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November 2, 2003WASHINGTON, D.C. -The Washington D.C. area has been known for years for its ability to produce amazing players at the skill position and that trend isn't about to end with tons of blue-chippers in the Class of 2004. However, Greenbelt (Md.) Eleanor Roosevelt coach Rick Houchens believes he has a case for the nation's top defensive line.
And he can thank God for that.
"I'll be honest," Houchens said sitting in his office this past Friday. "I said a lot of prayers, and I guess a three of them have been answered."
Those answers are five-star defensive end Derrick Harvey, four-star defensive end George "Trey" Covington and three-star defensive tackle Jared Gaither.
The trio forms what is likely the nation's top high school defensive line and helps Roosevelt have one of the nation's top defenses. Heading into Saturday's game against Oxon Hill, Roosevelt was just two shutouts away from tying a state record for shutouts.
They'll go for the record next week against Suitland after beating Oxon Hill 56-0.
"These kids are special in their own unique way," Houchens said. "And they compliment each other so well. You put Harvey on one side of the line, put Covington on the other and then you have a big guy like Gaither clogging up the middle."
Harvey and Covington have been household names with recruiting fans for quite some time. Both are national recruits that have been on the radar since they were junior prospects.
Gaither is another story.
Basketball was and his sport. He is ranked as a three-star basketball prospect by RivalsHoops.com and has made a commitment to South Carolina. However, he came out for football for the first time this season and has blown up.
He has now become a hot commodity with the college football coaches, and Gaither said he's going to take official visits to Maryland and Florida is working on lining up a visit with him.
"Maryland is the only one that has offered me in writing in football," Gaither said. "But the Florida coach told me that they're going to bring me down for a visit and they're also going to offer me."
But the Gators might not be the last, either.
"I have never seen a 6-foot-9, 300-pound kid that does the things he does," Houchens said.
"Jared had been telling me for two years that he was going to come out for football, but he had never done it. He told me two days before we're starting practice that he was going to come out. I kind of said to myself 'Yeah, right. I'll believe it when I see it.' He gave me this serious look and said he would be there, but I of course didn't believe him. I didn't think he was serious."
And that's when one of Houchens' prayers was answered.
"Practice is supposed to start at 7:45, and I got there at 7 a.m.," Houchens said. "He was there waiting for me by one of the temporary classroom trailers. I kind of said to myself that let's see how this works out."
Houchens said he had to teach Gaither the basics of football, including how to line up, how to get into a stance and generally the game of football. At first the education was slow and some times frustrating for both Houchens and Gaither.
"The first few games, I pulled him aside and told him that the only thing that I want him to do is to blow up the guy in front of him and to push him back into the quarterback," Houchens said. "And by gosh, he starts to do that and starts to make big plays. It's like he's starting to realize that he could be really good at this.
"He now is asking questions and wants to learn how to get better. The sky is limit for this Cinderella story."
Before Saturday's win over Oxon Hill, Gaither had 55 tackles and seven sacks. He's even learned the game enough to where he can contribute on offense.
Yes that's right: Gaither is a 6-foot-9, 300-pound tight end that can't be covered. He has three receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns, showcasing his soft hands and remarkable speed for a giant.
"I've seen him play basketball," Houchens said. "He can't catch the ball. But he was out there one day lining up at tight end before practice and the guys were throwing him balls. He was catching it like he was a natural.
"People were laughing when we lined him up at tight end. They were thinking there is no way that we're going to throw the ball to this big kid. Well, we throw it to him and he's like a run-away truck with a 51-yard touchdown on a seam route. He was outrunning guys like he was your typical 240-pound tight end."
But it's on defense where Gaither is devastating. Against Oxon Hill, Gaither pushed through helpless blockers time after time and even if he didn't make the tackle the push was enough to destroy the other team's offensive push.
With the huge push up the middle, it really opens up opportunities for both Harvey and Covington. When the quarterback or running backs are pushed to the outside, you can count on Harvey and Covington to clean up. Before Saturday's game, Harvey had 97 tackles and 25 sacks, while Covington had 70 tackles and 16 sacks.
"Trey is the most stable kid in our program," Houchens said about the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Covington. "You can always count on him. He leads by example and when you need a big play, he'll make it at the key time. He can come from the backside and get after the quarterback and he's amazing when it comes sideline to sideline."
Houchens is right.
Covington, who committed early to Maryland over offers from Colorado, Duke, Tennessee and Virginia, is special and very worthy of his lofty four-star ranking and No. 9 ranking by Rivals.com at the weakside defensive end position. He's more physically developed than Harvey at this point and would be recruited by everybody in the nation if he hadn't picked the Terps early.
"I have no doubt in my mind if Trey hadn't of committed early to Maryland he would have just as many offers as Derrick does," Houchens said.
"He would have been recruited by everybody in the nation. But he felt really comfortable with his decision to commit early to Maryland and stay close to home. I know coach (Ralph) Friedgen is extremely happy to have him and he should be."
Not much can be said that hasn't already said about Harvey, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound freak that is a spitting image of Jevon Kearse. He has an amazing first step off the line of scrimmage and a long and lean frame that allows him to fill out once he hits college.
"The perfect way to describe Derrick is that he's relentless," Houchens said. "When you see him chase after a quarterback, it's just scary. He doesn't stop until the whistle blows and he's virtually unblockable."
On Saturday he was impressive on offense, too. He caught a 28-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, leaping over a defender and then gliding into the end zone.
With a list of national suitors, Harvey has recently reduced his list to Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Miami and Tennessee. He has visits lined up with all of those teams, but there is one visit that he won't be able to make that has people at Roosevelt scratching their heads.
"I don't know how they're going to play that national all-star game without Derrick and even Trey in it," Houchens said. "It's just a shame that he won't get to play in that game. But we know how special he is around here."
And Houchens counts his blessings every night.