Top Tackle Recruit Facing a New Challenge

You have followed the reports from The Insiders' recruiting writers on elite offensive tackle Martin O'Donnell, with the ebb and flow of his school lists and preferences. But what you probably don't know is that this towering titan found himself today matched against a foe that he cannot beat with his footwork, leverage or strength.

OT Martin O'Donnell (profile)
South HS (Downers Grove, IL)
Ht: 6-5  Wt: 290

Martin O'Donnell has faced all sorts of foes, from hulking defensive ends, to quick and stealthy linebackers.  And he has quietly dispensed with them all in machine-like fashion for his Downers Grove South High School team.  Though O'Donnell has never faced a foe like this before, and for the first time in his life he is largely powerless against it.

Downers Grove's two high schools shut down today when their teachers walked out after 10 months of unsuccessful negotiations with the district.  According to the latest report from the Chicago Tribune, the two sides are still some $4 million apart in their salary and benefit talks.  The football coaches for Martin's team are also teachers, which means that they have no

Furthermore, with the school shut down, the on-campus practice facilities and all of the team equipment (including helmets and pads) are forcefully inaccessible to Martin and his teammates.  With the school out of session and with the supervisory roles of the teacher-coaches unavailable, the liability exposure prevents use of any school property by the kids.

"It kind of bums me out," said O'Donnell Sunday about the imminent strike and shutdown, "but we have also known for a while that this could happen."

The consummate leader, Martin has lived up to his role as team captain and already laid down a plan for his teammates to keep sharp and healthy through this strike.  "We already have a time and place set for our own workouts," he said.  "This is something where we can't have any control, but we have to stay in shape and stay mentally acute."

The abrupt interruption to the 2002 season is unfortunate, with Downers Grove already rolling to a strong 3-0 start.  They opened up their season with a hard-fought 7-3 victory over Lockport, one of the higher ranked teams in the state, and then followed up with a 42-point win over Proviso West.  Win number three came this past weekend at Hinsdale South for the defending state class 8A champions.  But defending that state championship will be difficult if the Mustangs lose too many games to this strike.

To get off a sore subject, we then shifted the conversation to recruiting.  Martin certainly has gained a lot of public attention from the top programs in the country, and reports from the recruiting services to match.  The Insiders network of recruiting experts currently have tabbed the tackle as the #18 offensive lineman in the country.  The Rivals network breaks down their rankings on the line by position, and has him as the #1 offensive tackle in America.

O'Donnell unsurprisingly has an offer list to match these rankings, with blanket offers from the Big Ten and Big XII, plus schools on both coasts.  He told me that his "top tier" list of schools at this time is Illinois, Nebraska, Penn State, Oregon and Stanford.  Interesting to note that Michigan was not mentioned, though they have recently been mentioned in a couple of places as part of his top six...

When I followed up to ask how O'Donnell ranks the schools among that top five, he said that he has not really sorted them all out yet.  Then he did offer up an interesting comment:

"Stanford is definitely in my top two," he said.  "I don't know who the other half of that top two is right now, but Stanford is definitely one of them."

While that powerful statement sinks in, let me reflect upon what else we have learned about O-line recruiting in this class.  Only three offensive linemen have been profiled to date on, with O'Donnell being the third.  We have seen Jordy Lipsey at center, Mikal Brewer at guard and Martin O'Donnell at tackle.  All three have delivered strong, if not surprising, favor for Cardinal football and Stanford University.  Lipsey has named Stanford as his leader; Brewer has all but committed to Stanford, with a perfunctory visit to seal the deal; and now O'Donnell reveals that no other school currently matches Stanford's leadership position with him.

Now match this up with the heightened need for the beloved beefcake in this class.  Though Stanford brought in a deep and talented OL class this fall, the hemorrhaging damage left from the previous three classes of scant-to-absent offensive line recruiting leaves much more need.  There is just one O-lineman in the current redshirt freshman and redshirt sophomore classes combined, necessitating that Stanford sign a minimum of five top linemen in this class.  The news that Stanford leads for the top tackle in the country cannot be understated; remember that when this 2003 recruiting class enters next fall, there will be just two tackles behind the senior class on the entire roster: Jon Cochran and Matt McClernan.

In case I'm missing you with the sledgehammer, folks, this is big big news.

Returning to the recruiting process, you should know that O'Donnell has made a lot of headway already.  He and his father took a lot of unofficial visits this summer, including all of the Big Ten and Stanford.  "I'm in a good position right now with what I have seen and learned already," said the Downers Grove senior.

That Stanford visit came in early August, and its impact is largely responsible for Stanford's leadership position today.  Though the campus could not present the vibrant activity of its student body during the summer, it was the football side of the equation that struck Martin.

"I had already heard all about Stanford's academics and the beautiful campus," said O'Donnell, "but they impressed me with their football.  I got to talk with some of their senior offensive linemen, the offensive line coach and Buddy Teevens, and learned a lot about what kind of football program Stanford is going to be.  It was just a really impressive visit overall."

Official visits are the next step for the pride of Downers Grove, though he is determined to hold off on those until his football season ends.  His only scheduled official at this time will bring him to Illinois on December 6-7, though he also is leaning toward taking his visit to Stanford the following weekend.  If that holds, I would charge that Stanford will be fighting an uphill battle that visit, with a very quiet campus as students head home after finals week (Dec. 9-13).

And these visits will be crucial for O'Donnell.  His academic focus on a college decision is well known, but he adds that "just as important is how comfortable [he feels] with the coaches and players."

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