CLIFTON, Va. — The greater Washington, D.C., area has a lot of good high school football. D.C., Maryland, and Virginia all punch above their weight class in blue-chip recruits, and each offers high school players a relatively good chance to draw Division-I recruiters. There’s not a shortage of quality talent here, even if it’s not a Florida or a Texas.
Some of the area’s best players were on the field Sunday at Nike’s regional Opening camp. Here are notes and quotes from a few of them, and more:
Four players earned invitations to Nike’s Opening finals held later this summer in Oregon. Those were Ohio State defensive line commit Taron Vincent, Penn State running back commit Ricky Slade, uncommitted cornerback A.J. Lytton, and uncommitted running back Mychale Salahuddin. Three of those invitations were no surprise; Vincent, Slade, and Lytton are all five-stars and were expected to be great.
Salahuddin was the surprise of the day. The Woodson (D.C.) product is rated a high-three-star recruit on the 247Sports Composite, with lots of offers but not from Alabamas and Ohio States of college football.
Salahuddin’s currently most interested in Nebraska, USC, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Maryland, North Carolina. He’s a listed 5’11 and 190 pounds.
“I’m a crafty back,” he told me. “I can use my explosiveness. I can use my power. I can use my speed. I can get past a defender. I can go through the defender. Whatever you want.”
He admires Le’Veon Bell’s patience and Leonard Fournette’s complete game, and his teammates call him “Houdini,” which is about the best nickname ever.
Something to watch on Salahuddin: He prefers a pro-style scheme.
Five-star class of 2019 linebacker Shane Lee is a really interesting kid, who says he doesn’t even watch football on TV. He’s pretty good at playing it, though.
Lee is built like a house, and you expect him to serve as a run-stuffing Mike linebacker who hangs out near the line of scrimmage and plugs gaps. He can definitely do that, but I was impressed by his Brian Urlacher-like ability to lug a massive frame up and down the field in coverage. He could be a Tampa 2 inside linebacker someday.
Lee’s recruitment is open. He mentioned interest in Maryland, Michigan, Penn State, Pitt, Clemson, LSU, Notre Dame, and Ohio State.
New Tennessee quarterback commit Michael Penix Jr., a three-star from Florida, is an interesting prospect. He’s got a strong arm and can really fire the ball out of a five-step drop. If he can move the ball with his legs, too, he’ll be really good.
“I see myself as a drop-back guy, a pocket passer,” he said. “Most people say dual threat. But I usually look to pass before I do to run.”
Tennessee’s leaned a lot on the QB run game for the last few seasons, with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback. Maybe Penix signals a change in that regard. But he’s also a good athlete, and Tennessee might try to use him in the run game, too.
I’ve noticed something at the last two camps I’ve covered, in Cleveland a few weeks ago and now in D.C.: The offensive lineman who stands out the most relative to expectations has mentioned Syracuse first among the schools he’s interested in. In Cleveland, that was center Tyrone Sampson, who committed to Cuse last week.
This week’s standout lineman was Josh Jefferson, a center at St. John’s (D.C.). In the reps I saw of him, Jefferson did well against Ohio State five-star Vincent.
Impressive player at Nike D.C. was St. John's center Josh Jefferson. Here he is against Ohio State five-star DL commit Taron Vincent: pic.twitter.com/DgTwSZ8896— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) April 24, 2017
Jefferson could play guard or center in college. He’s got offers from Syracuse, Marshall, and Buffalo. Maryland, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown interest, he said.
It’s valuable to be the first Power 5 school to offer a rising lineman. Jefferson’s going to get more offers, and none of this is to say that Jefferson (or Sampson) is a totally under-the-radar players. That’s not quite right, But it’s worth noting that Syracuse got here early, and Dino Babers’ staff has identified some good line talent.
Four-star Oxon Hill (Md.) receiver Daniel George is ready to play in any conference in the country right now. He’s big and fast, with plenty of route-running polish.
“I’d say I’m a big, physical receiver,” he said. “I use my physicality to get open. I have breakaway speed. I can get in and out of my cuts well, and I’ve been working on being quicker.”
George wants to be like Julio Jones. So do lots of receivers, but George is closer than most.
Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt stand out right now, but George has no “favorites.” He’d like to commit by late July, but he’s open to waiting until after his senior season.
Tennessee or Florida State could enter the mix by offering him, he said.
Three-star Wyoming Valley West (Pa.) offensive tackle Chris Bleich decommited recently from Penn State. It sounds like Nebraska’s in the lead here.
“Nebraska is sticking out, but I’m just holding every option available,” he said.
Bleich previously spent a season at the IMG Academy in Florida. He plans to be an early enrollee and prefers to make a commitment by June.
I keep being impressed by three-star St. Edward (Ohio) safety Michael Dowell. He was a standout both in Cleveland and D.C., and he’s a great athlete. Look here:
Dowell’s a Michigan State lean on the 247Sports Crystal Ball. He also has offers from Pitt, Iowa, Syracuse, Maryland, and a handful of others.
St. Joseph Central (Mo.) receiver Cade Musser was second in Nike Football rating at the event behind Dowell. That’s a metric that combines the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, and a few other physical tests to paint an overall picture of athleticism. Musser has had barely any recruitment and doesn’t have a single offer, he told me.
“My best attribute is shiftiness, make people miss in open space,” he said.
He did that a few times in cat-and-mouse drills on Sunday. Musser’s just 5’9, and it’s easy to fall in love with small, fast, and shifty at these camps. But keep an eye on him.
Three-star Virginia linebacker commit Noah Taylor is a good athlete. He committed to UVA last summer, but he also holds offers from Pitt, Rutgers, Temple, and Indiana.
“I move a lot in space. That’s what a lot of people say. I’m fast for a tall guy.”
Taylor’s a lanky 6’5 and 200 pounds. It wouldn’t surprise me if he moved to safety or even corner, and it also wouldn’t surprise me if he turned out to be really good there.
Four-star Maryland offensive line commit Evan Gregory, from local powerhouse DeMatha Catholic, is big and strong.
Here's new four-star Maryland OL commit Evan Gregory just stuffing some poor adversary. Also did it on the first of their reps, more or less pic.twitter.com/gdKYGb24Nc— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) April 23, 2017
One of my favorite players in the class of 2019 is DeMatha receiver DeMarcco Hellams.
Hellams is a long way from signing anywhere, but he’s athletic enough to play receiver or defensive back at whichever school he chooses. His recruitment’s taken off in the last year and now includes offers from Penn State, Clemson, Michigan, Maryland, Louisville, North Carolina, and Kentucky.
Penn State and Michigan are looking at Hellams in the defensive backfield, but most of the schools recruiting him “give me the option to go both ways,” he said.