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2023 Star Search: Week 2 College Football Standouts

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QB Standouts

Sam Hartman, Notre Dame (25 att / 15 comp / 286 yds / 4 TD)

Sam Hartman’s story is one of finding sentimental value in life's struggles. From the necklace his mother made out of his own rib which was removed to alleviate the pressure of scar tissue that had built up in his shoulder from a thyroid surgery when he was 16 and was causing blood clots, to the jersey no. 10 that he wears in memory of Demitri Allison, whom the Hartman family brought into their home when Sam was in middle school. Allison was a football player and closely bonded with the Hartman boys. He would go on to play football for Elon and always wore the no. 10, but would sadly take his own life at just 21 years old in November, 2015.

The following weekend, Sam would lead his HS, Davidson Day (NC) to the State Championship donning the number 10. Hartman's game has a level of calm to it that speaks to his embracing and integrating life's tragedies into his identity. He owns it and rolls with it.

Hartman enrolled at Wake Forest as a 3-star recruit in 2018, and aside from a redshirt season in 2019 would hold that distinction until transferring to Notre Dame in ‘23. While the numbers won't say it, he’s coming off a rough outing vs NC State where he has always struggled playing (1-2 record, 6 TD - 6 INT while at Wake Forest). He has gambled on himself having a future with this game by transferring to Notre Dame and so far has elevated the position relative to recent history for the Irish. He has an accurate deep ball and a nice touch on his throws that go well with his willingness to throw over the middle. He plays mistake-free football so far as turnovers are concerned, but there are moments where you'll wish he had a little more gusto for cutting the ball loose. One area of improvement to monitor closely is how he does under pressure.

Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma (27 att / 19 comp / 176 yds / 4 TD)

The Sooner southpaw has had a winding college career, enrolling at UCF, transferring to UCLA, and then to OU. A 3-star prospect from Mililani, HI, he’s in the same company as Caleb Williams, Sam Hartman, and Quinn Ewers for being toward the top of the TD leaderboards while having not thrown an interception in 2023. What stands out with Gabriel is his methodical and deliberate nature as a passer, being poised and capable of working the offense down the field in smaller chunks. He has a clean throwing motion, his feet have no wasted movement or heel-clicking, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders when facing the blitz. He won’t climb into upper-round consideration for the draft, but if he keeps this up, he’ll be a name that folks start appreciating more come draft season.

RB Standouts

Carson Steele (18 att / 84 yds / 1 TD / 1 tgt / 1 rec / 5 yds)

Steele is another returning profile in 2023 that I mentioned in the 2022 Star Search series. While at Ball State, Steele - an unranked recruit from Greenwood, IN - was 10th in college football for rushing yards and first in yards after contact for 2022. He has since transferred to UCLA and has assumed the starting role in a backfield rotation for the Bruins with his big, physical style of running having made the transition to the higher level of competition. I’d like to see him continue to work on his pass blocking, as his hands and base could both use improvement in consistency at the attack point. Otherwise, the move has paid off and he looks like a quick player who has the size and speed to make poor tackling prove fatal for a defense. Only two games in and it's almost as if he's been playing against the elevated competition all along.

Rasheen Ali (18 att / 85 yds / 3 TD / 3 tgt / 3 rec / 39 yds)

While his name has gone under the radar after taking some time off at the beginning of 2022 for a mental break, it wasn’t that long ago - 2021 - that he finished tied with Tyler Allgeier for the most rushing touchdowns (23) in college football. Ali looks the part of an NFL running back at 6’ 210 and he possesses the home run speed and quickness that serve as benchmarks to the running back eye-test.

What I especially enjoy about his game is that he can get the tough yards against a defense that decides to align a man in every gap, or he can get around the edge and accelerate past and through the secondary for a big gain. His game is multifaceted and much of it is well served by his time spent as a boxer in his youth - I'll refrain from the float like a butterfly and sting like a bee remarks that his very name and play style tempts. He’s a player I’d like to see transfer to a bigger program to aid his draft stock, as so much of the modern prospect economy seems to have changed overnight towards that expectation for talented players who are at “lower” levels of competition. Regardless, if he hangs tight and stays at Marshall I still look at him being a drafted player for the NFL.

WR Standouts

Brian Thomas Jr. (7 tgt / 6 rec / 78 yds / 2 TD)

Listed at 6’4 205, the LSU Tigers wideout was a 4-star recruit for the class of 2021. His size is immediately apparent, towering over any player at a given snap, and his footwork along the sideline and in other tight situations really speaks to his athleticism. With an ADOT of 13.1, it's important to note his game isn’t some high-flying, college gimmickery, but that Thomas has in him a scrappy fighter who will spin and drive through contact, generating extra yardage vs. soft tackling as an underneath option.

Gage Larvadian (12 tgt / 8 rec / 274 yds / 3 TD)

An unranked recruit for the class of 2021, Larvadian is a 5’10 165 lb slot receiver for Miami of Ohio. In watching his game against UMass, his suddenness and speed off of the line make him an unguardable nightmare for defensive backs, requiring the defense to allocate extra resources to prevent him from breaking a game open. At this level of competition, he’s a machine and he seems to know it, and thus I have concerns it might hinder his growth as a route runner. He’s another player who I believe could make the jump if he transferred (again) to a bigger program that could help give his route running the necessary refinement for a strong bid at making an NFL roster in a couple of years.

TE Standouts

Luke Lachey (6 att / 3 ren / 58 yds)

A 3-star recruit from Columbus, Ohio, Lachey steps in as the Hawkeyes tight end after Sam La Porta left for the Detroit Lions. Lachey has the same qualities about him that I found in La Porta, that although they are on teams that haven’t had good quarterbacks, their game still finds a way to shine through in the details and grit of securing catches through tight windows for tough yards. Be it their ability to spin or drive for the extra couple yards to move the chains, or to haul in a pass while double-covered on a route that the QB stared down from the snap, Lachey will be another great Iowa Hawkeye tight end.

His size is massive - 6’6 253 lbs - but he has the athleticism to detach from the formation and meet the requirements of the modern college game, accessing the intermediate levels of the field on posts, digs, and corner routes. He also possesses soft hands that offer a wide catch radius and can bail his quarterback out on any poorly targeted throw. Like with La Porta, it’s never going to be about massive multi-touchdown days, but in how the player handles the details of their job, route running, blocking, and catching. Lachey had a strong year working in tandem with La Porta, he looks to continue that work in 2023.

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