- Tom Luginbill, RecruitingNation
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What better way to start off ESPN's slate of nationally televised high school games than to feature two of the country's top programs in the James F. Byrnes Rebels of Duncan, S.C. and the Glades Central Raiders of Belle Glade, Fla. This Saturday's match-up at noon on ESPN features a minimum of 11 Division I-A prospects, including two ESPN 150 players -- quarterback Willy Korn, the No. 2-ranked quarterback, and wide receiver Deonte Thompson, the No. 5-ranked wide receiver.
Here's an in depth look at each team's outlook for the 2006 season.
The Raiders return a whopping 19 starters off a team that finished 12-1 in 2005. They are big, fast, athletic and, most importantly, deep. Offensively, Glades will employ a one-back, four-wide set to spread the field and take advantage of their playmakers at the skill positions.
The offense is lead by senior Bryan Mann (6-foot-1, 190 lbs.), who threw for over 2,200 yards, 26 touchdowns and just two interceptions a year ago. He also rushed for 10 touchdowns last season. His senior leadership and decision making will be a key to the Raiders' success on offense.
His weapons are plentiful at wide receiver, with seniors Deonte Thompson and Tarus McKinley garnering much of the attention. Both are big, fast and explosive and capable of changing a game on any given play. Keep an eye on electrifying junior Travis Benjamin to have a big game while Byrnes defenders worry about Thompson and McKinley.
In the backfield, DeAndre Holley is a jack-of-all trades, an Antoine Randal-El-type. However, don't be surprised to see cornerback Damien Berry get some carries as well as the newcomer to the Glades program. He is a fantastic athlete with ideal offensive skills.
Up front is where Glades Central will have an advantage in this match-up. Led by three mammoth seniors in right tackle Ernest McCoy, left tackle Jatavious Jackson and left guard Maurice Bynes, the Glades front five averages 299 lbs. and will be counted on to protect Mann and open some gaping holes in the run game to take time off the clock and keep Byrnes' offense off the field.
This is an offensive unit capable of lighting up the scoreboard, and they may have to in order to keep pace with the high-powered Byrnes attack.
Defensively, this is a very experienced, fast and athletic unit led by a senior-dominated front. Kenneth Fitzpatrick is the leader at nose tackle and should provide ample pass rush and run defense.
However, the Glades secondary, much like the receiving unit, is the deepest and most talented on the team. They're led by possibly the best high school safety tandem in the country in Auburn commit Johnnie Lee Dixon and Miami commit Berry.
All four starters are seniors, including cornerbacks Rashad Jackson and Curtis Cross. They will be tested early and often but should be up to the task of slowing down the Byrnes offensive machine.
Needless to say, the Raiders have the speed and depth to play with anybody and will likely be Byrnes' stiffest test in 2006.
It may shock some to know that the team that has won four consecutive state titles only returns eight starters from last year's squad and just two on offense. However, one of those eight happens to be one of the premier quarterbacks in the nation in Clemson commit Willy Korn.
Korn finished last season with 4,164 yards passing, 53 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He has yet to throw double-digit interceptions in any given season.
The leader of this spread attack is just as good a runner as he is a passer, and the Glades defense should have their hands full with the read-option run game and four- and five-receiver sets. This roster is younger and more inexperienced than years past, so Korn will be counted on heavily to make his fair share of plays and avoid negative ones.
The offense is definitely the strength of this team, and few have proven to keep pace. The wide receivers are young with only one senior, Antonio Snoddy, in the group. Snoddy is the ideal possession guy. However, sophomore Ricco Sanders and junior Randall Hawkins are the playmakers. Brian Suddeth is also a reliable underneath target.
In the backfield, senior running back Dionte Gist is a great one-two punch alongside Korn, and not only can he get the job done on the ground, but he is also a capable receiving threat.
The big boys up front are experienced and expected to keep Korn's jersey clean. All five starters are seniors, including right tackle Chad Diehl. When it's all said and done, if Byrnes' offensive front can maintain balance and provide Korn with enough time to dink and dunk in the passing game, expect the usual fireworks.
Defensively, the strength is up front with bookend defensive stalwarts Jamison Watson and Stanley Hunter at defensive end. Both are seniors, and Hunter, another Clemson commit, is the best pass rusher of the group. Expect Junior Everett Dawkins to be a significant presence at tackle.
Within the front seven, linebacker Chad Diehl is the most physical player in the group and will set the tone early on. It is imperative that the Rebels get pressure on the Glades offense, or it could be bombs away against the Byrnes secondary.
The defensive backs may be the most mismatched unit in the game when it comes to covering Glades' speedy wide outs. Seniors T.J. Jones and Dennis Rector lead the way. Expect to see quite a bit of cover two being played to minimize one-on-one match-ups and prevent big plays downfield.
Byrnes defensive line vs. Glades offensive front
Can the Byrnes front seven get enough pressure on Bryan Mann to protect their out-manned secondary?
Glades Central wide receivers vs. Byrnes secondary
The edge has to go to Glades as few defensive perimeter units in the country could stop Deonte Thompson, Tarus McKinley and Travis Benjamin.
Byrnes head coach Bobby Bentley has more experience in big games and has produced a juggernaut over the last five years. They will be expected to win in a hostile home environment that will attract a crowd of over 10,000 fans.
However, Glades head coach Willie Snead and his crew get to play the underdog role, and when playing an early season game like this, all the pressure has got to be on Byrnes. Expect the Glades coaches and players to role into town with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.
For the first time in four years, Byrnes is playing an opponent in Glades Central that can match up with them with speed, athleticism and depth. The humidity is sure to be at its peak, but neither team will have an advantage since they both routinely practice in the hot climate. This game will come down to whether or not Byrnes can handle Glades Central's team speed.
Byrnes is the popular choice and rightfully so, but they will be tested. As usual, this game will come down to turnovers and possibly a big play in the kicking game, particularly if the game is tight.
Byrnes has the home field advantage, but the pride of Belle Glade will travel 2,000 to 3,000 fans, friends, family and alumni up to South Carolina to support their squad.
If you subscribe to the hype Byrnes has received on a national scale, Byrnes should win the game, but stranger things have happened.
Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts, Inc. Tom is a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.
Scouts Inc.'s Tom Luginbill previews the Byrnes (S.C.) vs Glades Central (Fla.) game airing Saturday at noon on ESPN.