Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia was the scene on Friday for the Tigers media day. The southern Virginia school features many top talents from across the country including 2005 star's Melvin Alaeze, Callahan Bright, Jerrell Powe along with 2006 star receiver Vidal Hazelton. Besides these and many more standout performers, we got a chance to meet with many of the members of the team to see who really looks good heading into the season.
Of course, you can't look beyond the defensive line which includes Powe, Alaeze, Bright, North Carolina's Darrius Massenburg and Florida State's Justin Mincey. Of them, Bright appears to be the one everyone is raving about with his aggressive style of play and leadership that seems to motivate the rest team on both sides of the ball. The future Florida State star looked every bit of his listed 6-foot-2, 320-pound frame and looks like he kept himself in very good shape.
Most of the other linemen appeared to be pretty similar to their high school ranges as well with the exception of Massenburg and Mincey. Massenburg has added 15 to 20 pounds since last season to get up to 265 pounds and will benefit by being in company of the top defensive line talent on hand. Meanwhile Mincey has exploded to 275 pounds on his impressive 6-foot-5 frame. He said that he hasn't lost any speed off the edge as well.
Alaeze, who was one of the most talkative and popular players at the U.S. Army All-American Game in January, is quite serious and very quiet at Hargrave. The big man hasn't lost any bulk or speed at all and is intent on doing his job and moving on to the Terps. Meanwhile, Powe still has some work to do when it comes to slimming down a bit, but he's expected to get down to the 330-pound range soon.
This collection of defensive linemen could be the best ever assembled at one prep school if they all continue to work hard and focus on academics. It wouldn't be a shock to see all five playing in the NFL in 5 or 6 years.
Attempting to stop the ridiculously talented defensive front four in practice is a talented offensive line including Ole Miss commitment John Jerry, Syracuse's Jonathan Meldrum, Auburn's Mike Harness, Tennessee's Darius Myers and Florida State's Matt Hardrick. One unsigned talent that certainly stood out was a 6-foot-6, 300-pounder Brian Kelly who certainly has the size and has held up well in practice.
Meanwhile, Hardrick, Myers and Jerry were obviously enormous and certainly well over their listed 300 pounds.
As for the offense, Offensive Coordinator Ryan Sulkowski guarantees that unsigned quarterback Jarrett Dunston is the real deal. It's not surprising when you look at him. With a 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame he's a big quarterback.
"We're looking for big things from Jarrett, he's an ACC-caliber quarterback and it's just going to take one or two game tapes," he said. "Once schools see him, there is no doubt he'll get what he deserves. You can't say enough about the kid, he's a straight-shooter who has good touch on the ball. He's been able to lead and get everybody on the same page from day one here, even the offensive line has warmed up to him."
Dunston's job should be made easier with the array of targets he'll have at his disposal including receivers Tim Jones, Craig Hayden and the No. 20 player in 2006 in Vidal Hazelton. All of them are big targets at taller than 6-foot-3 in height.
Just by talking to Hazelton for a few minutes you can tell he's changed since he arrived in Chatham a couple weeks ago. He's a very "yes sir, no sir" type of player now and that seriousness has also translated onto the field.
"Hazelton did a lot of stuff on raw ability in high school, but in just a week he's already starting to understand where to sit down in zone coverage," he said. "He's miles ahead of where he was at any time last year. He's much more mature and I can bet It'll show on the field this year."
One tight end is certainly standing out from the bunch as well. Unsigned tight end T.C. Drake is a huge 6-foot-6, 225-pounder who towers over the competition. Look for Dunston to find the big man a lot this year too.
Of course, the running backs will help the fifth-year quarterback as well. The talented backfield includes the likes of Alabama's Mike Ford, Maryland's Morgan Green, Kentucky's Corey Goodson and unsigned Louisiana back Keiland Williams. The competition for playing time will surely make all of them much better with Ford and Green expected to get the bulk of the carries early.
The defense has more talent beyond the line at both linebacker and defensive back. Although slight at just 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Ryan Brinson has a good frame and certainly could be the next Pac-Man Jones (Pocket Pac Man?) at West Virginia when he gets there. He's small but powerful and tough.
At linebacker Georgia's Darius Dewberry has a solid 6-foot-3, 220-pound body and the players rave that he has a motor that never stops. He's one of the top performers in camp and is an unsung leader on the defense. The other major linebacker prospect on the team is Illinois's Rahkeem Smith. Smith has a solid frame too, although a little smaller at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds.
Just by stopping by and visiting the team, you can tell that these Hargrave Tigers are going to do something special this season when they take the field. Player after player reiterated the fact that they felt this team was special and that the difficult military life, forced socialization between players and 6AM wakeup calls have helped the entire team bond quickly. This has made it the best team they have all ever been on.
Brian Mohr contributed to this report.