Orlando Freedom linebacker Justin North was an imposing force in the Patriots’ 35-28 spring-game victory against Orlando University last week.
He entered the contest without a scholarship offer. Colleges have been intrigued with his size (6-2, 225) and physical attributes, but his lack of experience playing linebacker and short (2:21) junior highlight film has put schools in more of an evaluation mode with North.
He has more film now. After accumulating roughly 15 tackles in one half of play — while delivering some jarring hits in the process — North and Freedom coach Andy Johnson were able to compile an impressive highlight tape from the Patriots spring game that lasted one minute and 54 seconds … almost as long as his entire junior tape.
That may not seem like a long time, but it’s more than enough to show colleges that North can be an impact player at linebacker.
“I think it’ll help him,” Johnson said of North’s tape. “Obviously he has the size part of it down and people know he can run around and hit people. When he continues to show people he can play linebacker and play in space, he’s going to get plenty of offers.”
According to North, schools like UCF, West Virginia, Southern Miss and Cincinnati were impressed with his spring-game film.
“They said I looked quicker, pretty quick for a big guy,” North said. “They thought I’d be slower since I gained eight pounds, but they said I looked quicker.”
North has worked on getting more explosive while still adding muscle and the results are apparent. Although he was good as a defensive end/defensive tackle last year, he lacked consistent burst and was hampered by a torn ligament in his foot, causing him to miss four games.
The decision was made to move him to linebacker this spring because North’s ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline would benefit the team, and it would be the position he’d eventually play in college.
“It was better to help me out for my future,” North said. “I usually play better in space, but I also like putting my hand in the dirt. I’m more of a linebacker than a defensive end, so it wasn’t that hard to make that transition.”
However, the move has led to a slow recruitment. Colleges wanted to see if North could apply his physical skills linebacker, where instinctual play trumps everything else.
Based on his film, North has proved that he’s a capable ‘backer. He’s hearing from a wide array of schools, including West Virginia, UCF, Cincinnati, Southern Miss, Boston College, FAU, FIU, Michigan State, Bowling Green, Bethune Cookman and Illinois State.
Although interest is picking up, North can’t help but notice that others around him continue to add offers while he’s still searching for his first one. Freedom receiver Jeff Badet and defensive lineman Kevin Maurice recently gained their first offers.
“Players from my school, like Jeff and Big Mac, Kevin Maurice, tell me that it’s going to come,” North said. “There’s not a second that doesn’t cross my mind. I could be playing baseball and it’d be in the seventh inning, and I’d be thinking ‘when do I get my first offer.’ That’s how much I think about it.”
While his stock appears to be steadily rising, North still can’t help but be restless for the always elusive first scholarship offer. Johnson knows the way the recruiting game is played and stresses for North to not let it get to him.
“There’s not much you can say other than be patient,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, you’re still eight months away from signing day. You just have to keep perspective.”
Brendan Sonnone is the Sentinel's recruiting correspondent and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Brendan on Twitter at @BSonnone or Facebook at Brendan Sonnone or at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting.