For day number two of my trek around Ohio, my objective was to hit the Akron area and touch base with Chris Wells, Lawrence Wilson and Tyrell Sutton. As it turned out, it wasn't easy, but I went three-for-three.
Initially, it didn't look good when I drove by the back of Garfield High School in the early morning hours as the school's marching band was out on the field and there were no football Rams in sight. Through the years I've discovered that most high schools conduct two-a-day sessions in the morning rather than in the afternoon, but I quickly found out that Garfield is one that doesn't.
Since I was there, I went around back to the coach's office and knocked on the door and after just a brief moment, Bob Sax opened the door and was standing there to greet me. Sax (pictured left) is a young guy in his third year at Garfield and I've established a pretty good rapport with him already.
Sax invited me in and he informed me that the guys there don't start coming in until around 2 o'clock and practice begins at 3. When I told him that all I really needed was a chance to chat with Chris Wells and Marcus Council, he made a couple of phone calls and both guys were on the way down to the school.
In the meantime, I took advantage of the free time I had with Sax and he
filled me in on his team in general and Wells and Council in particular.
"Our camps went real well. We had a good two weeks, and we put in most of our passing game during that time because you can't do much else," Sax said. "We're going to have a young quarterback; two guys are battling it out for that spot, but we return the majority of our offense after that. So it's not going to be a secret, we're going to want to run the ball this year. You've got a guy like Chris Wells back there, you're going to feed it to him, and you got another guy like Marcus Council that can get in there as well.
"So our goal is to run the ball and do some play-action passes, and throw when we want to not when we have to. So we're pretty excited about that."
The quarterback battle will be contested by junior Kyle Schafer, a three-sport athlete, and sophomore Justin Barnett. The offensive line is anchored by Diamond Cozey, a two-way starter. Jose Rentas (6-0, 290, Jr.) and Robert Whimley (6-1, 290, Jr.) will both fight for some time on the offensive line as well as play defense.
"We have high expectations right now so we're looking forward to getting into the scrimmages and see how things go," Sax said.
Having a guy like Wells (6-2, 223, Jr., pictured left) on your team automatically allows you to have high expectations. He and Council (5-11, 200, Sr.) give the Rams a formidable backfield tandem on offense along with Tony Taylor (5-9, 190, Sr.) leading the way at fullback. Taylor, a tough and hard-nosed fullback, tore his knee up midseason last year, but he's back and he's healthy now.
"We want to run," Sax said. "We're going to throw some because you have to, but we're going to run the football and hopefully we're going to make teams have to stop us and get us out of that package."
I asked Sax how good Wells really is.
"I don't think anybody has seen the best of Chris Wells yet," the coach said. "I think this is his year to really stand out and do some things on both sides of the ball; we're going to ask him to play more defense than he did last year. But offensively he's got unlimited potential. He can run you over and get those yards or he can make a cut and go 75 or 80 yards and you're not going to catch him; he's one of the fastest guys on our team. So we're looking for an explosive year from him running behind a veteran line that's got plenty of playing experience. Offensively, we're counting on him for big things, obviously.
"He started as a true freshman -- just turned 14 two years ago -- as an outside linebacker," Sax said. "We're going to get him on the field a lot more on defense. He's just a playmaker on defense. He's like a grown man out there playing high school football, so we're expecting to get a lot of defense out of him as well."
When Wells walked in to the Ram locker room, Sax immediately measured him because he looks so big. He took his shoes off and stood against the wall in his socks. The top of his head measured a legitimate 6-foot-2 inches from the ground. He just turned 16 on Aug. 8.
"I'm ready to play football for sure," Wells proclaimed.
With offers already intact from Ohio State and Michigan and Akron, who was his first, I asked Wells to talk about how recruiting is going.
"I really like both of the schools a whole lot," Wells said. "And I really do like Akron a whole lot because they're close to home and the coaches are real nice there."
Ohio State offered Wells a few days before he went to their camp this summer.
"I was real happy," Wells said. "I was happy as heck to get it because I wasn't expecting it at all; I didn't think they were going to offer me a scholarship. To me, I didn't do as good as I thought I should have last year. I think I could have performed a whole lot better."
With the offer already in his pocket, he performed well at OSU's camp.
"I think I did real well at camp, except my 40 time was a little bit shaky to me," said Wells who was clocked at 4.6 seconds. "But other than that, I did real good."
Wells went to Michigan's camp the next day and got offered there.
"I went up there for a one-day camp and I performed real well up there, better than I did at Ohio State," Wells said. "It was real exciting because I got to meet Lloyd Carr. He actually came down out of his office, and they say that he never comes out of his office. So that was just real exciting to me. Plus my cousin went there."
It's been widely reported that Wells has been a Michigan fan growing up because his cousin Billy Taylor played there, so I asked him exactly how big a part will that play in his recruitment.
"I wouldn't say it's going to make my decision, but it's going to play a big role in it just by him going there and him already having success there," Wells said. "I talk to him every week. He's in my ear a lot about going to Michigan, but he really doesn't try to force it on me. He just says to do whatever is best for me and my family."
Be it Michigan, Ohio State or any other school that inquires about him, Wells gets caught up in the moment at times.
"Schools I never thought of send me stuff. Schools like UCLA I never thought would send me anything because they're so far off," he said. "It's overwhelming now. It's just real exciting."
What is his mind set right now?
"I'm open right now," he said. "I'm just ready to play football and I'm really looking forward to the 2004 season. I'm going to attend some games this year. Last year and the year before, I just went to Ohio State and Akron U., but this year I think I'm going to attend some Michigan games.
"It's just crazy at Ohio State, playing in front of 110,000 people every Saturday. It's crazy," Wells said. "That's left a real good impression with me."
Obviously Michigan plays at Ohio State this year.
"I'll be there hopefully," Wells said. "I can't even imagine what that's going to be like, but it's going to be exciting to be there."
And his thoughts on Jim Tressel?
"He's a real nice guy and I really like him a whole lot and he's real down to earth," Wells said. "He's not one of those coaches that just cares about football. He seems like one of those coaches that cares about your personal life and he would help you if you're having a problem or anything. Whenever we see each other, he'll speak to me and acknowledge me. He'll come up and speak to me and my family, and that's what I really like about him. He's down to earth.
"Coaching will also play a big part in it as well because you don't want to play for anbody you don't like."
For now his mind is ever-changing almost on a daily basis.
"Whoever sends me the most mail is who I'm liking really," he said with a chuckle. "Right now it's just Ohio State and Michigan, but I'm pretty sure there can be other schools playing a major part also."
He intends to wait and take all of his visits before committing.
"I'm not committing early to nobody," Wells said. "Probably after my senior year when I'm done playing high school football is when I'll really think about the next level."
I asked him in his heart of hearts if he already knows where he's going to go to school.
"I have no clue," he said.
While schools like Ohio State and Michigan will look at just about every game on film that Garfield will play over the next two years, they'll likely, at times, see Garfield turn to a familiar offensive set anywhere on the field.
"Traditionally, we've always had a T-package where we get in the old fashioned T-formation with two tights and three running backs back there," Sax said. "You can give it to the fullback, who's a hard runner, or you got Marcus on the right and Chris on the left. It's a short yardage package, and we use it in goal line and short yardage situations, but I never hesitate to jump into it the second quarter and just see what a series of the T is going to do to you."
For the most part, however, Wells will line up in the I-formation or a one-back set.
"This year we want to do a lot of one-back," Sax said. "We want to stretch the defense out a little bit and just have one back and make them worry about 6-2, 220 coming at you. But you'll also see a little I and some T."
In addition to top prospects like Wells and Council (pictured left, look for his interview with me on J.J. Huddle in the near future), Sax mentioned Cortez Jones (6-0, 190, Jr.) as being a young guy at Garfield to keep an eye out for.
"He actually played the whole year with a hernia and didn't know it until the end of the season," he said. "He rivals Chris right now for the fastest guy on the team and we're going to play him at some flanker and some outside linebacker and safety type positions. He runs well and moves well and we're real high on him right now."
Garfield's fate could be determined early with an opening contest at Hoban and then they make a trip to St. Vincent-St. Mary. The Rams dropped a city league foe, Akron Firestone, this year and picked up a fourth non-league contest, which could help them come playoff time this year. The Rams just missed out on making an appearance in the postseason last year.
No more than 10 minutes to the northwest, I headed next to St. Vincent-St Mary High School. I was looking forward to meeting Wilson for the first time.
I caught up with Wilson when I arrived there, and the senior class members were taking a group photograph on the field while the rest of the team was practicing.
At first glance, Wilson looked like the tall, rangy type of guy I was expecting him to be.
I asked him how recruiting was going.
"Basically, I'm just playing it low right now, and I'm probably going to make a decision later on in the season, probably at the end of the season," Wilson said. "I want to see what everybody has to offer first."
Wilson (left) is a talented basketball player and is just now coming into his own as a football player.
"I never went to football camps because I had AAU basketball," he said. "So as soon as I started going to football camps, I was getting noticed. I knew what I could do and it seemed like I just came out of nowhere, but I was around the whole time and nobody really knew."
His football career started at Walsh Jesuit High School, where he started as a sophomore there at defensive end. Last year, at St. V's, he started at defensive end and wide receiver. This year he's likely to play defensive end and tight end for the Irish.
He attended Ohio State's camp and Notre Dame's camp this summer.
"Right after Ohio State's camp, they called Coach (Keith) Wakefield and Coach Wakefield called me that night and said they were going to offer," Wilson said. "And after Notre Dame's camp, four days later, they offered."
Not bad for being known as a top basketball player.
"It was real exciting. I didn't know that they were going to offer that quick. They must have been impressed with my performance at Ohio State," Wilson said. "I did pretty good at Ohio State. I ran a 4.6 and I did pretty good in the pass rush drill. When I was leaving, (Jim Tressel) said that I had a very impressive performance because I broke two records. I broad jumped 10' 9 ½" and had a 36 or 37-inch vertical."
He was a little sore when attended Notre Dame's camp because it came shortly after Ohio State's camp, and he also had a basketball the night before the camp. And he still performed well enough there to earn an offer.
"I knew what I had to do when I got there," Wilson said. "So I came early in the morning, and I stretched out really good."
Obviously Wilson loves basketball, but football seems to be his real ticket.
"I'm definitely playing football in college, but I'm going to try to play both. I like basketball. I'm a pretty good player," he said with a chuckle. "I didn't start playing football until the ninth grade. I really didn't know much about football. I was a natural at it and I just started loving it. I loved the contact."
Sian Cotton played football and basketball at St. V's as well.
"I'm pretty close with Sian Cotton," Wilson said. "I talk to him about Ohio State all the time."
Unlike Cotton, Wilson is looking at being recruited to college to play both sports.
"I've gotten offered by the best schools for football, and I'm going to take the football offers and try to walk on on the basketball team," Wilson said. "I talked to Coach Tressel about that and he said he was okay with it. I like Coach Tressel. He's a good coach and I'd like to play under him. So we'll see."
Although many reports have Wilson choosing between Ohio State and Notre Dame, he told me that he's actually narrowed it down to three schools.
"Ohio State, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh," Wilson said. "That's my top three."
He's now looking forward to a strong senior season on the gridiron under a new head coach and new system.
"I'm really excited for this season," Wilson said. "Coach Wakefield is a good coach."
I waited around to talk to Coach Wakefield after the morning practice, but unfortunately he didn't have any time to spare with me. After lecturing his team about their morning practice, he stormed off the field. I asked him if he had a minute to speak with me and he said no and kept walking.
So off I went to Hoban to talk to the most underrated player in the state. Yesterday I mentioned Derrick Stewart as possibly the most underrated player in Ohio, but I definitely think that title goes to Sutton. His 6,200 yards didn't even warrant a sniff from Ohio State.
After waiting around for a bit -- Hoban is another team that starts their two-a-days in the afternoon -- I caught up with Sutton when he arrived at their stadium just off of I-76 that is sporting brand new turf this year.
Hoban's brand new stadium turf
I congratulated Sutton on his commitment to Northwestern and I asked him why them and why now.
"Sometimes you just got to do what you got to do," he said. "It's a great school academically and it's in the Big Ten so you get the best of both worlds."
His excitement was tempered just a bit.
"I'm very excited. The coaches want me there and I want to be there, but at the same time it's only a verbal, so something else can come along and I can switch it," Sutton said. "So it's not 100 percent but it's pretty close. I'm pretty sure they do know how I stand on this."
Big OL Shawn Glaser and RB Tyrell Sutton
Sutton wanted to commit before the season and turn his attention to his senior season.
"It's a good thing to get that out of the way because now I can focus on Hoban," he said.
Although he wouldn't come right out and admit it, you can tell that he's not happy with Ohio State to say the least.
"I kind of figured Ohio State wouldn't talk to me because they've got a bunch of people," he said, "but it's a business and that's how it goes sometimes, and you can't expect to get everything you want. They haven't spoken to me in a while."
From his perspective, Sutton thinks he really wasn't even considered by Ohio State.
"Pretty much, no," he said. "It's disappointing in a way, but at the same time when another opportunity presents itself you have to take that one."
As far as his senior season goes, Sutton, a four-year starter, knows that the state rushing record is somewhere in the distance but it's not something he's aiming for.
"That's the last thing in the back of mind," he said. "I'm team-oriented first, so I'm trying to get a state championship before I get that record."
He'll have a new home surface to showcase his skills on.
"I think it's really good," Sutton said. "I think it will help out my speed even more, but it also helps out other people too."
I pushed him further to talk about his individual goals this season.
"I want to get that 3,000 yard season, that's my goal," he said. "And that Ohio rushing record is up there too. If it happens, it happens."
And Mr. Football?
"Yeah that's there too," he said. "I'm very excited and I hope that I'll be at least a contender for it."
Hoban will open up at home with Garfield and end the season at home at Warren G. Harding
"If we do beat Garfield, that will raise our confidence and we will take it from there," he said.
Due to time constraints, Ralph Orsini, Hoban's head coach, was still up at the high school and I couldn't wait around to interview him.
(Look for Hoban's Shawn Glaser's interview sometime in the future on J.J. Huddle.)