Archive for September, 2009

Freshman of Influence – Week 4

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad – Football Talent Advisors

Injuries are beginning to take their toll on several Top 10 and Top 25 teams.  This is making way for freshman to make their presence known on the field.  We’re seeing more and more freshman making impacts.  Here’s a few that caught my eye or I heard about this past week. 


Freshman of Influence Week 4:


Uzoma Nwachuku, WR – Texas A&M

Texas A&M has added some young explosive talent on offense and Uzoma is another example.  His impact has been seen in several ways on the field with 8 receptions for 168 yards and 3 touchdowns, 1 run for 39 yards and a score.  Clearly he’s making a name for himself.  He also was an outstanding sprinter for Allen HS in Texas running as fast as 21.19 / 200 and high jumping 6’08 @ (Coppell Relays – 2009).  Ran a leg on 4×100 relay (41.53) at Region 1-5A Meet in 2009, qualifying for state meet. 

Darius Willis, RB – Indiana University

Redshirt freshman, Willis ran for 152 yards on 16 carries and two scores against Michigan…including an 85 yard sprint for touchdown.  During the run Willis essentially outran Michigan’s Donovan Warren and Troy Woolfork both big-time high school sprinters. 

Even more impressive Willis weighs around 220 pounds.  I laughed when I heard the television annoucer say “I didn’t know Willis had that kind of speed!”  Willis ran track for three years at Franklin Central HS in Indianapolis and ran 22.00 / 200 at a regional meet in 2007 along with running anchor for state qualifying 4×100 (42.32) and 4×400 (3:18.70).  He did that weighing about 210 pounds.  He ran under 49 seconds for the 400 meter dash as a freshman at Howe HS in Indianapolis. 

B.J. Daniels, QB – University of South Florida

Perhaps the most impressive offensive performance by a freshman last week came from this guy against Florida State.  Wow!  So far this season Daniels has throw 20/36 for 394 yards and 4 touchdowns…run 38 times for 259 yards and 3 scores.  On top of that USF is 4-0.  Daniels played guard last year for USF’s basketball team and even played baseball and some track in high school.  Daniels high jumped 6’04 as a senior at Tallahassee Lincoln HS in Florida and qualified for regional meet as a sophomore. 

Leon McFadden, DB – San Diego State

This true freshman currently leads the nation with two blocked kicks after four games.  McFadden also ran track in high school at St. John Bosco HS, California.  He ran 10.95 /100 at the 2009 Mt. SAC Relays, long jumped 20’09 and leg on 4×100 relay (43.12) at Southern Section Division 3 Meet in 2009. 

Trent Richardson, RB – Alabama 

Richardson was just named the SEC Freshman of the Week for his performance against Florida International.  He also came up big against Arkansas last week.  For the season he has 38 rushes for 280 yards and 4 touchdowns…throw in five receptions for 48 yards too.  This guy has all the talent and the speed to match.  What do I mean?  Richardson ran track for Escambia HS in Florida…running as fast as 10.81/100 and 4×100 (43.49) at the Region 1-5A Meet.  He qualified several times for the state meet in the 100. 

Stable of Running Backs – Fast Running Backs…

Alabama is loaded at running back with Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Terry Grant, and Roy Upchurch.  All these guys ran south of 11.00 / 100 in high school. 

You know Texas A&M (they’ve had a few freshman already plugged here) has a stable of fast running backs too.  Christine Michael (mentioned last week), Cyrus Gray, and Bradley Stephens were all outstanding sprinters in high school.  Gray ran 10.76 / 100 and Stephens a 22.10 /200 even in Texas that’s pretty fast. 

Kick Return University?! 

Stanford is quickly becoming “Kick Return U”!  Chris Owusu is going crazy with his kick returns and was named Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week. He has 6 returns for 355 yards (59.17 avg) and 3 touchdowns, plus 13 receptions for 210 yards and two scores.  It should be noted Owusu was a 10.59 / 100 and 21.30 /200 sprinter at Oaks Christian HS in California. 

Additionally, Richard Sherman has been on a tear with his punt returns with seven for 140 yards and a score.  Sherman is Stanford’s active leading receiver though he no longer plays the position after switching to the defensive backfield.  He was a state champion triple jumper (50’08) at Dominguez HS in California and finished fourth at the state meet in the 110 hurdles (14.37), throw in a 22’10 long jump and that’s an explosive athlete.     

Local Shout – Ball State RB

Ball State true freshman, Eric Williams of Warren Central HS (IN), ran 11 times for 59 yards against Auburn last week.  Williams has returned 13 kicks for 296 yards for the season.  Not bad for a local Indy player in for a tough year up in Muncie.  Williams was a solid high school track athlete running the 100, 200, 110 hurdles, long jump and 4×100.  Sectional champion in long jump (22’04) and finished 4th at 2009 state meet in 4×100 (42.02).    





Freshman of Influence – Week 3

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad – Football Talent Advisors

Here we are almost a quarter of the way through the college football season and some big surprises!  USC gets beat by Washington and Florida State goes to BYU (ranked #7 before the game) and wins by almost four touchdowns.  Michigan is back…Notre Dame is well…Notre Dame and…let’s get down to business.

One last outburst.  Is freshman cornerback / kick returner Greg Reid of Florida State a stud or what?  I’m seeing the second coming of Terrell Buckley / Corey Sawyer in him.  This article asks “Why we should know about Greg Reid?”  Well I think most people do after the BYU game and if not they will soon.   


Freshman of Influence Week 3:


Christine Michael, RB – Texas A&M

Powerfully built true freshman back that’s rushed for 187 yards in only two games.  He also ran track through his senior year at Beaumont Westbrook HS in Texas…running 11.02 / 100 (at over 200lbs) at District 21-5A Meet in 2009.  He also ran a leg on the 4×100 relay team seeded as fast as (42.00) his junior year at the District 21 Meet.  Qualified for Region 3-5A Meet as a sophomore on the 4×200 relay running (1:28.45). 

Steve Greer, LB – Virginia

Here’s a redshirt freshman, not real highly regarded out of high school (only 2-star by Scout), playing for a down UVA team but credited with 23 tackles through three games.  Not bad for a freshman backer.  Reminds me a little of former TCU tackling machine Jason Phillips, without some of the speed.  Anyway Greer threw the shot put (50’06) at Solon HS in Ohio qualifying for the regionals in 2008.  Wonder how he slipped out of Ohio?

 Walter Stewart, LB – Cincinnati

Another Ohio high school player but this time for the Bearcats.  Stewart is near the nation in sacks for a freshman with three through the first three games.  He also participated a bit on the track at Teays Valley HS high jumping (6’01), running the 400 meter dash ( best 53.44), 4×200 and 4×400.  He listed at 6’04…

Quincy McDuffie, WR / KR – Central Florida

I had heard of him before but more for his 400 meter performance in high school, but he’s making an impact at UCF.  So far this season the true freshman has returned seven kickoffs for 200 yards and a touchdown.  McDuffie was a state champion 400 meter dash sprinter at Edgewater HS in Florida.  He ran as fast as (46.02) in the 400 and (20.98) at the Metro Conference Championships in 2009.  Wind-aided or not those times are smokin’ for a high school athlete and obviously his transfers well to the field. 

University of South Florida recruited several very fast players too this past year.  2009 Recruits: Lindsey Lamar, Kayvon Webster and Sterling Griffin all have top notch track speed.  Even their linebacker recruit, Sam Barrington, ran hurdles and threw some discus in high school.  Lamar is already producing some numbers for USF after three games.   




Freshman of Influence – Week 2

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad – Football Talent Advisors

We’re two weeks into the college football season and there are more freshman making their impact felt.  This week I found a few defensive lineman and a linebacker that are making major contributions. 

Freshman of Influence Week 2:


Jonathan Bostic, LB – Florida

Bostic graduated high school in January and currently leads the Gators in tackles as true freshman. Pretty impressive.  He also ran some quick times as a high schooler at Palm Beach Central, Florida.  Ran 11.41 /100, 23.15/200 at the District 9-4A Meet in 2008…also ran on regional meet qualifying 4×100 relay (43.11), even threw some shot put 40’07. 

Baker Steinkuhler, DT – Nebraska

Originally recruited as an offensive lineman but made the switch to defense.  Had three tackles against Arkansas State and looks to receive more playing time as season progresses.  Threw shot put in high school 52’06 at A4 District Meet (2007) for Lincoln Southwest HS, Nebraska. 

Devon Kennard, DE – Southern Cal

Kennard, a true freshman, has been quite productive in USC’s first two games with multiple tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.  With Matt Barkley there he’s not getting the attention he probably deserves.  Anyway, he threw shot put and discus as freshman and sophomore at Desert Vista HS in Arizona…suffered a knee injury missing most of senior high school season. 

Tyron Smith, OL – Southern Cal

Alright, I’m cheating a bit with this one because he’s a true sophomore but Smith is starting on an offensive line that many consider to be extremely good.  Guess that means Ohio State’s defensive line is extremely good too?  He also was quite a good thrower at Rancho Verde HS in California…throwing the discus 152’10 ranked one of top throwers in Riverside County for 2006.  Also threw shot put 46’07.  

Ryan Williams, RB – Virginia Tech

A redshirt freshman, had an exciting spring game, was put into action after the ACL injury to Darren Evans.  Williams has responded well with good performances in the first two games.  He also qualified for Virginia’s state track meet as a freshman high schooler at Stonewall Jackson HS.  Williams ran 11.04/100 and 22.90/200 at the Northwest Region Meet and placed fourth at the state meet in the 4×100 relay (43.05). 

Branden Smith, RB / KR / WR? – Georgia

Okay how do we categorize this true freshman?  He’s listed on the roster as a defensive back but he carries the ball, return kicks, catches passes he can do it all.  Through two games he carried the ball five times for 76 yards and a 61 yard touchdown run, caught a reception for three yards and returned four kickoffs for 84 yards. 

We can certainly categorize Smith as fast!  Smith attended Booker T. Washington HS in Georgia…ran personal bests of 21.27 / 200 and 4×100 relay (41.21) at the Region 5-3A Meet this past spring.  His 4×100 relay went on to win the 2009 3A state championship.  He also ran as fast as 10.53 /100 and long jumped over 22 feet.     

Smith’s Georgia teammate and fellow kick return, Brandon Boykin, is every bit as exciting but Boykin is a true sophomore.  And yes…Boykin was an outstanding high school track athlete. 






SEC Speed Myth debunked…really?

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad – Football Talent Advisors

Now that the college football season is underway I’ve started looking at more college football forums and surprisingly  I see a lot of chat about conference speed.  Truthfully I thought that was more a topic for the off-season.  Apparently the speed topic really touches a nerve with a lot of fans.  Regardless I saw a couple really interesting and for the most part well thought out posts.

The first from which looks at recruiting “opportunities” of each conference via state populations.  Pretty interesting stuff, I’m not sure exactly how it does or doesn’t answer whether the SEC is faster.  Seems to bash the Big 10 for having a larger proportional population to draw from yet “slower” high school athletes based on ethnic population distribuition.  Could be…I’m not a sociology or population expert. 

Another interesting post claims the speed myth is an urban legend.  The poster supports the claim using 40 yard dash times as the benchmark for speed.  Now this poster went through a lot of trouble and makes an interesting argument.  I see three major issues with this however.  First, using 40 yard dash times as a benchmark for speed is sketchy at best.  Second, apparently this 40 data was acquired from Scout combines which openly admits to using hand-held timing at their combines…um that’s a real problem.  Third, the poster sets the benchmark for speed as 4.4 / 40.  Why?  That’s extremely fast even for hand-held timing. 

I’m not sure how accurate the poster is regarding D1 football programs per state either.  I believe the poster listed Indiana as having three D1 schools, for example.  Well Indiana actually has four – Ball State, Indiana University, Purdue University and Notre Dame.  This isn’t a huge deal but looking at the calculations used in the post inaccurate counts sort of damage the conclusions drawn. 

Interesting stuff none the less.  The speed myth will probably never be completely debunked until a true benchmark of speed is agreed upon and standardized.  Any ideas about what it should be let me know?  Based on this week’s games an argument could probably be made for the Pac-10 as the speed conference.  But I’ll leave that to some other data cruncher.

Michigan’s on the Rise and it’s all about Recruiting Speed!

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad – Football Talent Advisors

Michigan’s “surprising” victory over Notre Dame has many wondering if the maize and gold are back?   I wrote in a March blog the following: 

All I can say is Big Ten look out for Michigan in the coming years.  No I’m not the first or only one to say Michigan will rise soon but my reasons might be different. Michigan’s recruiting has set it apart from nearly all others, it has signed 13 “Tier 3″ athletes in the past two years and Rich Rod’s not finished yet.  No other team in the Big 10 is even close (except perhaps Ohio State)…the speed and athletic gap will continue to increase in Michigan’s favor and we’ll begin to see it this year.  Here’s the blog link…

I hope this serves notice that Rich Rod’s recruiting and implementation of his spread option will take the Big Ten by storm.  The Big Ten must begin recruiting the appropriate athletes and speed to counter or it’ll be tough to stop the Wolverines.  Clearly Michigan has found a quarterback to run their offense and that’s huge too.  But don’t discount Michigan’s speed factor like wide receiver Darryl Stonum and defensive players Donovan Warren, Troy Woolfork, Stevie Brown and Boubacar Cissoko.  Sure Notre Dame’s wideouts made big plays but they didn’t run wild like they did the week before against Nevada. 

I commented on Notre Dame’s recruiting earlier this spring and I’ll say again I don’t believe ND is recruiting enough speed (track verifiable) and pure athleticism.  I say this citing the fact of 18 recruits signed for 2009 only six participated in high school track and ONE player ran under 11.0 seconds in the 100 meter dash.  That player is Cierre Wood.  The Irish just aren’t recruiting enough speed and athleticism to beat the best teams in Division I FBS.   

When Denard Robinson becomes more involved in Michigan’s offense it’ll only get more exciting.  The Big Ten has been put on notice.

Freshman of Influence – Week 1

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad – Football Talent Advisors

Each week I’m going to briefly highlight college freshman (true and redshirt) players that contribute to their team’s victory and or have spectacular performances.  The players highlighted will have had high school track and field backgrounds, as only we do it here at FTA.  I’ll try to plug some freshman lineman here and there… 



Chris Polk, RB – Washington

Had 90 rushing yards and 2 receptions for 34 yards against LSU in UW opening game under Sarkesian.  I should mention Polk ran a 10.90, 22.25/200 and long jumped over 21’00 while at Relands East Valley HS in 2007.

D.J. Monroe, RB/KR – Texas

Recently switched positions from receiver to running back but his real impact may be kick returner for the Longhorns.  Returned first kickoff of career 89 yards for a score against Louisiana-Monroe.  D.J. was also state champion 100 meter sprinter and 4×100 relay member in Texas at Angleton HS running 10.41 and 40.93.  

Greg Reid, CB – Florida State

A true freshman cornerback for the Noles turned in a great performance against Miami, including an interception, 4 tackles, a quarterback hit leading to an interception for td and 3 kick returns for 100 yards.  Greg was also a solid sprinter at Lowndes HS in Georgia running 11.08/100 and 22.30/200 and long jumping 20’10 at the Region 1-5A Meet in 2008 and appearing at the State Meet in 2006 running a leg on the 4×400 (3:26.07). 

Onterio McClaebb, RB – Auburn

Went to Hargrave Military to get to Auburn but this freshman opened againt La Tech with 22 rushes for 148 yards and two kick returns for 49 yards. This diminutive guy is very quick.  Ran 10.93/100 and 22.44/200 to become state champion for Fort Meade HS in Florida during the 2007 and 2008 track seasons. 

Dion Lewis, RB – Pittsburgh

Another diminutive freshman back that had a dominating opening performance,  gaining 129 yards on 20 carries for two TDs and another 10 yards on two catches and TD.  Apparently Dion was a three year track and field letterman at Blair Academy in New Jersey. 

Marsalis Teague, WR – Tennessee

Actually I was expecting a big receiving day out of one of the other Vol receivers, Nu’Keese Richardson (I’m sure his big game will come shortly), but Marsalis had a great performance six catches 86 yards and a touchdown.  Marsalis ran 11.19/100 and 22.24/200 his only year running track at Henry County HS in Tennessee. 

Kevin Newsome, QB – Penn State

Despite not being the Penn State starter the freshman came in against Akron and certainly looked like he belonged going 3 of 4 for 26 yards and have 2 rushing attempts for 12.  No turnovers. Newsome was a state champion high hurdler at Western Branch HS in Virginia going as fast as 14.15 and winning the state indoor 55 high hurdles in 7.35.  Just to let you that’s flying…he even threw some shot put too. 

Denard Robinson, QB – Michigan

Like Newsome, Robinson isn’t even the starting quarterback on his own team.  Fellow freshman Tate Forcier has that duty.  That didn’t stop Robinson from running 11 times for 74 yards and a score and electrifying the crowd.  He was only 2 of 4 passing for 18 yards but his rushing did the talking and there are many players faster than D. Robinson, period.  He ran a legit 10.44/100 at the Broward County Meet this past spring and was a state champion 4×100 member for Deerfield Beach HS in Florida running as fast as 40.64. 

What is it with these fast Big-10 quarterbacks all the sudden?  First Terrelle Pryor now D. Robinson and Kevin Newsome…is this a revolution at the position for the Big 10 or what?

I should mention that no freshman probably had as spectacular a debut as USC QB Matt Barkley.  But we’re not spotlighting him here. 

Well that’s a good start for freshman of influence for the first week of college football.  Hopefully we’ll uncover a few defensive players and lineman next week. 






Usain Bolt to the NFL Part II

Monday, September 7th, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad – Football Talent Advisors

After Usain Bolt’s super human performance of 9.58 100 meter dash at the World Championships there’s been buzz all over about what he might be able to do in the NFL.  There’s no question he’s the fastest person ever and perhaps more appropriately he’s 6’05.  He’s got an unprecedented combination of speed and size NFL executives and coaches covet at the wide receiver position. 

There’s a major oversight with this intriguing scenario though…Bolt’s never played football.  And by never I mean not little league, not high school and forget college.  Never played.  Bolt claims soccer is his team sport of preference.  That isn’t exactly a shining endorsement for transitioning to the NFL gridiron. 

I looked into what Bolt’s prospects might be if he decided to put professional track on the back burner for a while and give the NFL a shot.  And I discovered Bolt would have almost zero examples of successful crossover attempts by professional track athletes (with no prior football experience) to lean on.  Everyone likes to use Renaldo Nehemiah as the crossover example…and he wasn’t exactly successful.  Renaldo stuck in the NFL for three seasons and had moderate success as a receiver.  He was primarily a downfield decoy.

Nehemiah had little to no football experience and zero above the high school level.  Reminder: Usain Bolt has never played football.  Again, there are virtually no other examples of Olympic / professional track athletes to play in the NFL with no prior football playing experience.  On top of this Nehemiah played in the early 80’s when the NFL game was much less complex, the passing game much less refined and defenses were not geared to applying max pressure on quarterbacks.  Bolt would have to be much more technically sound at running routes and blocking than Nehemiah to meet the demands of an NFL team today. 

Bolt is physically much larger than Nehemiah (6’01 175) so that would be in his favor but there’s little else.  There are a ton of newspaper articles and websites that list players that ran great 100 meter times and played in the NFL.  Nearly all those players had extensive football backgrounds prior to playing in the NFL.  

A few receivers come to mind that had solid collegiate track careers and recent success in the NFL.  Eddie Kennison was a solid sprinter at LSU, winning an NCAA Outdoor 400 relay title in 1994, and had multiple 1,000 yard receiving seasons in the NFL.  Kennison is much smaller than Bolt and of course didn’t possess Bolt’s straight-line speed.  Marcus Robinson is another recent example of a successful NFL receiver (in 1999 Robinson caught 84 passes for 1,400yds and nine TDs) with a solid collegiate track career.  Robinson ran a 20.60 / 200 and 10.21 /100 at University of South Carolina.  Robinson’s not in the same league as Bolt in terms of speed but had similar size (6’03 215lbs).    

Former Olympians dot the NFL over the years with guys like Ollie Matson (RB – Rams), Bo Roberson (RB – Raiders), Michael Bates (RB / KR – Panthers), Willie Gault (WR – Bears), Sam Graddy (WR – Rams), James Jett (WR – Raiders), Ron Brown (CB / WR – Rams), James Trapp (CB – Ravens) and we could go on.  But the difference is ALL these guys had collegiate football experience prior to the NFL.  Yes, their tremendous speed and athleticism helped them in the NFL  but they had playing experience too.  I’m not even including the other obvious example Bob Hayes because he had extensive football experience prior to the NFL and most considered him a football player first and track athlete second. 

This name dropping could go on and on with other very successful current and former NFL players with solid collegiate track backgrounds like Champ Bailey, Robert Smith (RB Vikings), Herman Moore (WR Lions), Alvin Harper (WR Cowboys), O.J. Simpson, Curtis Conway, Qadry Ismail, Michael Carter, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Vance Johnson, Mark Duper, Ray Clayborn, Eugene Profit, Rod Woodson, Darrell Green even Deion Sanders ran in a few meets at Florida State. 

But I’ll end it here as even Willie Gault, who knows a bit about the Olympic track / NFL crossover, says without prior football experience it is too difficult to make the transition.  And we shouldn’t forget Justin Gatlin, mentioned in a prior blog, a former 9.85 Olympic sprinter had multiple NFL tryouts and couldn’t get signed by a team in 2007.  Gatlin played some football while at Woodham High School in Florida.

Steelers version of Devin Hester?

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Posted by Mark Branstad – Football Talent Advisors

Pretty cool development with the Pittsburgh Steelers to start the NFL season.  Stefan Logan a CFL veteran and University of South Dakota grad made the Steelers 53 man roster.  What is special about Logan is he’s got a kick returning style similar to the Chicago Bears’ Devin Hester.  Logan hasn’t played a regular season NFL game, he certainly won’t contribute at another position for some time and he’s physically smaller than Hester so I’ll stop the comparison here. 

However upon further examination their athletic skills (speed) do have some similarity.  Devin Hester was quite a track athlete in high school and as a freshman at U. of Miami.  Hester won the long jump at Big East Conference Indoor Championships in 2004 and finished third in the 60 meter dash.  Logan had a collegiate personal best in the 60 meter dash of 6.75, slightly ahead of Hester’s 6.77. 

An interesting fact:  Stefan Logan actually ran against current New York Jet, running back, Danny Woodhead.  The two squared off a few times running the 60 meter dash during the 2006 Division II collegiate indoor season.   Woodhead along with Logan ran at the ’06 NCAA Division II Indoor Championships too. Translation?  The 60 meter dash isn’t a bad barometer of football related speed.  But both of these guys were cut by NFL teams before for being too small and perhaps perceived too slow?  No one probably believes the latter about either player anymore.     

Anyway it’ll be interesting to see if Logan can go from supplying the Steelers some preseason excitement to being a regular season contributor.  He’s a long way from running track at South Dakota and returning kicks in the CFL.