In a matchup that will measure the progress of two young prospects, Chicago Catholic League powers Brother Rice and Mount Carmel will clash on Chicago's near south side Friday Night.
Brother Rice junior Ricky Smalling has been making big play after big play for the Crusaders this year, but he may face one of his toughest matchups of the year on Friday when Mount Carmel and 2018 defensive back Houston Griffith match up against Smalling and the Crusaders.
Brother Rice enters the game with a 4-1 record, with the Crusaders' lone blemish coming at the hands of defensive stalwart Loyola Academy in week 3. Mount Carmel is a perfect 5-0 on the season, holding their opponents to an average of 5.6 points per game, including three shutouts against Morgan Park, Providence Catholic, and De La Salle, respectively.
Other than a week 9 matchup against Loyola, this may be Mount Carmel's last true test of the season. The same may be true for Brother Rice, whose other three remaining opponents have a combined three wins on the year.
Let's take a closer look at the matchup between Smalling and Griffith as well as some other key players for the Crusaders and Caravan.
Brother Rice At a Glance...
After the departure of Marcus Jones to NIU, Brother Rice has adjusted well to their personnel now and have gone from a run-centric offense to a run-and-gun uptempo system that can hang points on the board.
The key playmaker for the Crusaders is 2017 receiver Ricky Smalling (highlights at top).
Smalling is an explosive receiver who can not only make home-run plays, but also run crisp and precise routes and boasts great hands. He is a freaky athlete who has good speed and consistently gets open because of his route-running ability. He is physical in his battles and rarely gets bullied around.
2016 RB Clifton Taylor:
One prospect who has had a solid season establishing the run is senior running back Clifton Taylor. Taylor is a compact but solid back who is tough to bring down on first contact. He isn't a burner, but can make big plays when he gets behind the defense. It will be critical for Taylor to get going to keep double coverage off of Smalling and the other Brother Rice receivers.
Mount Carmel At a Glance...
The Caravan have been trucking through the first half of their season, and have a pretty good chance of getting to their regular season finale with an 8-0 mark. Three of the key players who have Mt. Carmel at 5-0 thus far are senior QB and NIU commit Anthony Thompson, sophomore WR/CB Houston Griffith, and senior WR/LS Steven Wirtel, who holds offers from Illinois, Georgia, Auburn, Wisconsin, and Kansas.
Just as most Mount Carmel quarterbacks in the past have been, Thompson is the key offensive cog in the Caravan's triple option system. His size, ability, and college commitment follow quite well in the footsteps of former Caravan and NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch. Johnson will need to make sound reads and decisions against an aggressive Brother Rice defense.
2018 defensive back Houston Griffith is one of the best pure athletes on the field, and has added substantial strength since his freshman year. At 6'2, 190 pounds, Griffith could find himself matched up often against Smalling, and it would be a physical battle worth watching all game.
It's not often that a long snapper is listed as an impact player, but senior Steven Wirtel's offer list warrants him being in the discussion. Listed on Mt. Carmel's roster as a 6'4", 205 pound receiver, Wirtel is one of the top long snappers in the country. His long snapping may not make a huge difference in this game, but at the next level, a quality long snapper goes greatly unappreciated.