- Jamie Newberg, RecruitingNation
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As a sophomore at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, N.C., D.J. Humphries was given a simple choice from coach Michael Palmieri.
Humphries carefully considered his options, then chose wisely.
"Coach said I could start on the JV at defensive end or start as an offensive tackle on the varsity," Humphries said. "That was a pretty easy decision for me. Of course I wanted to be on the varsity."
Over the course of the next two years Humphries has turned himself into one of the most sought-after prospects in the Class of 2012. In fact, this 6-foot-6, 270-pound recruit is the nation's top offensive tackle and No. 7 overall in the ESPNU 150.
"D.J.'s skills are unbelievable," Palmieri said. "He has leadership and a great work ethic. D.J. has been a big-time player for two years and this is now his third year in the program. He's a real physical player with speed for a big man. He really moves well for his size. D.J. has basketball ability on the football field."
For Humphries, he just needed some early confidence playing the position. It was an easier transition than he realized, and now he's working hard to make it a career at left tackle.
"I have been playing offensive tackle since my sophomore year so it hasn't been that long," Humphries said. "Once I figured out I could be good I have really enjoyed playing the position. I have to be the best. No one will be better than me. I have that attitude that I will take you down. I have to have that mentality. I am hoping that this is just the beginning."
Humphries has made gigantic strides as an OT. He obviously credits his head coach. But there's someone else out there who has played a very important role in his development.
"Of course my coach has been unbelievable with me," Humphries said. "Mo Collins is my trainer and I have learned a lot from him. He has taught me the ins and outs of the position. Mo is from my area. I met him through a teammate that trains with him. He convinced me to start working out with them. It's been about a year. Our bond is ridiculous. That's when I started really playing. I look back at the film of when I started playing and just laugh."
Collins knows a thing or two about playing on the offensive line. He's from West Charlotte High School and was a starter for the University of Florida's 1996 national championship team. Collins then moved on to the NFL, where he was a first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders and a starter for the better part of his six seasons there before knee injuries forced him to retire. Now he trains offensive linemen in the Charlotte area, and one of his star pupils is Humphries.
"D.J. has great feet," Collins said. "He's a former basketball player and you can just see that in how fluid he moves. And he runs so well. For D.J., it's a matter of keeping his foundation or base and maintaining leverage. He just needs to keep working on his hip flexibility and strength. He's big but lean and just needs to bulk up."
Collins has been impressed with how Humphries carries himself off the field. He also loves his work ethic and willingness to be a sponge and soak up the position. Collins believes Humphries has everything it takes to become an elite player one day.
"The sky is the limit for D.J.," Collins said. "He's such a hard worker and really wants to learn. He's also a very humble kid. You would never know he's one of the top-ranked prospects. Never. D.J. works like he is an unknown. There's no telling just how good he can become. He's your prototype left tackle. No doubt about it. None."
It's shocking to realize Humphries has played the position for only two seasons. In that time, he has shown so much progress.
"D.J. has been good and he has gotten a lot better over the last two years," Palmieri said. "I expect big things this fall. He has not given up a sack in two years. He's just a very good player and a good kid that just keeps getting better and better."
It's not a job to Humphries. Working hard every day to improve his craft is fun. You can hear it in his voice. He's excited, motivated and determined.
"I am light years ahead of last year and a different player," Humphries said. "I have a different stance and play so much better. I am jumping rope, doing ladders and really working on my footwork.
"This offseason has been great. I am also working on my strength and technique. I want to perfect the craft and be an all-around offensive tackle. I need to learn the mental stuff and everything else on the field. It's a lot of things."
While continuing his training, Humphries is also smack dab in the middle of the recruiting process. Being a five-star recruit at arguably the second-most sought-after position, he has lost count of his scholarship offers. Really.
"I stopped counting at 46," Humphries said. "I never thought it would be like this. It was a dream of playing college football and of course the NFL, but not like this."
Despite the attention, Humphries remains the same person he was before the hype began.
"I know this process can change people, but it hasn't with him," Palmieri said. "He's been humble and smart with it. He doesn't let it get to him. He has not changed. He does not believe he's big or better than anyone and, at his age, and that takes a lot of maturity.
"In the locker room D.J. is a fantastic leader. He's the first one on the field and the last one off. He has a great personality and is a real people person who gets along with everyone -- the entire staff and student body here at the school."
At least Humphries has narrowed his field.
"I am down to three or four schools," Humphries said. "I like South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Auburn. I have been to all four schools. I will do a lot of praying and stay in contact with the coaches. I pick their brains and am constantly getting time with those guys. I have to figure out the coaches. I also need to spend time in town with the players and coaches to get to know them better.
"I have set up one official visit so far and that's when Alabama plays at Florida [Oct. 1]. I am excited about taking my official visits. That's why I haven't committed yet. I would like to make all of my visits."
Humphries knows exactly what he's looking for. He just needs to figure it all out.
"The main thing for me is that I feel at home," Humphries said. "After I graduate I may want to live there. I want to pick a place where the town feels like home. I want to pick a program with a welcoming staff and a coaching staff that has stability. I want to play at a school with tradition and with a great playing style that will highlight and development my talents."
Humphries' talent almost went untapped because he wanted to play on the other side of the ball. Good thing he made the right choice.
"Before I didn't think it would be cool playing on the offensive line," Humphries admitted. "I'm loving it now. And if you're good, one day you can make a lot of money in the league."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.