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Their next test will come against Venice on Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2.The Venice Gondoliers come into the game having won two in a row in convincing fashion over powerhouse Loyola and Santa Monica after a season opening loss to Carson. Coach Angelo Gasca has been at the helm for 11 years now, and while this year's group may be young, they are extremely talented -- the 2007 version of the Gondoliers could be lethal. Venice finished 9-3 in 2005 and shared the league championship with Fairfax High School, and now the goal is to win the city championship if they can get through a rough non-conference schedule. The Gondoliers have nine Division I prospects on their roster, and eight of them are juniors.
This team reminds me of a high school version of the USC Trojans' 2004 team. They are a big play waiting to happen on every snap and feature eight seniors in the starting line-up. Despite being a four-wide team, they can run the ball at will with running backs Marc Tyler and Marshall Jones.
Tyler, ESPN's No. 3 ranked player, is the country's most complete back, but don't be surprised if he makes a move to linebacker at the next level -- he is that good on both sides. Jones lines up as the slot but will see turns in the backfield and is a two-way starter.Jones is the ESPN's No. 2 ranked safety in the country and a sensational overall athlete. If he was a full-time time player at running back, Jones would be one of the best runners ranked in this class. The receiving unit is rounded out by two juniors in Chris Potter and Chris Owusu, a rising prospect in the 2008 class. Perhaps the most unheralded, savvy player on the offense is WR Wiser, who also starts at safety and is a big hitter. He has the look of a possession guy, but is much more than that and makes big plays in the vertical passing game. The offensive line is experienced and does a great job protecting Clausen with three two-way starters in left tackle Duke Lemmens, left guard Justin Landseadel and right tackle Michael Ebbitt. The only junior is right guard Bis Kin.
What makes this passing game so potent is Clausen's ability to get rid of the ball so quickly with range to put it anywhere on the field. This unit is well groomed, polished and has exceptional run/pass balance. Venice will have its hands full trying to slow down this runaway freight train.The Venice defensive unit is about to face an offensive unit with very few weaknesses, but this is a physical group that plans on taking it right to the Oaks Christian offense. The defense is young with 10 of 11 starters being juniors. They too are a four-man front team, but depending on who they face could jump into a "50" front and also could incorporate some 3-4 looks as well.
Two-way starter Gerald Blackmon leads the front four at his tackle spot. The linebacker crew is headed up by up-and-coming junior prospect Chris Woods on the outside and two-way starter Jonathan Brasfield on the other end. Expect the linebackers to hug up to the line of scrimmage to slow down the Oaks running game, but it's a "pick your poison" situation -- do you want Tyler or Jones to beat you on the ground or Clausen to beat you through the air?
If Clausen is forced to throw to win, the young but talented secondary will be tested by the likes of Potter, Jones, Wiser and Owusu. All four secondary starters are juniors, and two-way star Curtis McNeal will likely match-up with Wiser or Jones and try to lock him down. Safety Shamar Thornton is a rising prospect directing traffic in the Venice secondary. Expect the Gondoliers to change things up on the perimeter with a multitude of coverage looks blending zone and man concepts.
If Venice is to slow down the Oaks attack, they must keep the ball in front of them and not give up big plays. Oaks is not used to having to be patient, and forcing them to make 8-10 play drives will take time off the clock and keep the score down.
The offense features seven top Division I prospects with six of them being just juniors. Wide receivers James Hood, QueSean Gregory and Jerry Johnson are the playmakers with senior Jonathan Brasfield leading the group with the most experience. Venice is a mirror image of Oaks Christian on offense with a four-wide spread look.
However, Ragland really provides a spark in the running game as a dual-threat guy and is able to create some big plays when things break down, which is not something you will see much of from Clausen.
The offensive line is stout and experienced with senior right guard Thomas Garcia developing nicely into a possible Division I guy. The right side of the line is anchored by junior right tackle Gerald Blackmon.
Oaks Christian's biggest concern has got to be running back Curtis McNeal, who has been called "Baby Bush" (as in Reggie) because of his big-play ability. The junior will not come off the field and starts on both sides of the ball. He returns punts and kicks and sells hot dogs at halftime! McNeal may be a bit undersized, but he is speedy, quick and extremely elusive in space. The viewing audience will have a chance to see some of the top juniors on the west coast in this match up.The Oaks Christian defense is as experienced as it gets with eleven starting seniors on the field who have now played together for four years. The unit features nine -- count them, nine -- Division I or I-AA prospects. They are a base 4-3 team with an aggressive, up-the-field style of play led by defensive ends Michael Ebbitt (No. 134 in the ESPN 150) and Duke Lemmens. The linebackers are stout and speedy with Casey Matthews, son of former NFL linebacker Clay Matthews, anchoring the unit. Matthews has committed to play at Oregon.
The front seven will have the unenviable task of trying to stop Venice's all-purpose nightmare McNeal. If you can say one thing about Tyler and Jones, it would be that they have endurance, that's for sure. Both players star on both sides of the ball, and their impact at the next level could be on either side of the ball, which is why they are both so valuable.
The secondary is capable of locking down opponents in the passing game with cornerbacks Anthony Gildon (another Oregon commit) and Brad Freeman. Safeties Jones and Wiser are as talented as Glade Central's tandem of Damien Berry and Johnny Lee Dixon. The secondary will have its greatest challenge of the year against a Venice unit which features three upper-echelon Division I prospects at wide receiver in Johnson, Gregory and Hood, not to mention senior pass catcher Jonathan Brasfield.
• WR Jonathan Brasfield: considering Oregon and Oregon State
Venice has excellent players but lacks experience. Oaks has great players with experience but lacks depth. If any of Oaks' key players go down to injury, they could be in trouble. This is where they could be exposed, but so far they have been able to stay healthy despite having five players start both ways.
Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts, Inc. Tom is a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.