ATLANTA >> Connecticut may not be known nationally for producing top-tier college football talent, but that could be changing.
Most of the state’s top players have typically ended up at one of the regional Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools — Pittsburgh, Boston College, UConn, UMass, Rutgers, Syracuse, or Temple. Some have made their way to the likes of Notre Dame or Florida but they were few and far between.
In 2015, the tide began to shift.
Last year, prospects from Connecticut prep schools and high schools committed to Clemson, UCLA, Duke, and Penn State in addition to the aforementioned usual suspects.
Suffield Academy’s Christian Wilkins, from Springfield, Mass., was the first Rivals five-star recruit to play at a Connecticut prep school since the database began in 2002. He has quickly made his impact felt for one of the best teams in the country at Clemson.
In the class of 2016, Connecticut’s finest signed with Stanford (Scooter Harrington – Greenwich), Wisconsin (Jake Hescock – Salisbury via. Pittsfield, Mass.), Texas Christian (Lucas Niang – New Canaan), and Duke (Koby Quansah – Kingswood-Oxford via Manchester, Conn., and Jacob Morgenstern – St. Luke’s).
Southington’s Jay Rose picked UConn over a variety of impressive offers including Wisconsin, Maryland, and West Virginia. The number of players going to Division I programs has increased as has the quality of schools regularly visiting to check out our gridiron talent.
The class of 2017 is taking that torch and running with it. Newtown’s Ben Mason committed to Michigan over Cal, Wisconsin, Duke, and many others.
Bloomfield has a pair of players in Russell Thompson-Bishop and Dillon Harris with major offers as does St. Luke’s in Omar Fortt. Fortt’s teammate, RB Justin Brown, has committed to Temple.
Darien 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive lineman Andrew Stueber is currently deciding between offers from Tennessee, Penn State, and North Carolina, among others.
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Cheshire Academy head coach David Dykeman has assembled some of the most impressive talent on a high school team in the entire northeast.
His Fighting Cats have at least five rising seniors who will be playing FBS football next year, possibly more, headlined by wide receiver Tarik Black and all-purpose athlete C.J. Holmes, both Hamden residents who hold offers from many of college football’s traditional powers. Their teammate, West Haven’s Brandon Sebastian, has already committed to Boston College
“It’s going to get better and better,” Rivals’ head national analyst Mike Farrell, a Connecticut native, predicted. “Syracuse used to make a living sneaking out Connecticut public school kids in the glory days because other schools were too lazy to push over some rocks and find good kids.
“I expect the number of prep players from Connecticut to triple in the next 5-10 years.”
Holmes will be participating at The Opening Finals, a national camp run by Nike in Oregon, and a week ago Black made his way to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for the Rivals 5-star Challenge, another event featuring around a hundred of the best players in the country.
“It means a lot,” Black said of his invitation to the national showcase. “I know kids from Connecticut don’t usually get an opportunity like this. I’m just embracing the opportunity.”
Once he took the field, however, it was clear he was not just happy to be there.
Many underestimated Black going into the event, but he excelled in the morning session’s 1-on-1 drills against the nation’s best defensive backs.
In the evening’s 7-on-7 games, Black demonstrated the ability to consistently gain separation from defenders. He was focused and disciplined in his route-running and made sure to watch the ball into his hands every time it came his way. He has a deceptive way of making cuts on the field which often leaves defenders guessing.
“He has quickly proven that he belongs among the elite,” Rivals regional analyst Mark Pzonak said, noting that the Hamden native was one of the most consistent performers at the event. Black also drew heavy praise from analysts who cover UCLA and Michigan.
Farrell placed Black on his Rivals showcase All-Star team.
“Black was the second-most consistent wide receiver at the event,” he said. “There were faster wide receivers at the camp, but few were as consistent downfield.”
Black’s recently announced top five contains four of the highest-rated academic schools in the country in Stanford, UCLA, Notre Dame and Michigan. Alabama, the premier program in college football right now, rounds out his list. He’ll be visiting all five one more time this summer and plans on waiting a bit to announce his commitment.
“I’ll probably make my decision before my senior season,” he shared. “But plan on announcing at the Army All-American game (January 7 in San Antonio, Texas).”
Aman Kidwai covers UConn Football and recruiting for Rivals and also manages The UConn Blog on SB Nation.