Stephen Sullivan, Dylan Moses and Michael Williams are young stars on the rise

Dylan Moses has a simple explanation for what he does.

“My thing about playing linebacker is, I like tackling people,” he said. “It releases a lot of stress. Playing linebacker I know like the back of my hand.”

Understanding who the talented University High sophomore is goes beyond his 4.39-second time in the 40-yard dash or a growing list of camp videos and accolades.

The 16-year-old appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine before he played a varsity game. Now Moses leads a group of underclassmen with the skills to take high school football in Baton Rouge to new heights.

Moses was rated the nation’s No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2017 by 247Sports earlier this month. Another goal locked down by one of the top young talents around.

For others, goals and dreams must be rearranged, a lesson 6-foot-6 Donaldsonville junior Stephen Sullivan knows all too well.

“I grew up wanting to play at LSU, but I thought I’d play basketball,” he said. “That was my sport. I didn’t play little league football at all; I just played it in the yard with other kids.

“I was kind of scared in ninth grade. There were big guys, and I didn’t know about contact and how I’d feel about getting hit. But now I like the contact, and I look for it.”

Moses and Sullivan, who is rated No. 12 in Louisiana’s 2016 class as a receiver/defensive lineman, are LSU commitments. Redemptorist freshman Michael Williams doesn’t have a signature scholarship offer or a national reputation.

A rifle arm and a muscular physique give Williams the look of someone older and give the Wolves a dynamic playmaker.

“I’ve always been a quarterback, except for the year when I came in overweight,” Williams explained. “Me and my Dad started working on throwing when I was young. My first year in BREC football, the coach gave me a chance to play quarterback. I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s what I know.”

Life with the hype

Moses makes no bones about it. His passion for football comes from his father, Edward, a local attorney and former linebacker who still ranks as Northwestern State’s No. 2 all-time tackler.

Edward Moses played arena football after college; Dylan has taken the “family business” to venues across the nation while skyrocketing up everyone’s list of recruits. He earned all-metro and Class 3A all-state honors as a ninth-grader.

When asked about that now-famous ESPN cover, Moses shyly smiled.

“That experience actually made me more humble,” he said. “It made me come into last season being a role player mainly. I wasn’t thinking I was a leader of the team or anything. It just made me want to learn more from the coaches and other players around me. Just adapt to the system.”

And adapt he did. Moses compiled 158.5 tackles, including 13 for loss, and six forced fumbles. As if that wasn’t enough, the 6-2, 220-pounder also ran for more than 500 yards and averaged 15 yards per carry, running with the punishing aggressiveness of a linebacker.

What’s the next frontier?

“I want to know running back like the back of my hand,” Moses offered.

Moses says all the right things. He knows he can run the 40 faster than a 4.39. He’s an honor student who would like to study law or medicine some day, and he wants to earn multiple college degrees.

“I wanted to step up when the team needed me to make plays last year,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be that person who would make big plays. I didn’t think I’d be that guy. I just thought I’d be one of the guys.”

U-High coach Chad Mahaffey praises Moses for deftly handling the hype. With that said, Mahaffey also challenges his well-known sophomore.

“He’s handled everything so well,” he said. “(Attention) is not something he asked for. As last season progressed, he showed what a playmaker he was and earned a lot of respect from his teammates.

“Dylan is a pretty reserved and quiet guy. The challenge for him going forward is to become more of a leader, interact with some of the younger guys and help them along. Celebrate with them. When other guys know you’re excited for them, it’s going to make them even more excited for you.”

Moses describes himself as a deep thinker and old-fashioned. He meditates. While others listen to hip hop or rap, he prefers the classic Motown sound of the Temptations.

Is he perfect?

No way, his father said.

“Oh yes, we’ll be on him about things,” Edward Moses said. “Things like cleaning his room and being aware that he is in public. He has to mind what he says and what he does. This goes beyond football. Anything you say or do will find its way on Twitter or Facebook. We do our best to instruct him on being a young man and not allowing this to go to his head.”

New ballgame, challenges

Sullivan ponders the life he thought he’d have and the places he has been. He moved between Donaldsonville and the Dallas area before settling in at DHS two years ago as a freshman.

The slender 222-pounder reminds some of Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, also a former basketball player who found football. Sullivan is glad he didn’t wait until college to find it.

“(Coach Terence Williams, who’s now at Redemptorist) made me see I had a future in football even when I didn’t when I was a freshman,” he said. “Now I love football. I don’t take basketball as serious now. I like being physical and the contact. There are times when they don’t let you touch anybody in basketball. In football, you can be a little mean. You can take your frustrations out on an opponent.”

Sullivan remains somewhat of an unknown commodity. LSU’s decision to offer him a scholarship during its “Boys from the Boot” day for Louisiana players early in the spring surprised skeptics who wonder where he will fit in at the next level. The Tigers were Sullivan’s lone offer until recently, when Hawaii made its offer.

“When I went (to LSU) to camp, they had me try defensive end,” Sullivan noted. “They told me to let my body develop, and once I get (to LSU), we’ll go from there and see where I’ll play. I hope to play wide receiver. Of all the positions I’ve played, that’s the one I like the most.”

Donaldsonville coach Benny Guilbeaux has some new options in mind for Sullivan this fall, saying he’ll play receiver and on the defensive line and take some snaps at quarterback. Sullivan also was an all-district punter and helped DHS advance to the semifinals in basketball.

“Donaldsonville is known for having athletes,” Guilbeaux said. “He’s come a long way, and so has the team. They’ve both matured. Last year we won some games because we were talented. Hopefully this year we’ve put in more preparation and more work, and that should help us win games.

“The experience of playing at an elite level like he has in basketball is something you can’t teach. Stephen still needs to improve his overall strength and his game. He’s still very raw, but he’s talented and has so much potential.”

Sullivan also learned valuable lessons playing this summer for the Bootleggers, an elite 7-on-7 team.

“I learned that there are more players like me out there,” he said. “And I found out there are more players who are faster than me, better than me and stronger than me, so I’ve got to keep working.”

Youth meets tradition

Redemptorist coach Terence Williams wasn’t necessarily looking to see a quarterback at a BREC league game last fall. That changed with a flick of Michael Williams’ wrist.

“I see this big kid at quarterback, and the next thing I know the ball is 20 yards downfield,” Williams said. “My first thought was ‘Oh, what was that?’ ”

The more Terence Williams got to know about Michael Williams, the more he liked. For example, he found out that the 6-1, 217-pound eighth grader attended Glasgow Middle School but previously came to enroll at Redemptorist and that his family lives a couple of blocks away from the North Baton Rouge school.

It’s hard to look past Michael Williams’ size-14 shoes. Or his 10-inch hands that already are larger than those of some NFL quarterbacks. The mature looks and size are misleading. Williams will play the entire 2014 season as a 14-year-old.

“It’s going good; we’re working hard,” Williams said of his offseason. “I lifted weights all summer. They have me out here every day. To improve, that’s my main goal.

“I want to complete a high percentage of passes and get the ball over the top by using my body. The game is faster, and I’ll have three seconds to get the ball out. I think I can make the right decisions.”

Terence Williams spent much of the summer tutoring the young quarterback, retooling his throwing motion that goes with using a regulation-sized football instead of a smaller youth-league football.

The RHS coach is protective of his prodigy, who drew rave reviews while working out primarily with older quarterbacks at an early-summer prospects camp at LSU. Expectations are high for the youngster. While Williams could be seen as a savior for the tradition-rich RHS program that has fallen on tough times in recent years, his coach has other ideas.

Instead of relying on his young QB’s arm, Terence Williams plans to use a senior-laden line and a group of experienced running backs to lessen the pressure.

“He wants to come here and put his stamp on Redemptorist like the other guys who have been here,” Terence Williams said. “He’s seen pictures of Deuce Coon, Jeremy Hill and La’el Collins in the weight room. Michael understands the stigma of (ZIP code) 70805. He wants to be the guy who says, ‘Hey, I’m from 70805, and look at what I’m doing that’s positive right here.’ ”