football Edit

Connecticut suddenly producing talent

High school programs such as Cass Tech, Long Beach Poly , St. Thomas Aquinas and Don Bosco Prep are all very familiar to recruiting followers, but how about Cheshire Academy, Kingswood-Oxford, St. Luke's, Suffield Academy and Avon Old Farms?
Sure, they may not produce as many top-end football recruits as some more recognized national football powers, but this group of Connecticut schools in the NEPSAC (New England Preparatory School Athletic Council) has started to make a great deal of recruiting noise.
The Class of 2015 was a banner year for the NEPSAC, with multiple athletes making their way to top college programs. Clemson defensive tackle signee Christian Wilkins of Suffield Academy headlined this group by becoming the first five-star recruit to be a product of the NEPSAC Connecticut schools (and first from Connecticut in the Rivals database). Aside from Wilkins, tight end Chris Clark of Avon Old Farms signed with UCLA, quarterback Quentin Harris from Watertown The Taft School signed with Duke and athlete William Harris from Wallingford Choate Rosemary Hall and linebacker Sharrieff Grice from West Hartford Kingswood Oxford both signed with Boston College. Just in this decade, recruits have made also made their way to Florida State, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Penn State and Connecticut.
"I have noticed an influx of talent at St. Luke's," said coach Noel Thomas, whose son Noel Thomas signed with UConn after graduating from St. Luke's in 2013. "It's deliberate. My staff and I are always looking for special families to join our football program. It's an obvious evolution. We've enjoyed some success on the football field, winning a league title and a NEPSAC title in the past three years. Many of our student athletes have been and are currently being recruited by Division III to major (FBS) programs. Our school has state-of-the-art classrooms, cutting edge technology and an average of 12 students in each classroom. Most teams in our league have similar environments."
Some of the prep schools, many of which are also boarding schools, have also begun to tap into the New York City area. This is an area that is still mostly known for basketball, but has begun to produce more and more gridiron talent. Others also believe that the talent in Connecticut has improved in recent years.
"I think there is some validity to both of those statements," said Salisbury School coach Christopher Phelps, who coaches three-star tight end and recent Wisconsin commit Jake Hescock. "There are some wonderful organizations, such as the Boys Club of NYC and youth football programs in New York City that help expose young men to these types of opportunities. Most of them have the best interest of the boys and families involved. They recommend boys who they believe are ready for this experience or those student-athletes who need a change of climate. Many of the prep schools that are closer to larger populations are still finding great local players. Unfortunately, Salisbury is located in the rural Northwest corner of Connecticut and we have a very small population of local boys to draw from."
As the production level of the athletes at these schools has continued to improve, college coaches have begun to flock to Connecticut.
"The flow of traffic recently has been phenomenal," said Cheshire Academy coach David Dykeman. "It is not uncommon to see five or six schools a day during recruiting (periods)."
Cheshire Academy has a loaded 2017 class, which includes four-star wide receiver Tarik Black, three-star athlete C.J. Holmes, quarterback CJ Lewis, athlete Brandon Sebastian, and offensive lineman Samuel Vretman.
"The experience has helped with my growth as a player and person a lot," said Black, who already has offers from Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi State, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. "I would see college coaches in the office every day and it motivated me to work harder."
Black does not think that attending a Connecticut prep school puts him at a disadvantage. In fact, he believes that he can compete with the country's best.
"I just don't like how people say that athletes in the Northeast aren't as good as the ones down South," said Black, who grew up in Hamden, Conn. "Some of us can compete and beat guys down South. I believe it doesn't matter where you come from. I compete against them with a little more anger because I know they might be underestimating me."
The top-ranked recruit from a NEPSAC school this year is four-star linebacker Koby Quansah from Kingswood-Oxford, who recently committed to Duke. He strongly believes playing in Connecticut has not hurt his recruiting process.
"We deserve more attention because we can play at the next level and can play at any school in the country," Quansah said. "Take a look at Silas Redd, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Christian Wilkins, Chris Clark, Tarik Black and myself. Not to sound full of myself, but those are just a few examples of what Connecticut football can produce."
Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell, a Connecticut resident for most of his life, has been stunned by the level of talent in the state.
"I remember watching Silas Redd and Kevin Pierre-Louis play against some of the Connecticut Preps and remember watching Joshua Adams as an Army All-American in 2009 and seeing the competition they played was hard to watch," Farrell said. "My father-in-law worked at Kingswood-Oxford for years and I would remember how horrible those football programs were and now you have a couple of kids going to Boston College and Quansah as a four-star from there. Things have changed very quickly and I guarantee as more coaches come to scout more kids from these prep schools, there will be more and more offers. The talent isn't close to the level of some of the metro areas around the country, but there are diamonds in the rough here. Just ask Florida State about Bjoern Werner and how he turned out."
Werner, who went to Salisbury, started as a sophomore and junior for the Seminoles before being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
The high academic standards set by the Connecticut prep schools make Quansah believe that he will have an advantage over other recruits in college.
"It helps me in the long run by serving as a characteristic that sets me apart from other players," he said. "Because it means that I was also a scholar and coaches wouldn't have to worry about me getting into the school or having trouble in class because of how rigorous our academics are."
Even in his three years at Kingswood-Oxford, Quansah has noticed an influx of talent in the league.
"I've noticed better play because more public school kids are transferring to prep or other kids are boarding from other states," he said. "I've also noticed better play because some teams in our league dropped us, so we always go find better competition by playing teams in the higher leagues. They are higher because they're a boarding school and have post grads."
Will this uptick in talent continue?
"My guess is that Connecticut prep school football will continue to rise up," Thomas said. "We're extremely excited to put our brand of football on the map. The coaches, players and families are all in."
"It's going to get better and better," Farrell said. "Syracuse used to make a living sneaking out Connecticut public school kids in the glory days because other schools were too lazy to push over some rocks and find good kids. Now those days are over and colleges are heading here in droves. I expect the number of prep players from Connecticut to triple in the next 5-10 years. My home state isn't just about big-time hoops players at Connecticut preps. It's about football as well."
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