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October 15, 2004When elite college football players such as Virginia's Ahmad Brooks and Georgia's Danny Ware are mentioned on national telecasts, it is usually noted that they attended Hargrave Military Academy prior to their college enrollment. College football fans should get used to hearing about Hargrave, as the Chatham, Va., school is once again loaded with prospects.
"Our goal at Hargrave is to prepare the players for success at the next level both academically and athletically," said Hargrave head coach Robert Prunty, who could have as many as 30 D1A prospects on his team this year. "It's a challenge because we have so many top players, but we've been successful."
So successful, in fact, that more than 400 coaches are expected to be in attendance at Hargrave on Dec. 6. What is so important about that date?
"That's when we're holding our combine," Prunty said. "Every year we have one and each year since I've been here there have been more and more coaches showing up. This year will be an all-time high."
That's because Hargrave not only has elite high school prospects who were signed and placed by major college football programs, but it also has plenty of "sleepers," players who slipped under the recruiting radar and have been coached up by the staff at Hargrave into top prospects.
There are currently 14 players on the Hargrave roster that have been signed and placed by schools, many of them four-star prospects from 2004. When talking about Hargrave, the big names always come first -- and the two biggest will head to the SEC.
Defensive tackles Demonte Bolden and Lorenzo Washington will play at Tennessee and Alabama, respectively.
Bolden, a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder, was ranked as the No. 4 defensive tackle in the country last year and was a top 50 player overall.
"Demonte is very explosive off the ball. He came into camp at around 310 pounds and he's down to 285 now," said Prunty, who is also the defensive coordinator. "I can see him playing right away at Tennessee and making an immediate impact like Jon Hefney has. He reminds me of Jonathan Sullivan, who was drafted last year by the Saints."
Washington, a 6-foot-5, 275-pounder, was ranked 18th at the same position.
"Lorenzo is just 17 years old and has an NFL body already," Prunty said. "He's still learning a lot of things, but he has loads of potential."
The other former four-star prospects on the Hargrave roster are N.C. State-bound running back Andre Brown and Virginia signee Olu Hall, now playing linebacker after playing defensive end in high school. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Brown can run with power but also has the speed and quickness to elude defenders.
"Andre is doing well," said offensive coordinator Ryan Sulkowski. "He has excellent change of direction and is a big back, so he can break tackles."
Hall, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, is still a terror off the edge, but has also shown the ability to read plays from his linebacker slot and drop effectively into coverage.
"He's still learning to play in space, which is new to him," Prunty said. "He can play linebacker at the next level, though, no doubt."
Other committed standouts on defense include outside linebacker Fred Fairchild, who signed with Arkansas last year, and inside linebacker Sam Wheeler, who signed with Virginia Tech last year and could also play fullback.
"Our linebackers are all developing well," said Prunty. "Everyone gets to see time because we have so many good players across the line."
The defensive line, in addition to Bolden and Washington, is also loaded. Defensive ends Brandon Fanney (Alabama), Peria Jerry (Ole Miss), Brandon Lang (Georgia), Willie Young (NC State) and William Wall (Virginia Tech) are all competing for playing time.
"We don't have any starters on our defensive line because all eight of our guys are good enough to start," Prunty said. "We rotate them all in. The worst case I can see for each of them is being a backup at the college level, but most of them should be impact guys."
Offensively, Hargrave has less committed players, but plenty of talent. Quarterback Terry Mitchell, who signed with West Virginia last year, beat out some tough competition to earn the starting job under center.
"T.J. has a strong arm and is playing well," said Sulkowski. "He has some serious competition behind him, but he's won the starting job."
The offensive line could be the strength of the offense, led by massive tackles Brandon Albert (headed to Virginia) and Jared Gaither (off to Maryland). Albert stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 340 pounds, while Gaither is 6-foot-9 and 300. Both not only have bright college futures, but have the potential to play on Sundays. Offensive guard Brandon Holland, a 6-foot-5, 281-pounder, is also a strong presence on the line and a terrific run blocker. He's headed to Virginia Tech next season.
"Alberts and Gaither are guys who could play on Sundays some day, without a doubt," said Sulkowski. "They have the size and quick feet. Both of them are developing quickly, especially Gaither who hasn't played a lot of football. Alberts is just a monster."
Jamar Bryant, who committed to Georgia, leads the receiving corps. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder was one of the top athletes in North Carolina last year.
"He's a top, top athlete," said Sulkowski. "He could play many different positions in college."
Heading the uncommitted players is a prospect who committed and signed out of high school but has since changed his mind and re-opened his recruitment. Running back Curtis Brinkley was a Syracuse commitment and is still looking at the Orange, but is also considering West Virginia (offer) and Ohio State (close to an offer), among others. It is the feeling of most that Brinkley could commit to the Mountaineers within a month or so.
"We make it a point to have players honor their commitments," said Sulkowski. "When they sign with someone and they place them here, we want them to stick with that commitment. With Curtis, though, it was a different situation. He had decided to re-open his recruiting before he arrived here. He really likes West Virginia, so something could happen soon there."
Also getting a lot of work at running back is former Florida prospect Chub Small, a 5-foot-9, 190-pounder with surprising strength and as-advertised quickness. Small had offers from Kansas, Cincinnati and South Florida out of high school, but is now getting serious attention from North Carolina, Wake Forest and others.
Backing up Mitchell at quarterback are two signal-callers hoping to earn notice after lacking offers out of high school. Staten Island, N.Y. native Aubrey Norris, a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder with good speed, is getting looks from Central Florida, Kent State and Akron. New Jersey native Chris Allison, a 6-foot-2, 194-pound lefty, already has an offer from Rutgers and is hearing from Louisville, UConn and others.
Moving to the wide receiver position, three players are hoping to earn offers while sharing time with Bryant. The fastest is 6-foot-1, 180-pounder Bruce Francis, who runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. He is getting looks from Duke, Vanderbilt, Georgia, West Virginia and Georgia Tech as a full qualifier.
6-foot-1, 185-pounder Deanco Oliver has the best hops of the wideouts with a 38-inch vertical. North Carolina, Clemson, N.C. State and Virginia Tech are all interested, and Central Florida has offered.
Rounding out the wideouts, Marcus Vareen is 6-foot-1, 190-pounds and was referred by Clemson. He's also being recruited by North Carolina and N.C. State.
Three non-committed offensive linemen are also attracting interest. Phillip Browning, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle, already has offers from Duke and Vanderbilt and is receiving interest from South Florida and Central Florida. 6-foot-6, 280-pound tackle Shaun Branscome is receiving interest from North Carolina and N.C. State, while guard Christian Johnson (6-foot-4, 305) is getting looks from Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Defensively, the headliner among those not yet committed is defensive tackle Brian Simmons, who has offers from Oklahoma, N.C. State, Virginia Tech and most recently Tennessee. Simmons has an official visit set for Oklahoma on Nov. 12, and the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder could commit on that trip.
"Simmons is a guy that everyone wants," said Prunty. "He just broke two fingers on his right hand a week ago and we hope to have him back in two weeks. We have so many defensive linemen, we don't need to rush him back."
Defensive end Ian Childress could also play tight end in college and is being recruited by Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Marshall for his 4.8-second 40-yard dash quickness on a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame.
Others of note on defense are 5-foot-11, 194-pound safety prospect Greg Hurt (who could also play linebacker although undersized) and 5-foot-11, 172-pound cornerback Paul Crews. Both are getting looks from Wake Forest, North Carolina and N.C. State.
Safety prospect Breon Rogers (6-foot-3, 195) already has an offer from Virginia Tech and is picking up interest from Georgia, West Virginia and North Carolina. Fellow safety Lionel Mitchell (6-foot-2, 172) also has an offer from Virginia Tech and interest from Georgia and Georgia Tech. 6-foot-0, 175-pound cornerback Rajiv Lundy doesn't have any offers yet, but North Carolina, West Virginia and Central Florida are showing interest.
"Florida is coming in with three coaches this week to see Rogers and Michigan is very high on Mitchell," said Prunty. "They should both get offers soon and are very interested in each program."