March 9, 2010

City of Memphis reloads with football talent

Year after year, the level of football talent has steadily risen in the city of Memphis. Once only a basketball town, Memphis is quickly becoming a hot stop for college football recruiters. In the class of 2010, the city produced four four-star prospects and 16 prospects in all that signed FBS scholarships.

The class of 2011 in Memphis may not have quite the same number of elite prospects or even the same depth but there are still numerous prospects that are continuing to emerge. Beyond the 2011 class, the future remains bright in Memphis as the class of 2012 is already shaping up to be a phenomenal group.

Rivals.com made a tour through the emerging hot bed to get a handle on some of the most talented programs in the state of Tennessee.

Whitehaven

No school is a better representative of the talent growth in Memphis than Whitehaven. In recent years, the program has been a huge pipeline for college football talent producing players like Tenarius Wright (Arkansas), Gene Robinson (North Carolina) and Ferlando Bohanna (Mississippi State) all within the last couple of years. The class of 2011 should again continue that streak of FBS talent.

This year's class is led by Terry Redden at defensive tackle, who currently holds an offer from Clemson. Redden is an undersized defender but he is very active and very physical.

While Redden has drawn the early attention, linebacker Charles Harris could very well end up being the top prospect. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Harris should continue the strong tradition of linebackers out of Whitehaven. He is extremely fluid in pass coverage and should thrive in more of a prominent role as a senior.

Harris is joined in the linebacking corps with another big and talented prospect in Julius Lewis. The two linebackers along with Redden should combine for a dominating defensive front and the emergence of some promising talent on offense such as tight end Keilyn Wells (6-5/225) and wide receiver Duke Coleman should offer a number of options for college coaches.

Wooddale

After a 9-3 season that ended with a one-point playoff loss to Whitehaven, Wooddale returns the majority of its top prospects and a few have already begun to pick up college interest.

In the class of 2011, Wooddale is led by Kevin Green and Ryan Mack. Mack is a 6-foot-4, 310-pound offensive tackle that claims a verbal offer from Memphis and has received additional interest from West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Southern Miss and others.

Green is a linebacker/safety prospect that stands at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. As a junior, Green piled up 115 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and 17 tackles for loss. All that work was enough to earn him a verbal offer from Memphis along with interest from Penn State, Illinois and others.

There is more talent at Wooddale in the 2011 class in players such as defensive back Desmond Stevenson, linebacker Deion Roberson and quarterback/athlete Demarion Graham. However, the jewel of the program may be in the class of 2012.

Rising junior Jovon Robinson is a powerful running back at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds. As a sophomore, Robinson was the heart and soul of the Wooddale offense, rushing for just under 1,700 yards and 26 touchdowns while also adding two interceptions on defense and both an interception and fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. With a healthy junior season, Robinson should enjoy plenty of college interest.

Mitchell

Mitchell has been a loaded program of late, making deep playoff runs in each of the past three seasons and producing some major talent in the process. Alabama signee Keiwone Malone was the headliner in the 2010 class for Mitchell and running back Artaves Gibson will take that title for the class of 2011.

Gibson may have slipped off of some radar's following an injury-plagued junior season that saw him rush for only 511 yards and five touchdowns in six games. As a sophomore though, Gibson rushed for 1,759 yards and 23 touchdowns, including 191 yards and two touchdowns in the state championship game.

Some schools have not forgotten that phenomenal sophomore campaign and strong start to 2009. Gibson recently picked up official offers from Memphis, Kentucky and LSU.

When Gibson departs in the class of 2011, Mitchell already has its own 2012 standout waiting to emerge. Nathan Cole is the son of head coach Nathan Cole Sr. and has been a major contributor on one of the state's best teams since his freshman year. The wide receiver is a fluid, natural pass catcher should step in for the departed Malone as a junior to be the primary receiver target in Mitchell's wide open offense.

Memphis East

Last season, defensive tackle Brandon Ivory was a virtual unknown to college recruiters. Then he blew up in a post-season all-star game, was offered by Memphis, committed and later jumped on an opportunity to sign with Alabama. That sleeper status likely won't repeat itself with head coach Marcus Wimberly's crop of talent in 2011.

East is led by a trio of receivers in the 2011 class that provide tremendous speed and athleticism. Robert Fields at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds is the biggest receiver of the group and caught 13 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns as a junior in only six games. Brandon Barron should emerge with more touches as a senior after catching 12 passes for 181 yards as a junior. Meanwhile Detavius Johnson returns from a junior year in which he caught 44 passes for 661 yards. At 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, Johnson is undersized but has huge big-play ability.

As talented as East's receiving trio is, college recruiters will have to wait a year for what may be the team's top recruit. Running back Brian Kimbrow is 5-foot-8, 160 pounds and rushed for 863 yards as a sophomore on only 86 carries. He also excelled on the defensive side of the ball and could develop into either an all-purpose back or a lock-down corner on the next level.

Manassas

The emergence of four-star offensive guard O.C. Brown put Manassas on the map for college recruiters in 2009. It's a good thing too because the small inner-city school is stocked with more players that colleges would be wise to take a hard look at in future classes.

In the class of 2011, Chavis Daniels is receiving some interest as a linebacker from the likes of Western Kentucky, Southern Miss, Illinois and Ole Miss. Daniels stands 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds and has great athleticism with the ability to play running back and wide receiver in high school.

In the class of 2012, Manassas boasts a three players that will likely end up playing somewhere on Saturdays with one of them having the type of body that ends up playing on Sundays.

At running back, Omar Williams rushed for 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns as a 5-9/185 pound sophomore but the player handing him the ball could be the best prospect on the team regardless of class.

Will Redmond plays quarterback at 6-foot-0, 179 pounds for Manassas but he likely projects at either wide receiver or defensive back at the next level. Wherever he ends up, he has tremendous athleticism and good straight-line speed and should continue to develop into a highly recruited prospect.

Finally, Manassas is home to one of the more impressive looking sophomores that you will find anywhere in the country. Brandon Hill currently stands at 6-foot-6, weighs 353 pounds and doesn't look to have bad weight on him. As is often the case with players that get that big that early, Hill is still learning to how to use his body and is still getting coached up on his technique but his potential is through the roof.

Southwind - Lonnie Ballentine already holds one of the more impressive offer lists in the state of Tennessee and it's easy to see why with unique size combined with legitimate track speed at the cornerback position.

White Station - After a Cinderella run to a 6A State Championship in 2009, White Station will re-load with some young talent. Linebacker Barron Thompson and wide receiver Adrian Ross have FBS ability out of the class of 2011 while the top prospect for the Spartans looks to be 2012 wide receiver Antonio Cheatham.

Ridgeway - Redgeway was home to four-star Justin Maclin in the class of 2010 and its next big-time performer looks to be 2012 all-purpose back Jaylen Walton. Walton has size limitations at only 5-foot-7 but he is a highlight reel waiting to happen with the ball in his hands. His 335 yards rushing early in the season against future 6A State Champions White Station really put Walton on the map and he will likely be one of the state's top 2012 prospects despite his height.

Melrose - Tino Thomas has emerged as one of Memphis' top 2011 prospects at safety with offers from Arkansas, Duke and Kentucky early. Thomas is the brother of current University of Miami running back Graig Cooper. Prospects always emerge at Melrose and perhaps the next one to step up will be 2012 quarterback William Gross who grew up a lot as a sophomore under center in 2009.

Memphis Central - Central may be home to the biggest sleeper from the class of 2011 in tight end Cameron Clear. Clear is a 6-foot-6, 265-pounder that has a basketball background and is still coming to grips with his football potential. He could end up as an offensive tackle on the next level and already Alabama has recognized his potential, showing some legitimate interest.

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