IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) quarterback Shea Patterson has seen Paramus Catholic (Paramus, N.J.) defensive end Rashan Gary at various camps, but Friday will be their first meeting between the lines. No. 7 IMG (6-0) plays host to the Paladins (3-3) Friday night on ESPN2 (7 p.m., ET).
“Thankfully, it’s going to be the first time I’ve met him on the field,” Patterson said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to have a long talk with him, but I have talked with him a few times.”
Patterson is the No. 1 player in the 2016 class according to Rivals.com, with Gary the No. 2 player. However in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, Gary, who is 6-4 and 300 pounds, is the top player and Patterson, an Ole Miss commit, is the No. 4 recruit. While the matchup of top recruits will likely be played up on ESPN2’s broadcast, IMG coach Kevin Wright says there will be more factors at play when the No. 7 Ascenders play host to one of the top teams in New Jersey.
“It (the meeting between Gary and Patterson) will happen, but it will be with a couple of guys between them, I hope, from an offensive line standpoint,” IMG coach Kevin Wright said. “I think there are several great players on both teams. Their other defensive end (Corey Bolds) is very good, they have a 2017 linebacker who’s really good (Drew Singleton) and their quarterback (Allan Walters) is just a sophomore and already has eight big-time offers.”
If IMG is able to win Friday, it will have three victories against teams from New Jersey’s Big North United Division, with the other two coming over Bergen Catholic (Oradell) and St. Joseph Regional (Montvale).
“We said if we win this, we should at least get a commemorative New Jersey state championship ring,” Wright said with a laugh. “Since one of those three teams will end up winning the whole deal. That’s a heck of a conference.”
After a 1-3 start, the Paladins won 19-16 at Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey) and 55-22 at Friendship Collegiate (Washington, D.C.) the past two weeks. IMG, after defeating Southern Lab (Baton Rouge, La.) 42-0 two weeks ago, had last week off. While IMG running backs Tony Jones (316 yards and seven rushing touchdowns) and Jordan Anthony (151 yards, three rushing touchdowns) have kept teams honest, the Ascenders remain a passing team behind Patterson, who has completed 59 of 98 passes for 1,187 yards and 14 touchdowns. The top receivers are Drake Davis (238 receiving yards and four touchdown catches) and Emmanuel Greene (183 yards and four touchdown catches).
“Paramus has the ability to bring pressure with four guys,” Wright said. “They blitz very seldom. They want to outnumber you in the box to stop your run game, but with Rashan Gary in the front four, they could drop six or seven guys back because I haven’t seen anybody single block him. They’ll move him around and try to find the weak link. We throw the ball so much, we have to make sure we’re not backed up. We have to do some things in our blocking scheme and we can’t be one-dimensional. Our running game has to be a factor.”