With the 2009 high school football season just a few weeks away, it is time to turn an eye towards the 2011 in-state football prospects that will become the focal point of recruiting attention in just six quick months when Signing Day 2010 is in the books.
BOL takes a look at the offensive side of the ball in the first half of a two-part preview highlighting some of the best talent that the state of Alabama has to offer in the rising junior class. Although new names are certain to emerge over the course of the next few months, a few trends are evident in the early going: the state will be heavy on talented athletes that can pitch and catch and low once again in the offensive trenches.
Several talented QBs lead the way
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The crop of signal-callers for the 2011 in-state class is one of the deepest in recent memory. Around half-a-dozen prospects have already emerged as recruits that could garner serious Division I looks in the months ahead.
Perhaps the top quarterback prospect in the state is Theodore's Chris Nelson, a physically imposing signal-caller at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. It's his experience under center, according to his head coach Bill Meredith, that makes Nelson a strong college prospect at quarterback.
"He's a big kid and he's played quarterback his whole life so those are two things that really give him an advantage," Meredith said. "He's extremely athletic, runs a 4.6 forty and has a good arm so he can really do it all from the quarterback position.
"We're a running team primarily and we run a pro-style offense so we don't ask him to do everything and carry the entire offense but his skill set allows him to do so many different things for us. He has the ability to play in a spread option offense like Florida or a pro-style offense like Alabama."
Meredith said Theodore's pro-style offense has helped Nelson develop the technique and the decision-making necessary to play quarterback at the college level.
"I think one thing that's been good for him from a development standpoint is that we almost never take snaps from the shotgun. It has forced him to work on a three step drop and getting the ball out in a hurry and that has really put him ahead of the game as far as playing the quarterback position at the next level."
When new Calera High School head coach Scott Martin arrived on the job this past spring, he was more than pleased to find that his returning starter at quarterback, 2011 star Brandon Wells, bore a striking resemblance to a player Martin coached at his previous job.
"I coached at Destrehan High in Louisana when Jordan Jefferson was there and Brandon really reminds me a lot of Jordan. He's a big kid, around 6-foot-3, with good arm strength and great football savvy. He really understands everything we're trying to do on offense so I really don't have to spend a lot of time explaining things to him. He's like another coach out on the field. It's really impressive to watch him working with the other players and helping them understand the offense."
Martin said that while Wells' dual-threat ability will make him attractive to spread offenses, the junior-to-be has the skills and instincts to excel in more traditional offenses as well.
"His versatility is really what makes him special. That combination of great instincts as a passer and tremendous athleticism and speed just allow you to do so much with him. He's really the ideal guy to head up a spread option offense, which is why he's seeing some early attention from spread teams like Mississippi State. But he's really got the skill set to play quarterback in any offense. He can certainly take snaps from under center and be an excellent drop back passer."
As a sophomore, Wells racked up 1,585 yards and 17 touchdowns passing with 8 interceptions as well as 803 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing. He also boasts a 3.3 GPA and scored a 19 on his first attempt at the ACT.
Several other junior quarterbacks fit the mold of "dual-threat" including Escambia County's Rico Stallworth who already holds a South Alabama verbal offer. Stallworth, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, could also project at other positions.
Central-Tuscaloosa athlete Broderick Hall is almost a carbon copy of Wells physically at 6-foot-3, but Hall is a 4.4 40-yard dash athlete and will also get looks at other positions at the next level.
Athens quarterback Stephen Rivers has the bloodlines - and size - to be a major college football prospect. The younger brother of San Diego Chargers star Phillip Rivers, Stephen is already 6-foot-6 and only needs to add bulk to his frame to take his game to the next level. Rivers transferred from Austin High School this spring.
McGill-Toolen signal-caller Preston Messer has been a regular on the camp circuit this summer, and it is clear the 6-foot, 185-pounder is well-versed in the mechanic of playing the position. Messer also stood out at the EAC Combine at Spanish Fort last month.
Gardendale quarterback Dallas Tidwell has the size (6-foot-6, 200 pounds) that colleges covet but will be playing full-time for this first time this fall. 6-foot-3, 185-pound Jacob Coker has earned positive reviews in his efforts to replace Tide signee AJ McCarron at St. Paul's Episcopal.
Several quality RBs in the Yellowhammer state
While 2011 isn't shaping up to be a great year for running backs in-state, several prospects are already on some recruiting radars.
Bob Jones do-it-all back Trai Ragland has been part of the Class 6A program's rotation since the eighth grade, and Ragland expects to be a workhorse once again this fall at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds.
"I don't think there is a back in north Alabama as good as Trai. I think his biggest strength is that he does a lot of things very well," said Ragland's position coach Marquis Gray. "He is a 300-pound bench-presser, he catches the ball well, he is durable and is instinctive. He probably needs to get a little faster, but he has football speed. Not many people are going to catch him."
UMS-Wright athlete Chris Dukes isn't very big at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, but the rising junior has been very productive, rushing for 1,916 yards and 28 touchdowns in leading the Bulldogs to a state championship.
Goshen all-state back Marcus Jackson was a camper at the University of Alabama, and several schools are already contacted the Class 2A program about the 6-foot, 190-pounder. Jackson could also project as a slot receiver in college.
Gadsden City star Alonzo Harris may have the most upside of any back in the 2011 in-state class with the size (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) and speed (4.5 40) to generate power or athleticism. Harris rushed for over 500 yards in Gadsden's last four games of 2008.
Several speedy scatback-types are also in the class of 2011 which include Demopolis athlete DaMarcus James, Pleasant Grove star Anthony Gardner and John Carroll back Adric Merchant.
Receivers deep and talented
If you are a college football coach and looking for receivers, Alabama would be a recommended stop for 2011 talent. Led by Vigor star and Alabama commit Marvin Shinn, the junior crop of receivers in-state could be as good as any in the last 10 years.
Gadsden City will once again feature a high-level SEC recruit in Daryl Collins, a 6-foot, 190-pounder who holds verbal offers from Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Clemson and Marshall.
"Daryl's biggest strength is that he is shifty and an excellent route-runner. He isn't a burner in the traditional sense, but he just makes everyone miss and catches everything we throw at him," said Gadsden City Recruiting and Defensive Coordinator Ali Smith. "We had him back there returning kicks even with Dre Kirkpatrick and Kendall Kelly because we couldn't afford for him not to be back there, and he returned a couple of kicks for scores."
Former Faith Academy star Darien Thomas has been a camp star this summer at 6-foot-2, 191 pounds. Thomas will be playing ball this fall at Theodore High School.
Leroy athlete Sammie Coates was dominating at the EAC Combine at Spanish Fort this summer before an injury sidelined him. Coates is a legit 4,5 40 athlete with a tremendous vertical and good strength.
Decatur coach Jere Adcock believes junior star Ryan Watson has the opportunity to be his best athlete at the school since Taye Biddle. Watts, 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, could also play defensive back at the next level.
The only thing missing from the resume of Stanhope Elmore's Pat Milliner is experience. Milliner, younger brother of Tide 2009 commit Demarcus Milliner, will get looks at running back and wide receiver, but at 6-foot-2 is likely destined for wide receiver in college. Milliner is a 4.4 40 athlete.
Mountain Brook athlete Conner Bynon was a do-it-all star for the Class 6A quarter-finalist. Bynon has sprinter's speed and versatility to be a valuable pick-up for someone at the next level.
Cordova's Jake Howton was a favorite of quarterback Ryan Smith last fall and at 6-foot-2 figures to find the end zone again. Davidson's Rashad Cunningham could have as much upside as anyone in this group at 6-foot-4 but has some academic concerns. Carver-Montgomery's Stanley Robinson has the nickname "Juice" for a reason as he scored every way imaginable for the Class 5A semi-finalist last fall.
Two tight ends are emerging as legit Division-I prospects in-state for 2011 in Daleville's Chris Stone and Gaston's Collin Jarbo. Both prospects made all-state teams last fall.
No superstars yet on the OL
For the second-straight year, it appears that at least in the early going, elite offensive tackle prospects will be scarce in 2011. There is no polished product ala a D.J. Fluker or Tyler Love, but several potential candidates have promise.
A few interior linemen have emerged including the EAC Combine OL MVP at Spanish Fort last month, Spanish Fort's Reese Dismukes, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound true center.
"Reese is a grown man already. He camped at Alabama earlier in the summer and they loved him. He doesn't have overwhelming height, but I think he is a center all the way and it won't matter nearly as much," said Spanish Fort offensive line coach Matthew Wells. "He is an extremely smart kid as well. He has pretty much everything you are looking for in an offensive lineman. I think he has a chance to be special."
Vigor will sport two potential Division I prospects along their offensive line for 2011 in guard Denzel Lott and tackle Thomas Williams. Both prospects are over 280 pounds and expect to lead another punishing ground attack for the Wolves this fall.
Northview's Bartavis Whigham has the size (6-foot-3, 303 pounds) and strength to be a masher in the run game. Whigham made several camp stops this summer and was a standout.
Two more guards to keep an eye on are Clay-Chalkville's Reggie Patrick, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound mauler and Williamson's Demond Husband, a mammoth prospect at 6-foot-2, 322 pounds.
Hatton big man Steadman Rutherford has the frame (6-foot-6, 245 pounds) to emerge as a Division I tackle prospect. Rutherford currently lines up at tight end and defensive end for the north Alabama high school. Another tackle possibility is Huffman's Tyler Marzett, who formerly concentrated on basketball at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds.
Brewer mammoth tackle Spencer Region camped at Auburn this summer to good reviews. With a 6-foot-6, 330-pound frame, Region could also develop into a solid Division I prospect.
BOL Xtra: There are already several 2012 offensive prospects to keep an eye on as future Division I recruits. Hueytown quarterback Jameis Winston is a duel-threat signal-caller who has received rave reviews at both Alabama and Auburn's summer camps. Daphne running back T.J. Yeldon has a chance to be a superstar at 6-foot-2, 191 pounds. Yeldon had dominating testing numbers at the EAC Combine this summer. Homewood receiver Cameron Broadnack was a rare freshman receiver at the Class 6A school and has the size and athleticism to be an elite prospect. Vigor tight end Paul Kyles already holds a verbal offer from Auburn and will be a main weapon for the defending 5A champs this fall. Finally, Prattville offensive guard Terrance Jones is impressive enough - as a sophomore - to start this fall for the defending Class 6A champs.
Note: This is not a complete list of junior prospects as more names will emerge this fall.