Best of the Best Part 3: Big Rapids, big game

tristen fleet football

Mancelona senior Tristen Fleet is interviewed by 9&10 News after a strong performance in Big Rapids.

It’s amazing that in small, neighboring towns in the middle of Michigan, that in one senior class there are quarterbacks as talented as Lake City’s Drew Marion, Reed City’s Chad Samuels and Cadillac’s Jalen Brooks. The first two competed Wednesday on the third leg of the Lake Michigan Football Report’s Best of the Best combine tour at Big Rapids High School.

Samuels was in Grand Rapids in March, Traverse City in May, and he really grows on you. While he doesn’t have the size or raw athleticism of the others, of the three QBs Samuel’s the most polished drop-back passer. His ball placement is terrific, has the touch for sure. He does a good job squaring his shoulders and getting off legit throws while rolling out. While not big, he’s solid at 6-0, 175 and put in respectable measurables with a 4.93 40, 4.35 pro agility and 28″ standing vertical.

Just like he was at the Grand Rapids combine, Marion dominated the testing. At 6-2, 195 he had the quickest shuttle in 4.22 seconds; did the most reps at 185 pounds, 13; tied for the highest vertical leap, 35 inches; and ran a 4.68 40, the second-fastest time in Big Rapids (like Cheboygan the night before, they ran on grass). Love his intangibles, as Marion was a vocal, positive leader with his drill group. As an actual QB, he’s polishing his game, as at the small school level he can dominate with his legs and arm. His best chance as a MAC prospect may be as a defensive back. His one-handed interception may have been the highlight play of the Big Rapids workout.

Another senior QB that college coaches need to know is 6-1, 180 Tyler Johnson from Onekama; good arm. A junior QB that will be heard from is Jamison Green, looks the part for sure at 6-4, 175 and already has some big-time camp experience. His balls sank at times, but with time, tools and coaching on his side, love his potential.

None of the quarterbacks had it particularly easy, as they had to throw against a helluva a cornerback in Kevin Kunkel, a 5-10 165 senior from Lake City. He’s quick (4.38 pro agility) and explosive (30″ standing vertical), though he’ll have to shave some off his 40 time. When it went live is when Kunkel really shined. Receivers had a devil of a time getting off the line with how he jammed them, and he was sticky if they did get an initial step. Kunkel played a ton of reps but fought all the way. The fastest player in Big Rapids was Erik Chard, a 5-9, 175 Byron Center senior with a 4.51 40. He’s a running back, but not necessarily a natural receiver so could end up in the defensive backfield.  Another one who could make a good corner, though he’s listed as a QB/WR, is Dustin Hejka, a 5-9, 155 East Jordan senior. His 4.15 seconds was the best pro agility time, with a 30-inch vertical and 4.86 40.

While Chard has the big-play ability in the open field, the best-looking power runner at the combine was Garrett Cavendish, a 5-9, 180 senior from Lakeview. Power you say? He had an event-best 10 reps benching 225 pounds. He ran a 4.84 40, 4.22 shuttle, with a 30-inch vertical. He made good adjustments and showed soft hands as a receiver. The top pure wide receiver at the combine was Brad Epplett, a 6-0, 178 Holton senior. He ran a 4.7 40 and 4.32 pro agility.

The host school provided two prospects who could end up amongst the very best defensive line prospects in the 2014 and 2015 classes, respectively. Brandon Hutson, a 6-2, 240 Big Rapids senior, has lost weight, gotten healthy and really helped his cause. A throwback, blue-collar kids who had the energy in drills of a guy just happy to be playing football. He played at White Cloud as a sophomore then played with a shoulder injury as a Big Rapids junior, so few know just how good this kid is. He’s quick with his hand down and has a terrific motor. Not a great athlete, so you stick him on the interior and let him scrap. Conversely, Big Rapids junior Mike Rautio has the lanky frame coaches covet for the ends, at 6-4, 210.

There’s a lot to like about Jacob Kacynski, a 6-4, 230 Ludington senior who worked out as a tight end and linebacker. Loved him in the regular season, and backed it up here with the measurables. Good athlete at his size, with a 4.82 40, 4.34 pro agility and 30″ vertical. No dumb jock, he has high-end grades and test score. Didn’t always look comfortable catching the ball, so best bet at the next level is as an OLB. At this point, it’s up to Jake — he could be one of the Lake Area’s elite 2014 prospects, if he buys in and dedicates himself to the game.

Of the wide-bodied linemen, 6-3, 275 Mancelona senior Tristen Fleet and 6-2, 250 Reed City junior TJ Patterson stood out. Fleet was wearing a “Ferris State” t-shirt, fittingly as he projects as a GLIAC center prospect. Fleet just competes, which is half the battle. Patterson is raw but looks like he could get much bigger. Needs to work on his footwork.


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