COLUMBIA, S.C. – Four of the Palmetto State’s elite prospects for the Class of 2004, an emerging senior sleeper and a rising junior shared the same field this past Friday as Spring Valley and Northwestern clashed in a talent-laden matchup that would make any scout or recruiting fan drool.
Spring Valley is home to the state’s top player in four-star offensive lineman Leon Hart, the nation’s fifth-rated offensive guard being pursued by a group of powerhouse schools that includes Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio State, South Carolina, Clemson and Virginia.
Hart (6-4, 290, 5.1) is hardly a solo act, though. He’s flanked by a two other physically imposing players on the Vikings’ offensive and defensive lines – ends Mack Frost and (6-5, 235, 4.65) and Anthony Davis (6-5, 230, 4.8). Few schools anywhere in the country can line up with a better looking trio of players down in the trenches, although Spring Valley lacks the depth of athletes it needs at the skill positions to be a more competitive team.
Northwestern made that obvious as a trio of fantastic athletes – wide receiver/safety C.J. Barber, running back Donta Walker and defensive back Jamie Robinson led the Trojans to a resounding 41-6 victory on the Vikings’ home turf.
The following is an exclusive Rivals100 firsthand review of each player:
HART – To put it plainly, believe the hype.
It would be hard to draw up a better looking prospect on the offensive line as Hart carries a lean, muscular 290 pounds on his 6-4 frame. He plays right tackle for Spring Valley, but projects as a guard on the next level.
The first thing you notice about Hart’s play is his balance and footwork. He’s always in a position to execute his blocks, and in the rare instance when a defender succeeds with a first move, he’s got the agility to recover. He fires off the line in run blocking – one can envision him being a dynamite pulling guard – and features a tremendous “punch” in pass protection.
The latter was so good that the pass rusher was often taken out of the play with one devastating blow.
“He’s a monster,” said Northwestern coach Jimmy Wallace. “That’s one heckuva good looking kid, as good as you’ll see around here.”
Hart says South Carolina, Virginia and Ohio State currently lead for his services. Those three schools are in line for official visits. It sounds like Clemson, Florida, Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee will battle for the final two.
With the hometown Gamecocks having another solid season under coach Lou Holtz, they could be tough to beat on Hart.
FROST -- In this particular game, Frost didn’t have nearly the type of impact one would expect from the state’s sixth-rated player, but two factors hindered his performance.
For starters, he’s been slowed by a dreaded “high” ankle sprain in recent weeks and hasn’t been anywhere near 100 percent. To make matters worse, the Spring Valley-Northwestern game was played under a constant rain shower, and with the Trojans jumping out to a 21-point lead in the first quarter, they were even more inclined to stick with the running game.
Frost is a pass-rushing machine, evidenced by his 10 pass breakups and seven sacks as a junior, and would thrive in a system that can turn him loose in that role. His first step off the corner is highly impressive. He needs to add more bulk and use his hands better to get off blocks in the running game, but that should come with maturity.
Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have all offered, and Frost says he’s “open” to all of them. He doesn’t expect to make an early decision, and academics (3.3 GPA, 1080 SAT) could play a key role.
DAVIS -- At first glance, Davis is a near carbon copy of Frost. The fact that they wear Nos. 90 and 91 don’t help matters, either, when it comes to differentiating the two on the field.
Davis is not as explosive as Frost, but still moves well. He appears to be stronger against the run at this stage and is still developing his overall technique. He’s got a tremendous frame that could wind up carrying another 30-40 pounds at the next level. It’s not a stretch to envision him eventually playing at defensive tackle.
There’s lots of room for growth here, and a handful of schools have taken note of that. Davis sports offers from Auburn, Clemson, Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, N.C. State, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
Like Frost, he lists his recruiting situation as “open” at this juncture.
BARBER -- The state’s eighth-ranked prospect in the Class of 2004 may also be one of its most versatile players.
Barber (6-2, 215, 4.5) plays wide receiver, primarily, but has also been used at quarterback, running back and defensive back at times this season.
Safety is the best bet at the next level has he possesses the big frame, speed and instincts to thrive patrolling the back of the secondary.
He plays with a swagger that lets you know he’s confident in his abilities, and likes to mix things up, even on special teams.
“C.J. is a kid every school in the country wants,” Wallace said. “He’s just a great athlete, no matter where you put him. He’s a real aggressive kid who can impact a game in a lot of ways.”
As a junior, he had six interceptions.
Barber said he hasn’t picked out a leading school in his recruitment, but noted that Clemson, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee were recruiting him the hardest.
Academics could be key. Wallace says he’s a very capable student, but needs a solid GPA in his senior year and a decent test score to get over the hump.
WALKER -- The biggest surprise in this game was the emergence of Donta Walker at tailback.
Nobody knew much about the 6-foot-1, 193-pound Walker entering the matchup, but came away thoroughly impressed as he ripped the Spring Valley defense 286 yards and four touchdowns on only 17 carries. And remember, this is a Viking defense that features three major prospects in Hart, Frost and Davis.
At one point in the third quarter, Walker scored on consecutive runs of 66, 52 and 52 yards.
“He’s a kid with a lot of ability,” Wallace said. “He doesn’t get the attention of some other guys, but I think you’re going to be hearing a lot more about him. He ran a 4.52 electronic at Mike Minter’s combine this summer, and with his size and strength, that makes for a pretty good looking back. He’s going to make someone a good player, plus he’s a great kid and a real good student.”
Through seven games this season, Walker has rushed for 990 yards and 12 touchdowns on 143 carries.
He’s received offers from Charleston and Chattanooga, and is starting to draw interest in the form of letters from some ACC and SEC schools.
ROBINSON -- Looking for one of the premier athletes in the Class of 2005? Look no further than Robinson, who Wallace believes will be one of the most heavily recruited players he’s ever had.
“He had six interceptions as a sophomore, and he’s already got five this year,” Wallace said. “The kid’s one heckuva DB. He’s got it, no doubt. We had Derek Ross who’s with the Cowboys and Jeff Burris who’s with the Bengals. Jamie’s got a chance to be as good as either of those guys.”
Robinson stands 6-3 and currently carries 185 pounds, but should easily play at more than 200 at the college level while maintaining his impressive 4.5 speed.
He’s a prototype safety, although he plays corner for Northwestern and features tremendous man-to-man cover skills. In addition to his five picks this season, he’s also got 13 pass break-ups. He'll also step up and play good run support, and he delivered big blows to the Spring Valley ball carriers on many occasions in this game.
He was only challenged once in the passing game, a sign of respect from Spring Valley, which was trying to rally from a deep hole.
Robinson is a true gem to watch for 2005.