The difference between watching Eyabi Anoma in the season opener last fall for St. Frances (Baltimore) and in the finale against a nationally ranked opponent was the difference between him being an unranked recruit and the No. 8 prospect in the Class of 2018 by ESPN.
Anoma made that big of a jump in his first full season of playing football in his first year at St. Frances after being a basketball player. Posting 24 sacks and more than 60 tackles didn’t hurt.
“I called St. Frances early last season in their second game and the coaches talked about his upside; he was kind of quiet,” said ESPN national recruiting analyst Craig Haubert. “Toward the end of the season in early December, I got his film and watched him and I thought I was watching a completely different player. He had the time to find his footing and get comfortable. Once he did, he just exploded.”
That includes on the recruiting scene. The 6-5, 230-pound defensive end has offers from Alabama, Maryland, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, South Carolina and many others. He plans to visit Alabama this spring and is hoping to arrange trips to UCLA and USC, among others.
“It just kinda happened,” he said of his quick escalation. “I’ve always been a competitor. Anything I do I never want to just be OK. I want to be the best.
“I’m still playing basketball, but as a basketball player, I had a couple of offers from some DIIs, but playing football, I found immediate high DI offers.”
Anoma, who spoke with USA TODAY Sports on his way to a basketball event in North Carolina, said he always had a passion for football, but didn’t think he would get much out of playing for his former school so he only played basketball. The coaches assured him things would be different at St. Frances.
Anoma said his recruiting picked up as the season went along and he got more exposure, although he seems unconcerned about where he stands.
“I’m not following my rankings,” he said. “It’s good to have, but I’m more worried about how our team is going to look and how we’re going to perform as a whole. I’m not really worried about individual stats or numbers right now.
“Truth to be told, I’ll trade in all the rankings and all that for us to have beaten IMG last year. I really would.”
Clearly, the 38-0 loss to No. 2 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) sticks with Anoma even months later. It was IMG’s third consecutive shutout and fifth shutout in six games at the time on the Ascenders’ way to another perfect season. For St. Frances, it was the season finale and only the team’s second loss. The 38 points equaled the team’s season high in points allowed, matching the 38 against Paramus Catholic (N.J.) in a nationally televised game at Michigan Stadium.
Even in defeat, his performance against IMG’s roster of elite-level players impressed.
“After the IMG game, the offers really started going up,” he said. “The rankings came out a couple of weeks later. I didn’t know if I was going to be ranked at all.
“I think it was because of the motor that I showed that game. I have a consistent motor. If you come see me play in a few games, it’s not going to be I do really well in one game and I do really bad in another or one game I’m real hype and another game not hyped.
“I play all my games with the same intensity with urgency. I don’t take downs for granted. Even if the ball is away from me, I’m still running to the ball trying to make a play. Against IMG, the film shows I had a couple of tackles from the back. Had I been running half speed or taking a loaf, I wouldn’t have made the play but because I was running full speed, I was able to make the play.”
Anoma also understands that he has just scratched the surface on his football ability and the skills he needs to acquire to potentially be an elite edge rusher in college.
“My goals are to get faster, quicker, stronger, and getting more prepared for college,” he said. “This was really my first year of experience in some areas so I need to perfect those areas and make sure I have knowledge with them. I need to watch more film.
“A lot of times, I beat the tackle off the ball with my feet, speed and sometimes I don’t incorporate my hands. I got by them, but I would have gotten by them a little bit quicker and easier if I had used my hands more.”
In the newest ESPN rankings released Thursday, Anoma climbed to the No. 2 spot in the class of 2018, behind Clemson commit Xavier Thomas.
“For a player who was away from the game, he has a great feel for finding and getting to the football,” Haubert said. “He has good weight on his frame and got room to add more size. He is a rangy, explosive player with all the raw natural tools you look for an edge defender.
“I am sure glad he came back to play football. If he made those strides over the course of three months, very intrigued to see how he does entire offseason and year under belt.”