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Dino Babers and company set sights on St. Thomas Aquinas (FL)

Over the last few years, Dino Babers has really started to mark his territory when it comes to the recruiting scene. While he’s done a good job of recruiting from a diverse set of locations and talent pools, there have been a few spots that he consistently targets and recruits well out of from cycle to cycle.

Whether that be trying to establish somewhat of a Michigan pipeline in the early years, the ever-present Sunshine State connection in Florida, or even recently when Dino snuck into Maryland and took two of its best recruits, there have been some common spots that SU has pulled a good amount of recruits from in recent years.

Now, it appears that the ‘Cuse is taking that a step further. Not only did the Orange focus at least a portion of their attention on one state this weekend, they focused it on one city and even beyond that, they focused it on one specific high school.

St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, FL has produced the likes of Geno Atkins, the Bosa brothers and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin among others. The Raiders are consistently one of the best football programs not only in the state of Florida, but in the entire country. Big-time programs want guys that go to Aquinas and as SU tries to make that jump to the next tier of programs in the country, snagging a couple of these guys wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Slot WR/RB Christian Opalsky, Class of 2021

We’ll kick things off with a pair of positions that SU has recruited well in recent memory and a pair of positions that can have an instant impact on what the Orange offense looks like in the future. Opalsky is listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds by ESPN although he has still yet to be ranked by any major recruiting site.

Those measurables might be a bit concerning at first glance, but keep in mind this kid is probably only 15 or 16 years old and has plenty of time to grow as his high school career moves on. That’s not to mention that both Nykeim Johnson and Sean Riley are listed as shorter and lighter than Opalsky and they were both big-time contributors to the SU offense in 2018.

There’s not much tape out there on Opalsky aside from his freshman year highlights when he was at Coconut Creek HS in 2017 before transferring to Aquinas where, according to MaxPreps, he had one carry for 13 yards in 2018. Clearly, though, Babers and company saw something in the young Floridian as have Kansas, Southern Miss and Purdue, so he’s somebody to keep an eye on development-wise over the next year or so.

CB Ja’Den McBurrows, Class of 2021

Similarly to Opalsky, Ja’Den McBurrows did not start his high school career at Aquinas and is a transfer for the Raiders. Unlike his future teammate, however, he has yet to take a snap with Aquinas after spending his first two seasons of high school ball at American Heritage (the same high school as former Syracuse defensive backs Juwan Dowels and Ri’Shard Anderson).

At 5-foot-10, 165 is a bit smaller than your prototypical college corner, but, like Opalsky, he’s still pretty young and there’s an opportunity for him to grow into his body and bulk up as he matures.

From a quick look at his tape, the thing that stands out about McBurrows is his versatility. He’ll line up on the outside or in the slot. He can play man or zone coverage. He can track wide receivers downfield and he can also come up and make stops on run plays. With the slew of defensive back talent that SU currently has on its hands with the likes of Andre Cisco, Trill Williams and Ifeatu Melifonwu only entering their sophomore seasons, the more versatile a DB can be coming in, the more likely that they’ll have an opportunity to play right away.

He’s not rated yet by any of the major recruiting services, but McBurrows has potential and boasts offers from Tennessee, Pitt, NC State, Baylor and Kentucky among others. Competition for his talents will be stiff, but if SU can entice up to Central New York then he could just make an impact in the secondary.

OT Julian Armella, Class of 2022

The prize of this entire set of offers from Aquinas comes in the form of the youngest of the bunch. Like Opalsky and McBurrows, Armella is unrated by 247Sports, ESPN or Rivals, but all you have to do is look at his list of offers to realize just how good this kid is.

That list includes Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State just to name a few of the powerhouses. That’s the kind of offer list a five-star senior might put together by the time all is said and done, but then you have to realize that this guy is a rising sophomore, pegging him somewhere in the range of 14-15 years old. He is elite and he is a special young talent.

A rare freshman starter for Aquinas last year, Armella is a monstrous human being at 6-foot-6, 292 pounds. Again, he’s only 14 or 15 years old. That certainly helps him out because the physicality and nastiness he plays with are readily apparent when you watch him play. He gets off the line pretty quickly and immediately engages with his target. He finishes blocks and has the athleticism to get to the second level.

It’s pretty easy to understand why his coaches had the trust in him to protect his QB’s blindside as a true freshman and Armella is going to be a really special player down the line. It’s not going to be easy to wrestle him away from the nation’s elite, but if Syracuse can find a way to sink its teeth into Armella and get him throwing blocks in the Dome, Dino won’t have to worry about his QB’s blindside with Armella protecting it.

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.


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