10 days, 6,000 miles, 200 players

10 days, 6,000 miles, 200 players
May 14, 2012, 7:43 pm
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Try it sometime when you have nothing better to do. Drive 6,000 miles in 10 days and interview and evaluate 200 of the best high school football players in the country. Even a side trip to Hawaii is all work, no vacation, no time for surfing or sightseeing, even a luau.

"I lost my voice over the last three days," reported recruiting analyst Tom Lemming after his most recent travel odyssey. "In all honesty, at this point, I'm sick of football. After I got back, I slept for an entire day."

Lemming has been making trips like this for 33 years. But this one was a little over the top. On three days alone, he drove over 1,000 miles. He flew to Hawaii, then drove through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. He met 40 players in Hawaii and 100 in Los Angeles.

It completed his four-month tour of the nation, which covered every state except Alaska and North and South Dakota. If there are any college prospects in those states, Lemming hasn't heard of them. Now, after making a few short hops to New York and Ohio, he'll settle in to write his annual 300-page magazine that reveals the nation's top players.

"Hawaii is loaded with talent. It is the last frontier of college recruiting," Lemming said. "It is too far for most colleges to travel, 10 hours by flight from Chicago."

In Honolulu, Lemming met the University of Hawaii's new coach, Norm Chow, who told him: "I wish you weren't here because it brings too much attention to the state."

Lemming predicts that 20 to 30 Hawaiian products will commit to Division I schools. And he believes that Hawaii produces five or six players with All-America potential every year that most people don't know about except for a few schools on the West Coast.

The best player in Hawaii is 6-foot-3, 238-pound linebacker Isaac Savaiinaea of Punahou, the same school that produced Notre Dame star Mantei Teo and President Barack Obama. He is committed to Stanford.

Other standouts are 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker Kama Correa and 6-foot-4, 320-pound offensive guard Reeve Koehler of St. Louis High School in Honolulu, 6-foot-1, 300-pound nose tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii of Waiahae and 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive tackle Scott Pagano of Moanalna.

Pagano, who benches 405 pounds, has been offered by Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State. Correa and Koehler are uncommitted but Correa's dream is to play for Notre Dame, which hasn't offered yet. All are being pursued by Pac-12 schools.

"If Pagano lived in Chicago, he'd be an All-American," Lemming said.

Another player who figures to attract more attention as the summer goes along is 6-foot-5, 2225-pound linebackertight end Danny Mattingly of Spokane, Wash. He is a second cousin of former baseball great and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. He has been offered by Notre Dame, Oklahoma, UCLA and Nebraska.

For you travel buffs, Lemming recommends "the most beautiful drive I've ever had in the United States," a 400-mile trip from Pullman, Wash., to Boise, Idaho, along routes 95 and 55.

"It started in a snowstorm and 30 degrees and ended up in 80-degree weather," he said. "It was the prettiest drive I've ever been on, including Hawaii. I kept pulling over to look at the scenery along the way...mountains, lakes, streams, canyons, wildlife. It's amazing that it is never talked about."

Meanwhile, Lemming clarified his up-to-date evaluations of the leading prospects in what he has described as the best class of talent in the Chicago area since 1986. The headliners include running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, tackles Ethan Pocic of Lemont and Jack Keeler of Barrington, quarterbacks Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South and defensive tackle Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West.

Regarding Isaac, whom Lemming rates as the No. 1 running back in the nation: "He has everything. What sets him apart from the others is he had great production as a junior. He has ideal size, speed and athletic ability. It looks like everything clicked for hi last year. No one is more all-around than him...run, block and catch."

Lemming said Bailey's commitment to Illinois "gives new coach Tim Beckman and his staff instant credibility in recruiting. He is one of the elite athletes in the country, the best all-around athlete in Illinois. When you see him on film in last year's state championship game, he looked like a precision passer in bad weather. There are a lot of question marks about his passing but he answered them in the state final. He has the ability to play quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety and tight end. But he is a quarterback. Illinois can't go back on its word to let him play quarterback."

Lemming said Alviti's decision to commit to Northwestern "was a great choice. He looks like their quarterback of the future. He is a great precision passer. He only lacks height. If he was 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, he would be a top 100 player. He has foot speed, smarts and arm strength to be the best quarterback ever to come out of Maine South. Northwestern told him that he would be their quarterback of the future, that they would build their offense around him."

Keller was the best offensive lineman that Lemming saw last year in the Chicago area, better than his more heralded teammate Dan Voltz, who committed to Wisconsin. "He is a legitimate 6-foot-7. He'll be a top 125 player, maybe higher," Lemming said, ranking him in the same class with Pocic and tackles Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual.

Lemming said he has watched Pocic for three years and, while he rates him as perhaps the No. 2 prospect in the Chicago area behind Isaac, he admits that he isn't the dominating player he should be or will become. "He has athletic ability and can run and block downfield. But he isn't dominating yet. He is a four-plus guy right now, like Bosch, McGovern, Keeler and Tuley-Tillman. But to become a five-star player, they need to dominate on almost every play. They are much bigger and more athletic than the guys they are going against," Lemming said.

According to Lemming, Dunbar is very athletic and has great growth potential and has the highest ceiling of any defensive player in the state. "But he hasn't realized his potential yet. He has yet to play like the impact player that he should be. For 33 years, I've talked about players taking plays off, like (former Simeon and Illinois star) Martez Wilson, kids who don't play hard all the time. Simeon Rice was the same way," Lemming concluded.