Helmholdt Road Show: Recapping weekend action in Ohio and Chicago
The 2020 high school football season has not started in some Midwest states, while in others this week begins the post-season. That dichotomy was highlighted with our coverage over the weekend of games in Ohio and a camp in Chicago. Top prospects like five-star Ohio State commit C.J. Hicks were part of that coverage, but so were seniors trying to catch the interest of college coaches without having a season to play this fall.
MARKUS ALLEN PLAYS HERO IN WIN OVER HUBER HEIGHTS WAYNE
One of the most exciting games of the season I have seen thus far featured four-star Clayton (Ohio) Northmont senior receiver Markus Allen catching the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter to spur his team to a 28-27 win over Huber Heights Wayne. The final touchdown was part of a 14-catch, 258-yard, three-touchdown performance from Allen, who finished the six-game regular season with 43 receptions for 652 yards and nine touchdowns.
There was concern raised before the season with an injury Allen sustained to a shoulder labrum that may have slowed his recruitment from several schools. Friday night, though, Allen did not show any effects from that injury, which he called “small." He took – and delivered – several big hits after catches. The opposing defenses tried to bracket him with a corner and safety, but Allen was too quick and his routes too sharp. He showed the ability to turn short catches into long-gainers as well as make the tough catches over the middle. It was the type of performance you expect out of a four-star receiver.
Allen was committed to Michigan until last month, and is now looking closely at Cincinnati, Virginia and Wisconsin while fielding new interest from Ohio State, Penn State and a couple Pac-12 programs. His teammate, three-star safety Rod Moore, remains committed to Michigan.
Moore plays both safety and receiver for Northmont, while also returning kicks. He can run the alleys and has the athleticism to stay with receivers down the field, but is a little on the smaller side for a safety. At day’s end, Moore had four tackles, while adding six receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown on offense.
This game featured talent on both sides of the football. Wayne features four-star 2022 offensive tackle Aamil Wagner and three-star 2022 tight end Elijah Brown. Physically, you will not find a tight end in this 2022 class that looks the part more than Brown. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder is a big, physical player who just needs to become a little quicker to rank among the best tight ends in his class. He can play in-line and be an effective blocker, or split out and create mismatches against the defense. Brown finished the night with three catches for 53 yards.
Wagner, meanwhile, has an older brother who is trying to catch on in the NFL after a couple standout seasons at Kentucky. Physically he is still developing, but Wagner has a frame that intrigues college coaches and has already yielded close to 20 scholarship offers that include Michigan State, Oregon, Penn State and Stanford. His play is ahead of his physical development, and Wagner is a very effective left tackle for Wayne. He is exceptionally light on his feet, which makes him difficult for defenders to get around even though he’s not a wide-framed guy. Wagner can get second level and locates his block in space with tremendous efficiency.
Wayne also had a couple intriguing linebackers. Senior Antonio O’Berry is a rangy linebacker who was all over the field and came up with several big plays, including the recovery of a blocked kick in the end zone. Class of 2022 linebacker Adam Trick was responsible for blocking the kick – and impressive play that saw him fly off the edge and knock the football straight off the punters toe. Trick is also a tall, rangy linebacker at 6-foot-4 who holds an early offer from Akron.
ARCHBISHOP ALTER LED BY 2022 RIVALS100 PROSPECTS
Archbishop Alter successfully completed a four-game winning streak in their regular season finale last Thursday, beating rival Chaminade-Julienne by a 49-21 final. Alter is led by a pair of Rivals100 prospects in the 2022 class, five-star Ohio State linebacker commit CJ Hicks and four-star defensive tackle Derrick Shepard.
Hicks finished with six tackles, including three for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. He also plays running back on offense and is the Knights’ primary return man on special teams. In other words, he never comes off the field, but he never tired nor showed fatigue down to the game’s final whistle.
The more I watch Hicks, the more he reminds me of current Dallas Cowboy linebacker Jaylon Smith. Both are freak athletes for the position who play with a ton of range, though neither is a particularly big hitter. It does feel strange having a five-star linebacker who is not a big hitter, though that is not to say Hicks is not a good tackler. He just does not blow ball carriers up on a regular basis. That being said, he did come up on a particular play when the quarterback tucked and ran and gave him a pretty good lick.
I was surprised that Shepard, whom we have ranked as the No. 5 defensive tackle prospect in the 2022 class, saw just one series on defense. He was solid on that series, making a key stop in the backfield down by the goal line. The majority of what we saw from Shepard, though, was on the offensive line where he started and played throughout at right tackle.
As an offensive lineman Shepard does have college potential, but I do not like him on that side of the ball as much as I like him as a defensive tackle or nose guard. His size and skill set fit much better to those defensive roles, but if the rest of the season is anything like Thursday night’s game, we may not have much to evaluate Shepard on defensively.
The catalyst for Alter’s win on Thursday night was really senior running back Branden McDonald, who started the game with an 25-yard touchdown run on his first carry and an 81-yard touchdown run on his second carry. McDonald is a FBS prospect with offers from several Group of Five programs. He lost about 25 pounds and is playing at a very explosive 210 pounds now. I could easily see him getting Power Five looks from programs looking for late help at the running back position.
EDGYTIM/EFT FOOTBALL SUNDAY NIGHT SHOWCASE
Illinois is left as the only Midwest state not playing a fall high school football season. The frustration with players in that state is palpable. Some have left to play in states that are having a fall season, but for most that is not a viable option. Instead of letting opportunities and scholarship offers pass them by, however, college prospects are looking to showcase their skills any way they can.
Several 7-on-7 and training groups throughout the Chicagoland area have been giving high school football players an opportunity to compete this fall. One of those opportunities has been the Sunday Night Showcase Series run by EFT Football and EdgyTim, which concluded with its invite-only event this most recent Sunday. About 150 prospects performed in unseasonably cold weather.
The deepest group of performers was at offensive line, where top 2023 prospects from East St. Louis like Miles McVay and Paris Patterson were joined by the likes of three-star 2022 offensive tackle Yaser Al-Awadi and Oak Park (Ill.) Fenwick’s Jimmy Liston. The East St. Louis crew has been particularly active in the absence of a football season, driving across the region, and even traveling outside of it, to get work.
The scholarship offers started arriving for McVay over the summer, and he will only continue to see his list grow. Patterson, though, still awaits his first offer even though he has proven to be on that same, elite level as McVay. Patterson has noticeably grown since we saw him last January, and now looks every bit his listed 6-foot-5. Both are very active and athletic for their size.
East St. Louis also has a 2022 offensive lineman who should start to generate offers once schools see him on the field. Offensive guard Melvin Priestly is in his first season at East St. Louis after transferring in from St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis. He reminds me a lot of current Tennessee offensive guard Ja’Vontez Spraggins, whose recruitment did not start until late winter of his junior year.
There were a few more interesting prospects scattered throughout other position groups. South Holland (Ill.) Thornwood 2022 defensive back Saveon Brown is listed as a safety, but he looked very competent manning up receivers like a cornerback despite having safety size. Akron and Iowa State have offered early, and Brown definitely looks like a Power Five caliber defensive back.
Warren Township 2022 running back Maurice Edwards is originally from Georgia, but moved to the Chicagoland area recently. He has all the makings of a Power Five running back prospect, but without a fall season to showcase his skills, may have to wait before those offers start to come.
There were also several 2021 prospects trying to generate what buzz they could with the little time left to secure scholarship offers. Among those who stood out were Thornwood running back Nate Thomas and quarterback Jalen Cunningham, Hinsdale Central tight end Ryan Orput and defensive end Mark Gorbatenko, who transferred to a school in Iowa so he could play this fall, but is currently back in Illinois due to the state athletic association in Iowa ruling many out-of-state transfers ineligible.