MARION, Mass. -- Although he's a sophomore, Jason Sylva (Plymouth, Mass./Tabor Academy) didn't look out of place competing against juniors at the Boston National Underclassmen Combine on Sunday -- and with good reason.
After the 2008 school year, Sylva transferred from Plymouth South High School to Tabor Academy, a prep school in Marion, where he repeated his sophomore year.
"Good kids at Plymouth South, but I got out because I felt like the kids didn't have the drive for football like I did," Sylva explained. "I didn't like kids not wanting to win the same way I did.
"Tabor hasn't been winning a lot, but I felt I could help turn the program around. I felt like I could be part of something big in a couple years. I'm close enough to go home on the weekends and stay close to my family and friends."
The sophomore portion of the combine was held Saturday, but Sylva, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker, couldn't participate because he was invited to attend the Boston College spring game, which was held on the same day. He was selected as the linebacker MVP on Sunday.
Sylva said better competition allowed him to make great strides as a football player during his first season at Tabor.
"Last season was a great learning experience," he said. "I didn't know much about the league, but we played Cheshire [Conn.] and they had five Division I signees at places like BC, Tulane -- there was talent. Just across the board the lines were bigger, the speed was faster. I didn't think the football talent would be as high here."
"I think what he discovered is that every team had two or three Jay Silva's," Tabor Academy coach Bill Hrasky said. "In our league everybody has five postgraduates, so right away you know they're going to have five kids who are sincere football players. And then whatever else is in the regular student body, so that was what he was facing.
"He went from Plymouth, where there was maybe one other kid [with his ability] on the field to now there's four or five -- including a couple on his own team -- who are scholarship football players.
"He needs to get a little bit stronger and he needs to work on his quickness a little bit. He looks the part, but at that level it's just another notch that he's got to get to. It would be good if his 40 time was well under 4.6 and it would be good if he was weighing closer to 230 pounds because I think [colleges] would like him to be a linebacker, so he needs to be a little heftier than he is right now. He's a sophomore, so right now that's not a big deal."
Sylva had three interceptions in 2009 and finished the season second on the team in tackles (83 in eight games).
"I think my strengths are my natural instincts and my knowledge of the game," he said. "I'm just high motor. I never stop. A lot of energy."
Tabor also plays Sylva at running back, but colleges are looking to use him on the defensive side of the ball.
Sylva said BC, Rutgers and Virginia are the schools he's heard from the most, but he's also received mild interest from UCLA, Alabama and Notre Dame.
"Alabama invited me down to camp and I've received some letters from Notre Dame, but I don't know how serious they are because it's tough to communicate with them as a sophomore," he said.
Sylva plans to attend the BC camp this summer. He said BC and Penn State are the schools he'd most like to attend. Although he hasn't heard from Penn State at this point, he's hoping to generate some interest when he attends the Nike Camp at Penn State on May 2.
"BC is close to home," Sylva said. "I grew up watching them play.
"I love, love, love Penn State for an obvious reason: Linebacker U. I love the schools with tradition like that."
"The college coaches love him," Hrasky said. "They all see him as an outside linebacker at the next level. They're hoping he'll become a little bit faster, because there's a couple schools sniffing around talking about maybe making him a strong safety if he stays around the 225, 230 range.
"If he had been here Saturday [with the other sophomores] he would have been the best kid by far."
QB with options
Perhaps no player at the NUC Boston combine is receiving more recruiting interest than junior quarterback Jon Pieterse (Springfield Mass./Worcester Academy), who said Boston College, NC State, Florida Atlantic and Central Michigan are the schools he's heard from the most.
"NC State and BC are very interested," Pieterse said. "I've also been talking a lot with Harvard. I've also heard from Northwestern, Ohio and [New Hampshire].
"I'd love to be a Division I kid, but I'm trying to find a balance between athletics and academics. I've got a quick release, but I have to keep working on my speed. I run about a 4.7  right now."
Worcester Academy runs a spread option, and Pieterse passed for 1,675 yards and 21 touchdowns in eight games last season.
Roger Brown is a contributor for ESPN Recruiting.