One of the most convenient things about Youngstown, Ohio, is the fact that it resides directly next to I-80. I-80, you may realize, is the route taken from Ann Arbor to State College. How perfect, then, that Youngstown Liberty Leopards, who boast two Michigan commits on their football team, had a home game at their stadium (from which you can literally see I-80), on the night before Michigan’s game at Penn State?
Being the enterprising Michigan fans/bloggers/general creeps that we are, Paul and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take in a game starring Fitzgerald Toussaint and Isaiah Bell. Want to hear more? Well, read on…
The game began at 7, but we arrived shortly after 6. The stadium was your general high school type, with a set of aluminum bleachers for both the home and away fans. We were among the first people there, so we tested out the camera, looked around, and practiced signing our names with the last name “Toussaint.” During warmups, Fitzgerald Toussaint was one of the team captains. In fact, throughout the night, he seemed to be a real leader of his team.
By the time the game began, we were pumped and ready to see Fitz destroy all comers. Essentially, the story of the night is that this never happened. Toussaint had some opportunities to make plays, but a couple of his teammates (including Julius Ferrell – who didn’t look much like a D-1 prospect, though the knee brace he was wearing may have had something to do with it) got the better opportunities, as Howland’s defense was keying on Fitz all night. He ended the game with 124 yards rushing on 30 carries, including a 5 yard sack on a halfback pass. His long run of the night was 21 yards. He was thrown to once and it was intercepted.
Isaiah Bell was also a starter on offense, at one of the wide receiver positions. He was thrown to 3 times, with 1 reception (on a screen) for four yards. The other two passes, using the UFR metric, would be classified as a 0 (bounced to him) and a 1.
Bell was also one of Liberty’s safeties, playing free in the middle of what appeared to be a cover-3 system most of the game. It was clear that, despite his size, Isaiah’s job was to play centerfield and let absolutely nobody by him. He was hesistant in run support, but I think that was a schematic choice, rather than a criticism of him. He finished the game with 5 tackles, though he left during the fourth quarter with an ankle injury (he could put almost no weight on his left leg).
So with a couple of big-time players in the mix for Liberty, how did they manage to lose this game? There are a couple of main reasons. First things first, Howland was determined to stop Fitzgerald Toussaint, no matter the cost. This hurt them when he motioned to the slot and another running back ran up the gut for a long touchdown. This selling out would have hindered their ability to win even more had Liberty’s QB not been something approaching awful. I didn’t keep stats on him, but he was something like 3/15 with 2 or 3 picks. Yikes. Not good. Howland also avoided Bell and Toussaint on special teams. Those two were the deep men on punts and kickoffs. All the kickoffs were squibbed, and only one punt made it to the returners (a Toussaint 18 yard return was negated by a block in the back).
In terms of playing style and projections, Fitz appeared to me to be much more of an inside runner than expected. Like every high schooler, he has work to do in the weight room, but he should be just fine once he gets to college. Though Bell has athleticism, he also has a pretty strong build. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was able to stay at safety in college, and be a big hitter. However, it is more likely that he adds bulk and becomes a linebacker. As you can see, he has big thighs, and a frame that might be conducive to putting on more weight.