Maybe they start at Suitland High, where All-Met linebacker Navorro Bowman has become a must-see attraction for college football recruiters. Or perhaps they begin just up Pennsylvania Avenue at Forestville High, home to lineman Antonio Logan-El. Or even down Branch Avenue to Gwynn Park, where lineman Phil Taylor and a handful of teammates continue to draw crowds.
All around Prince George's County, high school football coaches have grown accustomed to hosting their college counterparts on recruiting trips. There is little question that the area has become known for producing players, but this season could be unlike any other.
Nearly 20 seniors at county schools already have received college football scholarship offers, many of them from the nation's top programs. Bowman spent last weekend at Penn State, and Logan-El at the University of Oklahoma. Taylor plans to go to Penn State this weekend. Gwynn Park linebacker Adrian Moten and defensive back Rashad Carmichael have accepted scholarship offers to Maryland and Virginia Tech, respectively, and other Yellow Jacket players are being recruited, too. Douglass already has three players who have made college commitments: defensive back Matt Reid to Syracuse, wide receiver Marcus Barnett to Cincinnati and linebacker T.J. Cole to Towson. Eleanor Roosevelt's Travon Bellamy and Nico Scott, as well as Charles Smith of C.H. Flowers, are being recruited. And what about DeMatha, which annually produces about a dozen college recruits? Offensive lineman Ryan Bartholomew was the first Stag to commit this season, to Syracuse.
That this is a remarkably deep season for county football talent is undeniable. The question is whether this is a one-time wonder or whether the intense level of scrutiny is here to stay. After all, last season's top recruit in the nation was Eleanor Roosevelt's Derrick Williams, and that also attracted attention for the county.
"We've never had anything like this," Forestville Coach Charles Harley said. But Eleanor Roosevelt Coach Rick Houchens said, "I don't think it's really an unusually big year. I think our county is progressing. It's a continuation from what's been established the last five years or so. College coaches know this is a talent hotbed. It's starting to be recognized that way nationally. It's nice for us because we know if kids do what they need to in the classroom, they're going to be in" college.
Another question is whether the talent has been here all along. Houchens and others believe that two key factors have helped increase the number of football recruits in the county: the prominence of springtime NFL High School Player Development camps and coaches becoming savvy in marketing their players to colleges, sending out more highlight tapes sooner and registering for elite camps.
The county's NFL camp takes place the first week of May, just in time for the college spring recruiting period. Unlike other similar events, where players are simply measured on their athletic ability, this camp provides an opportunity for colleges to see players in football drills. Houchens said that nearly 400 players took part this year.
"Coaches are aware what a kid needs to improve, whether it's their bench press, their 40, pro agility," Suitland Coach Nick Lynch said. "Then you look at the NFL combine and that's a different area, because the coaches can come out and see the kids run around. We're only in T-shirts and shorts, but a coach can visualize and see a kid out there running and see his athleticism."
Also playing a role in the rise of overall players and elite prospects could be an increase in the number of top athletes playing football. Basketball generally is considered the sport of choice for most children and teens in the county, both for its popularity and the ease with which one can play the game. All you need is a ball and a hoop.
Many basketball players in the past opted not to play football, but that is changing. Two of the county's most heavily recruited players in recent years were Eleanor Roosevelt linemen Derrick Harvey and Jared Gaither, both of whom Houchens recruited off the school's basketball team.
"Gaither was a great example of a kid who was a good high school basketball player, but he's going to be a major college football player," Houchens said. "Derrick Harvey wasn't even a starter in basketball."
Gaither initially accepted a basketball scholarship from South Carolina, then changed his mind and took a football offer from Maryland, where he is a freshman. Harvey gave up basketball to focus on football and now he is slated to start at defensive end for Florida. Their success, and that of others from the county, such as NFL players LaMont Jordan of Suitland (now with the Raiders) and Shawne Merriman of Douglass (Chargers), influences younger players to pick up the sport, according to Earl Hawkins, the county school system's supervisor of athletics.
Bowman, who until the spring said he was unsure what sport he wanted to play in college, gave up competitive basketball so he could attend summer school and prepare to graduate early from high school, forgoing his senior basketball season. Logan-El, too, was a basketball player -- until one day early in his freshman year.
"Coach Harley just happened to come into the gym, going down to the weight room and he said, 'Hey, big fella, do you play football?' " Logan-El said.
Logan-El had played when he was younger but soon grew too big for his age group. He had given it up in favor of playing basketball.
"More kids can play basketball than they can play football because it's easier to play basketball than it is to play football," Logan-El said. "Pick up a ball and try to throw it in a hole."
Taylor also was a basketball player when he was younger, though he said he was never interested in playing for Gwynn Park because of a team rule that players must have short hair.
This season, two more basketball players are trying football. Parkdale is using Larry McKinney as a defensive end and Fairmont Heights is using 6-foot-6 Nasir Austin at the same position. Both players' football coaches believe they could end up getting football scholarship offers. Austin's basketball coach agrees that the player might be better off at football -- even though his first organized game will not be until Friday at Bethesda-Chevy Chase.
"He's a 6-6 kid whose outside game is okay but needs to be developed," Fairmont Heights basketball coach George Wake said, adding that Austin is receiving mid-major college interest in basketball. "But you put 6-6 kids on the defensive line, that's a different story. I watched him in a scrimmage and he can play. Watching a guy his size, you are worried about whether he wants contact or if he's afraid of people being at his legs, but he's a slam-bang football player."
Harley believes it's a trend that could continue.
"There are 21 schools in the county, and in any year you might get five Division I basketball scholarships; in football, one team might get five. You have to be a horse to get a Division I basketball scholarship. These basketball guys play AAU all year round, and they've got people telling them pipe dreams. They go to these camps and think basketball is going to be in their future. But when they see the success I have getting cats in school [for football], they're fighting to come out."