Tigers Reload the Secondary
BY JAY GREENBERG
(Final of Three Parts)
The 2015 secondary had three senior starters and the 2016 version had two. But this fall cornerback Chance Melancon will be the only member of the class of 2018 on the first string, leaving multiple underclassmen competing for seven spots on the two-deep.
This includes members of an eight-person recruiting class of defensive backs, some of whom are advanced enough to potentially get on the field early in their freshman seasons.
“With two straight senior classes of DBs graduating, we needed to bring in a bigger group to provide us depth and competition,” said Coach Bob Surace.
“We also have recruited (seven) players whom we have targeted as great fits for our front-seven.”
Three defensive linemen, four linebackers, five cornerbacks and three safeties make up the defensive football class of 2021:
Austin Carbone, Berkner High School, Richardson, TEX – “Austin was a top track recruit in the nation who also led the state in kickoff returns as a junior,” said Surace. “From Day One, we were on him for both sports. (Track coach) Fred Samara says he is the fastest kid (10.2 in the 100, 4.40 in the 40) he ever has recruited and, over four decades, Fred has had someone at almost every Olympics.
“John Hill (’16) was another track star here who started for us as a smaller corner. Players have different plusses, it is our job to let them do what they do well while we improve their weaknesses. So Austin will be in immediate competition to be our returner. He has the kind of chip on his shoulder you need to play football at 5-7.”
Sultaan Shabazz, Woodward Academy, Atlanta, GA – “He is a long, (5-11, 180) pound corner who runs well, and showed toughness off the charts in playing injured his senior year,” said Surace. “At camp, he injured his quad, so I sent him to the trainer and went to watch another position group. When I turned around he was back leading drills. I learned I needed to walk him to the trainer because he wasn’t pulling himself out.”
Delan Stallworth – St. Xavier High, Fairfield, OH – “Kids from that program, which has brought us Jack Woodall, Simeon Lane and Alex Deters, play against good competition and come to us technically more polished,” said Surace. “Delan is another long guy (5-11, 165), who runs really well, in the mold of angular corners we have had. When he fills out his frame, he’ll be able to play press man-coverage.
We have to keep feeding him and get him stronger.”
C.J. Wall, Plano High, Plano, TEX – “C.J. was a significant mid-major recruit whom we added late,” said Surace. “Long and lean (5-11, 165), he will challenge for playing time when he physically matures. We love his willingness to compete for the ball; he should be a good fit for press coverage. “
Matthew Winston, Mill Creek High, Dacula, GA –“Matthew is bigger (5-11, 185) than the other corners we are bringing in; thus a little more physically ready,” said Surace. “For some reason, he wasn’t originally on our radar but his Dad, Kevin (Senior Director of Player Affairs for the Atlanta Falcons), had a relationship going back about 20 years with (recently-departed Princeton defensive coordinator) Jim Salgado. When I watched the video Jimmy brought in, I said, ‘This guy is like Khamal Brown (’16), same body skills and movement, just a little thicker in his body.
“All the Ivies got in on him at about the same time and ACC schools were sniffing around, too. But everything we had to offer he wanted. And we built a trust.”
Kyle Burford, Hebron High, Lewisville, TEX — “Our fall recruits, typically between half and two-thirds of any class, are kids who have come to our camps,” said Surace. “Kyle was an exception. I was flying to Texas to see another recruit when (inside linebacker coach) Steve Thomas said, ‘Change your plans. Let’s go see this Burford kid play basketball.’
“On the football video, we saw a million tackles, but not many balls thrown on Kyle. As a point guard, we could see live how smooth he is. We also got there early for warm-ups and saw he could dunk. At 6-0, 195, he is athletic, kind of reminding me of Chase Williams (’20) in build. At minimum, Kyle will play on special teams and we’ll see how he develops as a safety.”
Trevor Forbes, White Station High, Memphis, TENN – “Actually, none of our safeties this year were at our camps, all were winter recruits,” said Surace. “All of them had mid-major scholarship offers. But I think once (outside linebackers coach) Mike Mendenhall identified this kid, who wasn’t from one of the private schools in Tennessee that have been feeders for us, Trevor came to understand that Princeton played better football than he had thought.
“He was also a running back in high school but our immediate need is at safety, where he can right away add depth. He is 6-0, 195 with tremendous movement, physicality, and really improved at playing the ball in his senior year.”
Luke Turner, Naperville Central High, Naperville, ILL – “Physically (6-1, 200) Luke reminds me of Matt Arends (‘16), has that body type,” said Surace. “Perhaps one day Luke will moves to SAM linebacker but we don’t want him eating his way there, because we like bigger guys at strong safety. Luke has the necessary ball and movement skills to play there.”
Kelton Chastulik, Chambersburg Area High, Chambersburg, PA – “A nationally-ranked shot putter, he also will compete in track and field here,” said Surace. “Kelton is the kind of broad-shouldered, big-build (6-3, 255) lineman that can play across from tackles, guards or centers. He sheds blockers well, should fit well in our 3-4. As he learns to use his length and strong hands, he will be a high volume tackler for a defensive lineman.”
Connor Mills, Buford High, Flowery Branch, GA — “Connor is an enormous human being who we think is going to be a pure nose tackle,” said Surace. “He is strong enough to compete immediately. The last time I talked to him, he was well over 300 pounds and yet feeling even quicker than last fall. As he learns to play with leverage, he is going to provide us with a great push in the middle.”
Samuel Wright, Archer High, Alpharetta, GA – “Samuel, one of the top shot-putters in the country, is one of three from this class who also will compete at Princeton in track and field,” said Surace. “To throw the shot put that well means he has really good hip explosion, something we look for in a D-lineman. At 6-3, 245, he is kind of like Brannon Jones in body type and mobility. He has very good feet and frame that will enable him to add 15-20 pounds to his excellent quickness and explosion.”
David Harvey, Mt. Lebanon High, Pittsburgh, PA – “Tyler Roth (’17) and Dylan White (’16) have both come from that terrific program,” said Surace. “David was also used there as an H back and halfback but, like Nick Fekula (’17) David has an angular, body type (6-1-215) that fits well for us as a linebacker. With all the spread offenses we see, we are putting a premium on athleticism at the inside spots. He has agility and speed we value at those positions. As he learns, he will compete immediately for a spot on special teams.”
James Johnson, St. Joseph’s Prep, Moorestown, NJ – “He is a little shorter than his brother Thomas (‘19) but has the same traits,” said Surace. “At 5-10, people will wonder how James can play Division I football, but he’s all over the field with that extra gear special players have.
“While he was playing in the state (6-A) title game, I got a text from Ross Tucker, who is broadcasting it, saying, ‘Did you really get this guy?’ He had like 15 tackles in the first half.”
Tyler McDonald, Clearwater Central Catholic, Palm Harbor, FLA — “At 6-2, he is a bigger ‘backer, kind of in the mold of RJ Paige, who could play any of the four positions,” said Surace. “We think Tyler will be a middle linebacker but will see how his body matures. An excellent pass rusher from the inside, his production was off the charts in his senior year, drawing a lot of Division I interest from good Florida programs. But he wanted an Ivy.”
Tavaris Noel, Grafton High, Yorktown, VA – “While our other linebackers are more likely to play inside, Tavaris (6-1, 200) is a more a pure (outside) SAM, good in space, able to disrupt the quarterback on blitzes, yet he is strong enough to hold the edge,” said Surace. “At camp, we weren’t sure what his position was so we had him both rush the offensive lineman and cover running backs and he did everything. There wasn’t a place on the field you didn’t say, ‘This guy has a chance to help us.’”