• Stats: A starter since his freshman season, Pryts had 62 solo tackles and three interceptions as a junior for the Hornets of Hickory High School. He also totaled 1,084 all-purpose yards while scoring 13 touchdowns and averaging 14.4 yards per punt return.
• Assets: An explosive, physically-mature safety with the size, strength and explosiveness to play in the box. Plays with an enforcer-like mentality with the physical strength of a young man beyond his years. A sledgehammer tackler whose strength allows him to win virtually every mano y mano scenario that arises on the prep level. Has an explosive nature before contact, pile-driving receivers after the completion.
Excellent body control, whether he’s high-pointing a pass or flying up to support the run. Outstanding explosiveness out of his backpedal. Glides around the football field, yet does so with a core-strength power. Shows top-level lateral quickness, and when he arrives at the receiver/ball carrier, he has an explode button moments before contact. High points passes with two strong hands.
A nimble athlete offensively. Has a bit of wiggle carrying the football or as a punt returner. A devastating lead blocker out of the backfield.
• Room for improvement: Scout observers have questioned his backpedal quickness. Can he run with speedy receivers on the deep ball? Will he grow out of the safety position? These aren’t so much shortcomings as much as they are questions that could lead to a position shift. He’s a player; it’s just a matter of which position.
• Top offers: Notre Dame; SEC: Alabama, Vanderbilt; ACC: Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia; Pac 12: Stanford; Big 12: Kansas State, West Virginia; Big Ten: Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin; Interest: UCLA.
• Early line: The early line for Pryts will include Penn State from start to finish as the son of former Nittany Lions linebacker Ed Pryts. The younger Pryts also has expressed an interest in Michigan, UCLA (which hasn’t offered) and Ohio State.
Notre Dame’s offer to Pryts obviously caught his attention as he scheduled a trip to South Bend in short order. A 4.0 student, this weekend should show Pryts what a good fit he’d be at Notre Dame.
“I had a nice, long conversation with Coach (Mike) Elston,” said Hickory High head coach Bill Brest. “Notre Dame is planning on using him as a Sam linebacker. They feel he’s a great Sam in their system, especially with them playing a lot of spread teams and zone-read teams. They feel that is where he could help their program the best.”
Brest admitted that Pryts “does love Penn State,” but that he’s “an open door” and “open-minded about it all.”
• ND’s 2016 outside linebacker recruiting: With Nyles Morgan, Te’von Coney, Asmar Bilal and Josh Barajas all on the team this fall with a combined 15 years of eligibility remaining, linebacker is not a huge priority for the Irish, although outside linebacker is on the wish list.
Three of the more highly-touted outside linebackers on Notre Dame’s offer list have committed to USC (Mique Juarez), Clemson (Rahshaun Smith) and USC (Daelin Hayes). Caleb Kelly (Fresno, Calif.) is the apple of Notre Dame’s eye, and Mike Denbrock has spent time out West pursuing him. He’ll be at the June 19 Irish Invasion, along with Chase Pine (Williamsburg, Va.), who considers Notre Dame to be his top school. Cameron Brown (Potomac, Md.) has a strong interest in the Irish after a positive Junior Day experience.
• ND’s 2016 outside linebacker depth chart: The Sam linebacker position on defense has a tendency to be fluid. Junior Jaylon Smith is the prototype, but he was moved to Will last year and will dabble between both in ‘15.
That leaves junior James Onwualu as the No. 1 guy, at least in passing situations. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder loves Onwualu’s approach to the game as he enters 2015 with two years of eligibility. Sophomore Greer Martini is not an exact fit, but brings some physicality to the outside. Other possibilities include Josh Barajas – arguably the top incoming freshman on the squad – off-the-edge pass rusher Kolin Hill and perhaps incoming freshman Asmar Bilal.
• Summary: There are young men who play football well and then there are young men who define the way the game of football should be played. When I look at Andrew Pryts, I see a physically-mature young man who glides with the ease of a skill-position player but has a knockout punch on the back end of the defense that most high school safeties simply don’t possess.
The recent Notre Dame player most reminiscent of Pryts is Danny Spond, himself a former safety that moved up to outside linebacker and played it with a physical force in 2012 that helped propel Notre Dame to the national championship game. Of course, Pryts isn’t that big yet. But he has the frame to play closer to the line of scrimmage, and his overall strength as a junior in high school at his size is in the 95 percentile.
Most colleges are recruiting him as a safety. Could he play the position well for the Irish? Sure, but in the eyes of Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, Pryts would be a strong outside linebacker with safety mobility. Plus, it’s a recruiting pitch that could set Notre Dame apart from the rest, although the Penn State legacy already has a predisposition to the Nittany Lions.
Pryts was scheduled for a Notre Dame visit this weekend, which gives the Irish a chance to sell him on the possibility of playing a bit closer to the line of scrimmage and endearing him to Notre Dame. He’d give VanGorder comparable mobility to James Onwualu, who was moved to Sam last spring, only with a bit more natural pop.
Listed as a four-star safety by Scout, the No. 7 safety in the country, the No. 1 safety in the state of Pennsylvania as well as the East, and the 146th overall prospect, there is a lot to love about Pryts’ game with an added bonus: he’s only going to become a more productive football player over time. Absolutely love the way this kid plays football. Very high ceiling.