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About 15 miles southwest of downtown Atlanta, Westlake High School doesn’t particularly stand out. The thick forest that hangs out over the streets of Fulton County prevents much from being seen at all in certain areas.
But after driving a few miles down Union Road, those trees finally break, giving way to a clear view of the majestic brick building built in 1988. It still looks like it could have been constructed as recently as 2008.
Inside Westlake, just as along the roads leading up to it, you’ll see homages to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, its most famous alumnus. The Lions have also produced current NFL players Adam “Pacman” Jones and Chance Warmack, among various other former stars.
Soon, Michigan State cornerback signee Tre Person will be the next Westlake football player to depart with a full-ride scholarship in hand. He won’t be the last. And the Spartans coaches hope several more will take their talents to East Lansing.
When wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel visited Person at Westlake in late April, he only left after having offered three of Person’s teammates. Land of 10 spoke to Lions coach Kareem Reid about those players and how they might fit in with the Spartans.
After winning two straight state championships with Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.), Ross moved to Atlanta and joined Westlake. A slew of offers followed his standout junior season.
And he didn’t even play much safety, where he’ll likely be in college. The Lions already had a bevy of talented players in the secondary, from Person to Clemson cornerback signee A.J. Terrell to Georgia State safety signee Chris Bacon. So the 6-foot, 180-pound Ross played outside linebacker.
“He’ll move back to a hash safety [in 2017],” Reid said. “He’ll play a little nickel for us sometimes because he’s versatile. He can do a lot of different things. He’s kind of a [former Michigan star] Jabrill Peppers type where they just played him everywhere, played linebacker and safety. He won’t play any corner, but he could if he had to. He’s that type of kid.”
Michigan State’s chances of landing Ross depend on whether the Spartans can get him in for a visit. Person, who is much closer to Ross than the other two players offered, will certainly lobby for it. And what would he bring to the table?
“I think he will be like a nickel, in-the-box type safety,” Reid said. “He’s not your true cover two safety or single high safety. I think he’ll be best suited and make the most plays close to the line of scrimmage.”
We spoke with Appleberry earlier in the month about his offer and what it meant to him. Michigan State’s history has stuck out, and he plans to visit campus. He appears to be the most likely of the trio to end up at Michigan State.
“He just looks the part,” Reid said of Appleberry. “He’s 185 pounds with big, thick legs. He’s muscled up. You watch his tape and he plays that way. He’s strong. He runs people over. He runs away from people. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. Really versatile back, really good player.”
Appleberry transferred in from nearby Creekside following his junior season, so he never had a chance to play with Person. He’s one of several players to make the move to Westlake for improved academic and athletic opportunities.
It’s working out. Michigan State, Oregon State and Rutgers have all offered. Michigan State has not landed a running back in its 2018 class, and it’s a high priority position considering how it brought in just one in 2017 and none in 2016.
Samuel didn’t know much about Hand before talking with Reid. The 6-foot-4 sophomore had just transferred in and hasn’t played a down for Westlake. But after seeing his film, Samuel felt compelled to become the first to offer Hand.
“They know that being the school from the North, it’s not their home state, so they’ve got to get in the game early,” Reid said of Michigan State. “A kid like that’s gonna blow up. If you get in the game early, you’re the first one, you already have that relationship and you have a chance. So that’s the strategy.”
Hand will battle for the quarterback spot as a junior, but he’ll likely play receiver in college. Reid described him as “a poor man’s Terrelle Pryor,” in reference to the former Ohio State quarterback now playing wide receiver in the NFL for Washington.
“He’s still a young kid, but he’s an athlete,” Reid said. “I don’t think he’s a Michigan State quarterback because they’re more pro-style than anything. In the right system, he could play quarterback, but he could definitely play receiver like [former Michigan State star] Plaxico Burress. He’s just that type of build. They like him like that.”