At some schools, defensive linemen believe they've done their job well if
they've clogged things up enough to allow their linebackers to make plays.
Not at Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee.
"If (ball carriers) get to the linebackers, we feel like we messed up," said Manatee
defensive end Blake Keller.
In that case, Manatee's defensive line doesn't mess up very often.
Manatee returns all four starting defensive linemen from a team that won the
Florida Class 7A state title last year and finished 11th in the RivalsHigh 100
national rankings. Manatee yielded seven points or less in seven games last
season, including a 40-0 shutout of Jacksonville First Coast in the state final.
Rating: Four stars (No. 16 defensive tackle in 2013 class)
Notable: Calloway indicated before spring practice that Arkansas, Miami, Ohio State, Texas A&M and USC were his leading schools. He is visiting USC this week. Calloway used to live in California before moving to Bradenton in his sophomore year of high school. Other schools to offer Calloway include Arizona, Florida, Iowa State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, North Carolina, UCF, USF and West Virginia.
Quotable: "He's got good quick feet and plays with leverage.
He's very strong in the upper body and does a good job of firing off the
line. He has pretty much everything you really want in a defensive tackle.
He's going to disrupt off the middle, attack in a straight line. He's a very
talented kid, excellent at finishing plays. He does a good job of playing
off the strength of his teammates. He's on a loaded defensive line. He
understands he's going to get opportunities to get one-on-one, and he's
going to win that in most cases."
- Rivals.com Florida recruiting analyst Chris Nee
DEMARCUS CHRISTMAS (2014)
Notable: Although he will only be a junior in high school this
fall, Christmas already has offers from Florida State, Miami, North
Carolina, South Carolina and USF. He moved into Manatee's starting lineup
late in his sophomore season and immediately made a major impression.
Quotable: "In my opinion, after watching him in the state title
game last year, he's going to be an absolutely huge prospect. He's a massive
kid -- really, really big. And he's only getting bigger. One of his coaches
said during the spring the thing they're most impressed with him about is he
is working to get better. He's continually improving from a technique
standpoint and getting better at using his hands. He's 6-3 and weighed 285
pounds when I saw him last year, but I think he's packed on about 15 more
pounds, so he's hovering right around 300 pounds. Watching him in the state
title game, I walked away thinking this is an SEC-style defensive tackle.
He's dominant at the point of attack. He's excellent at finishing plays. And
he's surprisingly quick laterally."
- Rivals.com Florida recruiting analyst Chris Nee
Rating: Three stars
Notable: Keller verbally committed to UCF last weekend after also receiving offers from Iowa State, Pittsburgh, USF, West Virginia and Western Kentucky. He recorded 75 tackles and 14 sacks in his junior season at Manatee.
Quotable: "He's a real high-engine kid. He could end up being
an outside linebacker in some schemes. I think UCF may intend to use him
that way. He's very quick off the snap. He has a quick first step. He does a
good job of using his length to get to the quarterback as quickly as
possible. He's a very strong kind already. One thing Manatee does a great
job of is developing their kids from a physical standpoint at the high
school level, and Blake's definitely a guy who's bought into that and done a
good job of improving. He's quick to the point of attack and does a good job
of getting off the initial block and finishes plays well. He's a solid
tackler in space too."
- Rivals.com Florida recruiting analyst Chris Nee
Defensive tackle Derrick Calloway is a four-star prospect with offers
other starting tackle is Demarcus Christmas, who already has fielded
offers from Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, South Carolina and USF before the start of his junior year. Keller, a
three-star recruit, has verbally committed to UCF. The only starting
lineman without an FBS offer is Marquis Dawsey, a four-year starter and
playmaker whose lack of size is keeping him from getting more attention.
Just try to find a more star-studded defensive line on any high school campus
across the nation.
"It's a big help having all those guys there," Keller said. "They take all the
pressure off me, and I take the pressure off them. They can't double-team us
Manatee's defensive linemen thrive in a system that showcases their talents.
Rather than relying on tackles to eat up space and clog holes in the running
lanes, the Hurricanes want to make sure Calloway and Christmas get in the
backfield as often as possible. And, of course, they also want Keller and Dawsey
to wreak havoc on the edges.
"I think what sets us apart up front is that if you watch any type of video or
coach speech, they always talk about 'playing the block,'" Manatee defensive
line coach Steve Gulash said. "We don't consider the block a factor and never
have since I've been here. We consider how fast we can get off the ball and
disrupt what they do. I don't teach the kids to play any block. I teach them to
beat the block.'
"We react faster than the offensive line, or we get beat. It's that simple."
That plan has worked quite well for Manatee, one of Florida's most consistently
Manatee has won five state titles under head coach Joe Kinnan, who owns a
career record of 269-68. The return of the outstanding defensive line gives
the Hurricanes an excellent shot at a second straight championship.
"We have high expectations," Kinnan said. "We think we'll be better (than last
year). Now, whether we'll be as successful, that remains to be seen."
Dawsey and Keller each recorded 14 sacks for the Hurricanes last season.
Calloway delivered 55 tackles and eight sacks. Christmas collected 42 tackles, even though he didn't move into the starting lineup until midway through the
Although he is only now entering his first full year as a starter, Christmas
might be the best prospect in the entire front four. He admits he surprised
himself with his quick adjustment to a featured role last year.
"(The coaches) told me I had the size and stuff, that all I needed to do is put
in the work and I'd be successful," Christmas said.
Christmas learned from watching his older teammates, which continued a Manatee
Manatee has produced so many quality defensive linemen that each standout passes
lessons on to his successor. For example, Manatee's 2011 class featured
three-star defensive tackle Quinton Pompey (now at Iowa State),
two-star tackle Drakkar Wilson (now at Carson-Newman) and two-star
defensive end Chris Pompey (now at Eastern Kentucky). Gulash himself
played defensive line on Manatee's 1992 state championship team before moving on
to Eastern Kentucky.
"The biggest thing with Manatee is they have an excellent coaching staff from
Joe Kinnan down," Rivals.com Florida recruiting analyst Chris Nee said. "They
really do a great job of developing kids. I'm not just talking about the D-line.
I'm talking in general. They do a great job developing kids. They have a
standard set with guys who have come before in recent years, guys like Quinton
Pompey. He's a D-tackle who never really got a ton of press in recruiting, but
was an excellent player in the high school ranks.
"Guys like that have established what's expected of guys on the defensive front,
and it's continued. You've got Calloway coming up this year and Christmas next
year, so it's like there's almost a staircase of continual progression at the
defensive line spots."
That system often means defensive linemen have to wait their turn. Dawsey will
enter his fourth year as a starter this fall, but he's the exception. Most other
defensive linemen spend their first couple of years in part-time roles before
moving into the starting lineup.
Keller believes that eventually works to their benefit. He remembers how
Pompey and Wilson helped make him a better player.
"We watched them and learned from them and also learned from Coach Gulash,"
Keller said. "That makes us prepared when we come out to play. It's just like a
cycle. Everybody watches who's in front of them, and when it's their turn, they
take advantage of it."
When they watch their older teammates, they immediately learn the aggressive
philosophy that has become a trademark of Manatee defensive linemen.
Why wait for a linebacker to deliver the tackle you can make yourself?
"We talk every day about not letting the linebackers make a play," Gulash said.
"Be selfish and want to make that play."
That selfishness has rubbed off on his players, in a good way. Every single
lineman on this team savors the opportunity to beat his man and reach the
backfield with ruthless intensity.
"Our goal is just to get to the ball and destroy whoever has the ball," Keller
Manatee's 2013 opponents should consider themselves warned.
POWER POSITIONS: WHAT IT'S ABOUT
As we head into the summer, we've decided to look ahead to the 2012 fall
football season by rating which high schools have the best prospects at each
position unit. Here is the series schedule:
Wednesday: Offensive Backfields (QB/RB)
Thursday: Pass-Catch Duo (QB to Ind. WR)
Friday: Receiving Corps (Entire Group)
Sunday: Defensive Line
OTHERS OF NOTE (in alphabetical order)
East Point (Ga.) Tri Cities: DT Marcus Adams
(three-star prospect, 5.6 rating), DT Dominique Threatt (three-star
prospect, 5.6 rating)
Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy: DE
Kenny Bigelow (five-star prospect, 6.1 rating, No. 2 strong-side DE and No. 6
overall prospect in 2013 class, committed to USC), DE Danair Hardrick
(two-star prospect, 5.3 rating), DT Isaiah Johnson (two-star prospect,
5.4 rating), DE Manny Serrano (listed in Rivals.com database, though he
doesn't have a rating or any reported offers)
Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara: DT Darius Commissiong
(three-star prospect, 5.6 rating, No. 39 defensive tackle in 2013 class,
prospect, 5.6 rating, No. 34 weak-side defensive end in 2013 class, committed to
Houston (Texas) Alief Taylor: DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
(three-star prospect, 5.6 rating, No. 32 weak-side defensive end in 2013 class),
DE Torrodney Prevot (four-star prospect, No. 5 weak-side defensive end
and No. 74 overall prospect in 2013 class)
Jackson (Ga.): DE Justin Akins (three-star prospect,
5.6 rating), DT Jay Woods (three-star prospect, 5.7 rating, No. 24
defensive tackle in 2013 class)
Lawton (Okla.): DT Ivan Thomas (2014 prospect with
weak-side defensive end and No. 121 overall prospect in 2013 class, committed to
Newnan (Ga.) Northgate: DT DeAndre Johnson (three-star
prospect, 5.7 rating, No. 23 defensive tackle in 2013 class, committed to
No. 3 strong-side defensive end in 2013 class)
Orlando (Fla.) Jones: DE Kendrick Hair (three-star
prospect, 5.6 rating), DE Devin Washington (three-star prospect, 5.7
rating, No. 17 weak-side defensive end in 2013 class, committed to South
Sicklerville (N.J.) Timber Creek: DE Dajaun Drennon
(three-star prospect, 5.7 rating, No. 22 weak-side defensive end in 2013 class),
DT Greg Webb (four-star prospect, No. 7 defensive tackle and No. 106
overall recruit in 2013 class, committed to Penn State)
Trotwood (Ohio) Trotwood-Madison: DE Jarrod Clements
(three-star prospect, 5.7 rating, No. 19 strong-side defensive end in 2013
with an offer from Illinois), DE Verondtae Wilkinson (2014 prospect
(three-star prospect, 5.6 rating)
Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.
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