Sean Mulcahy still clearly remembers the first time he knew he had something special with Isaac Yiadom.
Back then, in 2011, he was a wiry 6-foot, 147 pounds, freshly transplanted from Alexandria, Va., where he quickly moved into the starting secondary as a freshman at Robert E. Lee High. Raw, skinny, but blessed with a solitary blend of speed and leaping ability, Yiadom was placed at free safety for the Highlanders' first preseason scrimmage, Westborough.
On one of the first plays from scrimmage, the Rangers called a toss play to the alley, and Yiadom -- lined up 10 yards off the ball in a "man free" look, in the middle of the field -- came sprinting across the field, wrapping up the wingback cleanly in the space between the hash mark and numbers, before he could turn the corner.
"I was like 'Holy Cow'," Mulcahy recalled. "Those kinds of things you can’t coach. What would have taken a normal kid, maybe he gives up three yards [on the play], Isaac made the play and they lost three yards. He's a great open-field tackler. Literally, if we needed him to play at linebacker, he'd be more suited for us to be successful at middle linebacker. But we've gotta protect him too."
Two years, two inches and 30 pounds later, Yiadom is one of the fastest-rising commodities in Massachusetts, becoming the first of seven Bay State prospects to pledge to Boston College's 2014 recruiting class, in late March, and building buzz ever since. Last season, he had 48 touches for 972 yards of offense, which included 22 carries; with his signature running play, an end-around, he averaged nearly 13 yards a carry.
Blessed with 4.5 speed and a 37-inch vertical leap, Yiadom also made six interceptions and 60 tackles as a strong safety. He will likely fit into a cornerback role at BC, with hopes that his long arms can provide some stiff coverage. During outdoor track and field season, Yiadom is among the state's best in the 400-meter dash (49.99 seconds) and triple jump (46-foot-6). Scouts Inc. ranks Yiadom as the No. 4 overall prospect in Massachusetts, higher than highly-touted Division 1 prospects such as Everett defensive back Lubern Figaro (12 offers), Natick quarterback Troy Flutie (BC) and Tabor Academy athlete Miles Wright (undecided).
Of course, he benefited from the impact last year of two-way star Noah Robinson, who became a matchup problem at tight end, as well as a strong stable of running backs and the terrific arm of returning quarterback Luke Brennan, who committed to Franklin Pierce University for baseball earlier this month. Yiadom began to see more physical, bracketed coverage towards the end of last season, but now he'll expect full-on scheming against him as the Highlanders' top option.
That suits him just fine. After all, the Highlanders are expecting big things this year out of receivers Alfred Adarkwah and Shawn Jackson.
"Towards the end of the season they were beating me up a little harder," Yiadom said. "But [physical play] kind of excites me at the same time. I like it, too, because it opens new ways for Luke to find Alfred or Shawn."
Which brings us to one of the more intriguing developments of the offseason. In passing leagues this summer, in an effort to stress defenses, the Highlanders toyed with Yiadom and the 6-foot-4, 170-pound Adarkwah on the same side of formations. With his big hands and long arms (6-foot-7 wingspan), Adarkwah can stretch a defense vertically and seal a defender off deep downfield. That could blend well with Yiadom's speed; running the two of "smash" and "snag" combo routes, along with bubble screens, the strategy had some success this summer.
"I definitely think it's gonna be his best season this year," Yiadom said. "Last year he did great, but we had Noah Robinson and great receivers [around him]. This is gonna be his best year because he can draw a lot of attention. He stretches for the ball. He just doesn't drop the ball -- even in passing league, he just doesn't drop it. He's hungry this year, it's gonna be a good year."
DOHERTY AT A GLANCE
Coach: Sean Mulcahy (23rd season, 100-143)
Last season: 9-3, lost in Div. 2 CMass Playoffs
Returning Starters: 10 (seven offense, three defense)
Key Returnees: Sr. WR/DB Isaac Yiadom, Sr. QB Luke Brennan, Sr. WR Alfred Adarkwah, Sr. RB/LB Pete Franco, Sr. OL/DL Jack Halloran, Sr. E/DB Shawn Jackson, Sr. E/DB Mitch Celaj, OL/DL Matt Smalls
Strengths: Skill players, passing game, secondary, athleticism.
Weaknesses: Experience at offensive and defensive lines, linebackers.
Overview: Defensively there might be growing pains at first for the Highlanders, who are looking to replace eight starters, mostly in the front seven and none more significant than linebacker Noah Robinson (125 tackles, five sacks). But with the BC-bound Yiadom at free safety leading the defensive backs, one has to wonder how much time that can buy his teammates in front of him on pass rushes -- his closing speed is without peer in the Central Mass. region, and he takes terrific angles on passes. Offensively, the questions are in the trenches, where there is experience to be replaced. But the Highlanders run a perimeter-oriented offensive scheme, which suits their deep stable of talented skill players. Expect Yiadom, who racked up nearly 1,000 yards of offense on just 48 carries last season, to be the focal point of defensive game plans, and see his fair share of bracket coverage. But one of the more interesting developments over the summer has been their usage of the 6-foot-4 Adarkwah, who could be in for a breakout season. With long arms that give him a wide catching radius and help him lock up defenders when blocking downfield, the Highlanders may experiment with him and Yiadom on the same side of formations, which could stretch the limits of pass defenses they face. Overall, the Highlanders have plenty of firepower on offense, directed by Brennan under center, but the defense will have to grow up quick if they are to replicate last year's success and fulfill some heady preseason expectations.