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Pope John’s Izzo is Big-Time prospect
Jun 09, 2013


SPARTA — Pope John's Ryan Izzo is a polite, well-spoken, hard-working high
school kid.
But in the eyes of USC's Lane Kiffin and other big-time college
football coaches, Izzo is a beast.


Izzo, a Pope John tight end, is blowing up on the national recruiting board.
Though the Lions junior didn't get his first Division I football offer until March,
he had 19 as of the middle of last week.


Izzo even got three in one day. The Wednesday after Memorial Day,
Izzo received offers from Southern Cal, Florida State and Wisconsin.


"That's not a bad day for a 17-year-old," Pope John's head football
coach Brian Carlson said.

"It was just crazy," Izzo recalled of his D-I trifecta. "Definitely a day to remember.
I think it was Florida State at like three o'clock. And then right after our workout,
I talked to the coach from USC (Kiffin) on the phone, and then I got that (offer).
And then later in the night, actually on my way home, I got another call
from Wisconsin.

"My head was spinning. It was kind of surreal."

When the offers came in from Florida State and Wisconsin, Izzo dealt with assistant coaches. He spoke to Seminoles tight end coach Tim Brewster and Badgers running backs coach Thomas Hammock, each of whom is a recruiting coordinator for his respective school.


When dealing with USC, though, Izzo spoke directly to Kiffin, who has also been a head coach with the Oakland Raiders and the University of Tennessee. Having a phone chit-chat with a coach of Kiffin's stature was quite the experience for a Sussex County teenager.

"It was USC, he's a big-name coach," Izzo said. "He was a really down-to-earth guy. It was really good talking to him. He was cool."


Carlson spoke to Kiffin as well, and recalled what Kiffin told him about Izzo.

" ‘That kid has the potential to be in the NFL,' " Carlson recounted.

If Izzo somehow doesn't get to play on Sundays, laziness won't be the reason. His willingness to bust a gut for whomever his coach happens to be, his willingness to put in the hours regardless of when they are or how many they are, his continued humility, even when Division I schools are competing for his services, has scouts drooling from Blacksburg to L.A.

Izzo's physical skills don't hurt either.

"He's 6-6, 218 now, almost 220," Carlson said. "He plays well in space. Tough kid. He can block the edge. So college guys love him."

Which is why he keeps attracting more and more buzz. When Izzo received his first Division I offer from Virginia Tech in March, the offers for Lions junior Noah Brown had already cracked the double-digit mark. Izzo has since almost caught up to his teammate.

Brown — primarily a running back and wide receiver — is obviously no slouch. Since the Herald reported in May that Brown had gotten an offer from Notre Dame, he has added Ohio State to his list. And a scout from Alabama has expressed interest in both players. Aside from Izzo and Brown, freshman quarterback Sonny Abramson and junior lineman Noa Merrit have D-I offers. Senior lineman Seamus Ryan is bound for Marist.

The scouts are coming out, looking to reel a Pope John kid or two into their programs. Carlson remembers a rainy, mind-boggling day in particular, when his players were working out on the Pope John football field. "One Friday, we had Ohio State here, Alabama here and USC here, on the side of the gate, all watching," Carlson said. "We're so used to it now — Michigan State, Indiana, Minnesota, whatever. But when those three schools (Ohio State, Alabama and USC) are all lined up on the same day, you're saying something."

Carlson thinks Pope John's high academic standards make his players more marketable to prospective scouts and coaches. "No one's floating by here, you've got to work," said Carlson, who will begin his third season as Lions head coach in September. "Colleges are looking for the whole package."

They've found it in Izzo, who was once a quarterback at Vernon, perhaps the heir-apparent to Vikings standout signal-caller Matt Soltes, who is now smashing national records at Division II East Stroudsburg University. Izzo transferred to Pope John halfway through his freshman year, shortly before Carlson replaced legend Vic Paternostro as Lions coach.

Though Izzo was a quarterback, Carlson saw him and the tight end position as a hand-to-glove fit in the spread offense.
Izzo — a 2012 All-Herald first-team offensive selection — hasn't minded the switch.

"I guess what I most like about the tight end position are the options I have," Izzo said. "With my body type, I can abuse the corner or go against a linebacker who's bigger and slower. So it just creates a lot of opportunities for me."

Especially playing the position in Carlson's offense. "The good news with our system — colleges use it," Carlson said.
"It helps colleges say, ‘That's the system we run, that's the kid we need. We don't have to convert him.' I tell the guys who come in (for recruiting), ‘If you're looking for a tight end that's 20 pounds away from being a left tackle, it's not Ryan.'"

So when Izzo comes to a TV screen near you in the fall of 2014, he will likely be hauling in passes from the tight end position. But for which program? Izzo will have to choose from a lot of rich traditions.

Just thinking of the maroon USC uniforms with the gold Trojan on the helmets conjurs up images of Marcus Allen streaking down the L.A. Coliseum field or Carson Palmer lofting a pass into the end zone. There's also plenty of history attached to some of the other schools on Izzo's list of suitors. Florida State's Charlie Ward scrambling for a score, Wisconsin's Ron Dayne barreling toward the Heisman, Virginia Tech's Bruce Smith in hot pursuit of an opposing quarterback are vivid images, too.

All the Division I offers may seem like an embarrassment of riches, but they also make for a gut-wrenching decision, one that Izzo isn't close to reaching.

"There are too many schools for me to tell right now," he said. "From what I've been told, a lot of the schools that are interested in me, some of them use their tight ends for blocking. But a lot of them use them for how they use me here, more of a versatile tight end. I play multiple positions — slot, tight end. I'm just looking forward to learning about them (the schools) and then getting to know basically what school utilizes me the most."