This is Head Coach Robert Prunty's third class, and he feels as good about this one as any he has had in the past.
"I truly feel like physically this is the best team that I've seen here since I've been at Hargrave," said Prunty. "I think we should be strong all over."
Coaching the linebackers and secondary this year in addition to his duties as head coach, Prunty is most concerned with the task at hand.
"The defense and the secondary are going to have to grow up fast. Other than that, I think we should be fine. My only concern right now is the secondary, but once those guts can learn the system, I think we'll be OK."
Since practice was beginning this weekend, Prunty hadn't had the chance to see his players in pads as of Friday afternoon, but there were several players that he was interested in getting a look at that could lead his back seven on defense.
"We got the #1 player in Virginia in Olu Hall. He's going to play weakside linebacker for us. Freddie Fairchild is another linebacker. I think when it's all said and done, he just has that NFL look to him. He's tall, rangy, and can run. Sam Wheeler is a guy that I'm hoping can step up and play for me, because I think he has the physical tools. He's about 6-3 and 250 pounds, and he can flat out run."
Prunty is using the weekend to access his defensive backfield, but there were two Stephenson (Stone Mountain, Ga.) teammates that immediately sprung to his mind when asked about who to watch for this year.
"I really need to get a good look at everyone, but Breon Rogers stands out in my mind. He's tall and fast, and he has gotten a lot bigger since high school. Lionel Mitchell is another player that could be over there too."
Josh Wellenhoffer may end up being the most popular coach on the Hargrave staff this fall, because his defensive line is loaded with talent.
"Lorenzo Washington is a heck of a player," said Wellenhoffer, "I'm expecting big things from him. He comes from a great family, and he's a good kid. He has great speed for his size, and I'm looking for him to plug the middle for us."
"Brandon Fanney also has great speed. He played great in the Tennessee/Kentucky All-Star game. He's going to play mainly inside for us."
"Willie Young is going to play defensive end of us. I believe he's going to be outstanding. He's one of the best defensive ends in the nation. He has speed and plays hard."
"Freddie Fairchild is going to play some defensive end for us too (previously mentioned at linebacker). He's a great young man that carries himself well. His athletic ability looks amazing, and he looks like he can carry another 20 or 30 pounds after the weight room. He's a specimen."
"Virginia Tech already. He'll play both defensive end and tackle for us. He's from DC and they have a lot of athletes from there. He's quick and powerful. He's going to be a great contributor at Tech. Peria Jerry played linebacker in high school, but he's going to play defensive tackle for us. He's getting pretty big."
The unsigned player that may get the most looks from the most colleges is Brian Simmons.
"He didn't sign with anyone last year," said Wellenhoffer of Simmons. "He's gotten an offer from Oklahoma already. Brian is going to create something big for himself. I expect big things from the whole DL. I don't want the other team to gain a yard on the ground. That's our goal."
Offensive Coordinator Ryan Sulkowski originally from Tift County, Ga., spent last year at Chowan College in Murfeesboro, N.C. with his brother Joey who is also on staff at Hargrave.
"The good Lord helped lead me here," said Sulkowski. "I talked with Coach Prunty in June about coming here and it's been great ever since. I could not have asked to be more blessed."
Typically, coming in over the summer puts a coach behind, but Hargrave has the challenge of creating a new team from scratch every fall, and Sulkowski will be getting to know the knew group of players just as a 10 year veteran coach would. He coaches running backs and quarterbacks along with his duties as offensive coordinator, and he has a load of talent to choose from this year.
"West Virginia. When he came in, we saw that he had a lot of those Michael Vick type of qualities running and throwing. With him in the offense, it's going to be very similar to what West Virginia runs and similar to what he ran in high school. I can't wait to see how he reacts and how he takes control of the field.
"I didn't know much about Aubrey Norris before I got here, but he got to play in the New York/New Jersey All-Star game against one of our other quarterbacks Chris Allison. He looks like the type of guy that can take control of a huddle. He's definitely going to give a run at the starting spot. He can move around a little bit in the pocket, and I like having a guy back there that can move around."
"I mentioned that Chris Allison played in the all-star game too. He is very sound mechanically; he throws a very pretty ball. It going to be exciting to see out of these three who emerges as the #1. We're going to play all of them, but it's easier to play everyone when they're all very, very talented."
Sulkowski believes his running backs will come from Hargrave more ready than ever to take contribute immediately on the next level.
"We have a good situation here for running backs, because we don't run a true fullback in our offense. We are going to run two very powerful tailbacks, and they are going to have to do a lot of things for us like catching and blocking in addition to running. We are going to develop all of the skills they need to compete on the next level."
The big name that jumps out off of Sulkowski's list of backs is Andre Brown.
"You can't say enough good things about Andre Brown. You can't say enough good things about him athletically or as a person. He's all about business. He is shooting to be the best running back that he can be and be the best running back in the country. I think he can accomplish those goals. He is driven."
"Curtis Brinkley is a strong runner with great vision. Watching his game tape, I saw what ability he had to make people miss. He also has very good hands."
"Chubb Small got here the day before everyone else did. You can ask the coaches about the smile on my face when I saw him walk in. He's well developed. He's going to make it on an ACC/SEC school, and being from Florida, they better jump on him early and see where they can go with him."
"Robert Barcliff is another one of those guys that we aren't afraid to put in there, and we feel like that about all of our guys. He's just built. It's unbelievable how all of these guys are in such good shape and have taken pride in being the best they can be. He's a two time all state guy. He's a single back type that is a strong, durable runner."
"I was extremely happy to get Christopher Mack in. He is a big back, and like all of the backs, these guys are going to get the opportunity to show college coaches all of the skills they need to play on the next level. They're going to know have to catch and pass protect, and they're going to develop that here."
Recruiting Coordinator Joey Sulkowski joined Hargrave this year, and he will also be handling the wide receivers and tight ends. He talked about the players that will be under his care this year.
"We're going to be playing Brandon Lang at tight end this year," said Sulkowski. "We're going to open up the offense and throw the ball a lot. We're going to flex him out some and get him in the open field, because he is lightning fast for his size."
"We're going to do a lot with Jamar Bryant. He's going to be playing our 'X' (outside receiver) and try to match him up in single coverage to get him the ball in the open field. He's unreal in the open field. We haven't ruled out playing him a little bit at quarterback where he played in high school."
"We have a couple of players that aren't as well known yet. Marcus Vareen out of Winston Salem has great hands and is a good blocker. That's a plus. Deanco Oliver is from Pennsylvania. We didn't know too much about him when we got here, but he's about 6-1 and has a 40 or 42 inch vertical leap. He plays like he is 6-3 with that jump, and he is an unreal punt returner."
One player that hadn't made it to campus as of Friday but will be counted on to produce is Derrick McPhearson.
"That kid is just fast," Sulkowski said emphatically. "I mean he's unreal. He seems to just run away from everyone wants he catches the ball, and he's got great hands."
Sulkowski may have a battle on his hands with the head man for Lionel Mitchell, because he mentioned the Georgia standout as a player that could see time at wide receiver too.
"He could play on either side of the ball," said Sulkowski of Mitchell. "He comes from a great program, and he has great bloodlines. He's the son of Seattle Seahawks running backs coach Stump Mitchell."
"Another player to watch is Jason Burton from Jamestown, N.C. He is a pretty big kid, and he runs great routes. He is probably one more my more reliable route runners. He's going to be one of those guys that plays all of the positions we have."
Maybe the biggest difference between this year's Hargrave team and Hargrave teams of the past is the talent on the offensive line of scrimmage. This looks to be the best group that the team has had in at least three years, and new coach Brian White has the enviable task of working with all of this talent.
"That's one of the reasons I'm here; I get to work with all of these big cats," said White with a laugh. "I just finished my playing career at Juniata College in Pennsylvania where I also spent the past two springs as a student assistant."
White can look up and down his lineup and see some huge players, but no one jumps out like Jared Gaither.
"The first thing that struck me was his hands. When I shook his hand, my hand got lost in his. That's what you want to see in a lineman, because he uses his hands to control a guy at the line. I was also impressed with his fitness level. I was impressed with all of the guys, but Gaither especially. I saw a film of him, and I couldn't believe his wingspan. He gets those big arms of his out, and the defensive end won't be able to hit any of his moves. The 6-5 defensive end is actually small to him. He reminds me a little bit of Robert Gallery. He's not at that level yet, but when he's at that age, that's where he should be."
"Brandon Albert has only been playing for two years, and he's only been lifting for one year. We should have him here until December. He wasn't recruited by many Division One schools other than Virginia, and he told me he wanted to stay loyal to Coach Groh, and that impressed me. He's a worker. He was asking me all about the weight room. If he takes that work ethic to college, we should see him on Sundays some day."
"Brandon Holland is about 6-6 and 300 pounds. He actually seems stocky compared to the other two," said White with a laugh. "He'll play inside for us, and it's going to be a dogfight for the line positions."
"Seth Butler is from West Virginia, and he's hoping to go back to school there. Philip Browning was here for his junior year of high school, and we're really looking for him to be a leader. He'll be fighting for a job at center. He's a real hard worker, and with the center making the calls on the line, we're going to need a leader."
"I really like Ryan Adams too. He'll be fighting for a spot at Guard. He's a mean ball player (laughs). He finishes every block and really gets after people. Christian Johnson is a player that should end up at an ACC school. He reminds me a lot of Holland. I saw him on tape and he can really move."
"Michael Yates is a local guy from right here in Danville. It's always nice to have a local kid on the team. We're hoping to strengthen him up a little bit and have him fight for the center position. He played some there in High school, and he's a good worker. He should definitely get some D1 looks this year. We're going to work Shaun Branscome (6-6/260) hard in the weight room, and he'll get it done in the cafeteria (laughs). He should be able to go somewhere (D1), because he's a good ball player."
Hargrave is going to be a hot spot for college recruiters again this year as Coach Robert Prunty and his staff continue to load up with college prospects and develop them for the next level.
A Link to the Hargrave Roster