H.S. Football: With more than 20 big-time offers, Pope John’s Izzo selects Florida St.
By PETER STEIN
For months now, Division I college football has been calling Ryan Izzo's name.
As early as next year, Brent Musberger might be calling it, too.
Izzo, a Vernon resident and Pope John senior tight end, committed Monday to play for Florida State. His recruiting journey began just last March with an offer from Virginia Tech. Then, after a flurry of more than 20 big-time offers, Izzo picked the Seminoles.
Izzo will play for the alma mater of wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, the Super Bowl XI MVP and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Izzo can only hope for that kind of success. For now, he is just trying to carefully make his way off Cloud Nine.
"I think for me, it's a little surreal," Izzo said Tuesday night. "The recruiting process started off slow for me. Now that I've gone through it, now that I've experienced it all and it's come to an end and I know which college, it's a little surreal. But it feels good to have it over and be able to focus on my (Pope John) team now."
Izzo is zoned in on helping the Lions win a state championship. But knowing he will be part of college football royalty, playing for a Seminoles team that gets regular coverage by Musberger on ABC, and other networks, that's about as cool as it gets.
"No doubt," Izzo said. "It's one of the best times of my life."
Izzo had just paid an official visit to Florida State the weekend before last, getting pitched in person by head coach Jimbo Fisher and tight ends coach Tim Brewster. That trip to Tallahassee closed the deal.
"I loved the game atmosphere," Izzo said, "but overall, just getting to meet Coach Brewster, Coach Fisher, getting to talk to them. I really trusted them and so did my family. And I just felt like it was the right fit for me in the future."
That feeling was mutual. Fisher — who has guided Florida State since taking over for longtime head coach Bobby Bowden in 2010 — thought Izzo was a good fit for the Seminoles. "He said they need a tight end to come in and play early," Izzo said. "So my goal is to go in there my freshman year and contribute. ... He has me in the (Florida State) offense just like Pope John, kind of moving the tight end around, using him to create mismatches and create havoc for the defense."
Brewster may give Izzo the most insight on how to do that. Brewster, after all, has more in common with Izzo, having himself been a New Jersey tight end prospect, coming out of Phillipsburg High School in the early '80s.
Brewster played college ball for Illinois, and was cut in training camp by the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles before launching a career in coaching that has included NFL stints with the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. While coaching the Charger tight ends, Brewster was credited with turning undrafted free agent Antonio Gates into a Pro Bowler.
"He's worked with a lot of great tight ends," Izzo said of Brewster. "He's had a lot of success with tight ends in the past. ... So just being able to talk to him and have him say so much good stuff about me, I just have a great relationship with him so far and I feel like the sky's the limit with him."
Izzo, like Brewster, will be a hybrid player, getting some time at wide receiver. Wherever he plays, Izzo will have come a long way from 2011, when he was a quarterback transfer from Vernon around the time Brian Carlson was taking over as Pope John's head football coach.
"We moved him over to the H-spot," Carlson recalled, "and it all worked from there. ... We kind of knew what we were looking for. With the H-spot, we create a lot of mismatches; it's got to be a kid that can play as a tight end, a kid that can play as a slot, a kid who is a wide receiver. So I saw his athleticism, I saw his size. He wasn't 6-6, 230 like he is now, but he was a good 6-4, 185, 190. And he just kept on working and he had good skills. And we talked and I told him it would be best for him in the long run. And he bought into it and so did his family. They supported it.
"He moved over there (to the H-spot) and worked his butt off and now he's a full scholarship kid going to Florida State. It's a good testament to him. Sometimes kids don't want to make a change."
For Izzo, change was good, it propelled him to the big time. He says Carlson helped immeasurably along the way, took a lot of pressure off him during the recruiting process, as did the Izzo family.
Izzo's victory is their victory, too. His success is their success. And if he gets to be 250 or 260 pounds, which Carlson predicts, Izzo's success could eventually be played out on Sundays.
That's a long way off, though. Right now, there's a ride still to be enjoyed.
"Everything's going well," Izzo said. "I'm just hoping everything in the future keeps going as well as it is right now."