- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Forget the Bronx Bombers.

Meet Greenbelt’s version of Murderer’s Ro: George “Trey” Covington, Jared Gaither and Derrick Harvey.

Perhaps once in a decade, a local prep team will boast a class of three blue-chip Division I football prospects. In Covington, Gaither and Harvey, undefeated Eleanor Roosevelt High School (6-0) features three such standout seniors on the same defensive line.

Covington, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound blur with 4.5 speed, lines up at one defensive end. Harvey, a Jevon Kearse look alike at 6-5, 235 pounds of sculpted raw athlete, lines up at the other. And Gaither, a 6-9, 300-pound basketball convert with a wingspan that should require FAA clearance, lines up in the middle.

“Having three [D-I] signees on a single team is very rare. To have them all playing on the same unit is insane. That just doesn’t happen,” said Dave Glenn, a recruiting analyst and editor at ACC Area Sports Journal. “There was a school, Ely of Pompano Beach [Fla.], that sent a running back [Miami freshman Tyrone Moss] and two offensive linemen to [D-I] schools last season. That’s kind of like one unit. But off the top of my head, I can’t ever remember one school sending three defensive linemen or its entire secondary or linebacking corps [to] D-I in a single season. That’s an awfully special group at Eleanor Roosevelt.”

How special?

One college coach who has been heavily involved in recruiting for more than 20 years said Roosevelt’s current defensive line is the most talented he has ever seen.

“It’s a violation of NCAA rules for us to comment on particular recruits, but I will say we labeled one of their game tapes ‘shock and awe’ after viewing it recently,” the college assistant said. “It was just mind-blowing.”

The tape could have come from any of Roosevelt’s last three games, shutouts against C.H. Flowers (41-0), Bowie (51-0) and Parkdale (35-0). Because of Roosevelt’s formidable defensive trio, which combined for a surreal 74 tackles and 27 sacks in the three games, Flowers, Bowie and Parkdale finished with a combined minus-3 yards of offense.

Flowers, unbeaten before its run-in with the Raiders and supposedly one of the quickest teams in the state, mustered just one first down against Roosevelt while finishing with minus-2 yards of total offense. Bowie, the 2001 Class 4A state champs, endured an even more ruthless beating, crawling home after a minus-29-yard effort. And the defending state champs from Parkdale caught the Raiders on what Roosevelt coach Rick Houchens described as a “down day,” gaining 28 yards Saturday largely because the team was distracted by an early morning SAT session.

“Roosevelt football is up and running right now,” said Houchens, who has seen his squad rise to No.2 in the state. “And it all starts with those guys up front. Every time I look out at that field and see those three guys lining up, I offer up another prayer because I know I’m truly blessed.”

Spit and polish

Of Roosevelt’s three mashketeers, Covington is clearly the most mature football player. Unlike former hoopsters Harvey and Gaither, Covington has been blowing up backfields for years. Consequently, his technique is far superior to his mates, making him both member and mentor for Death Ro.

“I’d like to think I’ve helped those guys a little bit because of my experience, but they’re both incredibly quick learners and great athletes,” said Covington, who has exceptional closing speed and a superior grasp of both proper pad level and pursuit angles. “The beauty of having guys like Derrick and Jared around you is that it doesn’t leave the offense the luxury of double-teaming any of us. That’s a great situation because more often than not we’re going to beat you one-on-one.”

Covington began the season ranked as the No.8 defensive end prospect in the nation by Rivals.com, thanks in large part to his instincts, speed and 38-inch vertical leap. And he’s likely improved that status after collecting 41 tackles and 15 sacks in five games (missing one with a bruised shoulder).

“Trey’s a warrior,” Houchens said. “His motor never stops running, and he’s constantly pushing those other guys. He started pushing, and now they feed off each other. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

Unlike Harvey and Gaither, Covington already has chosen his college, verbally committing to Maryland over Colorado, Virginia and Duke. And although other suitors haven’t stopped calling, Terrapins fans can rest easy.

“I’m not even going to take my [five paid official] visits, because I’m strong with Maryland,” Covington said. “I’m a Terp.”

Derrick the dynamo

The most hyped member of Roosevelt’s phenomenal front unquestionably is Harvey. Little more than a year ago, he was an undersized center on Roosevelt’s basketball team who had never donned a set of shoulder pads. Houchens finally lured him onto the gridiron last season, however. Fourteen games and 39 sacks later, Harvey has 24 Division I football offers.

“Derrick’s story is just unreal,” Houchens said. “He’s just exploded, both on the field and as a recruit. You know you’re big-time when head coaches [like Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer and Virginia’s Al Groh] start showing up at school.”

In Harvey, whom Rivals ranks as the No.2 defensive end in the nation, recruiters see a combination of size, speed (4.65), athleticism (36-inch vertical) and outrageous raw potential. His broad shoulders and V-shaped physique hint at the possibility that he could add 30 more pounds of muscle. And the deft hands and incredible reach that made him a hoops standout leave college coaches drooling like a pack of teething toddlers.

Staggeringly, Harvey has 68 tackles and 22 sacks through Roosevelt’s first six games. And with offers from literally every Division I power, he’s decided to put off his college decision until after the season.

“I’m still learning the position, so it takes all my time to concentrate on practicing, preparing and playing right now,” he said. “After the season, I’ll start to really focus on where I want to go. So far, I only have two trips set up: I’m going to Miami on Dec.12 and Tennessee on Dec.19. But it’s too early to start naming favorites.”

Giant sleeper

Despite the glowing credentials of the pair flanking him, Gaither might be Roosevelt’s most coveted college prospect by the time the season ends.

The most tangible difference between last season’s disappointing 5-3 campaign and this season’s 6-0 start is Roosevelt’s monster in the middle. As the starting center on the basketball team last season, Gaither was a keen observer of Harvey’s meteoric rise as a football phenom. Like Harvey, he decided to humor Houchens and chase the pigskin.

Just six games into his football career, the one-time South Carolina basketball commit is already dropping jaws and drawing offers.

“I think their tongues hit the ground over at Maryland when they saw Jared on film for the first time,” said Houchens, chuckling about how the Terps offered Gaither a scholarship after one viewing of the hulking tackle. “They won’t be the last. Because the thing about Jared is he can run. He’s not a 300-pound slug; he’s all meat and muscle and bone.

“I don’t know what his 40 time is, because he’s never gone through our spring combine, but I’ll give you some idea how fast he is. He also plays tight end for us, and against Bowie he caught a 6-yard pass and then outran a free safety, a cornerback and a linebacker to the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown. That’s 6-9, 300, man — with speed and hands. He’s going to blow up just like Derrick did last year. In the last week or so, he’s heard from Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan and Virginia. So by the end of the season, I expect he’ll have a stack of offers and a serious decision to make.”

Perhaps the most gregarious of the trio, Gaither is clearly ecstatic about his transition to football.

“Man, I’ve never had so much fun,” said Gaither, who has 34 tackles and seven sacks for the season. “I just love the fact that on the football field you’re really allowed to totally let go physically and take out all your anger on the man in front of you and the quarterback.

“Obviously, I’m going to have to re-evaluate the basketball thing now that football is going so well. I’ve grown up a Maryland fan, so I guess that would be my first choice for football. That would be like a dream come true. But I think I might like to take some trips first. I’d like to visit Miami because I’ve always loved watching them, and I’ve never been to Florida.”

But the only trip currently concerning Roosevelt’s tremendous trio right now is tomorrow’s visit to Largo.

“It’s their homecoming, so they’re going to really be up for us,” said Houchens, whose teams have made three straight trips to the state semifinals (winning the title in 1999) before last season’s stumble. “I know we’ve never had four straight shutouts in the history of the program, so that’s what we’re after. The whole team gets Krispy Kremes for a shutout. If these guys make it big someday and play on Sundays for the big dough, I can always tell them I remember when they played for doughnuts.”

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