February 8, 2007
Defense Dominates National Signing Day
by Tim and Tom Readling
Signing day was all going according to plan inside the Robert and Miriam Hayes Fieldhouse on Wednesday morning, until the fax machine gave the staff all sorts of problems.
Problems that college head coaches around the country worry about on the most important day of the off-season.
"The one day you do not want to have a fax problem, you have a fax problem," laughed Catawba head coach Chip Hester. "But we got that all taken care of, and all of the faxes came in."
Before the sudden fax break-down, Jordan-Matthews cornerback Derrick Brown signed the Indians' first of eleven letters of intent on Wednesday.
"Derrick Brown signed at 7:10 AM, and that was appropriate because he was the earliest commitment we had," said Hester. "He is one of those rare guys that commits during the football season."
Brown is a 5'11 175 pound cornerback that ran a superb 4.45 forty yard dash and posses a 34 inch vertical, while recording 16 repetitions of 185 pounds.
"He has done a little bit of everything for Jordan-Matthews, Hester said. "This year he played a little quarterback and running back, but he is an all-around good athlete. He has played in the secondary and that is, of course, the kind of athlete we are looking after at cornerback."
Hester also found the kind of athlete he liked at quarterback, and he did not have to search far.
North Rowan quarterback Daniel Griffith hopes to fulfill the legacy of legendary flamethrowers that the Cavaliers have had in the past, including former Indian Mitch Ellis.
"We were just delighted to get Daniel," grinned Catawba's head coach. "I have told people before, he is a good football player, but he is an even a better person."
Hester said the kind of feedback the coaching staff got from the teachers and coaches over at North Rowan was outstanding. Griffith is a high character guy, a leader, and competitor, in the words of Hester.
"The other thing about Daniel is that he had only started for one year as a varsity quarterback," reminded Hester. "His potential is through the roof. He broke the county record for passing yards and came in second in other categories."
Griffith threw for 2,810 yards and 24 touchdowns, leading North Rowan to the second round of the 2A playoffs. To give Catawba fans a hint of what they are getting, let it be known that Ellis threw for 2,358 yards in 1994.
"Just looking at him, the intangibles is what sold us," said Hester. "The number of guys that have his talent and intangibles are very few. We feel like we got a guy who will be a great quarterback one day."
Griffith is not the only future great player that inked with the Catawba Indians on Wednesday.
Defensive tackle Robert Brown is extraordinarily big and strong at 6'1 285 pounds, and that is what garnered the coaches' interest in this Camden High School senior.
"Robert Brown has a big body, but can move really well and posses real athleticism," said Hester. "When I watched him on tape, I noticed that he covers kicks and punts. One particular play on film shows where he peels back and makes a huge hit on a guy, where pieces of the guy's helmet are flying off. That was the hit of the year on film."
Brown recorded 73 tackles, 8 tackles for losses, two sacks, five quarterback hurries, an interception, and destroyed another player's helmet by contact during his senior season.
"He is a guy that is right down the alley of what we are looking for," Hester said. "And that is a big guy."
Hester was not surprised that Brown was the number one defensive tackle on DJ Summers' prospect sheet. The head coach believes he could come right in and make an impact.
"The talent level is there, and all of these guys have a chance to play early on," commented Hester. "The question is if they can grasp the system we like to run."
Butler High School defensive tackle Lamar Keaton not only likes to run on the gridiron, but on the hardwood.
That's right, the 6'0 250 pound team captain of Butler High School in Matthews, North Carolina, also plays on the school's varsity basketball team.
Enough about what Keaton can do with a sphere, what can he do with an odd-shaped pigskin?
"He played on the offensive and defensive line in high school," informed Hester. "He is a guy that will continue to bulk up and become an inside defensive lineman."
Besides being team captain for a Bulldogs' squad that took Independence down to the wire in multiple overtimes during the regular season, he played on a team that was full of stars.
It looks like Lamar signed with a bunch of stars too, because Spring Valley High School linebacker Brandon Weedon is untamed and loves to hit at 6'1 215 pounds.
"Brandon is a phenomenal pass-rushing outside linebacker," said Hester. "We have some high hopes for him, as he has an instinct to react to the football, and finds a way to run things down."
Weedon piled up 103 tackles, 16 tackles for losses, and 9 sacks as a senior for the Vikings from South Carolina.
At the Athens Nike Training Camp, Weedon ran a 4.84 forty-yard dash and possessed a 34 inch vertical leap.
"Weedon is a big, physical guy, but he has the speed and change of direction that fits the mold we are looking for at linebacker, said Hester. "He can do some of the things that we think Ron Ellington can do at outside linebacker."
Dudley High School safety Mike Benton can do some of the things Trey Glover and Thomas Presley can do, because he is a hybrid in the making as a 6'2 190 pound member of coach Bob Lancaster's secondary.
"We wanted to get a bigger bodied defensive back," expressed Hester. " When we think we have a true corner in Derrick Brown, we also believe we have a true hybrid in Mike Benton, he could play corner or safety."
Hester loves that Benton is a hitter and a safety that falls in love with contact.
"You look at his body type and he is going to remind you of Jemonte Battle," said Hester. "And that was a selling point, we initially felt that he was a corner, but he can be in coverage and help support the run."
Sure the comparisons of new recruit Mike Benton to Jemonte Battle is swell, but what about when the names of DeVonte Peterson and Radell Lockhart are brought to Hester's jam-packed table?
Well you have the name Brandon Sutton, ladies and gentlemen.
Sutton, currently a senior at Greene Central High School in Snow Hill, North Carolina, is 6'3 235 pounds and was a menace, to say the least, during his last two seasons for the Rams.
Listen to these numbers folks.
As a senior, the defensive end racked up 138 tackles, 21 tackles for losses, 15 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, two blocked field goals, and a blocked punt. As a junior, he posted 136 tackles, 16 tackles for losses, 13.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 4 fumbles recovered.
His accolades are as stuffed as his stat sheet.
Not only is Sutton a three-time All-Area and three-time All-Eastern Plains Conference pick, but he is a two-time All-State pick and a two-time All-Iron Man. Sutton was also chosen as the Eastern Plains Conference Defensive Player of the Year for both his junior and senior seasons.
"We feel like Brandon Sutton is in that mold of DeVonte Peterson and Radell Lockhart, that type of athlete," warned Hester. "He has the size and I think he is going to get big once he gets into a college system."
Hester said he has a great personality and great smile.
"He came in and immediately hit it off with our guys," said Hester. "Coach Matt Barrett did a great job with him and throughout the whole recruiting process."
Speaking of recruiting processes, it is becoming the norm today for Division I-A schools to pass on offensive linemen who are under 6'4.
It looks like Hester will have to settle for 6'3 306 pound Shrine Bowl offensive lineman Cody Corn from Tuscola High School.
Hester almost seemed insulted when he read the weight of Corn as 263 pounds in some publications.
"He was 6'2 306 pounds with shoes on," said Hester.
Hopefully Cody will remember to wear his shoes when he suits up for the Tribe in the years to follow.
"Our coaching staff feels like we got a guy who is strong and played against the best of the best in the Shrine Bowl when we watched him," Hester observed. "It was time to sign someone that we felt could physically play early and is not a big project kind of player, and Cody was exactly that guy."
Northern Durham defensive tackle Lonnie Coleman looks like a keeper at 6'6 275 pounds and Hester hopes he can help keep offenses off the field.
"Lonnie is a guy who will be a three hundred pounder soon and be that nose guard we are looking for," assured Hester. "He played for Coach Woody down in Northern Durham, who is now at Carson High School. Coach Woody thinks the world of Lonnie and believes his best football playing days are ahead of him."
Coleman is massive and runs close to a 5.00 flat forty time.
"I think he is a guy down the road who will be an extremely good football player for us," predicted Hester. "At that height and weight, he ran good times."
Hester also said he is just now starting to grow into his body, which could be painful for SAC offensive lineman over time.
Kendrick Mayes can cause painful times for many ball carriers. Mayes is a 6'0 200 pound linebacker from legendary E.E. Smith High School, in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
The eleventh commit to ink with the Indians hails from Manteo High School, 6'0 185 pound safety Hunter Meekins.
Meekins was apart of a 15-1 season for the Redskins and enjoyed a trip to Class A state championship against Elkin, falling 28-7.
"We were impressed with his nose for the football," said Matt Barrett. "He is a physical player and he really fits in with our defensive philosophy. He adds to Catawba's team speed."
Overall, Hester is really pleased with the quality and quantity of his commitments.
"You look at the needs of your football team and see where you need to find some depth," Hester expressed. "I think we were able to do that and our coaches feel really good about the guys we signed."
Looking at who Catawba graduated on offense, it was only two players. Hester believed the roster needed defense, believing that in the SAC, teams have to be two-deep.
Hester agrees that it is not only about the X's and O's, but the Jimmy's and Joe's.
"Our coaches have to put them in positions to be successful," said Hester. "We have two of the most intelligent and sharpest coaches in John Fitz and Matt Barrett."
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