University of Pittsburgh sensation Dion Lewis received Big East Player of the Week honors after rushing for 180 yards and two touchdowns against Rutgers on Friday night. With 918 rushing yards on the season, Lewis ranks second among all FBS (Division I-A) players, quite an impressive feat for a true freshman who was lightly recruited.
Lewis lacks prototypical size for the running back position. Only Cam Saddler and Jason Douglas (both 5-foot-7) are listed on the Pittsburgh roster shorter than the 5-8, 190-pound Lewis.
It’s a process that plays out every season: an under-recruited player who didn’t pass the eye test steps onto the college scene and makes a big impact (Remember Jacquizz Rodgers last season?).
Here are five players from the 2010 recruiting class they may lack the ideal height for their position but could end up paying dividends for a Division I program:
Tony Jones, RB, Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
The diminutive Jones has been a playmaker for Don Bosco Prep since his ninth-grade season, something that’s extremely uncommon for the Ironmen.
He’s generously listed at 5-8, but weighs 180 pounds and has a strong lower body. He’s extremely elusive with the football, and has the speed and quickness of a Division I player. Jones’ ability to endure the rigors of playing college football at en elite level has come in to question, particularly after an injury-filled 2008 season. But in 2009, Jones is off to a sensational start, rushing for 12 touchdowns in five games. He is demonstrating why he could be a valuable addition wherever he lands.
Chas Dodd, QB, Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
Dodd has been one of the most efficient players in the country on one of the nation’s most talented teams. He’s thrown for 31 touchdowns to lead the Rebels to a 7-1 record. He even exploited the highly-touted secondary of St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) to the tune of 416 yards and three scores.
Most schools had looked past the 6-foot, 170-pound Dodd. He finally landed a scholarship offer from Rutgers and verbally committed to head coach Greg Schiano over the summer. While Dodd is certainly much less heralded of a recruit than current freshman quarterback Tom Savage, he’s also much more accomplished. Dodd has guided Byrnes to two state titles and is likely to capture a third this season. Don’t be surprised if his poise and experience allow him to challenge Savage for the starting spot sooner rather than later.
Anthony DeMatteo, LB, Skyline (Sammamish, Wash.)
A MaxPreps Junior All-American in 2008, DeMatteo has been the heart and soul of the Skyline defense for two seasons. He recorded 109 tackles last year, leading a defense that only allowed 77 points all season.
Through six games this year, DeMatteo already has an astounding 100 tackles, easily making him one of the country’s most productive defensive players. At around 5-11, colleges have had a tepid response to him. He’s exactly the type of player that can surprise people at the next level.
J.D. Pride, QB, Totino-Grace (Brooklyn Park, Minn.)
Unlike his good friend, 6-8 Cretin-Derham Hall offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson, Pride is not gifted with the height that makes college coaches salivate, especially at the quarterback spot. However, the 6-1 Pride is well-built for a spread offense where his size would be less of a factor.
The football pedigree that Pride has may be an indication that he could be a difference maker at the next level. His father played running back for Minnesota in the 1970s before being drafted by the Miami Dolphins. His cousin, Marion Barber, also played for the Golden Gophers and is now on the Dallas Cowboys.
Pride has verbally to Minnesota. He’s enjoying an outstanding senior season, leading Totino-Grace to a 7-0 record. Because of the team’s Wing-T offense, his capabilities at quarterback are a bit hidden. This is perfectly fine with Golden Gophers head coach Tim Brewster, who should give Pride more opportunities to make plays with both his arm and his legs.
Kevin Parks, RB, West Rowan (Mount Ulla, N.C.)
Coming off a season in which Parks rushed for 43 touchdowns and 2,864 yards, it’s hard to imagine him not being at the top of recruiting boards of schools up and down the East Coast.
But the 5-7, 195-pound Parks was not heavily recruited before pledging to Al Groh and the Virginia Cavaliers. The MaxPreps Junior All-American has kept up his fine play in his senior season, as he has piled up 2,165 yards through nine games this season. He’s also the Tar Heel State’s career leader in rushing attempts, showing tremendous durability despite his small frame.
If there is a coaching change at Virginia, don’t be surprised if other schools reconsider their evaluation of Parks and come calling for his services.
Notre Dame loses, but scores recruiting victories
Notre Dame may have lost Saturday to USC, but the Fighting Irish scored a key recruiting victory.
Gainesville (Ga.) receiver Tai-ler Jones committed to Notre Dame after taking a visit to South Bend over the weekend. Jones, who was previously committed to Stanford, announced his pledge to the Fighting Irish via Facebook on Sunday night.
The 6-0, 185-pounder is having an outstanding senior campaign for the Red Elephants. In seven games, he has hauled in 37 catches for 616 yards and nine touchdowns. As a junior, he registered over 1,000 receiving yards and scored 12 TDs.
Though Jones had previously made a commitment to Stanford, his switch to Notre Dame does not come as a complete surprise. Jones’ father, Andre, played defensive end for the Irish from 1987-1991, so a connection to Notre Dame was already well-established.
Another visitor who game away impressed from his visit was St. Francis (La Canada, Calif.) defensive back Dietrich Riley. On Saturday night, Riley said via Twitter that he was enjoying his visit to South Bend despite almost missing a connecting flight from Chicago to South Bend. Riley is thought to be leaning toward USC, but also visited Tennessee and UCLA recently. Pete Carroll is reluctant to lose out on Riley, and made it a point to drop by St. Francis’ game against El Rancho two weeks ago.
Charlie Weis has shown an ability to outfox Carroll on a few top SoCal recruits. A positive experience for Riley during his trip to South Bend should bode well for Notre Dame’s chances.