When you think of Midwest football, you imagine games played in cold and snowy conditions and last weekend's Ohio state championship games in Canton and Massillon lived up to those expectations. Six games were played in two days and it featured top junior prospects, top senior prospects, ice, snow flurries and plenty of hard hitting.
In the Division III championship game played at Canton's Fawcett Stadium, two of the top juniors in the Midwest battled.
Ohio State-bound athlete Storm Klein had been devastating in the first three rounds of the state tournament. He put up big numbers and showed why the Buckeyes offered him so early in victories over Granville, Beloit West Branch, Canal Fulton Northwest and Monroe.
But Friday junior linebacker Will Studlien contained Klein with an avalanche of tough hits, bone crushing blocks and an all-out effort that didn't end until his Sunbury Big Walnut teammates were celebrating a 17-10 victory over Newark Licking Valley.
His effort in the game earned him a new nickname.
"That No. 50," said a Licking Valley player with his head hung low after the tough loss, "he's an animal. We couldn't block him all game long."
The catchy moniker quickly caught on as several fans asking Studlien to pose for pictures after the game called him "The Animal."
Studlien, with a smile from ear to ear, loved every minute of it.
"That's a new one," he said. "I hadn't heard that one before tonight, but I'll take it. I think it does kind of reflect how I play. I go all out and never give up on the play. I run hard and hustle everywhere. And when I hit you, I want people to make sure they felt it."
Klein and the rest of the Panthers definitely did all game long. But that was Studlein's plan. He knew coming into the game that people were buzzing about the matchup between two of Ohio's best for 2009, and he didn't want to disappoint.
"We locked heads a lot of times," Studlein said. "When I was on defense, I had to chase him down. And then when he was on defense, I was on the line, going out there and getting after him.
"He's a player. We all know that. We felt like coming in that we had to pop him. And I think we did. He had one touchdown, but I think he was feeling the hard hits by the end of the game."
After recording 204 tackles in 2006 and 145 tackles heading into the championship game, Studlein was already a well known name on the recruiting front.
He picked up an early offer from Akron and others like Ohio State and Pittsburgh are very interested. Now with a state championship to add to his resume and a great effort on Friday, his stock is only bound to heat up even more.
Youngstown Cardinal Mooney defensive lineman John Simon is already ranked as one of the top 100 junior prospects in the nation.
The four-star 6-foot-3, 265-pounder played like one of the nation's best on Saturday, even though his stat line won't blow you away. Simon only finished with two tackles, one tackle for a loss, a fumble recovery and one pass breakup.
But he was much more of an impact that the numbers showed. He put a lot of pressure on the quarterback throughout the game, and his motor never seems to stop.
On one screen play, he stopped rushing the quarterback from one side of the field and raced all the way across to the other side to make the tackle down field.
While some list him as a defensive tackle, it's easy to project him as an aggressive, bull-rushing strongside defensive end. With a great frame that already looks college ready, there needs to be some serious consideration for Simon when talking about the top player in the state in next year's class.
KLEIN HAS TOOLS
Even though Klein was never totally able to get on track in the loss, he showed a real sense of toughness that will make him a very good football player for the Buckeyes.
He did score on a tough run, helping even the score at 10-10 late in the second half, when he scooted off right tackle, broke a tackle and powered his way into the end zone.
Klein ended the game with a very tough 157 yards rushing on 33 attempts, which is very impressive considering Big Walnut had seven or eight guys in the box on almost every play.
While he might not have as much flash as other recruits, and he's not the biggest, strongest or fastest around, the kid's simply a darned good football player. He's the type of prospect that flourishes for Jim Tressel and becomes a multi-year all-Big Ten candidate.
COATES PLAYS HEART OUT
Without question the most impressive player in the Marion Local-Ursuline game was two-way lineman Harold Coates.
The three-star prospect played his heart out and was a factor in almost every play either on offense by pulling and opening up holes, or on defense by causing havoc with quarterback pressures and tackles.
He registered seven tackles on the game, but his impact was much bigger than that as it was his pressure that often led to other teammates making the tackle.
After the game, Coates, the nation's No. 38 offensive guard, was heartbroken. The loss truly stung, especially considering all the effort he placed into the game.
It's that type combination of emotion and athletic ability that will make him an excellent college player.
TOP 100 JUNIOR NEVER GETS ON TRACK
Early on Ursuline tried everything it could to get 2009 four-star prospect Darrell Mason on track at running back. But the 6-foot, 210-pound athlete could never become a factor in the game.
He ended up with 12 carries for only 11 yards with a long of only 5 yards. Every time he touched the ball, Marion Local would swarm to him, and he never could get a chance to get the ball in the open field and use his explosiveness. He did show some flashes of brilliance on defense in run support, and he had a key tackle on a goal-line situation.
After seeing the success on defense, it's easy to see why some schools like him much better at the safety spot than at running back.
ON THE MAP
Talk about putting yourself on the recruiting map.
Nick Truesdell of Cincinnati Anderson had a monster game in the Division II championship game at Massillon, and despite having no scholarship offers at this point, you can assume that won't stay the same for too long.
The 6-foot-7, 215-pound receiver was the star of the show in Anderson's 31-25 victory over Louisville. He scored two touchdowns, including a 52-yard reception when he went up and got the ball and outran everybody.
Truesdell ended the night with five catches for 129 yards and just the two scores, but he added a key 44-yard kickoff return and several big plays on defense.
He also finished the game by solidly putting his name on the recruiting map. Watch out for him to become a hot target with coaches looking for a big-time receiver/tight end that can make big plays in big games.
Barton Simmons, Rivals.com Recruiting Analyst
Last weekend in Louisiana represented the last stop for many teams before a trip to the Superdome in New Orleans for a shot at the state title. For some teams, the semifinal round played more like a tune-up for a state championship run. For others, survival was the key in the battle to advance. The New Orleans area represented a little bit of both.
New Orleans (La.) O.P. Walker vs. Marrero (La.) Archbishop Shaw
In one half of the 4A semifinal round, O.P. Walker out of New Orleans hosted Archbishop Shaw. At stake for O.P. Walker was the first state championship birth by a New Orleans 4A public school in years. To do it, the team would need to avenge a 28-6 defeat at the hands of Shaw earlier in the season.
O.P. Walker's coach Skip LaMothe made it very clear what was going to give his team the best chance at pulling the upset: riding his star junior tailback, Tyrone Duplessis. O.P. Walker possessed the ball almost the entire first quarter and with 1:44 remaining, Shaw had yet to run an offensive play and Duplessis had touched the ball on all but four plays from scrimmage.
The 2009 prospect is only 5 feet 8, but as evidenced by his work load, he is hardly a scat back. Duplessis is thick with a low center of gravity, and he actually seems to really savor the between-the-tackles running. He has good speed and has had an extremely productive season. Duplessis will add to an overwhelmingly strong 2009 running back class in the state of Louisiana.
O.P. Walker has some interesting young prospects as well. Freshman Anthony Johnson plays defensive tackle at 6-foot-1 290 pounds without an ounce of baby fat on him. As he continues to learn the game, he will be a force long-term.
The Wildcats also feature a linebacker in Kendrick James and a wide receiver named Torell Miller, both juniors, who have a chance to be special.
On the other side of the ball, Archbishop Shaw has several players up front who have garnered some attention but two skill players made some special plays in the first half. Senior Pierre Hill made a spectacular grab at the close of the half to push Shaw ahead and junior defensive back Chad Boyd was all over the ball on defense.
The Eagles ended up surviving the night with a 19-13 victory.
River Ridge (La.) John Curtis vs. Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian
Two of the traditional state powers met in the semifinals at East Jefferson High School in New Orleans when Evangel met John Curtis and one of the two came ready to play early. John Curtis jumped out to a 29-7 halftime lead behind the rushing of senior Blaine LeBlanc and junior Kenny Cain.
Cain is yet another 2009 Louisiana running back to look for as he rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown on the night.
Smith ended the night with one interception and looks like he has some great tools to be a difference maker in college. However, one of the more intriguing matchups came on the corner with Green manned up much of the night on Calvary's Roderick Banks.
Banks is a good looking prospect that could emerge late as a sleeper for somebody. He has good size at 6-foot-2 and uses his size and physicality well. He and Green battled all night and he still ended up with seven catches for 75 yards.
Another McKnight: A familiar face was wearing No. 4 for the Patriots. USC running back Joe McKnight's younger brother, Jonathan McKnight has some big shoes to fill but the sophomore did show some promise. He returns kicks and plays defensive back for John Curtis and showed that some of the quick twitch muscle that his brother uses so well was passed on to him.
Mike Farrell, Rivals.com Recruiting Analyst
Starting the action on Friday was the Central Group I Final between Asbury Park and Keansburg. The Blue Bishops of Asbury Park were coming off of a 1-9 season last year, but suddenly seem to have found a pretty deep talent pool. During their 32-18 victory, Asbury Park showcased a few impressive underclassmen, but no one stood out more than junior wide receiver Derrell Bell. At 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, Bell finished the game with three touchdown receptions, an interception on defense, and a few key special team returns. He's a long legged receiver, who doesn't have blazing speed, but seems to eat up five yards at a stride. He has very good hands, runs clean routes, and also showcased impressive jumping ability during the game. This ability came in handy during one of his receptions, when he out jumped two Keansburg defenders on an under-thrown pass at the 50-yard line, and then cruised the rest of the way for the touchdown.
The nightcap on Friday featured Michigan-bound linebacker J.B. Fitzgerald and his West Windsor-Plainsboro South Pirates taking on the Howell Rebels in the Central Group IV Championship Game. Although the Pirates were never really in the game during their 48-13 loss, Fitzgerald was impressive. Playing against Howell's spread offense, we didn't really have a chance to see Fitzgerald in action against the run too often, but he did showcase his athleticism throughout the game. With Howell running numerous four wide receiver sets, Fitzgerald continuously covered running backs and tight ends 20-30 yards down the field with ease. Also playing tight end on offense, he scored on a 30-yard reception where he both eluded and ran over a few tacklers.
Starting up play on Saturday were Holy Cross and Gloucester Catholic, who both made the trip for the Non-Public Group II Championship Game from deep in South Jersey. Playing without their record setting senior quarterback Tom Reilly, the Lancers of Holy Cross relied on their defense and came away with a 17-0 victory. One of the leaders on the defense for the Lancers was UConn-bound Jerome Williams. Although he was hampered with an injury, he still was impressive. Williams actually ended up playing more on the offensive line than the defensive line because of his injury, but when given the opportunity he consistently found his way into the offensive backfield. His size (6 feet 2, 235 pounds) may put him in that "tweener" position right now, but he has the athletic ability to make his mark at UConn. Also for Holy Cross was senior Mark Singer, who did a little bit of everything for the Lancers, but seems destined to play safety at the next level. Singer has a knack for the big play and constantly seemed to be around the ball. Although he's still waiting on his first offer, we did hear that a number of DI programs are claiming increased interest.
While Gloucester Catholic's offense was far from impressive during the loss to Holy Cross, one player who definitely stood out physically was junior tight end Steven Rotella. At 6-foot-4 and 235-pounds, Rotella moves very well, and even lined up at wide receiver on a handful of plays.
The much anticipated battle between undefeated Holy Spirit and Immaculata followed. While Immaculata came in with most of the hype, Holy Spirit walked away with the 26-13 victory. Leading the way for Holy Spirit was senior running back William Washington, whose performance on Saturday put him over the 2,000-yard mark for the season. Physically, Washington closely resembles Rutgers running back Ray Rice. He's listed at 5 feet 9 and 205 pounds, has great balance, good vision, runs low to the ground, and is built like a tank. Supposedly some academic issues are the only thing holding him back from being a big-time recruit. While Washington is still waiting for his recruitment to explode, his teammate Marcus Witherspoon ended his process a long time ago. The Michigan commit definitely looks like a top DI prospect physically. Although he's listed as a linebacker, he spent most of the day at defensive end, and used an assortment of moves to harass the Immaculata quarterback and running game. He'll likely start off as a linebacker with the Wolverines, but don't be surprised if he grows out of that position after a year or two in their strength and conditioning program.
Immaculata's running game may have struggled, but with what they have coming back next year, it should only improve. Leading the way was Rivals100 junior running back Theo Riddick. Yes, he struggled with only 60 yards on the ground, but at the same time, it seemed as though Immaculata decided to go away from their regular smash-mouth style of football in this game. Riddick spent most of the game split out, which surprised many in attendance. The dynamic junior did end up scoring on a beautifully executed hook n' ladder play, plus he wowed the crowd during a kickoff return when he effortlessly hurdled a would-be tackler. Although he's physically bigger than he was as a sophomore, there is definitely still room for some growth there. Also, while some people question his breakaway speed, it's extremely rare that anyone actually brings him down from behind.
Blocking for Riddick this year and next are junior linemen Mark Brazinski and Cody Bohler. Up to this point, Brazinski has received the majority of the publicity. A likely guard or center prospect, Brazinski has definitely made some impressive strides during this season. He looks bigger, plays stronger, and moves extremely well. To prove this point, he even plays on Immaculata's kickoff return team, where you usually don't see a 6-foot-3, 280-pound lineman. Quickly making a name for himself is Bohler, who at 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, is hard to miss. Lining up at right tackle throughout the game, he often found himself face to face with Witherspoon and definitely held his own. He moves very well from side to side and is quick, but he does need to work on his upper body strength in the off-season.
A senior for Immaculata that saw increased playing time this season because of an early season injury to Riddick, and definitely took advantage of it, is Mike Kuhn. Kuhn has made a name for himself on the combine circuit for two years, but finally seemed to put it together on the field this season. More likely to be a defensive back at the next level, he also teamed with Riddick to form a very impressive 1-2 punch in their backfield.
The final game on Saturday saw undefeated Piscataway taking on Hunterdon Central, who suffered its only loss of the season to Immaculata. While Piscataway was the team with more "star power", it was Hunterdon Central that walked away with the victory. Despite the loss, a few of the Chiefs definitely excelled. Leading the way was Rutgers commit Marvin Booker. Though he's still undersized for his outside linebacker position, he is extremely athletic and flies to the ball. If he can maintain his speed after gaining 10-20 pounds, he has the potential to make his mark at Rutgers.
Temple commit J.D. Griggs also caught our attention. He has very legitimate size at 6-foot-5 and 235-pounds, and has the frame to add on plenty of mass. Lining up mostly at tight end, but also at defensive end, Griggs is a fluid athlete, who still seems a bit raw, but definitely has potential.
Lastly for the Chiefs senior class was cornerback and UConn commit Dwayne Gratz. While Hunterdon Central's passing attack was clicking throughout the game, they basically seemed to avoid throwing in Gratz's general direction. He's a smooth looking athlete, who also doesn't have a problem coming close to the line and attacking the run.
As for the junior class at Piscataway, two players stood out on Saturday. First was wide receiver Jeremy Crayton, who at 5 feet 11 and 175 pounds made several nice plays. He looked equally confident running the short and long routes and showed very sure hands. Lastly for the junior class was defensive end Aaron Hush, who although raw, definitely has the size and natural ability to become a recruit everyone should remember for next year.
Barry Every, Rivals.com Recruiting Analyst
ECI earns first ever trip to Georgia Dome: The one-traffic-light town of Twin City, Georgia - population 1,800 ? hosted the 1A quarterfinal matchup between the hometown Twin City (Ga.) Emanuel County Institute Bulldogs and the visiting Warrenton (Ga.) Warren County Screaming Devils. This small hamlet would swell to well over 4,000 fans, mostly cheering ECI on to a 34-17 victory.
Defenses reigned for both teams in the first quarter. ECI was lead by mammoth defensive lineman and 2009 Rivals100 prospect J.C. Lanier. Lanier would finish the game with an amazing 12 tackles, including one sack. The Screaming Devils had their own defensive standout in Jonathan Lewis. Lewis, only a junior, kept the ECI running game in check, delivering eye popping hits and finished with eight solo tackles and five assists.
Junior tailback Washaun Ealey got the Bulldog offense in gear, taking a short dump pass and zig zagging his way to a 54-yard gain down to the 4-yardline. That would set up a short quarterback keeper, allowing ECI to draw first blood and take a 6-0 lead.
Warren County countered with the scrambling of senior quarterback Tommy Seals and eventually scored to take a 7-6 lead into the locker room.
The third quarter was highlighted by a 80-yard touchdown pass from Seals to senior wide receiver Travis Burley to take a 17-13 lead. Seals finished the night 10 of 21 for 211 yards, ending his senior season with more than 1,000 yards both rushing and passing.
The final quarter would be all Bulldogs. Ealey scored twice, once from 26 yards out and again from 80 yards. Ealey finish the game with 210 yards on 21 carries. His two scores extended the state single season touchdown mark to a whopping 50 touchdowns.
Twin City junior linebacker Dexter Moody delivered the loudest strike of the night when he collided with a Warren County kick returner. Moody also came up with a key sack that ultimately doomed any chance of a comeback for the Screaming Devils. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder finished the evening with five solos, and two tackles for loss. Next up for ECI is a trip to Atlanta to meet Homerville (Ga.) Clinch County in the 1A State Semifinals this Friday at Noon.
Chad Simmons, Recruiting Analyst
Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett held on for a 38-35 win against a talented Newnan team in the Georgia state playoffs last week. Neither school has a highly rated 2008 recruit, but they both have some talented underclassmen to watch for in the future.
North Gwinnett quarterback Michael Tamburo is one of the most talked about junior signal callers in the state and he is getting attention from many top schools across the South and into the Midwest.
He finished the night with close to 100 yards passing on 12 completions and more than 100 yards rushing, including a 38-yard run up the middle for a touchdown in the second quarter. Tamburo handed the ball off quite a bit to another junior, Tyler Jarry who made his share of plays.
Jarry is a quick athlete that lined up in the backfield and at receiver for North Gwinnett. He finished with 145 yards rushing and a couple of touchdowns.
One of the Bulldogs top playmakers was battling a sprained ankle Friday night, so he was not able to showcase his talents much at all, but he is one to watch in 2010. Corder Dixon is a 5-foot-11, 175-pound speedster that makes plays at receiver. He returns kicks and can play in the secondary as well. He was in and out of the game due to injury, but he did catch two passes and return a kickoff for 25 yards.
Newnan has a sophomore to watch as well in safety Alec Ogletree. Ogletree is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound safety that loves to hit. He is known for delivering the big hits and bringing the crowd to their feet and he made his share of plays Friday.
The class of 2010 prospect finished with eight tackles, a couple of hard hits and he just missed an interception when he broke on a ball across the middle. He got there in time and broke the pass up, but could not control it for the pick.
One of the top overall athletes on the field at Tara Stadium Friday was Newnan quarterback Russell Powell. Powell is a lefty like Tamburo and in the same class as well. He is a junior that does not have great size (under 6-feet), but throws a very good pass and knows how to lead the Courgar offense.
He threw for 360 yards against North Gwinnett in this game and he also starts at point guard for the Newnan in basketball team and he may have the option to play either sport in college on some level.