Andrew Rector and JoeJuan Williams both know they have a lot to live up to.
With the attention the Father Ryan defensive backs have drawn on the recruiting trail – Rector verbally accepting a scholarship offer from Wake Forest, Williams considering offers from seven Southeastern Conference schools and five other potential Top 25 programs – plenty of eyes will be on them on Friday nights over the next few months.
“Both of them have always had abilities,” veteran Ryan coach Bruce Lussier said. “They’ve finally gotten the recognition. They’re guys that can make some plays, that you have to be aware of where they are on the field.”
Rector, a 6-1, 185-pound senior safety, was primarily an FCS/mid-major recruit (with offers from UT-Martin, New Mexico State and Western Kentucky) before committing to Wake Forest last month.
“People are going to test you, but players are going to play,” said Rector, who started at cornerback for the Irish as a sophomore before moving inside last fall and responding with 38 total tackles, six interceptions and four breakups. “I don’t see (committing) as something extra. You’ve got to be able to play with it.”
Williams spent much of his sophomore season playing junior varsity, but caught the Ryan coaching staff’s attention with a 45-yard interception return against McCallie and made college staffs take notice with his performance in offseason camps and combines.
“When the In Full Motion camp came up in May, I showed out,” the 6-2, 200-pounder said. “The day after, I got (offered by) Tennessee, then Ole Miss, then Kentucky, and it just rolled from there.
“I didn’t get to show much of what I can do (last year). That’s why I’m hyped for this season, to show what I can do and why I’ve got all these offers.”
The two, along with safety Jack Shoulders and cornerback Marcus Dean, provide the Irish with a unit that gives Lussier some confidence heading into the season.
“Our secondary is probably the strong point of our defense,” he said.
“Andrew’s a three-year starter in a tough league. We kinda threw him out there to the wolves as a sophomore, but he has a tremendously competitive nature and he was out there battling. Safety’s a more natural position for him. He runs well, he competes well and he understands the game.
“JoeJuan has a God-given gift in his size, and when you put his skill set, his running ability with that – he’s got some tools that a lot of kids don’t have. We understand his abilities. It’s our responsibility to keep him grounded and to continue to develop those abilities. If we can continue to do that, I think he’ll have the opportunity to pick where he wants to go.”
Reach Maurice Patton at 615-259-8018 and on Twitter @mopatton_sports.
Division II-AA, East/Middle at a glance
Best team: Ensworth. Winners of four straight DII-AA titles, it’s tough to pick against the Tigers for a fifth as they return 25 of the players that were on the two-deep depth chart for the championship game.
Best player: Rico McGraw, WR/DB, Ensworth. McGraw will see time primarily at cornerback and receiver, but will also get snaps at safety and at running back – as well as a returner on special teams.
Best game: Brentwood Acad. at Ensworth, Oct. 31. The two teams have met seven times since 2009, with Ensworth winning six of those – including a 21-12 decision in last year’s semifinals, after BA won 36-10 to close the regular season.
Surprise team: Father Ryan. The Irish may have peaked a little early last season — defeating Brentwood Academy in Week 3 but going 4-4 the rest of the way – but could be a factor in this year’s region race.