airways and added seven more rushing last season as Sto-Rox's spread quarterback.

Brandon Ifill, WR/CB, Junior, Pittsburgh/Penn Hills Ifill is a tall, impressive athlete who has already picked up more than half a dozen college offers. He racked up 42 receptions for more than 400 yards and had 30 tackles on defense as a corner. He was impressive with his change of direction and overall athletic ability Saturday. Look for him to stand out at the training camps and camps this spring and summer.

Young Guns

Matthew Green, RB/S, Sophomore, Belle Vernon, Pa. Green is indeed one of the super sophs for the Belle Vernon Leopards. He tallied some very impressive numbers Saturday, especially his 4.55 and 4.39 40-yard dashes. The football and track standout at Belle Vernon recorded better than 34 inches in the vertical; he is a long and high jumper as well as a sub-11-second 100-meter sprinter for his high school. He is a solid 5-11, 180-pound running back and defensive back who proves he has the speed and athleticism to excel on the gridiron this fall.

Dashaun Lewis, RB, Freshman, Cambridge, Ohio

This sophomore-to-be played some varsity running back as a freshman for Cambridge High School in eastern Ohio. He has very good speed and recorded a 4.56 40 on Saturday. What's even more special is the fact that he already weighs 200 pounds and is 6-2. Lewis is a physically mature athlete who has a bright future. He is a three-sport athlete for Cambridge -- he runs track and also is a center in basketball. His power ball throw of 34 feet proves that he has very good strength for his age. His overall SPARQ score of 92.97 is exceptional for a freshman.