April 25, 2013 at 1:00 am

Sam Webb

Va. linebacker has offer from Michigan State, interest from Michigan

Rick DeBerry says, "Right now I look at myself as a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. Iím somebody that can drop back into coverage, but also rush the quarterback." (Courtesy of Ricky DeBerry)

With spring practice now officially closed across the college football landscape, the collective focus of coaches across the country has fully shifted to recruiting. The spring evaluation period is under way, and coaches have the opportunity to assess the academic and athletic potential of targets for the 2014 class.

Most coaches also set aside time to check in on even younger prospects. One underclassman already garnering a great deal of attention is Richmond (Va.) St. Christopher sophomore linebacker Ricky DeBerry.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder was an imposing gridiron presence last season, often dominating the opposition despite playing along the defensive front.

"Ricky DeBerry is phenomenally talented, absolutely loves the game, he's a great competitor, and he clearly has all the physical tools to be an impact player at the BCS level," St. Christopher's coach Michael Turner said. "He's clearly that edge defender kind of guy. We play a four-man front, so for us he played defensive end. He could play any position on the field in high school if he wanted, but for us that's where it makes sense.

"I think the next level if you have a 3-4, he's that kind of outside linebacker, alley guy. If you run a 4-3, he could be -- depending on the scheme -- either that kind of that weak side bandit-type linebacker, or the rush end."

DeBerry said, "Right now I look at myself as a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. I'm somebody that can drop back into coverage, but also rush the quarterback. In a 4-3 defense I can be a defensive end. In a 3-4 I'm that backer that can get down in a three-point stance, or get in a two-point stance and guard the slots and tight ends. I envision myself as a hybrid player and a lot schools see me in that position as well."

Face time with Michigan

The desire for that kind of versatility is evident in DeBerry's 22-scholarship tally. He has already begun the arduous task of attempting to visit as many of the programs courting him as possible. Last week he and his family traveled to the Great Lake State for the first time to get up-close looks at Michigan and Michigan State.

The Wolverines began showing interest in DeBerry back in January when Brady Hoke and then-Michigan assistant Jerry Montgomery stopped by St. Christopher's. Montgomery's departure for Oklahoma led to a brief lull in communication with the Maize & Blue, but when new assistant Roy Manning took over, things picked up right where they left off. By the time DeBerry & company made it to Ann Arbor last Friday a strong rapport had already been forged. The face time only served to strengthen it.

"It was great," DeBerry said. "I got to talk with Coach Hoke and I got to talk with Coach Manning. (Manning) is a great guy. You can tell that his heart and soul is at Michigan. He'll do anything for Michigan. He played at Michigan. He loves it. He'd rather be no other place. He told us about the academics, he told us about the football, and he was like, 'Who wouldn't want to play in the biggest stadium in the whole country?' He is just so passionate about the game and about Michigan. He really wants to help Michigan win another national championship and he loves the coaching staff and coach Hoke."

"(Hoke) is really down to earth," DeBerry continued. "He is all about the kids. His first priority is the kids. He sat down with me, my mom, and my dad and he was telling us how he wants to help kids and that's the main reason he got into coaching. Him and my dad had some similarities. Both of them were parole officers. He was just telling us about himself so we could get to know him better as a coach and as a person. Some coaches you only see the coaching side -- you never really see the other side of them. We saw the other side of Coach Hoke, and we really enjoyed his company."

It was just the type of impression DeBerry was told he would gain in the weeks leading up to the trip. That message was delivered by fellow Richmond standouts and future Wolverines Derrick Green and Wilton Speight. Neither has hesitated in singing Michigan's praises whenever they've had the chance.

"My dad coached Derrick Green in middle school," DeBerry said. "My dad is the one who put Derrick Green at running back. Then Wilton Speight, he plays in the same league that I play in. My school and his school are rivals, so we have a good friendship, good relationship with each other, always talking. I have a good relationship with both of those guys."

"They both are telling me that Michigan is a great place. It is a great place to be, best stadium in the country, most beautiful stadium in the country. They said Coach Hoke is a great coach. They would rather be there than any other place. I'm just taking it all in at this point."

By visit's end DeBerry had gotten a good feel for how he might fit on and off the field in Ann Arbor. And even though he didn't receive a scholarship offer, he left town with an extremely favorable view of the Maize & Blue.

"They really see me as a Sam linebacker rushing off the edge and also dropping into coverage," DeBerry said. "Michigan said they were still in the (evaluation) process because the 2015 class is small. I understand the situation (after going up there) and meeting the coaching staff, meeting the academic staff. My mom and dad really like the campus and they really like the coaching staff. My mom and dad loved it. The whole time we were there they really treated us like family. And that's the thing you want -- a family atmosphere."

Spartans in the mix, too

DeBerry gained a similar feeling during his visit to Michigan State. The defensive showing in the Spartans' annual spring game made a strong impression. So, too, did his interaction with the coaching staff.

"Michigan State was wonderful," DeBerry said. "It was a great place. I got a chance to meet some 2014 recruits and also some guys who committed there. I got a chance to watch the spring game and see what they do with their players. The way they run their defense is the way I like to play -- attack defense. The defensive line is always on the attack. They're always going, not really reading, just going to the ball.

"I got to meet a lot of the coaching staff. Coach (Ron) Burton coaches the defensive line and he is a great guy. He is from Highland Springs, Virginia, which is like 20 minutes from where I live, so we had a little bit of a connection there."

The time spent watching the defensive line and talking to Burton was particularly key because of the position the Spartans are courting DeBerry to play.

"They really see me as a defensive end because from my highlight tape they really like my speed and my first step coming off the edge," he said. "They really think I can help them on the passing (downs) and rushing (downs). Disrupt plays before they happen, also get to the quarterback before he can make his decision."

Michigan State made clear just how much it already covets the 2015 standout when it became the latest school to extend him a scholarship.

"I was offered by Coach (Mark) Dantonio," DeBerry said. "At the spring game I was standing there and he started talking to me and (asked), 'How many offers do you have?' I said, '21.' He was like, 'You can make that 22. Isn't that your favorite number?' I said, 'Yes, sir!' It's my mom's birthday. My mom means a lot to me and that's why I wear the No. 22. (Dantonio) said, 'Well, that was my number in high school.' So me and Coach Dantonio have a little connection there with the number 22. It was great visit."

The Spartans undoubtedly helped their standing in this already crowded recruitment, and despite the lack of an offer, so did the Wolverines. That said, DeBerry insists no school has set itself apart.

"Right now it's still equal," DeBerry said when asked if he had any favorites. "I didn't really get a chance to see all of Michigan State because of the spring game. I'm definitely coming back up there. Right now everyone is equal until I've got the chance to visit all of the schools. You can't really know what you like until you get to all of the schools and sit down with the coaches and the academic staff.

"I'm definitely going to make my decision in my senior year."

With so much time on his side, DeBerry plans to be extremely thorough in evaluating how well each school lives up to his long list of criteria.

"I am going to be a man longer than I am going to be a football player, so first is academics," DeBerry said, describing the factors in his choice. "Second is football -- coaching staff, players, championship contender. Also, fan base. How loyal the fans are to the football team. How many sold-out games? Also alumni that currently support the team and the school. I'm looking at all that."

Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His Michigan recruiting column appears every Thursday at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.

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