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Notes from Mass. HS football combine

5/7/2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -– The Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association put on their annual scouting combine for rising seniors this afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

Some notes and observations on the happenings abound:

Baker on the Rise: Millis/Hopedale sophomore lineman Jon Baker is quickly rising on the recruiting radar both locally and nationally, not just for his imposing physicality in the trenches, but for his demeanor off the field as well. Coaches rave about his maturity; with the media, he is typically cordial and pointed in his answers.

But this question has him pausing for a moment, weighing over the right words to say: How would you describe yourself as a player?

“He’s thinking, so that’s a good thing,” chuckles his head coach, Dale Olmstead, just a few feet behind him. “Listen, I love seeing him sweat, because he does so many things so well. Now to see him squirm like this, I’m enjoying that.”

Finally, Baker begins, “I guess I’m physical…I like to hit. I like to pull. Move, block, you know, linemen stuff.”

These days, it’s hard to tell what’s the more impressive story coming out of Millis’ program these days: the Mohawks’ turnaround under Olmstead, capped with an appearance in the Division 4 playoffs last fall; or that out of such a small school with roughly 150 boys to pick from, this 6-foot-4, 305-pounder already holds a scholarship offer from one Division 1 school (UMass) and building varying degrees of interest from a score of others (Michigan, Viriginia, Boston College, Maryland, UConn, Stanford).

Wearing his frame well and with plenty of upside, Baker was named a Tri-Valley League All-Star in 2011, and will figure to rack up plenty more hardware over the next two seasons.

Athletically, he is quite impressive. He runs close to a 5.1-second 40-yard dash, benches over 400 and squats over 500. At the combine, he did 32 reps of 185 pounds on the bench press, the most out of any of the 300-plus participants.

As it currently stands, Baker said he will visit camps this summer at Virginia, BC and Wake Forest, with Michigan a possibility as well.

“It’s exciting definitely, just to know schools like that are interested in me,” Baker says quietly. “It’s a good feeling.”

Mo Carries, Mo Passes? Xaverian’s Maurice Hurst Jr., an ESPN Boston All-State selection last fall, was on site to support his teammates, but did not participate in drills. That didn’t stop the 6-foot-2, 290-pounder from stretching out with others during warm-ups and doing a few handstands.

You can place the big guy in the category of locals that have seen their stock take a meteoric rise, at least by Massachusetts standards. Like Catholic Memorial stars Armani Reeves and Cam Williams last year, and like Everett offensive tackle John Montelus this spring, Hurst has at least a dozen offers from Division 1 schools, including Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, UConn, Maryland, Nebraska, Missouri, North Carolina, BC and UMass.

“It’s been pretty hectic,” Hurst said of the last few months. “A lot of schools have contacted me, and then all the fans, everyone just trying to make me make a decision as soon as possible.”

Hurst attended Ohio State’s spring game last month, and has also taken unofficial visits to Virginia, North Carolina, Duke and NC State. He says he won’t be making any decision until after he has visited Michigan and Michigan State, dates for which haven’t been planned yet.

You can attribute part of the sudden rise in Hurst’s stock in one impressive touchdown run against St. John’s of Shrewsbury last fall. Xaverian coach Charlie Stevenson typically pairs Hurst with tailback Hunter Taute in the backfield when in goal line and short-yardage situations. In this particular run, Hurst lined up at tailback, trucked a Pioneers defensive back and reeled off a 75-yard touchdown run in Vince Wilfork-like fashion.

Hurst made our All-State Team last season as a defensive tackle, and that will be his assignment at the next level. But six months after that posterizing run, Hurst is getting giddy talking about learning the passing tree.

That’s right, the big guy will be in 7-on-7’s this summer. Better yet, there’s a chance we could see him catching passes out of the backfield come the fall.

For now, though, Hurst will focus on improving his speed and conditioning – “A LOT of conditioning,” he adds.

Eyes on Chuddy: Out of all the line prospects in this Class of 2013, Dighton-Rehoboth’s Chuddy Nwachukwu might be the one with the most untapped potential.

For one, he is a legit 6-foot-7, and the younger brother of Mary Nwachukwu, currently a 6-foot-2 basketball center at St. John’s University. Chuddy went through some dominant stretches during the season for the Falcons, but also played at as much as 345 pounds.

Head coach Dave Driscoll says Chuddy, who was not present at the combine, has slimmed down to about 310 pounds. Chuddy has been working out five days a week with Greg Homel, a trainer at UMass-Dartmouth who has also helped develop former Dartmouth High standout and Minnesota Vikings running back Jordan Todman. All of Chuddy’s times, Driscoll says, have gone down, while “his agility has gone up.”

“He’s going in the right direction,” Driscoll said. “He is going to have to show D1 coaches that he is someone who is going in the right direction, and someone they can mold into what they want.”

In the meantime, as Driscoll alluded to, the Division 1 suitors are keeping tabs. NC State told Driscoll they are looking for three tackles for the 2013 recruiting class, while UConn told Driscoll they are in need for “quite a few” offensive linemen. Penn State, Iowa, Boston College and UMass are also showing varied degrees of interest.

Garcia A Sleeper? Legendary former Leominster coach John Dubzinski was seen walking around the Gillette turf this afternoon, but he wasn’t there to just catch up on old times. The names John, Walt and Mike Dubzinski are all household names in Central Mass., and now that coaching tree has extended into the Boston area.

John Dubzinski is now an assistant coach for his son, John, who is going into his second season as the head man for Arlington High. The Spy Ponders went 3-8 last season, and have struggled for most of the last two decades, but are on the up and up under this new regime.

And better yet, they might have one of the more underrated talents around.

Matt Garcia stars at both running back and linebacker for the Spy Ponders, and has been picking up interest from UMass and New Hampshire as of late. You have to think back to Liam Ezekiel, a former Buffalo Bill and all-time great at Northeastern, for the last time Arlington sent a linebacker to the Division 1 ranks. But Garcia certainly passes the eye test right now.

Wildcat Pride: Several players from the Gardner High squad were donning t-shirts with the score of their 2011 Thanksgiving game with archrival Oakmont Regional across the front – for the unfamiliar, that reads “Gardner 21, Oakmont 0”.

Full disclosure time. I’m an Oakmont alum, and in my three years on the Spartans’ varsity sideline we never lost to the Wildcats – including twice on their turf, Watkins Field. And if I’m not mistaken, we still hold a 2-to-1 advantage in overall wins in this series, arguably one of the most heated rivalries in Central Mass.

Still, not cool fellas...