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December 14, 2010

Linebackers become team leaders

MORE SHRINE BOWL Monday top performers | Key matchup | Five things to watch

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The cold weather continued in South Carolina on Tuesday but Mother Nature was a little friendlier to Shrine Bowl players, with temperatures above freezing and the wind chill a bit higher. However, the cold still slowed things a bit, especially for the offense and each team's passing game.

The defense is another story as each side is led by an energetic, enthusiastic linebacker that has set the tone with his mouth and his motor. Kris Frost and Lateek Townsend have each taken a leadership role on their respective team's defense.

"I just love to talk out there and the coaches wanted someone vocal to take the reins and make the play calls and I just sort of took it on," said Frost, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound linebacker for the North Carolina squad. "Any of our linebackers could do it. This is an unbelievable group we have here, but I guess I like to talk a lot and it just happened that way."

Finding Frost on the field isn't difficult. Just follow the sound of chatter and watch for a blue coming off the edge. His energetic style is clearly contagious as the North Carolina team has been loose from the start with plenty of friendly banter.

"We're having fun," said Frost, who plays at Butler in Matthews, just outside of Charlotte. "It's fun to talk back and forth and it makes for a better practice. Our defense communicates really well and we have such a strong group of players that we play with a swagger a bit. But our offense is really good and when they get the best of us, they certainly let us know."

Frost and fellow Charlotte-area stud Marquise Williams have had an especially interesting rivalry going. Frost can often be heard chirping "Quise" and whenever he hears his name, Williams is sure to chirp back. The best line of the day came when Frost was blocked out of a play that led to a big gain by the NC offense and Williams quipped "Go back to Wendy's Frosty" in reference to the fast-food restaurant's soft dessert. Frost takes it all in stride.

"We respect each other and we know each other from playing in the same area," said Frost. "It's just fun, especially when someone can give it back as good as he gets it. When Saturday comes, I'm glad he's on our team."

Frost is certainly not a one-man show when it comes to North Carolina linebackers. He is flanked on the outside by Asheville A.C. Reynolds standout Ben Councell while the middle is manned by Wadesboro Anson 'backer Stephone Anthony and Jacksonville White Oak star Tremayne McNair.

"It's hard to find a better group of linebackers, I'm blessed to be playing with these guys and to be selected to the Shrine Bowl," he said. "We push each other hard and are competing to make plays so we're all arriving at the ball at the same time. That's what we hope to do Saturday. I'm not sure about the other team, but we're having fun."

Things are a bit quieter on the South Carolina side overall and at linebacker. Townsend, of Bennettsville Marlboro County, has been a less vocal leader for the SC linebackers and has set the tone with his play more than his mouth. On the first day of practice, Townsend tackled nearly everything in sight despite a non-contact practice setting.

"I tried to set the tone," he said. "I wasn't out there to hurt anyone and I pretty much laid off guys for the most part, but part of me couldn't stop taking someone down when I was in striking range. That's kind of how I get myself going and I wanted to get everyone else going. Fly to the ball, hustle and make the play. I toned it down a bit (Tuesday). No one really told me to stop tackling, but I knew I wanted to do that on the first day."

For Townsend, a 6-foot-2, 197-pounder who is super aggressive and tends to gamble, slowing himself is more mental than physical.

"I have to slow things down in my head to make sure I don't over-pursue or over-run something," said Townsend, who still did plenty of both but also made a ton of plays the first two days. "My body wants to go 100 miles per hour all the time and doesn't want me to read and stay patient so I remind myself to slow things down at times. I'm still working on it because in high school I didn't have this kind of talent around me so I felt like I needed to do everything. With these kinds of players on my team, I have a lot of help."

In addition to Townsend, the South Carolina team boasts Williston Elko 'backer Dexter Staley, who was also very energetic on Tuesday, as well as Winnsboro Fairfield Central standout Ralph Cooper and Greenwood sleeper Quinn Backus.

"Saturday will be fun," said Townsend. "Playing in this defense with four linebackers allows us to fly around and make plays so we'll come after it."

RECRUITING UPDATES

A few of the aforementioned linebackers have yet to make their college decisions, but each is getting closer. For Frost, time is of the essence as he will enroll at the school of his choice in January so he needs to make a decision around the holidays. He is down to Michigan, Auburn and LSU with the Wolverines thought to have a slight edge over the Tigers from Auburn and LSU gaining ground. Frost admits that his room is filled with Michigan memorabilia and he has always dreamed of playing in Ann Arbor, but that he will make this decision with his head and not his heart.

It appears that he will have to make a decision before Michigan makes its own decision on whether or not Rich Rodriguez returns as coach.

While Councell is committed to Notre Dame (solid following a recent official visit) and McNair is a Georgia Tech pledge, Anthony is another big name who hasn't made his decision. While he hasn't talked much on the record regarding recruiting, sources say that Virginia Tech has emerged as a leader over Clemson and N.C. State with Florida fading.

In fact, the Gators were fading before Urban Meyer stepped down, according to many due to distance. Some feel that this could come down to which school, if any, offers his best friend and teammate Jonathan Hough. Hough is a 6-foot-1, 188-pound receiver who has been hearing from N.C. State, Clemson and Virginia Tech of late. Anthony is supposed to take an official visit to Florida the first weekend of January but he hasn't heard from anyone at Florida since Meyer stepped down and Will Muschamp took the job. Clemson is set for Jan. 14, Virginia Tech is Jan. 21 and N.C. State is Jan. 28.

On the South Carolina side, Townsend is down to five schools - USC, LSU, Tennessee, Clemson and South Carolina - but this is likely to come down to an in-state battle. Townsend has already visited the Trojans but sources say that distance is a real issue. He also taken an official to South Carolina and will certainly take an official to Clemson as well. LSU and Tennessee could get visits as well, but if it comes down to the Tigers and Gamecocks in the Palmetto State, many feel South Carolina could win out due to parental preference.

While Cooper is committed to Illinois and Backus is looking for his first offer, Staley is uncommitted and has offers from East Carolina, Illinois, Michigan State, South Carolina and others. However, it's unclear right now which school would take his commitment because he will be a sign-and-place or possibly just head off to junior college and start the process over again. South Carolina seems the most likely to sign him and perhaps put him at Georgia Military Academy.

QUICK HITS

Ohio State isn't giving up on the nation's No. 1 player, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. While Clowney didn't list the Buckeyes in his top five (South Carolina, Alabama, FSU, LSU and Clemson), sources say that coaches from OSU will make the long trip down to Rock Hill, S.C., to meet with South Pointe head coach Bobby Carroll. However, it is unclear whether those same coaches will be able to do an in-home visit with Clowney. Based on the big defensive end's reaction to the bitter cold on Monday morning, it's hard to picture him playing his college ball in Columbus.

North Carolina running back Justus Pickett has taken an official visit to Wake Forest and the Deacons lead right now over Maryland and possibly Texas A&M. Pickett might take an official visit to Maryland before making his decision and the Aggies have shown recent interest, but right now he appears to be headed to play for Jim Grobe and his staff. His teammate at Charlotte (N.C.) Ardrey Kell, tight end Drew Owens, isn't at the Shrine Bowl but an intense battle between NC State and South Carolina is in full gear. Owens took an official visit to South Carolina on Oct. 29 and was at N.C. State on Nov. 12. He also took an unofficial visit to N.C. State this past weekend and was supposed to be at South Carolina bowl practice sometime this week as well. While many feel N.C. State is the team to beat, don't count out the Gamecocks, who will get the last visit and have been recruiting Owens much longer.

Another player not at the Shrine Bowl is Asheville, N.C. defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, who was selected to the NC squad but is not participating due to an injury. While Pagan isn't present, rumors regarding his recruitment certainly are. Pagan took an official visit to Georgia this weekend and most people expect this to come down to the Bulldogs, Clemson and Tennessee. Clemson is thought to be the leader by most sources at this time but no one has really heard from Pagan since his visit to Georgia.

The good news was that Clowney was dressed and warmed up for practice both in the morning and in the afternoon. The bad news is that he didn't participate in practice at all beyond standing around and watching in the cold. It was clear he wanted to get out there and play, but he was under orders to rest his injured ankle. Clowney also had a stinger on Monday but that appears to be fine now.

Fayetteville (N.C.) Jack Britt defensive tackle Devonte Brown was back in action Tuesday after sitting out Monday's afternoon practice with turf toe and he returned with a vengeance. Brown was all over the field in team play and was dominant on inside run. He also won almost all of his one-on-ones including a few against fellow four-star Jarrod James. Both James and Brown also worked extra after the morning practice on Tuesday with James, knowing he would be going against Clowney, saying "I don't want to be part of anyone's highlight film." Both players are solid commitments to North Carolina although Brown's teammate, Eric MacLain, said he's still working on Brown to join him at Clemson.

Marquise Williams threw the ball much better on Tuesday and was arguably the best quarterback on the day for either side. He and T.J. Thorpe hooked up on a few big plays and the future UNC duo (If Williams sticks with the Heels over Virginia Tech) have developed very good chemistry.

Defensive back La'Quavas Watt had two interceptions at the end of South Carolina's afternoon practice.

Wide receiver Shamier Jeffery from Calhoun County in South Carolina had a strong afternoon practice, consistently getting open and making big plays.

Mann defensive back Pat Martin missed most of the afternoon practice with a neck injury. However, it wasn't expected to keep him out of action for long. Martin, a Tennessee commitment, said he is working on Townsend to get him to take another visit to Knoxville. Townsend has been to see the Vols once for camp.

North Carolina commitment Travis Riley was a late addition to the Shrine Bowl roster and is big and quick. The 6-foot, 210-pounder from Kannapolis (N.C.) Brown hasn't been able to show his physical style and downhill running ability with very little contact, but he will be a key for NC on Saturday especially in short yardage.



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