Sports

Anthony Russo and other young talent ready to fulfill untapped potential next fall

The 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes are poised for breakout seasons next fall.

One never really knows what a recruiting class will look like until a few years down the road.

Take for instance last year’s senior group, which was rated as the 84th-best recruiting class in the country coming out of high school in 2013. After helping complete one of the best stretches in program history, the group is likely to have a handful of players drafted in this weekend’s NFL draft, including defensive lineman Haason Reddick, now a projected first-round pick, who came to Temple as a walk-on.

When Matt Rhule penned two four-star recruits in 2015, including redshirt-sophomore defensive back Kareem Ali, he said the Owls were “recruiting with the big dogs.” Rhule was getting kids to choose Temple over traditional football powerhouses.

In 2016, Rhule backed that up by signing sophomore defensive lineman Karamo Dioubate, who Rivals ranked as the fifth-best player in Pennsylvania and No. 164 in the country. The class, which Rivals ranked second in the American Athletic Conference, also included redshirt-freshman quarterback Anthony Russo and sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Wright.

The talent from those classes could shine through this fall if the spring was any indication.

“They’ve got tremendous athletic ability,” coach Geoff Collins said earlier this spring. “The biggest thing we’re making sure with the younger group is they think they came here and you’re just supposed to win 10 games every year.”

“The guys that are juniors and seniors … they knew what it took in the off season, mentally and physically, the toughness and the physicality that’s needed here,” he added.  “We’re making sure those guys aren’t missing that piece.”

Some of those top recruits have already displayed why Rhule was so keen on them coming out of high school.

Junior running back Ryquell Armstead was the Owls’ second-highest rated running back in 2015 and quickly carved out a role in the Owls’ backfield, prompting the departure of former four-star recruit T.J. Simmons. Armstead ran for 919 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and will likely take on an even bigger workload after the departure of Jahad Thomas.

Junior defensive back Delvon Randall has also been a mainstay in the Owls’ secondary since his arrival on campus in 2015. He earned a single-digit number on Friday after being voted as one of the team’s toughest players. Randall switched from No. 23 to No. 2, debuting his new number at Saturday’s Cherry and White game.

Wright immediately became a weapon on offense last year, running plays out of the Wildcat formation and lining up at wideout to catch passes.

“We’re trying to just execute, come watch film, listen to the coaches because we’re young,” Randall said. “We’ve got some experience, but we don’t have as much experience as last year. So just keeping working day-by-day to get where we need to be.”

A good amount of the talent from those two classes, however, is still waiting to break through. Ali played four games last year before fracturing his elbow against Stony Brook University. Russo redshirted last year but is in the middle of a four-way quarterback competition this spring.

Junior running back Jager Gardner, who broke off a 94-yard touchdown run in his first career start against Southern Methodist in 2015, will likely see more carries as a complement to Armstead in the back field.

Redshirt-sophomore linebackers DaiShaun Grimes and Jeremiah Atoki both chose Temple over other schools in The American, and sophomore Will Kwenkeu had offers from Power 5 schools like the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Pittsburgh. The three will compete for time at linebacker this summer with the loss of three starters from last year’s team.

Dioubate, the most hyped talent of them all, played in 12 games as a freshman but only made five tackles.

“The young guys, we’re really starting to really understand the defense and really understand as a group how good we can really be,” Dioubate said.

Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue@temple.edu or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.

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