There is Not Just Depth in These Defensive Recruits, But Length
BY JAY GREENBERG
(Third of three parts on Princeton’s Football Class of 2022)
Chad Kanoff, who de-committed from Vanderbilt; Kurt Holuba, who turned down Florida State; and now Brevin White, who received a late pitch from Alabama, have served notice to the football world that Princeton is an increasingly-attractive alternative to FBS powerhouses for players to develop their NFL dreams
These program-elevating recruiting successes are no longer sporadic, either. The most talented group of defensive linemen Coach Bob Surace says he has recruited in his nine seasons contains at least three players–Emmett McNamara, Michael Azevedo, and Tola Banjoko–who received offers from Power Five schools.
“And there may have been more who never received offers because they committed to us early,” said Surace.
“We will have a lot of graduations on both lines after this season, so we had to have quantity; bringing in 12 linemen combined on two sides of the ball. But this is the best I feel we have done in depth of quality too. How [247 Sports] judges us to have the best recruiting class in the FCS this year can’t be all based on getting (quarterback) Brevin White.
“With all the guys coming back who missed all or part of last season, plus the number of underclassmen who received experience they probably wouldn’t otherwise have had, we are going to be three deep this year in returnees along the defensive line. That is extraordinary and wouldn’t seem to leave room for freshmen getting playing time. But I never set limits on anybody. The fact that I am not ruling that out tells you what I think of these kids coming in.
“I am really excited.”
The defensive recruits of the class of 2022, with comments by Surace:
Michael Azevedo, 6-4, 255, Clairemont High School, San Diego, CA – “Michael weighed 170 pounds as a water polo player early in his high school time, then hit a growth spurt to around 200 his junior year and went out for football. He had a good year, but still got little college interest at that size. Then bang, he shot up to 250 senior season without losing his athleticism and everybody, including teams that play in big bowl games, was recruiting him.
“I said at one point he would be perfect for us on the outside, but could be movable to the inside as he gets older and stronger. Now he looks so good physically he might move sooner, rather than later, like Matt Boyer [‘11], a big lineman when I first got here who played in both spots. We will see. Michael is an agile, strong, kid with a lot of versatility and potential.”
Tola Banjoko, 6-4, 255, Episcopal High School, Alexandria, VA – “Tola reminds me of Caraun Reid as a freshman, just a little taller than Caraun, and length never is a bad thing at any place on the field. Not saying he is going to be another Caraun, but with Tola’s explosiveness and the way Steve Verbit has developed linemen, this could be a dominating player. He is raw at this stage, like Caraun, who made his big jump between his sophomore and junior seasons. Hopefully with Tola we can get there earlier.
“I was at his school when Notre Dame, Georgia and Tennessee were there, but I never sweated losing him. He is a grounded person who wanted to be challenged in more things than just football. And we had built a relationship. This is one of those young men you love being around.”
Alex Kilander, 6-3, 265, Santa Margarita Catholic School, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA – “Alex has a classic nose tackle build, with strength to stop the run. He wins the area where he plays–from A gap to A gap, versus the center and does a terrific job getting push up the field. Love his motor. He has a lot of the qualities of Jay Rolader and Simeon Lane (incumbent nose tackles), physically resembling Simeon. Like those two players, Alex is going to enter training camp as one of the stronger freshmen on the team.”
Emmett McNamara, 6-5, 250, Red Bank Central Catholic High, Red Bank, NJ –“We have had only a few guys on the defensive line of this length. He is taller and longer than Henry Schlossberg (’17) and is very similar in build to Joey Demarco (’20). Emmett is an athletic player for his size, which is critical to being a three-down player in our defense. Virginia recruited him as an offensive lineman but we believe he is going to be a solid pass rusher and, as he further develops his body, be strong against the run. With his arm length, he will have an advantage shedding blocks and will disrupt passing lanes when he pushes the pocket and gets his hands up.”
Uche Ndukwe. 6-2, 234, Noble and Greenough School, Dedham, MA – “At our camp last summer, Uche’s testing numbers in the broad jump and the 40 were the best we have seen since Joe Percival (’19). Combined with his 33 1/2 inch arms, it was like holy cow, this guy’s measurables are off the charts! Unfortunately, Uche suffered an injury late in that camp and missed the (2017) season, which probably was a break for us. We were determined to stay with him, our resolve vindicated by how incredible Uche has been in his rehab.”
“He has a chance to be really dynamic in the pass rush. And, as he gets into the weight room, Uche might provide versatility similar to Percival and Brannon Jones in that he is strong enough to be used in the middle in pass-rushing situations or on the outside against the run. Intriguing player.”
Kevin Bruce, 6-1, 240, Cheshire Academy of Cheshire, CT, Needham, MA – “Already at the 1300-pound level (combined numbers in three different types of lifts), Kevin could challenge our all-time strength leader, Greg Sotereanos (’14). Kevin is just put together. He, like Greg, was a linebacker in high school but eventually could end up being moved to the D line because he is so strong. And he can run. We don’t get many like this. Again, any freshman could play this year if he picks things up quickly. But certainly Kevin’s strength at such a young age will not be to his detriment.
Ike Hall, 6-2, 225, St. Augustine High School, San Diego, CA – “We’re really impressed with how much he improved last year in all facets. Ike already has good pass rushing technique and we think he’s going to develop in pass coverage, too. He is that good an athlete, reminding me of Jason Ray (’14). Like Jason, Ike could develop into an elite run stopper, too. He has the strength and athleticism to compete immediately.”
Larkin Ison III, 6-2, 190, Westminster Schools of Augusta, Augusta, GA – “Larkin excited us on his camp day and proved to the best guy we saw that summer at the SAM, a position requiring a lot of versatility. He moves well enough to play man-to-man on most wide receivers, has the length and athleticism to disrupt passing lanes in zone coverage, and is physical against the run. Larkin has the potential be a three-down player on our defense, which has proved difficult to find since Andrew Starks (’13) graduated.
Matthew Jester, 6-3, 230, Klein High School, Klein, TX – “We see a lot of potential for Matthew off the edge, either as a rush linebacker or as a SAM. He will be able to drop in coverage without a problem. He ran a 4.5 in the 40 at camps last summer and I don’t recall any recruit his size running that fast in our nine recruiting classes. He has exceptional explosiveness.
“A freshman’s best chance to get on the field is on special teams, no positions more suited for running downfield and making tackles than linebackers and defensive backs. Matthew’s speed is intriguing there, very similar to guys like Chase Williams (’20) and John Orr (’20) who have made an impact there in recent years.”
Zachariah Beale, 6-0, 222, Cocoa High School, Cocoa, FL – “I fell in love with Zach at our camp. And every year there is only one linebacker, maybe two, I feel this way about. Zach is in the mold of Luke Catarius (’17) – an explosive tackler who runs down plays all over the field. Like Luke, Zach was a tackling machine in high school and that is a skill we believe translates quickly to college.
“A lot of guys are attractive for their athleticism and we figure will develop. But there are others that, independent of their measurables, are just good football players. And Zach is one of those.”
Daniel Beard, 6-0, 190, St. Paul’s Episcopal School, Mobile, AL – “In high school, Daniel played safety, SAM backer and inside backer for a state championship team. He did everything, all over the field, in the title game. He might end up being a SAM here, at least to start, because he has rare athletic ability. Daniel has Rohan Hylton (’17) type speed, and in a lot of ways reminds me of Tom Johnson (’19) in that he makes football plays. Daniel has the ability to impact the pass game not only as a blitzer and in zone coverage, but he is one of the rare linebackers comfortable playing man to man.”
Camron (Che) Rogers, 5-11, 170, Stadium High School, Tacoma, WA – “Having taken seven DBs a year ago, we were not looking for quantity, investing all our time in a select few. Che was the pure cornerback I was most enamored with throughout the recruiting process, in part because corner is such a hard position to fill. It’s rare to see film like his.
“He comes to us reminding me of Khamal Brown (’15), a long, lean corner who can run like Délan Stallworth on our team right now. Che plays the ball well; I loved his senior video. I believe the mental transition to defensive back, especially cornerback, is easier and that Che has the athletic ability to push some guys right away.”
Christian Brown, 5-11, 175, Atlantic High School, Port Orange, FL – “For whatever reason, we did not recruit Christian early in the process. But this fall, when I evaluated his video, my jaw dropped. He is long and explosive–I think he will be able to cover both slot and outside receivers–and is a solid tackler. When I watch him run, it is just a different level of explosion. He could play safety, nickel or corner and that versatility makes him a candidate to play soon as a nickel. He also should quickly be in competition with Tiger Bech, Austin Carbone, and (freshman) Trey Gray to return kicks.”
Dawson De Iuliis, 5-9, 195, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School (of Philadelphia, Pa.), Yardley, PA – “When he walks in the door, you wouldn’t guess he is a good football player. Like Phil Bhaya (’14), Dawson is not imposing but his compete level caught our eye at camp. He was always in the front of the line and won every drill he was involved in.
“Until you begin to work with the players it is hard to accurately project intangible qualities. As a result, inevitably there are casualties to the recruiting process. So there are certain coaches you tend to trust when they call and say ‘Take a look at our guy, I have no doubt he is going to fit your program perfectly.’ Gabe Infante at St. Joe’s is one of those coaches. Whether it has been Jake Strain, Tommy Johnson, or his brother James, guys from St. Joe’s have done very well at Princeton in all phases.”
The Princeton Football Class of 2022
|Luke Aschenbrand||OL||6-3||285||Phoenix, Az.||Pinnacle|
|Michael Azevedo||DE||6-4||250||San Diego, Calif.||Clairemont|
|Tola Banjoka||DL||6-5||245||Fort McMurray, Alberta||Episcopal|
|Zachariah Beagle||LB||6-0||235||Rockledge, Fla.||Cocoa|
|Daniel Beard||LB||6-0||190||Mobile, Ala.||St. Paul’s Episcopal|
|Carson Bobo||TE||6-5||235||Birmingham, Ala.||Oak Mountain|
|Christian Brown||DB||6-0||180||Delray Beach, Fla.||Atlantic Community|
|Kevin Bruce||LB||6-1||240||Needham, Mass.||Needham|
|Henry Byrd||OL||6-5||270||Nashville, Tenn.||Ensworth|
|Harrison Caponiti||TE||6-4||230||Rye, N.Y.||Brunswick School|
|Jack Carter||OL||6-5||270||Cornelius, N.Y.||William A. Hough|
|Dylan Classi||WR||6-1||190||Englewood Cliffs, N.J.||Bergen Catholic|
|Dawson De Iuliis||S||5-9||195||Yardley, Pa.||St. Joseph’s Prep|
|Caden Dumas||TE||6-5||225||Holden, Mass.||Choate Rosemary Hall|
|Trey Gray||RB||5-11||180||Greenville, S.C.||Wren|
|Ike Hall||LB||6-2||225||San Diego, Calif.||St. Augustine|
|Andrei Iosivas||WR||6-4||185||Honolulu, Haw.||Punahou School|
|Larkin Ison||LB||6-1||195||Augusta, Ga.||Westminster School|
|Matthew Jester||LB||6-3||230||Spring, Texas||Klein|
|Alex Kilander||DL||6-2||265||Santa Margarita, Calif.||Santa Margarita Catholic|
|Tré McMillan||RB||5-11||200||Dacula, Ga.||Dacula|
|Emmett McNamara||DL||6-6||240||Little Silver, N.J.||Red Bank Catholic|
|Uche Ndukwe||DL||6-4||230||Dedham, Mass.||Noble and Greenough|
|Preston Parsons||WR||6-5||220||Hanover, N.H.||The Hun School|
|Michael Polk||WR||6-0||180||Long Beach, Calif.||Williston Northampton|
|Ford Roberts||OL||6-4||280||Duluth, Ga.||Greater Atlanta Christian|
|Ché Rogers||CB||5-11||170||Tacoma, Wash.||Stadium|
|Connor Scaglione||OT||6-5||265||Cloister, N.J.||Northern Valley Regional|
|George Triplett||P||5-11||165||Elkins, W.V.||Elkins|
|Brevin White||QB||6-2||185||Stevenson Ranch, Calif.||Paraclete|
|Zackary Zambrano||OL||6-4||290||Fort Lauderdale, Fla.||American Heritage|