Last spring, when most blue chip prospects were solidifying their stranglehold on the predetermined recruiting rankings and college scholarship offers, 5'9" Northeast High School (Oakland Park, FL) running back Dimitri Linton was largely overlooked as college coaches focused their attention on bigger players with bigger names and more prominent programs. With the "big boys" taking an early pass, Rutgers swooped in and held a combine early in the summer to highlight this diamond in the rough. The Scarlet Knights have a full quarter of their roster from the fertile grounds of South Florida, which helps underscore how important their scouting in the area is to their team talent and speed. Rutgers alone handed Linton an offer as his 2003 season began, and he gave them a verbal commitment in September.
But certain that he was undervalued and in a sense still undiscovered, the 187-pound scatback was determined to show himself to all the unbelievers. It was not enough that he broke 1000 yards rushing his junior year - making him the first player at Northeast to crack four digits since 1981. Linton needed to do something truly amazing to reshape the skeptics.
"Amazing" does not begin to capture what he did to open his senior season. The opener against Cypress Bay saw Linton rack up 309 yards on 17 carries, including six touchdowns. Three of his scores came from 70, 61 and 56 yards - and all this came in a rain-soaked game that paused for a 45-minute lightning delay.
The next week Linton showed that his 2003 debut was no fluke, slashing and burning his way to 280 yards on 27 carries and all four of Northeast's touchdowns.
The big test, though, was to come when he and his teammates faced perenial powerhouse Dillard, who had crushed Northeast with clockwork regularity for the last two decades. "They had the number one defense in the county," Linton describes. "It was my test game."
All he did was run for 220 yards and three scores in a 27-20 shocking upset of the Fort Lauderdale power.
"I use my speed and vision to find big running lanes," Linton describes of his running style. "I plant my foot and just take off. Guys who supposedly run 4.3 at Dillard, I ran away from them in that game."
In his 10-game regular season, the 5'9" burner ran for 1,675 yards and 30 scores on 202 carries for an impressive 8.3 yards per carry; Linton caught another ball in the endzone to bring his touchdown tally up to 31 overall. His touchdown total broke the county record of 29 set in 2001 by Tyrone Moss. Linton's senior rushing numbers also place him 11th all-time in Broward County history. His eight touchdowns in the game against Pembroke Pines Charter (on just 19 carries), which is believed to be the most scored in a single game by one player in 50 years in the state of Florida.
As a reward for his prolific senior season, Linton was named First Team All-Broward County at running back for big schools (Class 4A-6A). Even more eye-catching, he grabbed the elite honor of 5A Player of the Year for the state of Florida, which also made him one of six finalists for the Mr. Florida award. He has been invited to four all-star games, and even in the midst of the best talent in South Florida, Linton is standing above the rest. His first post-season invitation game was the Broward County All-Star Game, played a little more than two weeks ago.
The talent-rich rosters for the North and South squads put 44 Division I quality kids on the field out of 60, and on Linton's North team the coach decided to use arbitrary methods to name starters. Rather than "play favorites" on his all-star roster, the coach asked his three running backs to play rock-paper-scissors. Linton lost the age-old game and was thus moved to the third string. The crafty Northeast HS senior was crafty, though, and found ways to get on the field.
"I wanted to get on the field for punt returns as well as running, and at one point the main return guy had been hurt on the previous play," Linton explains. "So I snuck onto the field when nobody was paying attention. And I ended up almost returning it the whole way!"
That fateful punt return went for 40 yards and changed the momentum in the game. Linton also broke a 29-yard touchdown that was key in the 14-10 victory for the North. He was named MVP of the game for his efforts.
"I didn't expect it at all because I only got the ball six times," the diminutive dynamo admits. "But I can't wait for the Broward/Dade All-Star Game. All the players on both teams will be high-level Division I guys. Vernon Smith. Willie Williams. Bobby Washington. Leon Pennington. Charlie Jones. Brent Schaeffer."
"It feels good," Linton reflects upon his dizzying senior campaign. "It's hard to put into words. The whole season was just so different, especially coming from Northeast. 1-9 would be considered a great season for us."
You put those football performances together with his blazing track speed (ran 10.72 in the 100m and 21.88 in the 200m last spring), it only makes sense that more colleges would be giving a hard look at Linton in their intensifying recruiting efforts. He has added scholarship offers from Air Force, Northern Illinois, South Florida and Stanford to go with his early Rutgers offer, plus a few other rides from schools he is not considering. Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Florida State have also increased their interest, and have Linton moving up their recruiting boards.
"Well, I'm committed to Rutgers," the rising star begins. "Toward the end of the season I just wanted to see what else was out there. I am still and always have been big on Rutgers, but at the same time I want to see what other schools have to offer. And for Stanford to come in, it's perfect for comparison. Both have great academics and great football, plus Stanford has my major - psychology. A lot of schools are looking at me, but I'm the type of person who has to fit in both academically and football-wise."
Linton took an official visit to Rutgers late in August, and his second official look at a school will come as the calendar turns to 2004. The Broward County star will cross the country to see Air Force the weekend of January 9, and the very next weekend he will again cross time zones to see Stanford (1/16).
"When I made my commitment, it was because I liked the academics and saw a team on the rise," he says of his early Rutgers commitment. "But I told the coaches then that I would take visits. I'm not pulling anything tricky here, or turning my backs on them. This decision is for the next four or five years of my life, and I don't want to have any doubts."
Stanford has not just come onto the scene at the tail end of this game; David Kelly took a look at Linton last spring during his trip through South Florida. That relationship was rekindled recently as recruiting replaced the football seasons of both the student-athlete and coach. As a testament to the strength of that relationship, as well as the high interest that Linton holds in the Cardinal, look at the speed with which he completed his Stanford admissions application. Linton received it on a Tuesday earlier this month, and he had all parts completed and in the mail by that Saturday.
"Coach Kelly tells me they see me as a real difference maker for them," Linton comments on his Stanford recruitment. "He loves my speed and the way I am able to plant my feet and change direction without losing speed. He sees me as the future. I don't know if that's just recruiting talk, but at the same time Stanford doesn't have a standout running back, so I can control my destiny."
Linton carries a 4.2 GPA at Northeast High School and has recorded a 1080 on the SAT.
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