ON THE ROAD WITH SWEETLOU

Over the next several weeks I hope to take you with me around the northwest and give you a bit more insight as to what it is like out there on the recruiting trail. Each week I will be spending time watching at least one top prospect in action, and I will share with you what I'm hoping to see before the game and then what my impressions are afterwards.

It should be a lot of fun, and create a little dialogue on the message boards and in the chat room. I look forward to hearing what you think as well.

Thursday September, 20th: Woodinville v. Garfield, Pop Keeney Stadium

As I pointed my trusty dark blue steed (She's been through many of these nights with me) north on Interstate 405 after work those little butterflies in the bottom of my stomach started flittering around like they always do before the first game of the year. Can't help it, they've been there since I was a kid. The good thing is they mean it's high school football season again and it's time to sit in tiny stadiums across the northwest filled with loving parents, rabid fans, and other nut jobs like me.

On this night I was excited to get a chance to see OL Cameron Neel from Woodinville, one of the top sleepers on the West Coast. A fine player in ATH Matthew Roberson from Garfield, and the recruit with the most hype in the State of Washington QB Isaiah Stanback. Oh yeah and some young, big hitting, sophomore safety from Woodinville by the name of Matt Tuiasosopo.

I had heard a lot of good things about Cameron Neel this summer, but I was really interested in seeing a couple of specific things. One was if his back injury from last year was still giving him any trouble, or if it showed any signs of affecting his play. And two did missing last year due to the back injury set him back technique wise to the point where he would look rusty or just lack overall technique. I was also expecting to see tall, angular Tackle, who might have trouble keeping his pad level down. Man was I surprised to see him come out of the huddle on the first series and line up at weak side Guard. Last time I checked you didn't see guys 6'-6" tall play anything other than Tackle, but oh how times they are a changin'. What it did signal to me though was that he must be very agile for a man his size to play the position, especially since he would often be facing much smaller and quicker players on the defensive line in high school. He didn't disappoint. On the first play from scrimmage he trapped his man, got off the block, and then went twenty yards down field to find someone else to knock down. Did I mention I love that in lineman? A lot of times high school kids will block their initial man and then just act as if the play if over. Not Neel, all night long he would either get a second block on a play or he would make sure his man not only got down on the ground, but that he stayed there. He showed nice agility and feet for a large man when pulling on run plays, and he used his wingspan nicely on pass plays often times allowing him not only to re-route his own man but to help out the center or tackle with theirs as well.

Missing his entire junior season due to the back injury definitely showed at times with his technique. But overall he has a pretty good grasp of what he needs to do and he appears to be a quick learner, especially in light of the fact that he only started playing football as a sophomore. His tendency was to bench press his man at the initial point of attack, something that isn't very effective in college, but that is something that can be corrected with more reps and coaching. What it did show was that in spite of only being around 260 pounds he does have good strength in both his upper and lower body, as he wasn't going up against small guys and he was handling them with ease. Initially I was also very concerned that he was not playing both ways and that it might have something to do with his back, or the stamina of the back. But alas my concerns were doused as he just had a case of bronchitis and I was assured that not only had he been playing both ways, but that he would be back to playing both ways again next week. He will need to bulk up and continue to get stronger in college, but has a great frame to handle the weight, as he still looks very svelte and trim. The nice broad shoulders and hips you like to see on lineman are in place and just need to have a little more meat put on the bone. This kid, barring any more injuries, is a definite Division 1 lineman, and the great thing is he is still just in his infancy as far as a football player goes.

With a long heritage of great athletes in his family Matt Tuiasosopo seems very well prepared to handle the microscope he will be under over the next few years. He is already very developed physically for a sophomore and reminds me a lot of what his brother Zach looked like when he was the same age. Matt played Safety, Wide Receiver, and Running Back for the Falcons, and rumor has it he make try his hand at filling his oldest brother Marques' shoes at the control of the offense in the future. Watching him play it is obvious that his instincts are advanced compared to most kids his age, and he is a very fluid and intense athlete. If he continues on the path he is on there is no doubt he will be a big time prospect by the time his senior year rolls around.

Unfortunately Matthew Roberson was injured and wasn't able to play. I made a mental note to make sure I catch another Garfield game later in the season, maybe against rival Franklin, to hopefully be able to get a look at him. I couldn't recall seeing him last season when I saw Garfield play so I was really looking forward to checking out what he could do. The one thing I did note was that standing on the sideline in street clothes he looked the part.

I had seen Isaiah Stanback play as both a sophomore and a junior and I really liked what I saw as an athlete, but I felt he had a long ways to go as a quarterback. The one thing I wanted to make sure of was that I didn't let the hype machine, which has been working overtime on Isaiah, cloud my judgment. Heading into the game I wanted to see how much he had improved not only physically, but also if his poise and leadership skills had come along as well. One of the things I really put a premium on in a quarterback is how well they handle pressure not only when things are going good, but also when they aren't. Being talented physically can get you by, but to be a great player on the next level you have to have the mental ability to lead your team to a win.

As the game started I was very disappointed to see that Stanback wasn't starting the game, and it didn't appear after the first few series that he would play at all. It really showed in Garfield's performance as they were completely flat and were trailing by 36 points after a quarter and a half. With things in total disarray Coach Carr inserted Stanback into the game, and the energy level of the Bulldog's picked up immensely. It was obvious in the very first series that their leader was back and Garfield was a different team. The defense seemed to find a tenacity and toughness that hadn't been there, and the offense seemed to find a spirit and sense of urgency. This was exactly what I was looking for from Isiah. Even though he wasn't able to lead his team to some miracle comeback, he was able to lead them to two scores, and it was pretty obvious that had he played the whole game the outcome very well could have been different.

Like many athletic quarterbacks Stanback made the tough plays look easy and the easy plays look hard at times. He definitely has improved both physically and mentally as a quarterback since last fall, but still has a ways to go to be a polished signal caller. The arm strength is there to be a Division I quarterback, and he can create all kinds of things with his feet. As a matter of fact he throws his best ball when he is on the run. Most likely this is because he is just running on instinct and not thinking about what it is he has to do. With his mobility it is obvious that he will cause defensive coordinators nightmares in the future, especially when he learns some of the finer points of being a college quarterback. Those skills can only be improved by putting in the time on the practice field and every indication is that Isaiah is willing to do that. He needs to be more patient in the pocket and not have the tendency to just take off whenever his protection slightly breaks down. The rhythm and timing type throws need a lot of work, especially in terms of consistent drops, reads and mechanics. One time he will hit his back foot and deliver a good ball that is on time and on target, yet at other times he will hit his back foot and either short arm the ball or he won't be ready to deliver it due to poor footwork. These are all things that can and will be worked on when he is in college and are not indicative of what kind of quarterback he is or can be. Whoever lands him will need to be patient with him as he develops and not throw him into the fray too soon. With improved mechanics and understanding of the position his consistency throwing the ball will improve and he will become and even more deadly weapon. And yes he is as good as advertised.

Look for another review from the recruiting trail very soon on Rainier Beach's RB/DB Nate Robinson and TE/LB Demar Baisy. See ya then.

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