One of the more versatile players in the nation -- and certainly one of the fastest -- is Kelly Baraka of Portage, Mich., one of my five-star players for 2001, who committed to Michigan on Jan. 11.
When I first saw Baraka on film back in April, I was amazed at his explosive speed, balance and great football sense, not only on offense but also on defense. To top things off, as a sophomore he was the state sprint champion in the 200 meters with a time of 21.6 seconds and finished third in the 100 meters with a time of 10.3. This spring Baraka beat the much-heralded, Prep Football Report Offensive Player of the Year Charlie Rogers in the 100 meters with a blazing time of 10.3. He also finished second to Rogers in the 200 meters with a time of 21.3. That kind of speed, combined with Baraka's size (6-0, 185) and grades (a 2.8 GPA and an 18 ACT score) is the reason just about every school in the country has already offered him a scholarship..
His film shows a natural runner who is quick to the hole and can cut on a dime. As a junior he carried the ball 200 times for 1,600 yards and 26 TDs, averaging eight yards per carry. He also caught eight passes for more than 200 yards. Although I believe Baraka can become an All-American at running back in college, I also believe he has what it takes to become a difference-maker at either cornerback or free safety.
I consider Baraka to be the state's top punt and kickoff returner; as a junior he returned three punts and one kickoff for scores. He also returned one punt for 64 yards and a TD during the first game of this season, while rushing for 149 yards on 18 carries, catching three passes for 65 yards and making nine tackles on defense despite missing the second half due to a dislocated elbow.
When I was putting my "super team" together in late August, I had several spots where I could have placed Baraka -- at either running back, defensive back or utility player because of his great skills as a returner. Baraka and running back Kevin Jones of Springfield, Pa., are the two most explosive players in the nation. In a recent conversation with Baraka, I asked him if he had always been the fastest player in junior leagues through high school and the answer was yes. He has been playing football for a long while and has always been the most dominant player on his team.
As I'm selecting my Reebok/ESPN all-star team that will gather in either Atlanta or New York this February, Baraka is certainly one of the favorites for a position on that super team. The only question I have is, will it be at running back, wide receiver, defensive back or kick returner?
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ABOUT TOM LEMMING
Tom Lemming is editor of Prep Football Report. For information on how to subscribe to Prep Football Report's three yearly magazines and five newsletters, fax your request to 847-842-1313 or write to P.O. Box 59113, Schaumburg, Ill. 60159. For year-round recruiting updates, call Tom Lemming's Prep Football Hotline at 900-860-9888. Calls are $1.79 per minute, and callers must be 18 years old or have parents' permission.
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Lemming: The nation's defensive elite