From Joe Staley and Jared Veldeer in the pros, to Jake Fisher in college, it’s no secret that the Lake Michigan area produces some of the best line talent in the country. So it’s no surprise that the line drills were a major attraction at the Lake Michigan Football Report’s March 17 combine in Grand Rapids. There, future college talent went head-to-head, with some players justifying their status, others earning theirs.
Muskegon’s Kenneth Finley, a 6-3, 270 junior, came into the Grand Rapids event with a significant reputation, including a Toledo offer, and didn’t disappoint. His throw of 40’3 was the second best mark in the medicine ball, and he put that strength to practical use bull-rushing the opposition in one-on-ones. Finley twice ran 4.8 40s, and if he maintains those wheels while adding the weight needed for his likely D tackle destination, watch out. With an academic tweak, look for the recruitment to really take off for Finley, the top defensive prospect in the Lake Michigan area.
Jacob Howe, a 6-2, 240 junior from Forest Hills Northern, turned in his second strong performance at a Lake event. I one-on-ones he came in fast, low, with myriad free-up moves. He was in attack mode, and understood more than most of the athletes that in this kind of environment you have to be able to turn it on quick, and he had no problem getting from 0-100. You could tell just how desperate the O linemen were against Howe’s inside/outside moves from how ripped-to-nothing his shirt was by the end of the day. He performed well in the testing portion too, running a 4.78 40, jumping 27″ and finishing just outside the top 10 in the medicine ball throw and shuttle. Coaches have thought of Howe as a tweener, but he’s continued to show his potential as a hand-down rusher and would be good in that role at the MAC level.
Another versatile end rusher who helped himself was Mitchell Stanitzek. He’s a 6-4, 215 junior who missed most of the 2012 season with a back injury, but played and made an impact for Grand Rapids West Catholic in the Division 5 state final. He showed just how under the gun, testing as well as anyone all-around with a 4.7-second 40, 4.4-second shuttle and 33″ vertical. He could play tight end as well. While a lot of the local Dutch boys look “country strong,” 6-4, 225 Traverse City St. Francis junior Eric Coggon provided a different look with longer, more defined musculature. Coggon was really slippery getting off blocks. Ivy-type grades just sweeten the deal. Kenowa Hills’ 6-2, 240 two-way lineman Zach Evans was one of the most productive rushers we saw last fall. At the combine he had a 4.88-second 40 and 4.78-second pro agility. Comstock Park had a solid contingent of players at the combine. A pleasant surprise from that group was 6-3, 210 junior Ryan Gruzka, who ran a 4.85 40 and could also play tight end.
Grand Rapids South Christian junior Todd Postma looked like a classic end, bigger than his listed 6-4, 235. He doesn’t have great straight-line speed, but was quick off the line and pretty nimble in small spaces. His South Christian teammate and another starter from the Sailors’ state championship team, Mitchell Quakkelaar, is an imposing sophomore at 6-3, 260.
Muskegon nose guard Jacob Sims is an outstanding player, it’s just hard to project him as a 5-6, 220 junior. Muskegon Orchard View’s 6-1, 285 junior Demere Ramey has intriguing video, but didn’t see him much in one-on-ones. Kalamazoo Loy-Norrix’ 6-0, 250 junior Joe Boggan has some promise as a defensive tackle. He’s quick off the line and has that wrestler’s mentality in the pits. 5-11, 250 East Grand Rapids junior Conor Conaboy doesn’t have ideal size, but is a smart, versatile two-way lineman with the EGR pedigree that goes a long way in recruiting circles. His Pioneers teammate Troy Gotch is a 6-2, 195 junior guard who got by with smarts and technique.
Like Finley only on the offensive side, Malik King came in as a Muskegon kid with a big rep, and the 6-4, 275 junior went out and competed for his good name. A number of D linemen came in pumped and gave King problems at first. But he regrouped and IHOP was open for business, as he started dealing out those pancake blocks. He’s a naturally big mauler who is at least a MAC level guard.
King led a promising contingent of junior interior offensive linemen. 6-5, 265 West Branch Ogemaw Heights junior Alec Stevens is coming off a shoulder injury but didn’t play timidly. He’s raw but trim for his size and athletic, with a 20-point, 20-rebound basketball game to his credit last month. Stevens was top 10 in strength, with a 5.19 40 and 27″ vertical. He was quick and sure to lock up and a good run-blocker. He plays tackle for his high school team, but laying in space is where Stevens needs work. On physical potential he’ll likely be yet another Big North lineman with multiple offers. Also from up North, but a much smaller school in the Ski Valley, was Tristen Fleet. A 6-3, 275 Mancelona junior, Fleet’s a grinder who helps his recruiting chances because he’s an actual center. Another Northerner, Grayling’s 6-4, 270 junior Lucas Walesky, was much improved from his December camp performance. He’s improving athletically and as a player, though he still needs to remember not to duck his head. Walesky unfortunately injured his knee, but not before earning an NAIA offer.
Kirk Hautau is another potential center at 6-2, 280. He’s an all-conference junior from Marshall. Hautau has good feet and technique, and played Kenneth Finley as well as anyone. Liked how he loaded up and delivered hits. 6-2, 280 South Christian junior Travis Steenwyk didn’t post great measurables. But he knows how to play, has a wide base and worked well off leverage rather than raw strength. Another South Christian kid is 6-2, 220 sophomore Casey Elzinga, a promising young center.
There were a couple O-K Red tackle prospects with potential. East Kentwood junior Elliot Jordan, who could end up at tackle or tight end at 6-7 , 227. He ran a 5.13-second 40 and 4.7-second pro agility. It was great to see how Jordan responded to coaching and got more confident as the day progressed. He went from getting schooled by the top ends, to competing with and even stoning them. Hudsonville’s 6-6, 280 junior Eric Atkins has the right frame and terrific grades. His center of gravity rides high, but most importantly he just needs to get some nasty going.
Other than going against Kenneth Finley, and there’s no shame in that, Ryan Egan, a 6-5, 265 Montrose junior, acquitted himself well in drills. Connor Smith flashed some potential for Three Rivers’ playoff team last fall, and the junior could play either side of the ball at 6-5, 265.
Two talented young prospects that were profiled on the all-underclassman team, 6-5, 248 Mendon sophomore Logan Slaughter and 6-3, 260 Petoskey freshman Tommy Roush. At this age, it’s hard to project them to offense or defense, but both have nice physical tools. Slaughter already played as hard as anyone at the combine, while Roush is fundamentally sound, quite strong, and didn’t seem to mind taking his lumps, knowing that it served a larger, long-term purpose.