Coaches regularly think of Texas, Florida and California as must-stops when looking for football talent. But in the class of 2007, the Washington (D.C.) area should not be forgotten.
The early crown jewel of this class is standout wide receiver Arrelious Benn of Dunbar. Benn, who is on the Rivals.com Class of 2007 100 to watch list already has verbal scholarship offers from Illinois, Maryland, and Virginia.
Dunbar coach Craig Jeffries said the surge in top-level prospects has been helped by several factors.
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"We've always had peaks and valleys like any other area, but when the junior high school football programs started several years ago, it helped to develop the kids," Jeffries said. "That's been one of the keys because we've always had talented guys. Now they're standing out."
In addition to not having junior high football, the private high schools in the D.C. area were notorious for scooping up most of the talent. That trend, according to Jeffries, is starting to reverse.
"Some guys are staying and going to the public schools when in the past the private institutions grabbed a lot of the guys up," Jeffries said. "I'd say we've been fortunate to keep guys from the junior high school program and get them enrolled in the public schools."
Coolidge coach Jason Lane has two top prospects for the 2007 year. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound Lamar Milstead is a big-time offensive tackle that is as special as they come for such a young player.
Milstead isn't the only lineman that is making waves early. His counterpart, defensive tackle Marvin Austin is another Coolidge player that has put the area on the map.
Like Benn, both Coolidge prospects are on the Rivals.com Class of 2007 100 to watch list
"You have to credit the coaches for getting out more and getting the notoriety that these kids deserve," Lane said. "We've had guys like Jerry Porter who are now in the NFL come out of here, so there hasn't been a shortage."
Coolidge's stars also include a pair of wide receivers in 6-foot-3, 190-pound Cory McManus and speedy Kobi Williams who look to also be highly recruited prospects for the 2007 class.
Traveling outside of D.C. has helped to get. Jeffries took his skill position players on an 11-hour trip to the Knoxville (Tenn.) 7-on-7 tournament. With the early exposure, guys like Benn and Nathan Bussey are seeing their stock rise.
"We got in the bus and it really gave us exposure outside of the region," Jeffries said. "We got to play with kids form Georgia and Texas that are supposedly from the top football states in the country. It did a lot for our kids and our program to let them know our D.C. area can play.
"We can play with any public school in the country and that kind of confirms it."
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell agrees that the talent has been there and these coaches are doing an amazing job of getting the prospects the exposure they deserve. At the same time, it is a surprising change in the recruiting landscape.
"It's kind of a rare year," Farrell said about the D.C. talent in 2007. "It's a situation where the quality of coaching has risen and the stability of the programs has trickled down from Maryland and in to the area."
Players such as Milstead and Austin at Coolidge and Benn at Dunbar are already on the recruiting boards of a national list of colleges according to Farrell.
"Both guys, Milstead and Austin are just huge and have the advantage of going against better players this year as well," Farrell said. "Dunbar usually has great players, but you add that with the fact that coach (Jeffries) said Benn was the best guy he's coached. It's easy to see the exposure rising."
Farrell believes that academic issues have prevented some D.C.-area prospects from being highly-recruited.
"A lot of kids had the talent to play D-1 football but fell through the cracks because they weren't prepared academically," Farrell said. "Now the kids that are eligible translate into even more attention because these guys are able to be recruited successfully.
"There is more attention paid to academics now."
Lane believes that his Coolidge team will be just one of many that turn quality prospects into collegiate stars.
With the junior high school football system being about 10 years old now, these kids come in here more prepared and ready to be trained," Lane said. "I think it's going to get even bigger because the coaches are stopping in D.C. during recruiting. It's been proven that you take these guys to national combines and they can compete."
Jeffries believes the talent pool at his school will get even deeper.
"We've been fortunate over the past few years, but I look at the younger guys now and I'd saw we probably have five or six guys that are only freshman with loads of talent," Jeffries said about his future Dunbar players. "I hope it gets bigger every year because it looks headed in that direction now more than ever."