MERIDEN — The pipeline of talent running from Greater Meriden to Jess Dow Field just got richer.
Platt All-State lineman Jaylen John confirmed Friday that he’s heading to Southern Connecticut State University to play Division II football with the Owls.
A two-way player for the Panthers since his sophomore year, John projects as a defensive lineman at SCSU.
“I think Southern’s a good spot for him,” Platt coach Jason Bruenn said. “He’ll definitely be able to play at that level with his athleticism. He’s tough and he’s a great athlete.”
Few people question that. John was voted All-State by both the Connecticut High School Coaches Association and the Walter Camp Foundation as a junior and again this past year as a senior. He was All-Record-Journal both seasons as well.
For John, sealing the deal with Southern is the culmination of a lifelong dream to play college football.
“For so long, so long,” John said of his college aspirations. “It’s more of a challenge. You’ve got to adjust. You get bigger, you get stronger, you get faster. That’s what I’m willing to do to play college football.”
John is also ready to up his game academically. Less-than-stellar grades at Platt did not help in the recruiting process. He’s ready to embrace a fresh start at college. He knows what he has to do.
“To be honest, my grades weren’t really there, but Southern gave me an opportunity,” John said. “In the summer, I can go through a program and, if I do good in that program, I can play at Southern.
“That’s my chance right there that I can pick things back up and start over. Everything’s brand new and I can start off in a new place.”
That new place will have some familiar faces. Victor Marquez, the all-time receiving leader at Maloney, is at Southern. So is linebacker Vance Upham from Southington.
Jordan Davis, a catalyst in Sheehan’s run to the 2019 Class S state championship, is heading to Southern. So is Cheshire running back Jake McAlinden.
Also incoming? John’s former Platt teammate Tylon Papallo, who transferred to SCSU after two years of junior college ball at Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania.
Here’s a few more names on the Owls’ manifest: lineman Jimmy Starr of Southington, running back Randy McFarline of Lyman Hall and cornerback Jaylen Lewis of Manchester, step-grandson of former Platt coach Tom Ryan.
“I’m just glad Meriden, and obviously Platt, is producing that quality of player that these guys want to recruit them,” Bruenn said. “We’re finally getting some kids into the bigger state schools and it’s good to see.”
With John, SCSU head coach Tom Godek and his staff will be getting a versatile D-lineman who has the strength of a tackle and the mobility of an end. At Platt, John lined up in the “three technique” — on the outside shoulder of the guard.
“For people that don’t know football, that’s like a Warren Sapp-type player — that defensive tackle who can wreak havoc in the backfield,” Bruenn said. “He may be one of the top tackle-for-loss guys for defensive linemen I’ve ever seen. He was just always there.”
As a junior, John made 67 tackles, 40 of them solo and 15 for lost yardage. As a senior, he was credited with 60 tackles, 50 of them solo and 17.5 for lost yardage.
“And it’s not like he had a ton of sacks either,” Bruenn noted. “These were just legit plays where he chased someone down or defeated a block in front of him and made a tackle in the backfield.”
John said his senior season was the toughest of the three. After his first All-State season as a junior, opponents knew all about him and game-planned accordingly.
“Stay away from me, double-team team, trap me — everything. It was tough this year,” John said. “They knew I was coming.”
John was likewise on college radar screens. Working against him, though, was his size. At 5-foot-10, 250 pounds, John was a true handful at the high school level, but short of physical benchmarks Division I programs tend to adhere to.
“He’s a little shorter and a lot of schools are based off the metrics. If you don’t have the height or whatever specific number they’re looking for, they shy away from you,” Bruenn remarked. “With him, I don’t think it’s about the metrics. I think it’s whether he can make plays or not. This kid has proven he can make plays.”
Bruenn considers John one of the top defensive linemen to ever play at Platt, mentioning him in the same breath as Anthony Sanders Sr. and his son, Anthony Sanders Jr. Both Sanders were nicknamed “Tank” and both were nose guards, lining up straight over center.
Playing out of the three technique, John had more range, and it suited his game. It’s also why he preferred the defensive to the offensive line.
“I love defense. I feel like I can do way more,” John said. “I can be creative with where I go. I can use my talent freely.”
In preparation for Southern, John is working with a personal trainer three times a week. He runs, lifts weights and, perhaps most critically, works on agility.
“Working on my speed, hand movements and stuff, that’ll really help me out a lot in the long run,” John said. “I’ve been doing that most.”
John will live on campus. Due to the coronavirus, though, his summer academic program will be online.
He knows a big transition is in store.
“I am so ready,” said John. “I’m getting ready if I’m not. I feel ready, though.”
As for character, Bruenn vouches for that.
“He’s a good kid; he’s a good person. He doesn’t come in with a huge ego. He’s not a showy type of kid. He just wants to go out and play.”