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Franklin wide receiver Damon Hazelton commits to Ball State

From left, Franklin guard Aman Speed, quarterback Jimmy Lahay and wide receiver Damon Hazelton celebrate after Lahay and Hazelton connected for a touchdown against Dundalk in first half of the Class 3A North regional championship.
From left, Franklin guard Aman Speed, quarterback Jimmy Lahay and wide receiver Damon Hazelton celebrate after Lahay and Hazelton connected for a touchdown against Dundalk in first half of the Class 3A North regional championship. (Steve Ruark / Baltimore Sun)

After his official visit to Ball State in December, Franklin wide receiver Damon Hazelton was pretty well sold on the program. A week later, head coach Pete Lembo decided to leave for Maryland.

Last week, Hazelton met with new Cardinals coach Mike Neu, who came to Franklin on Wednesday to talk to the senior and his mother and take in one of Hazelton's basketball games.

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"He was a straightforward guy," Hazelton said, "and I got a lot of feedback from some of the players at Ball State that got to know him. He's very pro-Ball State. Being that he went there and he graduated from Ball State and went on to coach in the NFL, the fact that he came back, tells me a lot about him. He's all about Ball State."

So is Hazelton now. He announced his commitment to the Cardinals on Saturday, choosing them over offers from Villanova and Delaware.

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"Ball State had pretty much everything I was looking for in a college program," Hazelton said. "It was a great opportunity and it had my major. They have a great communications program, and I have good relationships with the coaches."

Hazelton said it helped that Neu retained Lembo's offensive coaches, the staff who had recruited him.

"That was probably the main thing," he said. "If they weren't there, I couldn't see myself going there."

An All-Metro second-team selection in his first season with the Indians, Hazelton caught 31 passes for 496 yards and nine touchdowns this fall. He also ran for a touchdown, and he had an interception and two fumble recoveries as a cornerback and safety.

Hazelton played for two years at Loyola Blakefield, then transferred to St. Frances but had to sit out his junior year. He moved on to Franklin for his senior year.

Franklin coach Anthony Burgos said Neu, who spent the 2014-15 season as the quarterbacks coach for the New Orleans Saints, has an offensive outlook that Hazelton fits well. He expects Neu's offense to pass a lot, and Hazelton has a huge upside as a receiver.

"His ceiling is so high," Burgos said. "He hasn't touched the surface of how good he could be as a wide receiver. This was only his first year playing wide receiver, so I tell him, 'In two years, you could be a 6-3, 225-pound guy who Mike Neu got lucky he picked up.' He's just playing off of raw talent right now. When he gets under those guys and they're able to coach him, he could be a really big game-changer."

Hazelton plans to sign a national letter of intent Feb. 3 along with three teammates who also will sign with Division I programs: Stevens Smothers (West Virginia), Kareem Felder (Ohio State) and Murad Hussain (Albany).

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