By CHRIS DOKISH, PSR Recruiting Editor
Colleges were officially allowed to offer for high school juniors on Sept. 1, so it’s not too early to sneak a peak at the best players of the 2008 class. Many of these players will verbally commit within the year, and a few may even commit in six or eight months. Players will begin to separate themselves in 16 months before this class can officially sign, and a few are so talented that they already have done so. In fact, these handful of players are practically guaranteed to be in the top 10 in Pennsylvania next year; fewer still have “Top 5 Player” written all over them. Since these five are practically even right now, we will look at them alphabetically.
That means we begin with “A” and that’s exactly what kind of grade A.J. ALEXANDER gets as a prospect. When you talk about Alexander, start with his speed. Alexander is simply one of the fastest players in the country. The Altoona High School athlete is not just a track star playing football, however. At 5’10” and 195 pounds, Alexander is solidly built. As a high school quarterback, he can be dazzling. In his first game this season, he ran for 183 yards and four touchdowns. Like the other four top juniors in the state, look for him to be a legitimate candidate as one of the 50 best players in the country. Pittsburgh was the first to officially offer a scholarship, but there will be dozens more and they will come from all over the country.
The next player on the list plays tight end and defensive end at Aliquippa High School, but he projects in college as a wide receiver or… small forward? JONATHAN BALDWIN is one of the best two sport athletes in the state and he is also about to be the Quips next great player. At 6’6” and 200 pounds, Baldwin obviously has great height for the position. To go with that God-given gift he also has excellent speed and superior jumping ability. Put it all together and the total package is as rare as it gets. Baldwin is also a major Division 1 basketball prospect with a reported offer by Marquette already. It will be one of many for both sports. Baldwin’s father, Jeffrey, played football for Pitt and Baldwin has already been to Pitt practices, so the Panthers may be the early team to beat.
Another WPIAL youngster that has tongues wagging is Gateway linebacker SHAYNE HALE. The 6’4” 220 pound Hale has been considered a future star for a few years now even though he has only just started his junior year. Hale has the frame to get bigger and he already has excellent speed and athleticism. The burgeoning star already holds offers from Pittsburgh, Tennessee, North Carolina and Rutgers – but that’s the tip of the iceberg. If he doesn’t decide early, his offer list could number around 50. He has already been to Pitt to look around and he is close with former Gateway star and current Pitt linebackers coach Curtis Bray, but Penn State will be a major player too. When it’s all said and done it will likely come down to these programs once again.
On the eastern side of the state, the top projected prospect is Easton cornerback JARRED HOLLEY. The 5’11” 175 pound Holley has played on offense at QB, WR, and RB in his career for the Red Rovers, but he has always played cornerback on defense, and that’s where he may best project at the next level. Holley’s great speed and explosive athletic ability makes him the best cover corner in the state this year regardless of class. Pittsburgh has already officially offered but many more will be following.
Last but not least of these elite five is Jeannette quarterback TERRELLE PRYOR. Yes, that Terrelle Pryor. The 6’6” 210 pound wunderkind is best known for being one of the top 20 basketball prospects in the country, but don’t let that fool you. Physically he draws comparisons to former Texas superstar Vince Young and yes, the basic physical comparisons are valid. In addition to his obvious great size, Pryor has a rocket for an arm and off the chart athletic ability that becomes even more apparent on the football board than on the basketball court. He is raw as a quarterback and doesn’t throw a lot, but his athletic ability, arm strength, and size will get him dozens of offers in football, even if most schools think he will play basketball. Penn State, who rarely offers juniors early, let alone sophomores, did just that with Pryor last year. If he decides on football, Penn State may be the choice, but if he sticks with basketball, Pitt is the favorite. As of now, Pryor wants to stick with basketball, but sometimes he does think of playing football in college. The decision may be more difficult once the football offers come pouring in from all over the country. Southern Cal has already invited him to their passing camp.