Near the nexus of some fertile soccer breeding grounds — almost equidistant to NFL prospect factories Clemson, UNC, Tennessee and South Carolina — lies a small liberal-arts Lutheran college that when was simply one other exit off the freeway for itinerant professional scouts.
For years, it was a drive-by when it got here to mining expertise.
Division II’s Lenoir-Rhyne hadn’t produced an NFL participant of observe in almost twenty years previous to the 2020 NFL draft, so Hickory, North Carolina wasn’t a spot many expertise evaluators deemed essential of spending further time. That’s modified over the previous few years.
First got here Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne’s athletically gifted late bloomer who vaulted to the thirty seventh general choose of the New England Patriots in 2020. Scouts flocked to Hickory to scout Dugger, doubtless the primary time many had visited the varsity.
Dugger was no Halley’s Comet. There’s one other Lenoir-Rhyne prospect scouts are circling again en masse to observe — vast receiver Dareke Younger, one other freakish expertise who may be very a lot within the 2022 draft image.
After solely 9 catches mixed in his first two seasons, Younger broke out in 2019, main the group in receptions (25), receiving yards (515), receiving TDs (eight) and yards per catch (20.6).
He additionally was a productive runner within the Bears’ former ground-heavy, Wing-T, speeding 49 instances for 335 yards and 4 scores. In that system, Younger additionally was requested to often block defensive ends.
“I take satisfaction in that,” Younger advised Yahoo Sports activities. “I feel it helped me set up my physicality.”
Younger’s path was slowed in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, a knee harm, a big shift in offensive philosophy and a gradual begin to the 2021 fall season. A lot of these struggles was forgotten final week when the 6-foot-2, 214-pound Younger gave the banner efficiency many scouts have been ready for.
In a 31-16 victory over Mars Hill, Younger caught eight passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns, flourishing within the extra wide-open passing assault. He ought to have had a fourth TD on the opening drive however interfered with simply outdoors the top zone. Younger had one other shot at a rating, leaping over three defenders to seize a Hail Mary on the finish of the primary half, just for referees to rule that his toe touched out of bounds.
Irrespective of. It backed up why there was a lot return site visitors for the varsity’s newest gem.
“Coming off a loss, I knew as a frontrunner and captain I wanted to set the tone by dominating whoever lined up throughout me till the clock hit zero,” Younger stated. “Three touchdowns — ought to have been 4 or 5, actually. However we received the win, and I’ll do no matter’s essential for that. I hate shedding.”
The NFL is flocking to Lenoir-Rhyne once more
Simply this week, extra NFL groups descended on Hickory, together with an NFC director of scouting and an AFC personnel director. Groups don’t sometimes ship that degree of scouting employees to a Division II college until a participant is receiving pretty sturdy grades.
“It’s been wild,” stated Tanner Hardy, Lenoir-Rhyne’s director of participant personnel and NFL liaison. “[Young] clicked and hit one other degree again in March. He will get it now. He’s seeing how good he may be, and so are scouts.”
In March, Younger was rehabbing from a partial tear in his PCL he’d suffered final fall in apply. The harm didn’t require surgical procedure, however the 12-week rehab plan — put collectively by two Alabama soccer docs, James Andrews and Lyle Cain — had Younger feeling higher quicker than anticipated.
Younger pleaded with the coaches to let him play through the spring season, which was unsure. They finally gave in, and Younger responded with 14 catches for 218 yards and two TDs in two video games, together with 166 yards vs. Tusculum.
Earlier than that, they needed to persuade him to stay round. Younger thought-about getting into the 2021 draft however opted in opposition to it, contemplating his knee harm, a deep receiver class and the chance of not having performed in 2020 after COVID canceled the autumn season.
Then larger colleges began sniffing round Younger, having heard the excitement. Would he be interested by transferring to an FBS program to assist enhance his inventory?
Younger turned all of them down, looking for to complete what he began in Hickory, which included the undergraduate diploma he accomplished in engineering physics. He’s now going for his MBA whereas additionally prepping for a potential NFL profession.
“I did not wish to stroll away from my teammates and never be part of [the program],” Younger stated. “I additionally did not assume I used to be but one of the best model of myself. I had extra to show, extra to enhance on. That is why I’m right here.”
Dareke Younger caught across the DII program
Even with Dugger proof that the NFL will discover expertise wherever, Younger knew it was a threat to remain at Lenoir-Rhyne. Solely 10 DII gamers have been drafted since 2019, together with solely 5 the previous two years mixed.
However when prospects possess ability like Younger’s, groups stay very . Together with 4.5-second (or higher) velocity, Younger additionally made Bruce Feldman’s prestigious “Freaks” listing for his leaping (43.5-inch excessive bounce, 124-inch broad), big palms (10 1/8 inches), wingspan (78 1/8 inches) and power (16 bench-press reps).
“Plenty of that athletic capacity is simply God-given,” Hardy stated. “I am unable to even think about what he’ll appear like after a 12 months or two in an NFL coaching program.”
Lenoir-Rhyne head coach Mike Jacobs, an Ohio State lengthy snapper within the late Nineteen Nineties, compares Younger, style- and size-wise, to former Buckeyes receiver David Boston. Hardy watched Julio Jones up shut at Alabama and believes Younger shares related qualities. One NFL scout Yahoo Sports activities spoke to supplied up the Jaguars’ Laviska Shenault as a comp for Younger.
These gamers have been all top-40 alternatives, as was Dugger. Might Younger attain that very same uncommon air?
Proper now, it appears like a attain. However with Younger heating up, he’s very a lot on the Senior Bowl map. A powerful week there, because it did for Dugger, might do wonders for Younger’s inventory, in addition to the large exercise he expects to show in on the NFL scouting mix.
“There’s time to consider that later,” Younger stated. “Proper now, I’ve loads I must work on right here.”
Getting drafted can be big for Younger and the varsity to whom he has remained loyal. Being taken on Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) of the draft can be a shocking improvement for any DII prospect and program.
“I’m hoping all 32 groups simply begin making Hickory a everlasting cease on the scouting map. We function at a DI degree round right here and our objective is to ascertain Lenoir-Rhyne because the premier small-school pipeline to the NFL,” Hardy stated.
After Dugger and Younger, the justifications are working out.
Lightning induced a two-hour delay of a current Bears apply. Hardy figured the three NFL scouts in attendance that day would use the poor climate as an excuse to pack up and make the 45-mile drive to Appalachian State. In spite of everything, scouts don’t have a variety of sitting-around time, what with driving from college to high school and infrequently burning the midnight oil to put in writing experiences.
“No, we wish to watch the child play,” one scout stated.
The opposite two caught round, too. Younger is giving them good purpose to go to extra typically.