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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2010

Big Ten, others come calling for local football talent

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

There were days when it was not uncommon for coaches from top-level college football programs to consistently pull players from the metro Toledo talent pool to stock their rosters.

But that was decades ago when players like Jim Parker, Ron McDole, Bill "Thunder" Thornton, Sam Price, Jim Detwiler, John Ginter, Phil Hoag, Willie Harper, brothers Marty and Andy Huff, Marvin Crenshaw, Farley Bell, Bill Jaco, Ray Myers, Chuck Webb, Myron Bell and Jeremy Lincoln jumped from the City League to the big time.

Save for a few banner recruiting years since, such a pipeline hasn't existed over the last two decades.

But there is solid evidence of a resurgence, especially now.

Left, Jack Miller of St. John's, who has committed to Michigan, recovers a fumble last season against St. Francis. Right, Chris Boles (50) of Central Catholic, who has committed to Illinois, blocks Jack Mewhort of St. Johns, now of Ohio State, in a 2008 game. Left, Jack Miller of St. John's, who has committed to Michigan, recovers a fumble last season against St. Francis. Right, Chris Boles (50) of Central Catholic, who has committed to Illinois, blocks Jack Mewhort of St. Johns, now of Ohio State, in a 2008 game.
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This season will open with six local players (five from the City League) having already committed to Division I college programs, including five players destined for the Big Ten.

This year's pool of talent includes 6-5, 255-pound defensive end Kenny Hayes of defending City League champion Whitmer, who was the first from this year's senior class in the area to make a verbal commitment.

Hayes accepted an offer from Ohio State on Sept. 1 last year, not long after his junior season began. Sept. 1 is the first date each year that colleges can send written scholarship offers to high school juniors. Before that time, any agreements with underclassmen are unofficial.

Since Hayes broke the ice, Rogers' DerJuan "PeeWee" Gambrell also committed to Ohio State; Springfield's Kevin Williams, the lone Northern Lakes League player in the group, committed to Nebraska, which joins the Big Ten in 2011; St. John's Jesuit's Jack Miller committed to Michigan, and the Central Catholic offensive line duo of Kyle Cameron and Chris Boles said yes to Toledo and Illinois, respectively.

And, sometime between next week and the end of the school year, it is likely that several additional local players will commit to D-I programs.

"I have been coaching in the City League, including my time as an assistant, for 26 years," St. John's coach Doug Pearson said, "and I've never seen as many Division-I type players as there are playing in this league right now."

Pearson isn't alone in his assessment.

"I don't remember the last time that there were six guys in our area that were major D-I football players, and I think there are going to be a dozen guys that are going to end up signing Division I scholarships somewhere," said 11th-year Rogers coach Rick Rios.

Twelve of Rios' Rams have garnered scholarships from D-I college programs, more than any other CL team during that time.

"It goes in cycles, where you have some good years and some lean years," Rios said. "But normally we're used to having a couple guys in the area that are D-I football players.

"We're just going through an awfully good period of time right now around Toledo. It's a group of really good football players."

Greg Brown of Fremont Ross - which will join current CL members Central, Clay, St. Francis, St. John's and Whitmer in the new Three Rivers Athletic Conference next year - has committed to Michigan.

None of these players who have made verbal commitments can actually officially accept the scholarships until signing national letters of intent beginning in February.

Others known to be on the recruiting radar but without commitments include St. John's Cheatham Norrils and Zach Steinmetz, Rogers' Damond Powell and Whitmer junior Chris Wormley.

And, on the list of possible D-I recruiting targets are Whitmer senior lineman Chris Reaper, St. John's two-way back Nate White, Central Catholic running back Calebb Goings, Rogers' mammoth 6-7, 315-pound lineman Felix Fowler, St. Francis defensive back Danny Yodzis and his Knights junior offensive line teammates, twin bothers Cam and Hunter Stanley.

Hayes, an All-Ohio first-team selection last year, joins Wormley in composing perhaps the top defensive end combo in CL history. He was high on Ohio State's list early on, and the Buckeyes were even higher on his list.

"For me it was easy because that's where I wanted to go," Hayes said. "I picked my college and then I got ready for the [2009] football season and my schoolwork.

"My parents and my coach helped me out. They just told me it was my choice. We've got a lot of good athletes coming into the OSU program, and I'm just happy to be going there. I want to win a national championship."

"Kenny is just a great natural talent," Whitmer coach Joe Palka said. "He's a lean, long player that has been able to play with speed. In the offseason he has developed more thickness and he's going to get more and more physical.

"You couple that speed and explosiveness with additional strength, and that's going to make him an impact player coming off the edge in college."

At Rogers, the speedy and agile 6-2, 180-pound Gambrell is a multitalented, two-way player. He plays both at running back and receiver, and leads the defense from his safety position, although Ohio State recruited him to play cornerback.

"I took the first offer that was given to me because it was Ohio State and that's my favorite school," said Gambrell, echoing Hayes' sentiments. "I really didn't have to go through all of the recruiting with a lot of schools.

"It was nice. I went down there and they showed me the campus and showed me around the facilities. They liked my height as a corner and that I can turn and run with the receivers. They said I had good hips, and they liked my height and long arms and speed."

Rios said he'll keep Gambrell at safety because he's more helpful to the Rams' defense there.

"PeeWee just has a tremendous burst," Rios said, "and he has a nose for getting to the football. He's really a big contributor for us on both sides of the ball, and he's got big-play capabilities all over.

"There's no doubt he can play corner. He has great hips, and that's one thing Ohio State saw right away. He's very smooth turning and running and changing direction. He's going to be awfully good down the road."

Williams, 6-2, 270-pound defensive tackle, transferred to Springfield after starting on the line as a sophomore at Central Catholic. He had many D-I offers, and said he was helped greatly during the recruiting process by former Springfield coach Vince Marrow, who played tight end at the University of Toledo and in the NFL.

"It's something that not many players get to go through, and I enjoyed it," Williams said of the process. "It's an exciting time in your life, but I'm definitely glad it's over. I can get everything off my shoulders and start my senior season.

"Coach Marrow is a very well-known person, and told me the ins and the outs and the different recruiting tactics. He just really helped me out to make the right decision."

"What's most impressive about Kevin is that he's so explosive and so quick," said Springfield coach Rob Materni, who was a Blue Devils assistant last year. "He's got great upper and lower-body strength, and he plays the game with a passion. I think that's what separates him from a lot of other players.

"He led us in tackles and tackles for loss and sacks from an interior line position. That's pretty impressive. He's becoming more of a vocal leader right now, but last year he led by example. I think he elevates the play of the guys around him."

Miller (6-2, 270) was also helped greatly by a man with college and NFL connections, close family friend Rob Chudzinski, the former Miami (Fla.) player and assistant coach who is now an NFL assistant with the San Diego Chargers.

Chudzinski was the best friend and former St. John's teammate of Miller's late father, P.J. (Philip James Miller), who succumbed to Hodgkin's lymphoma February of 2009. That was just after Jack started as a sophomore at perennial Ohio powerhouse Lakewood St. Edward, and before the family moved back to the Toledo area.

"I think you enjoy it at first," Miller said of the recruiting process. "The attention and the publicity are real nice, but after a while you just kind of want to settle down and find what's right for you.

"I learned to be open to everything. Through the process you want to open all of the doors that you can and be interested in everyone and see all your options. I think that kind of applies to life, too. Open all the doors and see your options. Rob [Chudzinski] was a mentor to me through the process. All of us [local recruits] can focus now on our senior year because we all know where we're going."

"I think Jack is going to be a gem at the next level," Pearson said. "He could play on either side of the ball. He's a really explosive kid with tremendous feet, and he's a really intelligent kid.

"He got a 28 on the ACT on his first try last December, and he's got a 3.8 GPA at our school. And, he's mean. When he gets on the field he plays the game the way it was meant to be played. That's for sure. I see him as a center, or possibly a defensive tackle."

At 6-4, 325 pounds, Boles is the biggest of the local D-I recruits to commit early. In addition to that size, college recruiters liked something else about the offensive lineman.

"Chris is the kind of player who can really, at times, do some special things," Central coach Greg Dempsey said. "I've never been around a lineman who is as athletic at that size as he is.

"To do what he does at 6-4, 325 pounds is pretty rare, and he's going to be a lot of fun to watch."

Boles wasn't exactly enamored with the recruiting process.

"It's not all sparkles and glory like some people think it is," Boles said. "I'm real glad it's over, actually. It's a hard thing to do because you have all these coaches who care about you and they really want you.

"To disappoint them is a hard thing to do. But, you've got to do what's best for you. It was like a dog-eat-dog thing. It wasn't really all that fun to me."

Like Boles, Cameron wasn't a big fan of the process.

"I was more glad that it was over with," Cameron said. "It was good to know that I had something to go to, but I'm really not much for all of the attention. I kind of learned how to read people.

"The most helpful to me were coach Dempsey and my brother, Casey. I sat down and talked with coach Dempsey. He wouldn't say what I should do. He just gave me his opinions - bad and good - and told me to decide what I wanted to do."

Cameron (6-2, 270) talked to former Central lineman teammate Eric Herman, who is now a starter at Ohio University, which also offered Cameron a scholarship.

"Eric talked to me for about an hour after I committed to Toledo," Cameron said. "He was a little disappointed, but he told me it would be good to see me on the field and that it was good that I was going somewhere."

"Kyle is a great lineman and, if you get a chance to watch him from snap to whistle, he's just relentless," Dempsey said. "He brings a lot of nastiness to the offensive line, and we're counting on him bringing some of that to the defensive line this year."

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.


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