Darrien Howard a natural on defense

If it wasn't for Darrien Howard, Dayton (Ohio) Chaminade-Julienne linebacker Ja'mel Sanders might be the one with the Cincinnati offer instead of his junior linebacker mate.

"He steals all my tackles," Sanders said jokingly. "I'll be there to make the tackle and he sweeps in and takes my tackle.

"He's amazing on the field."

Howard is the Eagles' leader at defensive, physically and emotionally. Starting at middle linebacker, the junior directs the entire defense. Eagles coach Marcus Colvin said Howard is one of the smartest players he's ever coached and knows what everybody on the defense is supposed to be doing on a given play, not just himself.

Howard's dad may have been a skill position player back during his playing days at Akron, but the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Howard was born to play middle linebacker.

"Being able to move from sideline to sideline, it's like freedom," Howard said of playing inside. "I like being that close to the trenches, having to play with my hands, getting off blocks -- I love it.

"In seventh and eighth grade I played outside and I went back to middle. I liked outside, but dang I didn't like it that much."

Colvin said Howard is one of the most impressive athletes he has seen during his eight-year tenure as a coach at Julienne, where he started out as an assistant before being named the head coach this past April.

Prior to Howard's freshman season, the coaching staff took the Eagles to an off-site camp for a few days to kick off preseason practices. Before getting to the camp, the plan was to put Howard on the junior varsity team and let him adjust to the high school game. Howard was so physically imposing, though, that the coaching staff had to put Howard on the varsity team.

That is something very few players have ever done at Julienne, including former Eagles running back Javon Ringer, who starred at Michigan State and is now with the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

It didn't take long for Howard to prove to the staff he belonged on varsity, as he racked up double-digit tackles against a team three classifications higher than the Eagles.

When it comes to the actual game, Howard doesn't remember much from it. He still distinctly remembers his nerves before it, though.

"I couldn't sit still, my eyes were huge," Howard said with a smile. "I didn't know how to handle the pressure. So all I could do is what I was taught to do, and it worked out for me."

As if that isn't impressive enough, Howard won the team's defensive MVP award that season as a freshman.

"I've never had that," Colvin said.

He'll also be Colvin's first player as head coach to play at a BCS school. Cincinnati has already offered the Dayton product and some of the country's top programs have already begun mailing Howard. Colvin jokes about how his inbox is loaded every morning with letters with Howard's name on them from colleges.

Alabama, Florida, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Oregon are some of the programs already showing Howard a lot of interest. Howard will visit Alabama in the summer for its camp, and he will visit Cincinnati, Kentucky and Tennessee this fall.

With the exception of camps, Cincinnati is the only school Howard has already visited.

"I got a lot during spring practices, and it's very intense up there," Howard said. "The drills they do with the linebackers and their team, all the contact, I love it."

Indiana receiver skipping Nebraska visit for Ball State

Many of Nebraska's top targets for the Class of 2012 and 2013 will be in attendance for the Cornhuskers' first Big Ten home game, but Anthony Warrum will not be among them.

The Huskers invited the Heritage Christian (Indianapolis) junior receiver to Memorial Stadium for the Oct. 8 game against Ohio State, but with a game on Friday night, Warrum said the travel would just be too much.

Instead, Warrum will visit Ball State on Saturday for its game against Temple. Ball State, where Warrum's mother graduated, checked Warrum out during a playoff game in 2010, but other than that, he has little knowledge of the program.

A number of Midwest schools have already expressed interest in Warrum, who is coming off a 1,200-yard, 14-touchdown season as a sophomore. A member of Northwestern's coaching staff traveled to Heritage Christian's practice recently to check out Warrum.

"A lot of similarities in what we do and what they do," Heritage coach Ron Qualls said of Northwestern's offense. "They like being able to get that type of player that can fit that style, instead of making a player fit their style."

Warrum said that when it comes down to it, though, the style of offense won't be the deciding factor for him.

One offense that has impressed Warrum a little bit, at least in terms of quantity instead of quality, is the new system Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is bringing to the Hoosiers program. Wilson orchestrated record-breaking offenses at Oklahoma and has the No. 2 quarterback in the Class of 2012, Gunner Kiel, committed. Warrum visited Indiana for its game against Virginia in September.

"I love the new east end zone and the facilities," Warrum said. "I like how they're trying to build tradition there since there hasn't been much. I like that they're trying to get everyone on board with the football team.

"It seems like they're throwing a lot more, and since Gunner Kiel committed there, it made me a lot more interested," said Warrum, who has met Kiel only a few times.

Kentucky and Wisconsin are the other two teams recruiting Warrum the most at this point. The one school Warrum grew up watching and would love to get some interest from is Notre Dame.

"I always liked watching Notre Dame," Warrum said. "So that would mean a lot, that'd be awesome."

2013 OT Brown enjoys first college game

Indianapolis Warren Central junior offensive tackle Dwayne Brown will be one of the top Class of 2013 players in Indiana, and he went to his first college game two weekends ago.

Brown visited Kentucky for its game against Florida and enjoyed the atmosphere.

"We didn't get to talk to the coaches a lot, but it was a good game," Brown said. "It was my first college football game and a great experience."

On Friday, Brown went up against Kentucky commit and three-star defensive end prospect Langston Newton and held his own.

"I had some good plays, I had some bad plays," Brown said. "We went at it.

"But I'm used to that going up against (teammate and Cincinnat commit) Josh Posley every day. So it's nothing new to me."

Indiana is showing some early interest in Brown, too, and a couple of his teammates are committed to the Hoosiers. Senior linebacker Jordan Wallace and senior receiver Kevin Davis will be playing in Bloomington next fall.

"They're trying to build a great class," Brown said. "With Gunner Kiel, Shawn Heffern, they're bringing in a lot of talent. They're trying to change the tradition."

Jared Shanker covers Midwest recruiting. He can be reached at jshankerespn@gmail.com.