Mehdi Abdesmad, an under-the-radar recruit
A few weeks ago I began working on a story about the upcoming 2009 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Junior World Championship in Canton, Ohio. The eight-nation, four-continent, 19-and-under tournament will run from June 27 to July 5 and feature some of the better incoming freshmen in college football. Among the talent on the USA team are players from Ohio State (LB Storm Klein and OL Jack Mewhort), Va. Tech (RB David Wilson and LB Tariq Edwards) and Oregon State (CB Jordan Poyer and WR Kevin Cummings).
Figuring out who are the key guys to watch on some of the teams from around the world was a bit trickier. Germany has a defensive lineman named Bjorn Werner, who two years ago came to the U.S. as part of an exchange program created by USA Football and made a big impression. Word is, teams from the ACC and Big East have offered the agile 6-5, 260-pounder as part of the 2010 recruiting class.
The Swedish team will be led by an exchange student who moved to a Connecticut high school and emerged as a standout running back/receiver. His name is Hampus Hellermark, although some college coaches in New England said they weren't sure if he was a legit Division I prospect.
I was told to check with the folks at Team Canada because they are supposedly the top seed in the tournament.
Their coach is Glen Constantin, a one-time University of Houston grad assistant, who has become the Larry Kehres of Canadian college football, winning four of the past six national titles at Laval University. When I spoke with Constantin he explained that the team had held only one tryout camp at that point but there was a player who really caught his eye. The kid is Mehdi Abdesmad, a defensive end.
Constantin said he didn't know much about Mehdi ("Me-dee"), but that he had a good frame, ran very well and could really turn the corner, a great quality for any aspiring defensive end. He then gave me a number for the man who coaches Abdesmad at his school in Quebec, Jacques Dussault. (If the name sounds familiar, it's because Dussault was the head coach of the Montreal Machine of the old World League of American Football.)
Dussault hasn't been Abdesmad's coach long, just for spring football as it were earlier this year and during that time Abdesmad had to deal with a broken finger, but Dussault said he thinks the player has great potential. How much potential? Dussault didn't want to speculate. Abdesmad's still young and raw, and Dussault didn't think it was right to compare him to players he coached when they were pros. Fair enough.
And then you watch video of Abdesmad, and you become much, much more intrigued. He has that Jevon Kearse frame and closing speed. Virtually every play you see, Abdesmad is delivering a brutal hit. He's knocking guys all over the field. Of course, you don't know exactly how big or how quick the players he's competing with are. Truth be told, there has to be some skepticism with all the supposed blue-chip recruits in the U.S. There will be even more questions with one from Canada.Highlight video of Mehdi Abdesmad
Highlight videos can be tough to truly gauge. I recall an example from being around the Ole Miss staff a few years ago. The coaches were watching recruiting film of a promising WR/DB prospect from Louisiana, who looked outstanding. Everyone in the room was impressed by just how fast the kid looked. Then, the offensive line coach, seated in the front of the room, made an interesting observation: "Whoa, that don't look right," Art Kehoe interjected. "Look at how fast the cheerleaders on the sidelines are jumping up and down. The tape got sped up." Sure enough, he was right. The player was still fast. Just not that fast. That's just one of a host of reasons why coaches should know better than to get too excited too soon.
Unlike many of the players in this international tournament, Abdesmad is just 17. He doesn't turn 18 until September. As Constantin explained, some of his more promising players are slated to play this fall for Canadian colleges, although it's quite possible that if these players are impressive in the tournament, they could detour to U.S. programs because up north they are not bound by letters of intent. Plus, Constantin said, he wouldn't hold any kids back from the chance at a scholarship. "We can't match that in Canada."
Abdesmad, though, could be the real under-the-radar recruit who emerges. Martin SÚnÚchal coached Abdesmad for LoupsCal, a program comprised mostly of 14, 15 and 16-year-olds, and produced former Michigan player Deitan Dubuc, a guy who played for three NFL teams. "Mehdi's really serious and he's a good student too," said Senechal, adding that Abdesmad did have to battle through some very tough times. Abdesmad's father, once a star handball player in his native Tunisia, battled cancer before eventually passing away last year. The family flew back to Tunisia, where he was buried.
"It was so, so hard for us," said Abdesmad. "My father had a tumor in his head. He was sick for one year. During that last month, he was very, very sick. I had to leave school for about one month."
Abdesmad, who is fluent in French and English and can understand Arabic, says he has not heard from any U.S. colleges, but it is his "wish" to play major college football. He also wants to major in finance. Two schools he mentioned he had interest in were Boston College and Michigan. Soon, I suspect, a bunch of schools will try to reach out to him, if not after they see the video that Loups coach Nicolas Beauvillier compiled, than after the IFAF tournament in Canton.
A buzz in Canada has already started to build. At a combine at the end of May, Abdesmad said he was measured at 6-6, 235 and was clocked running a 4.68 40 and a 4.42 in the shuttle. He says he studies highlights of Demarcus Ware and Julius Peppers to try to pick up tips on technique so he can continue to develop. I am very curious to see how he and his teammates do. Team Canada is training in London, Ontario, this week, where its roster will be trimmed from 62 players down to 45 by Saturday. It will kick off the tournament playing the New Zealand team at Fawcett Stadium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame at 10 a.m. on June 27. The U.S. team will face France later that night. The next round of games will be played on Wednesday, July 1, and the gold-medal game will take place on Sunday, July 5.
• Auburn assistant Trooper Taylor tries to walk the tightrope as he tells Jay G. Tate what he was thinking after a blue-chipper had called out Nick Saban while the kid was visiting Auburn as part of Big Cat Weekend:
- "He's a 17 year old kid. We're not allowed to comment on their exact names and stuff, but he's a 17-year-old kid. We had to help him and make him understand why that was such a significant deal. He doesn't know. You can't be held accountable for something that you don't know. Our job is to teach those guys, once they get here, between right and wrong. It's happened to me before. I wouldn't not have taken it personally. I would have considered the source."
• Can uber-prospect Matt Barkley still overtake Aaron Corp as USC's starting quarterback this year? Barkley is sounding pretty confident, as USCfootball.com's Dan Woike reports:
- Pete Carroll said Barkley couldn't have been named the starter this past spring because the newcomer hadn't learned USC's hand signals. When the competition picks back up this fall, that won't be an issue for Barkley. "I'm done with the hand signals. I've learned them all," Barkley said. "I'm just reviewing them now, just getting repetition. I learned them a few weeks ago. That was a big step for me this summer."
My three cents: Carroll is probably loving what Barkley is saying, talking about how he's going to keep on competing and that the battle for the starting job isn't over. OK, it is still Corp's job to lose. Don't expect him to let up. The guy is athletic and he kept the mistakes to a minimum in the spring but teammates have been raving about Barkley's confidence and presence. His whole spirit exudes leadership and it's only growing as the team has settled into summer workouts. "You feel like nothing will faze him," safety Taylor Mays said Tuesday night. I wouldn't be shocked if Barkley did overtake Corp and started the San Jose State game to get settled in before USC visits Ohio State in Week 2. Yes, Barkley's a true freshman, but Corp's thrown only four passes himself and starting in Columbus is going to be a major task for either of them.To hear Bruce's thoughts on what he knew about Vince Young when he covered him at Texas and more, you must be an ESPN Insider.
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