Tennessees top juniors square off

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There was a big game being played on the campus of Maplewood High School in Nashville, Tenn. on Friday night. Maplewood, the 2007 Class 4A State runner-up took a 14-13 win over previously unbeaten 5A power Ooltewah that evening. But the game within the game was not quite so cut-and-dried.
On the line of scrimmage, potentially Tennessee's top two prospects in the class of 2010 were battling it out, giving a unique and telling look at some elite young talent in the Volunteer State.
For Maplewood, junior offensive tackle James Stone showed why he already holds seven written offers from SEC powers like Alabama and Tennessee as well as national names like Stanford and North Carolina.
Opposite him on the defensive line was Ooltewah (Tenn.) High School's Jaquez Smith. At 6 feet 2 and 230 pounds, Smith is an explosive, physical and athletic defender who took some snaps at tight end as well, catching two passes for significant gains.
Though Maplewood came out on top on the scoreboard, both Stone and Ooltewah's Smith walked away with evenings to be proud of. Beyond the athleticism of both prospects, their toughness is what really sets them apart.
James Stone is an athletic prospect with a good frame and body structure for an offensive lineman. He can add more weight but is by no means a small-bodied kid even as a junior.
Though he has a tendency to let his pad-level get high at times, for the most part, it is hard to find a high school offensive lineman that gives the kind of effort he gives on a play-by-play basis. He is explosive out of his stance in the run game and he has the feet and strength to develop into a tremendous pass-blocker as well.
The bottom line with Stone is that he has zero "bust potential". He may not be a sure-fire first round draft pick but you know that with his character and his natural gifts that he will be successful on the college level to some degree. How much success he finds is up to him.
On the Ooltewah sideline, Jaquez Smith demonstrates similar leadership characteristics but as far as pure upside, may even have a higher ceiling than Stone. Though he plays defensive end, Smith could possibly be best suited for inside linebacker. He is terrific in pursuit and he is physical and active with his hands. Smith has a great motor and chases down everything in sight.
Smith's body doesn't have the length that is ideal in a prototypical defensive end but he is quick and powerful moving forward and could be a nightmare for offenses clogging the middle and roaming sideline-to-sideline.
At 6-4, 287 pounds, Stone plays almost every play for Maplewood at left tackle and defensive tackle but still manages to give each play everything he has.
"This night I got a lot less rest than I usually get," Stone said. "I just feel like you gotta go out there like my coach told me and go 100 percent and if you need a rest they'll give it to you…It gets tough but when the road gets tough the tough get going. You just have to keep going out there because you've got the team depending on you."
Smith also played a good deal of snaps on both sides of the ball Friday night and did so despite injuring his foot on one of the first sequences of the evening.
"On that first punt return, this field is so hard, I came down on my heel and then I don't know what happened," Smith said. "I guess it's bruised or something. I need to have it checked out. They wanted to check it out but I couldn't let them. I had to play for my team."
Following the game, Smith spoke to his team with the leadership and intensity of a senior. He encouraged his teammates to keep their heads high and be proud of the effort that they gave. Though not as vocal as Smith, Stone also takes on a leadership role for Maplewood despite his status as a junior.
"I try to be a leader," he said. "I try to get all of my teammates to do the right think on the field and off the field because I feel like what you do off the field affects how you play on the field."
Stone is certainly leading by example. Evidenced by offers from academic heavyweights like Duke, Vanderbilt and Stanford, Stone sports a 3.7 GPA and has already scored a 24 on the ACT.
Academics, character and leadership add to what is already a strong case for Stone as the state's top junior and Friday night was a great showcase of his athleticism and potential.
While Smith does not know of any written offers that have come in, nor does he have any favorites for schools that are recruiting him, Stone does have a couple of schools that stick out early.
"Alabama because I really like how Joe Pendry coaches," said Stone, who camped at Alabama this summer. "I like Tennessee but really I like the SEC schools. And even though I say SEC schools, I really like Stanford too because they have excellent academics as well as football."
On Friday night, no definitive answer was settled as to who is the top 2010 prospect in Tennessee. However, even as more names emerge in the coming months, there will be little doubt that Stone and Smith will remain in the discussion.