(Welcome to our second of two stories on the Simon Fraser Clan football program and the incoming class of recruits announced today as part of NCAA National Letter of Intent Day. This story will focus on the defence and open by featuring a versatile lineman from New Westminster)
BURNABY — Thomas Ford has a pretty simple eye test and the head coach of the Simon Fraser Clan trusts it more than anything else when he’s watching a potential prospect.
Not that being named a Subway Bowl B.C. Triple A all-star or a coveted Top 100 player nationally by Canada Football Chat is anything to ever ignore.
But it seems that every time Ford found himself at a high school game watching Evan Nolli, the New Westminster Hyacks versatile 6-foot-3, 250-pound two-way lineman in person, one thing kept happening over and over again.
“All of those other things mattered a lot less than what we saw on the field and we watched him three or four times in person this past season,” Ford said during Wednesday’s National Letter of Intent signing day, explaining the machinations involved in scouting a player who might just top his incoming 12-man defensive recruiting class.
(Fully half of the Clan’s 12-man defensive class hails from the B.C. high school football system. See the full list of SFU’s incoming football recruits below)
“What I noticed most was that it didn’t matter what position on the field he was playing, whether he was inside, outside, even playing linebacker, he was always around the football,” the coach continued. “A high motor. Physical. Loves the game. He truly loves football, and that is what we love about him the most.”
While last season’s Clan team allowed its share of yards and points during a campaign which ended with a 1-9 record, there were so many moments in which it was able to string together the stops which gave its offence a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
Ford is hopeful that a player like Nolli, with his versatility and athletic ability, will be able to anchor a new level of performance along the defensive line.
“He’s a man of few words, really unassuming but in terms of being a playmaker on defence, I don’t know if we got a better one in this class,” Ford added.
The prospect of joining a re-building program did not scare off Nolli, who has always had a way of looking at situations with a deeper, broader perspective, even when those situations were specifically impacted him.
“He was a tight end in our program in Grade 10,” remembers Hyacks’ head coach Farhan Lalji. “We had a conversation after the year, and I told him that my job was to make sure he was not only playing the best position for us, but also for him. I told him he could be a tight end with moderate speed or he could be a really fast lineman. He has super soft hands, he was a great blocker and he scored touchdowns as a tight end. And all young kids want to play tight end.”
Nolli’s response to what became a request to change positions for the betterment of all?
“Sure coach, no problem.”
In a lot of ways, that wide-angle view of the future opened his eyes to benefits of pushing outside of his comfort zone. You could even say it helped him find his place with the Clan.
“It made me who I am because playing all of those positions taught me so many new techniques,” said Nolli, who seems like a candidate to get his first post-secondary reps at defensive end. “Like when I played linebacker this past season, learning coverages was something new, and it even helped me recognize, judge and get a better feel for where all the lineman are and how gaps can open.”
Lalji said that the attentive individual nature of the Clan coaches to their recruits really resonated with Nolli.
“When coach Ford tried to sell his vision, Evan didn’t just hear, he listened,” said Lalji. “I think that he and a guy like (quarterback Gideone) Kremler really connected with him.”
Nolli will be joined in the freshman class by a pair of other defensive linemen in Christian Butenschoen, a 6-foot-2, 270-pounder out of Bellingham High, and Brandon Kennedy, 6-foot-1, 295-pounder from Ford’s former head coach posting of Tacoma’s Stadium High via Reedley College just outside of Fresno, Cal.
Here’s a look at how several other recruits will impact positional groups along the Clan defence in 2019:
As is the case at several positions on the Clan roster, a relatively small group of four linebackers joins a holdover group which has as many as 11 combined rising sophomores and juniors returning.
Three B.C. high school products, all inside linebackers are highlighted here in Abbotsford’s 6-foot-2, 220-pound Luke Szmutko, 6-foot-1, 195-pound Mahyar Hosseini of North Vancouver’s Carson Graham, and Justice Kremler, at 5-foot11, 230 pounder who returns to the Clan after spending last season with the Vancouver Islander Raiders.
“I thought that Luke was one of the most under-rated players in B.C,” says Ford. “I can remember watching Abbotsford play New West, and they were getting whipped, like 40-7. But I couldn’t help notice how Luke played as hard as he could from the first snap to the last. That solidified me wanting him in this year’s class. He has a high motor, he’s physical, and he can run.”
As far as Hosseini goes, Ford again trusted the eye test.
“Mahyar, that’s my guy because No. 1, he loves to hit people,” said Ford. “Watching on film, you can tell he has a rugby background because when he hits people, they go down. He has great speed and burst inside the tackles, but also sideline-to-sideline. And then he’s got this attitude, this energy. He has got such an energy about him.”
A pair of Washington prospects come in as outside backers in 6-foot-1, 215-pound Darrion Smith from Enumclaw, and 6-foot-1, 205-pound Ian Crocker from Seattle’s Ballard High.
Jerrell Cummings opened his senior season with Vancouver’s Notre Dame Secondary on the injured list, but when he returned at mid-season to line-up as both a defensive back and receiver, he was impossible to miss.
“It’s funny, “ begins Ford. “We had him as the top corner (in B.C.) this season but he battled injuries early and he was worried we wouldn’t see him. I told him ‘Jerrell, you’re crazy if you think we don’t want you.’”
Ford studied Cummings at last summer’s Team B.C. tryouts and loved not only his on-field talent, but the way in which he invested himself in the team’s overall well-being as a leader and communicator.
There is a crowded field of returning talent at this positional group, one that played above the GNAC average against the pass.
Cummings will be joined by Zairech Kremler, the 5-foot-11, 170 pounder from Mt. Douglas who initially projects as a safety with the versatility to go in any number of directions.
Other newcomers include Peyton Reed, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound corner from Kenmore, Wash’s Inglemoor High and Roman Casey, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder out of Bonney Lake (Wash.) High.
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