PITTSBURGH — Some Ohio State recruiting news and notes from a weekend at two of Pittsburgh’s top high school football programs — Pine-Richland and Gateway — and at 2/10ths Speed & Agility, which includes 2017 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald among its clients.
Andrew Kristofic, blue-chip tackle, nears decision date
If you missed the deep dive with elite 2019 tackle Andrew Kristofic on Tuesday, I’d encourage you to read that here. Kristofic attends Pine-Richland and revealed a top 4 of Ohio State, Notre Dame, Clemson and Wisconsin, with a decision coming soon. The Buckeyes are very much in the race for Kristofic, right alongside Clemson and likely a little behind Notre Dame.
What I’m hearing on two Buckeyes defensive back targets
Two of Ohio State’s more interesting 2019 defensive back targets play in the Pittsburgh area and last weekend saw developments with both of them.
Aliquippa cornerback MJ Devonshire has visited Ohio State multiple times in recent months and is on the shortlist of the Buckeyes’ realistic cornerback options. He’s a long and polished, but top-end speed is a concern. It’s the biggest hole in his game and allegedly the reason why Pitt, the local program, has not offered.
I’m told that Devonshire has been working hard at speed training and is expecting to run a 100-meter dash somewhere in the 10.5- to 10.8-second range this track season. That’s not elite speed, but it would certainly be more than enough to ease the worries of some programs, including perhaps Ohio State. His current personal best is an 11.15 at the PIAA district championships in May 2017. Solid track times could help Devonshire rocket up Ohio State’s board, as he is an elite cornerback in terms of coverage technique and ability to make plays on the football.
Additionally, one of Ohio State’s top 2019 defensive back targets the Buckeyes have yet to offer is seeing his recruitment reach a new level. North Allegheny (Pa.) cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (he usually goes by J.J.) landed an offer from Penn State on April 7 during an unofficial visit to State College. The Nittany Lions join LSU, Pitt, West Virginia and Nebraska as some of Porter’s most prominent offers.
Ohio State has consistently shown interest in Porter, whose recruitment has taken off since switching to defensive back. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound prospect actually made that switch for the first time during a Buckeyes prospect camp in June 2017 and I expect that he’ll be back for another one of those camps this summer.
Porter visited campus on March 28 and will receive a long look for an offer from the program during the spring and summer evaluation periods. Ohio State would be one of his most coveted offers. A source also shared that Alabama is showing strong interest in Porter and could offer if he were to audition for an offer at camp. Programs covet cornerbacks with Porter’s length and athleticism and he obviously has great bloodlines. His father, Joey Porter, was a four-time All-Pro during his career as a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker.
Gateway Gators back to their winning ways
The Gateway Gators are well known as one of the Pittsburgh area’s most illustrious programs. Year after year under head coach Terry Smith, now the defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator for Penn State, the Gators churned out top-end Division I talent. That includes Ohio State signees Corey Brown and Dorian Bell, 5-star recruits in the 2009 recruiting class.
After Smith’s departure following the 2012 season, Gateway experienced a dip in success. The Gators languished for a handful of seasons until Don Holl came to the program beginning in the 2016 season. Gateway was the state runner-up in Pennsylvania’s 5A classification (the second largest in the state) in the 2017 season and is once again stocked with FBS talent.
2021 superstar Derrick Davis Jr. (whom we’ll discuss at greater length in an upcoming Dotting the Eyes recruiting notebook) already holds major offers from Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and other programs, and looks to be one of the very best players in the country in his class early on. The freshman visited Ohio State in April and discussed his visit with Land of 10. Keep an eye out for that discussion.
One of Gateway’s other top prospects is 2019 wide receiver Courtney Jackson, who holds two dozen scholarship offers at the moment. Jackson’s junior statistics were astounding and shattered many records in Pennsylvania — 96 receptions for 1,916 yards and 27 touchdowns, a key part of Gateway’s explosive offense.
Jackson speaks most frequently with West Virginia, Syracuse, Toledo and Temple (all have offered) and also holds Power 5 offers from Northwestern, Kentucky, Baylor and Boston College. He’s recently visited West Virginia and Syracuse and plans to visit Rutgers on Saturday and Northwestern on April 21. Jackson intends to commit before the start of his senior season. More offers could be on the way for the big-time wide receiver.
“I think Rutgers is going to offer soon once I get up there. I don’t know about Pitt, but they might. I can see them offering, but who knows. … I talk to Penn State,” Jackson said. “I was supposed to go up there this past weekend, but the weather was really bad. We talk, there’s a possibility of an offer. That’s mostly Coach Terry [Smith], he’s the guy I talk to up there. Penn State would be huge. They’re on a different level. That would definitely change the game.”
Jackson credits his success to the elite coaching staff at Gateway, which has crafted a high-powered offense based around throwing the football and dominating in the passing game.
“A lot of it is my coaches. Our coaching staff is amazing, with Coach Holl and all of our coaches. It’s not like your average coach-player relationship, we’re much closer to them,” Jackson said.
The Gators also feature defensive back Jeremiah Josephs, a top cornerback prospect in Pennsylvania’s 2019 class. Josephs will announce a commitment on Twitter on Saturday, choosing between Miami (Ohio), Toledo, Buffalo, and Eastern Michigan as his four finalists. Josephs is likely to excel as a nickel cornerback or a free safety at the next level. He’s fresh off of an unofficial visit to Miami (Ohio) in early April.
“Miami runs a scheme pretty close to what I do in high school right now. It will put me in a better position becaue I know how to play in it. The coaches, they care about you. The campus is pretty cool – everything is new and modern and it’s just a program on the rise.”
Josephs is most comfortable playing in zone coverage, where he still has the ability to make plays on the football and generate turnovers, but can also come up and strike in run coverage or in the flats. He was a key part in Gateway’s impressive defensive efforts during the 2017 run to the state championship.
Aaron Donald makes it clear why he’s so elite
As for Donald, he spent Tuesday working with Dwayne Brown, his trainer since high school. Donald would be the first to tell you that Brown is instrumental in his success. When Donald skipped offseason training activities during a contract holdout prior to last season, Brown was his exclusive trainer.
It’s easy to see why he’s such an incredible player after watching his offseason work ethic. The footwork, quickness and explosiveness that Donald shows as a defensive tackle set him apart from nearly any other player in the history of the position. His workouts were exhausting just to watch — I couldn’t imagine trying to complete one. Other prospects and college and NFL players were working out with Donald and most tapped out well before he finished.
Any recruit would do well to follow in Donald’s footsteps and pattern themselves after his tremendous work ethic. He’s smaller than most high school defensive tackle recruits that I cover, but has never let that hold him back and found a way to work around it with explosion and athleticism. He’s listed at 6-1 and 280 pounds, but I’d be shocked if he’s actually that big. His body appears to be nothing but pure muscle.
Pine-Richland recruits rising to an elite level
At Pine-Richland, won the state championship in Pennsylvania’s 6A classification, (the largest in the state) to complete an undefeated season, Monday was a lifting day.
Kristofic is certainly the most highly regarded recruit at the program this fall, but his teammate on the offensive line, 2019 guard Michael Katic, is developing into a very impressive recruit in his own right. Syracuse, Virginia and Cincinnati are a few of Katic’s top offers and Pitt and Boston College have shown interest, but not offered. He plans to commit by the end of the spring or early summer (“before June,” he told Land of 10).
Katic will visit Cincinnati on Saturday and will make a trip down to the University of Virginia on April 28, which may be his final two visits before making a decision. He also recently visited Syracuse, a great trip for the Pennsylvania offensive lineman that seemed to really impress him.
“I visited Syracuse last weekend and I absolutely loved it. The coaches were very welcoming. I got to talk to Coach Babers a lot, I got one-on-one time with him. The facilities and campus are beautiful, the university is prestigious. I got to watch practice and they run the same offense as we do, an up-tempo spread, so I fit the place for a lot of the interior lineman,” Katic said. “I got to have good one-on-one time with Coach Cavanaugh, the o-line coach. I like him, he’s got a lot of experience under his belt. It was great. Syracuse is the school I talk to most frequently right now.”
Katic is a powerful offensive guard who shows great skills at pull-blocking and delivering a blow in space. His weight room numbers are impressive, maxing out at 325 pounds on the bench press, 455 on squats, 500 on deadlifts, and 285 on power cleans.
Pine-Richland also features standout 2019 linebacker Tyler King, who wants to be committed by early June. Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Pitt have yet to offer but have shown interest. King may attend those camps but sees himself most likely ending up at a Group of 5 school. King has been working with former NFL tight end Darnell Dinkins at E.T.H.I.C. Training on his speed and explosion. He has nine offers overall, but it appears that Kent State and Navy are beginning to rise to the top for King.
“The school I talk to most frequently I’d say is Kent State. That’s almost a day-to-day basis, texting frequently, and there are good relationships there. I went on a visit a couple weeks ago. I had a great time and I liked what they’re doing there. This upcoming weekend [April 14], I’m going to Navy,” King said. “I’m very interested in what the academy has to offer. Academics are the number one thing for me, I’d say. Going [to the Naval Academy], you’re getting the best of the best. They’re really high on my list right now.”
Rams head coach Eric Kasperowicz has high expectations for his group of seniors, most notably Katic, King, and Kristofic, and wants to see them lead his program back to the mountaintop of the state championship. Losing senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec, an All-American who’s already enrolled and competing for a starting job at Notre Dame, was a tough blow, but the Rams intend to keep rolling.
“I think the big thing is just getting back after it. We always have high expectations. Getting back in the weight room here and getting this group back together is all about finding out what this group’s about. This group of seniors, now it’s their football team,” Kasperowicz told Land of 10. “We had a special group last year and now it’s handed over to the next groups. This is where championships are won – these last eight weeks and then the next 17 weeks. It’s a work in progress and this is when it happens.”