One of the top performers for Team USA against American Samoa on Saturday night in the opening round of the IFAF U-19 World Championship was Sicklerville (NJ) Timber Creek defensive end Dajaun Drennon, a 6'3", 235-pounder with long arms and an explosive burst off the ball who spent much of the evening harassing the Samoan quarterback.
The strong showing capped off a good week of practice for Drennon, who has a top five of Kentucky, Notre Dame, North Carolina, USC and West Virginia. Notable schools that didn't make the cut? Alabama and Florida State, which both offered. SB Nation caught up with the athletic edge rusher on Sunday. Here's what he said about his favorites.
"Everything about Kentucky is good. When I went there, I met good people. I feel like going to Kentucky would be a different school, a different feel from the big-time football schools. For it to not be that big of a football school, I really liked it. The fact it's in the SEC, I would always be playing against good competition."
On Notre Dame:
"I had visited the school and liked it because there are only 8,000 students in the whole school, so I think it will be better for me to focus on my studies. They didn't promise me a starting position, but there will only be two players at my position there, so that shows me that I'll have a high chance of playing early -- I would be playing outside linebacker/defensive end. DeMarcus Ware plays the same position and I base my game off of him, so to have a chance to play the exact same position that he does, the position that I've been studying. It really opens up doors."
On North Carolina:
"I like them because I had visited there two or three weeks ago and I don't know, there's just something about North Carolina and the fact that it's in the South, so the weather is always good. I talked to the academic advisers and the way that they talk about their tutoring and everything, there's no way that you're going to fail at North Carolina."
"Not having been to USC, it's a school that I've always wanted to consider going to because it's in California. I would like to get to know more about it. I talk to coach Tee Martin a lot. He tells me that the intensity there is crazy, so I just want to get out there and have a chance to see it."
On West Virginia:
"I went to a camp there and I had already liked West Virginia, but the fact that they would have me playing wide receiver and defensive end has moved them up my list. I would like to play both sides of the ball -- wherever I can get on the field at first. Now that West Virginia has seen my full talents, I think that puts them higher."
Drennon said that each of the schools is equal in his mind at this point and that he plans on taking all five of his official visits.
There could be a new team entering the race for Drennon, however. A source close to the situation said that the Texas Longhorns have expressed some interest in the Timber Creek defensive end, who has been in Austin now for over a week with the national team.
Drennon would not be able to take an unofficial visit until after the end of the World Championships, but his parents did recently join him in Austin, so the whole family is getting a look at the city as Drennon stays on the University of Texas campus.
The Longhorns have a need at the weakside defensive end position after the recent decommitment of Lancaster (TX)'s Daeshon Hall, who was the only commit in the 2013 class guaranteed to play defensive end throughout college. It leaves a significant hole in the class, especially as there has not been much positive momentum surrounding the Texas recruitment of Houston (TX) Alief Taylor's Torrodney Prevot, who measured in at only 200 pounds at the recent Rivals Five-Star Challenge.
SB Nation also spoke with Drennon's head coach, Rob Hinson, about what his star player brings to the table.
Even though Drennon was heavily focused on basketball coming into high school and spent the offseasons following his freshman and sophomore campaigns involved in AAU hoops, Hinson saw flashes from Drennon as a sophomore that made him believe he had something special.
"When he came into high school he was big into basketball year-round, that kind of thing," said the Timber Creek head coach. "But his sophomore year he showed a real knack for getting to the quarterback -- he was really, really explosive. So at that point I figured he had a shot."
How athletic is Drennon? The leading receiver for Timber Creek last season, Drennon tore up a recent 7-on-7 event, according to his head coach, scoring 15 or more touchdowns and essentially proving himself incapable of being defended.
He's also humble. Drennon said that he's working on honing his technique to go along with his first-step quickness and was critical of his performance against American Samoa, giving himself a C+/B- for an effort that impressed nearly all in attendance.
Even though the defensive end believes he has room for improvement, his head coach said that the strides have already been significant since he started focusing more on football.
"It's night and day. It was kind of like he was going through the motions a little bit, still playing basketball, but then he had some success as a sophomore and the college coaches started looking at his body and letting him know, 'With your body, football is the ticket,'" Hinson said.
"He started listening and, with all the related things that the coaches would say, it solidified the point to him that he really needed to be a football guy."
The focus on football -- Drennon didn't play AAU basketball this summer for the first time -- has already paid major dividends. After playing at around 212 pounds last season, Drennon is now up to 235 since March and his coach believes he could eventually play at 260 or more pounds in college.
It's a similar trajectory to the one taken by Drennon's cousin, Jamaal Green, who played at Miami before seeing action with several NFL teams. Hinson said that Green was 205 or so pounds in high school, with a similar focus on basketball, before eventually reaching around 275 pounds in the league.
But an athletic pedigree isn't all that the defensive end brings to the table. Hinson said that he's taken on a larger leadership role this spring, coordinating workouts, making sure that his younger teammates attend, and in general becoming a more vocal player.
Put it all together and it makes for one impressive package. Impressive enough, in fact, that Hinson considers him one of the top prospects he's ever coached.
"He's up there among the best," Hinson opined. "I've got guys all over at different schools, but in terms of natural, raw ability he's probably one of the top, if not the top, because of his length and his drive and his explosiveness. I've had big, strong guys and fast guys, but when you have a kid like him, as big and as long as he is, can play receiver, tight end, whatever, he's right up there at top in terms of potential for college and maybe even the next level."
The talent is there. The frame is there. The humility is there. All Drennon needs is a little more seasoning. Of course, based on his destruction of the American Samoan line, he's already pretty darn good.
For more on UNC football, visit North Carolina blog Carolina March.
For more on Irish football, visit Notre Dame blog One Foot Down.