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LA's senior class comes full circle

2/4/2011

BOSTON -- Two weeks ago, Mike Orloff's phone went off during class, as sometimes happens these days. And when he looked down at the missed call, he was startled to see a Los Angeles area code number.

"I couldn’t for the life of me guess who it was going to be," the Lawrence Academy senior laughed as he recalled the story of how he ended up just minutes earlier this Thursday evening, from the 37th floor of the 40-story 28 State Street skyscraper in Government Center, signing a National Letter of Intent to play football at UCLA next fall.

Turns out the mystery call was a voicemail from Rick Neuheisel, head coach of the Bruins, and he had just finished watching his film 10 seconds ago. Not only did he love the linebacker's physical, downhill style of play, and natural nose for the ball, he wanted him to call back immediately and come down to Westwood for an official visit.

Orloff had verbally committed to Iowa last summer, but couldn't resist. He flew down for an official visit last Friday, and by Monday he had made up his mind to switch his commitment.

On Thursday night, high above the downtown Boston skyline, he and six of his Spartan teammates signed National Letters of Intent to play Division 1 football at the FBS or FCS level, bringing the Spartans' amazing run these last two seasons -- 17-1, with two ISL championships and a NEPSAC Bowl victory -- full circle.

Wednesday's National Letter of Intent signing day for football prospects was one that lacked drama, with all of the top in-state prospects already committed. But it was quite an anomaly, with 13 players signing NLI's to Division 1 FBS schools from the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Conference-USA, Pac-10, Mountain West and MAC, most significantly Brockton's Albert Louis-Jean (Boston College), Rivers' Taariq Allen (Nebraska) and St. John's of Shrewsbury's Richard Rodgers (Cal). One of Orloff's teammates, three-star wideout Marcus Grant, signed with Iowa; they were joined by running back Anthony Knight (Nevada), tight end Clay Horne (Villanova), linebacker Dan Giovacchini (Brown) and linemen Max Ricci (BC) and Ryan Welch (UNH).

It's a level of depth not seen year to year in this state. Allen, for instance, will be the Huskers' first scholarship player from Massachusetts since Peabody's Grant Miller in 2002; before that, you have to go back to Lincoln-Sudbury's duo of Mike Croel and Joe Sims in the 1980's. Louis-Jean, meanwhile, is the No. 9 overall cornerback in the nation by ESPNU's rankings, and committed to Miami last March before dropping the Hurricanes following Randy Shannon's firing as head coach.

"Being from Mass, and seeing other kids from Mass going on to big places, Taariq going to Nebraska and Albert going to BC, and all of us in this room, it’s been incredible," said Grant, a Carver native, moments after putting the ink on his paperwork. "To see people you’ve known for so long, going on to play big time football, it’s been a pretty amazing experience for me."

IOWA DILEMMA HITS HOME

Grant was in Iowa City this past January 21, a Friday, the day after a number of players performed an intense squat workout that has since come under scrutiny from the national media. Grant said he saw "players limping, looking like they couldn't move, couldn't even go out at night to hang out."

He didn't put too much weight into the scene until Monday rolled around and reports surfaced that 13 players were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis, a stress-induced syndrome that can cause kidney problems and damage cells. The news has resonated back in the Boston area, as Duxbury native and linebacker Shane DiBona was among the 13 hospitalized, while strength coach Chris Doyle hails from Quincy.

Earlier today, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics spokesman Tom Moore told the Associated Press that three employees were in the process of being terminated over a breach of players' medical records, while two more were handed five-day unpaid suspensions.

Grant says he sticks by the Hawkeyes, and that the news has not had an affect on his commitment.

"It was crazy," Grant said. "First thing I did was talk to my recruiting coordinator, Ken O’Keefe, and he actually had no idea at the time because he was out on the road. It was crazy, but then again they said it wasn’t anything to do with people on the team doing something illegal or anything. It wasn’t too concerning, you’ve just got to take care of your body when you do a gruesome workout like that."

When asked how much of an affect the highly-publicized incident had on him switching his commitment from the Hawkeyes, Orloff swiftly responded, "Absolutely not, absolutely not. I mean, coach Doyle is one of the most respected people in that business. As far as I know, he’s one of the best, so that has nothing to do with it."