Players to watch and players who need a big season

Every year, there are players who emerge with a big senior season to catch the attention of recruiters. Duane Long checks in today with his latest article, in which (in addition to patting himself on the back more than Barry Horowitz) he takes a look at the players who he feels are in line to see their stock rise this season as well as players who need a big season because their stock has fallen.

The next time Mr. Bucknuts or Jerry or Kirk see me, they may see my arm in a sling. It will be from me patting myself on the back for how I called this years recruiting class back in February. Here is the first paragraph of the forward for the February 2002 kickoff issue of Ohio's Future Stars:

"The talent level is not as good this year. I thought it was close to the spectacular class of 2002 but as I looked at more and more tape I realized that this is not as good a class. I always knew it wasn't but I thought the gap was pretty small. It is not. The class of 2002 is clearly the better class. There were more stars in that class than there are in this one. When I look at the receivers, I see a number of fine talents, but there is no Roy Hall. I look at a top-drawer quarterback class, but there is no Justin Zwick. I see several defensive tackles that will draw national attention, but there is no Quinn Pitcock. As I went down each position comparing the class of 2003 to the class of 2002, I saw the same thing. The top players in the class of 2003 were not on par with the best of 2002. Cornerback is the only position where this class is clearly superior and there is a strong argument that the talent at defensive end is superior. There are a couple of things that that the class of 2003 has over 2002. The depth is impressive. The number of 5-star players is down this year but there are more 4-star and 3-star players."

A few players have moved up and others have moved down, but the class overall is shaping up just like I laid it out in February. Look at who Ohio State has offered here in Ohio. 11 of the OFS top 13 from February have been offered and only 2 outside of the top 13 have been offered (Brady Quinn and Raymond Edwards, both now in the top 13 in the current issue). Most of these players have been getting offers from the consensus top 20 programs.

The depth of the class is showing. Outside of the elite group of players, we are seeing offers to Ohio players from solid Division I programs -- the Pitts, the Syracuses, the West Virginias and the Marylands -- very good schools, but not ones you think about as being great football programs. These are programs that traditionally snatch up the 3 star players and some of the 4 star players. From 14 down into the OFS low 50s, we are seeing players in Ohio who have offers from the programs I have listed here and others like them. In the Big 10, Iowa, Purdue, Wisconsin and Minnesota are being very aggressive in their Ohio border raids. All have offers to Ohio players and I expect them to have some success. The fact that these good programs are here and making offers shows the depth of this class. The lack of offers for players outside of the OFS top 13 from the traditional powers here in the Midwest -- Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Notre Dame, who I collective call the "Big 4" -- shows that the number of elite players was not what it was last year. There are only 6 players outside of the OFS top 13 who have offers to my knowledge from the Big 4, and 3 of them are Buckeye verbals.  

The summer is over and it is time to look ahead. Here is a list of players who I think are poised for breakout years and another list of players who are in need of a good year. 

1 – Justin Valentine, RB, Eastmoor. I spoke to Justin several times recently. He is up to 210 and had a fine camp at Ohio State, where he ran a 4.52. He will be the feature back this year for the first time. He rushed for 1200 yards last year, but that was in a backfield where there was 2000 yards in rushing combined by several other backs. In one game, he only had 9 carries. I told him I was expecting a 1600 yard season. He was having none of it. 2000 is what he is shooting for.

I am not convinced that the Buckeyes will be able to hold onto all of the current backs. Someone is not going to be happy. If things shake out like I think, they will I expect one back to go and maybe two. I expect Maurice Clarett and Maurice Hall to be the # 1 and # 2 backs. I don't see Lydell Ross tolerating that. If I am wrong and Ross is # 2, I don't see Hall sticking around. There was a lot of talk about Hall looking to transfer after last year, and there was fire behind that smoke. The wildcard is Ja Ja Riley. He could make it 2 backs leaving. That would open the way for an offer to Valentine, who would love to get an Ohio State offer. Justin is a really great kid, and good friends with Ernie Wheelwright. Birds of a feather flock together. 

2 – Tom Anevski, OL, Cincinnati Elder. Look at Avenski's measurables line: 6-4 ½, 275, 5.1 (on a slow track), 30 inch vertical, 350 bench and 650 squat. If I was building the ideal high school OL prospect, it would look pretty close to this. Last year, Anevski played at 245. This year, because he did not wrestle, he has added weight instead of lost weight. He has a nice offer list right now and I think it could get a boost from some of the Big 4 schools by seasons end if he shows what I think he will show with the added bulk. 

3 – Reggie Smith, LB, E. Clevaland Shaw. Reggie would have been rated higher if he had shown the speed before that he is showing now. He is a great high school DE with a high motor and great instincts, but he is 6-2 225. Back when we first saw Reggie, he was running 4.68. Recently he has been under 4.6 twice with a best of 4.53. That makes him an elite player in this class. 

4 – Ty Hall, OL, Cincinnati Anderson. I still see Ty Hall as the best OL in this class. Someone who was at camp whose opinion I respect says he can't understand why Hall wasn't offered. Hall has lost weight since then and is more focused than ever. 

5 – Devin May, OL/DL, Watterson. It is not about the football field for May. His battleground is in the classroom. Should he make a breakthrough there, the big schools will be lined up at his front door.  

6- Mike Kokal, QB, Warren Harding. Mike is working out like a demon I'm told. He is learning under one of the best QB tutors you can find in Tom McDaniels and has the best arm in this class. He is not ideal-sized or he would be rated much higher anyway.

Here are several players whose stock has dropped and need big years to get themselves back up there to get offers from the top programs: 

1 – Matt Maizel, OL, Youngstown Ursuline. I am a big fan of this player but his lack of reps at a high level have been holding the top programs off. He had a chance to change that this off-season at camps, but a leg injury that happened right before the Pitt and Ohio State camps cost him dearly. He still hasn't completely put the injury behind him. That is how severe it was but he should be full go by the time the season starts. Iowa, Illinois, Pitt and others are waiting to see how the season unfolds. 

2 – Brian Jones, DB, Avon Lake. Outstanding size to go with a 4.4 forty, but the offers have not come flooding in. He must show the recruiters he is a football player and not just an athlete.  

3 – Mike DeLuca, DL/OL, Chardon NDCL. He has been a name in recruiting circles since his freshman year. He looks the part but does not really leap out at you. His measurables are impressive, so he has offers, but the big schools will not be making offers until he shows more on the field. He should dominate but doesn't. 

4 – John Ferguson, QB, Reynoldsburg. At one time the OFS # 1 QB prospect. At times, he is as pretty a passer as I have seen. Too often he is not. His lack of mobility is causing concern with a number of schools. I know early on Ohio State backed off. The lack of mobility is part of the reason he has been erratic. Since he does not move well, he puts balls up that he shouldn't. Getting disciplined about taking care of the ball would help his stock in my opinion. He really can't do much about his lack of mobility. A school with a scholarship to spare would do themselves a favor by offering Ferguson. Teach him good game management and he could be a fine QB down the line.  

5 – Dan Henderson, OL, Columbus Marion-Franklin. I don't know what happened to Henderson. I thought he was one of the 5 OLs who stood a great shot at an offer from the Buckeyes, but he has disappeared. It looked like Notre Dame really liked him too, but they didn't offer either. The weight I had was 300. Someone tells me that is not accurate. That could be the explanation. Heights and weights are regularly exaggerated and often play a part in players disappearing.

Check back next week for Duane's next article!

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