Henry Poggi is best of the bunch

On every snap, Baltimore (Md.) Gilman coach Biff Poggi is in charge of 11 football players. Sometimes he stares at one.

"I must say that sometimes I just watch him," Poggi said of his son, star junior defensive tackle prospect Henry Poggi.

Forgive Coach Poggi if he occasionally dons blinders. It's hard not to. He knows all too well how fleeting high school football moments can be. His oldest son's football career is over after playing at Duke. His middle son, Jim, is gone, now a freshman linebacker at Iowa.

The last one left is Henry, who has the potential to be the best of the bunch, which is evident by the mounting pile of scholarship offers.

"Henry is by far the best," Coach Poggi said. "It's so cool."

It's cool because the youngest Poggi deserves it. Henry has been on the wrong end of more whippings by his older brothers than anyone in the family could possibly count.

"He just got the bejesus knocked out of him for so many years," Coach Poggi said with a smile. "The good thing is he grew to be 6-foot-4, 260 and those guys are like 6-2, 220. They picked on the wrong guy."

"Yeah, I got beat up a lot by my older brothers so I like to take it out on the field," Henry said.

He did so Friday at the I-95 Classic as Gilman hammered Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith 51-27. His brothers didn't need proof that their little bro was all grown up. Still, the evidence was there as Henry helped dominate the defensive line at tackle and showed off his athleticism at tight end.

It's obvious the days of picking on Henry are over.

"Oh yeah," Henry said with a smile. "Sam actually says I'm no fun to beat up anymore. In fact, I can beat him up."

Sam is the eldest brother. After playing at Duke, he now coaches the defensive line at Gilman. Part of his duties are constantly motivating his little brother.

"Henry and I have a great relationship," Sam said. "He's much more athletic and much more able than I ever was as a player. I like to encourage him to do the best he can. I know that when I was a player, especially in high school, I wish I knew how to give my best effort all the time. Usually I think I was trying hard but you can always try a little harder than you think. I wish that I had done that myself. I just like to encourage him to do that. He likes that. He wants me to be hard on him."

Henry was destined to play football given all the family ties. His father played football for Pittsburgh before eventually taking over one of the most successful high school programs in the Northeast. Seeing his dad's talented teams at an early age made an impression.

"It's interesting because ever since he was a little boy he came around the program," coach Poggi said. "At 4 years old, he was around kids in the program. He knows all those guys (that went on to play college football). He's seen all those guys.

"I know from a very early age he wanted to be a player. God did the rest with the height and the weight and he has a good work ethic. I think one of the things that helped is this team has a lot of Division I kids on it so they're pushing each other in the weight room and conditioning."

Poggi is, indeed, one of many Gilman prospects. Athlete Cyrus Jones is one of the most highly-recruited prospects in the nation. Offensive lineman Brian Gaia is committed to Penn State. Linebacker Devon Porchia is committed to Pittsburgh. Tailback Kenneth Goins has scholarship offers from Syracuse and Vanderbilt. Junior linebacker Micah Kiser already has scholarship offers from Florida, Maryland and Virginia.

Yet Henry may end up being the highest-rated prospect on Gilman's roster. He's lost count of how many scholarship offers he has. It's at least 14. Stanford, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio State, Northwestern, Iowa, North Carolina State, Maryland, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame have extended official invites.

"I'm going to look for academics first," Henry said when asked what he's looking for in a college. "Then I'm going to look at how the people are, if my coaches are good people, if I can get along with my teammates. Then I'm going to look at how good the team is. I don't want to play for a bad team."

Henry is in no hurry. Why should he be? He has nearly 18 months left before he has to sign a national letter of intent and the kind of ability that will ensure schools hold a spot until he's ready.

"It's really early but there are a couple of schools I really like that have the right stuff academic-wise and I feel like they're going on the right track, like Tennessee and Michigan, Auburn, Stanford," Henry said. "Really I'm just looking everywhere. I haven't thought about many places."

The advice from his brothers has been simple. Visit as many places as possible and be sure you get along with your position coach.

Position coach isn't a problem now. Perhaps no one knows Henry's ability better than Sam.

"If he continues to grow and progress," Sam said. "He could play three technique (nose guard) but he obviously has great feet. He could play tight end if he wants to. He just likes playing football."

Sure, Henry could play tight end, but that seems unlikely. A childhood of fending off two older brothers has instilled a mean streak better suited for the other side of the ball.

"I've always liked defense more," Henry said. "I like being more aggressive on defense. Most teams are recruiting me for defense."

The past physical nature displayed in the Poggi household should never be judged as mean spirited. The brothers are close, as evident by all three wearing jersey No. 7, even though it looks a little odd when Henry is playing defensive tackle.

Sam said Henry has a strong drive to be a better football player than both of his brothers. That seems likely, but don't expect either of Henry's older brothers to admit it's even a remote possibility.

"His brothers give him no respect," coach Poggi said. "They think he stinks. They tell him that. It's unbelievable. He's got some drive."

Let the trash talk fly. It's probably just motivational anyway.

Just don't challenge Henry to a fight.

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for more than a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.