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March 16, 2010Wicomico High coach Dave Nettles admits he's not entirely used to Division I colleges calling him every day. After all, WiHi, a Bayside Conference school, isn't exactly a recruiting hotbed.
But when a 6-foot-5, 205-pound wide receiver is enrolled, people start to take notice.
"The recruiters are driving me crazy right now," Nettles said. "North Carolina called to offer and Penn State, Michigan, Syracuse and Rutgers are all on him pretty hard.
Everyone is trying to get to him and I'm trying to keep it even keel."
Penn State and Michigan? Now that's the real deal.
So who exactly is this 6-5, 205 gem from the Eastern Shore?
His name is Tyjae Blackwell , and he's the best prospect out of Wicomico since quarterback Wayne Warren went to Rutgers three years ago.
Blackwell, a quiet, unassuming kid from Salisbury, can't believe it. College coaches - yes actual college coaches - want him to attend their school.
"I was shocked at first," Blackwell said. "I'm getting e-mails, I'm getting called out of weight lifting during school to talk to these guys.
"I never would have thought I could go to a DI college. Especially the ones you see on TV all the time."
Blackwell has always been a big kid with tons of potential, but it wasn't until last year that he started to show it. In his freshman year he was a tall, skinny corn stalk who didn't make varsity. So he played tight end on jayvee and rarely caught the ball in a run-first offense. In his sophomore year he moved up to varsity and lined up at wide receiver. But he didn't exactly dazzle anyone with highlight-reel catches.
Last year, however, he matured, added muscle and worked on his route running. By the fall, he became a full-time starter. Blackwell hauled in 26 passes for 449 yards and three touchdowns. Not to mention he had six interceptions as a free safety.
Apparently Blackwell surprised even himself.
"I didn't have any idea I would perform this well," he said.
Nettles, however, could see the explosion coming. He reveled in the kid's size and hands during offseason workouts. Then he made him his go-to receiver during the season.
"He's unreal," Nettles said. "He has the size, he catches everything, he blocks, he runs. He's the full package. Whenever he was on the field he's making plays."
Nettles went on to say Blackwell has the softest hands he has ever seen. There were moments last year when he would leap over two defenders and snatch balls right off their helmets. Other times he'd bring down a jump ball with defenders draped all over him.
His most memorable play, however, came against Snow Hill when he caught his first high school touchdown pass. On a third-and-eight from around midfield, Wicomico sent Blackwell on a fly down the seam. The quarterback threw it up and Blackwell made the catch over top a smaller defender. Then he shook off a tackler, turned upfield and ran into the end zone.
"That was my first touchdown and I was just going crazy," Blackwell said. "I started running around the back of the end zone. I put my hands up and pointed my fingers like I was No. 1."
Blackwell may have been "No. 1" in the Bayside, but it's not like he was going against DeMatha every week. Indeed, there are concerns about how he'll do against superior competition in college. Perhaps that's why he's getting a ton of recruiting interest but not many firm offers yet.
"Down here, except for a couple games, he's going against people who are 5-foot 7," Nettles said. "It would be nice to see him go against top competition every week."
Blackwell acknowledges the Bayside defenders are subpar. Therefore, he's hoping to make an impression at junior days and camps where the competition will be much tougher.
"I have to go out and prove myself at these camps," Blackwell said. "But I think I'll be do well there. I just got to bring my 'A' game and I'll be OK."
Scouts will undoubtedly have a few criticisms. For a guy who's 6-5, he's still awfully thin, so he has to hit the weight room hard. More importantly he must improve his 4.7 40-yard dash time, something he's working on this offseason.
"He has all the tools [scouts] are looking for, but with a big receiver sometimes it takes a while to get that pop," Nettles said. "And by 'pop' I mean that fast-twitch muscle that let's receivers explode off the ball. He's still maturing and once he gets that he'll be fine."
Regardless of whether he develops now or in the future, some major schools are bound to take a long, hard look. They'll see the size and the potential, give him a scholarship, red-shirt him for a year and watch him grow.
"I'm dedicated and I'm willing to do what I have to do to play at [the Division I] level," Blackwell said. "I'm ready for it."
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