Two of the best high school football players in Union County to graduate in 2009 – Marquis Spruill of Hillside (6-1, 231) and Kendall James of Roselle (5-11, 180) – had gridiron dreams realized this past week.
Both 22-year-olds were selected by NFL teams in the 2014 draft, with Spruill – a linebacker out of Syracuse – a fifth round choice (168th pick overall) of the Atlanta Falcons and James – a cornerback out of Maine – a sixth round choice (184th pick overall) of the Minnesota Vikings.
Spruill, exactly one month older than James – Spruill was born in May of 1991 – helped lead Hillside to the North 2, Group 2 semifinals his senior season of 2008. That is Hillside’s last winning season, with the Comets finishing 8-3 that fall under first-year head coach John Power.
Spruill first played at Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Va. before transferring to Syracuse. As a senior at Hillside Spruill was one of the leading tacklers in the Mountain Valley Conference, with his stellar play on defense helping lead the Comets to their first Mountain Division title in eight years.
“We here in Hillside are very proud of Marquis Spruill and I believe that he exemplifies what’s best about Hillside through his intelligence and great work ethic,” Hillside School Board President George Cook said. “Marquis could not have been drafted without those attributes.”
James helped lead Roselle to its first winning season in exactly 10 years his senior season of 2008, with the Rams finishing 5-4 under second-year head coach Kenneth Wiggins.
When Roselle played at Hillside on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008 on a gray, cloudy and very muddy Saturday afternoon at Woodfield Stadium, Roselle prevailed by a 14-13 score the week before the playoffs. In North 2, Group 2, Hillside defeated Orange 13-6 and then lost to Caldwell 28-21, with both games being played at Union’s Cooke Memorial Field.
Spruill, who was a junior at Syracuse last fall, had 10 tackles in a home game against Northwestern last September.
At Syracuse’s pro day, Spruill – who wore No. 11 while playing for the Orangemen – ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds on both attempts. He had a short shuttle time of 4.44 seconds and a three-cone time of 7.33 seconds. Spruill had a 34 -1/2 inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-9 broad jump. He had 21 strength lifts.
Spruill’s professional assessment on his NFL.com draft profile is that he is a college inside “backer” who projects best to the weak side in the pros. He has the leadership qualities and mental toughness to make a mark on special teams and earn his way into a lineup.
“James had a good pro-day positional workout, displaying good recovery speed and instincts,” said former Dallas Cowboys chief talent scout and present print analyst and draft expert Gil Brandt.
James’ professional assessment on his draft profile on NFL.com is: “undersized, extremely short-armed, feisty corner with potential to contribute as a sub-package defender. James offers appealing fluidity, twitch, speed and ball skills, though he will always face size and strength limitations.”
James, who wore No. 5 at Maine and is that school’s 15 player to be selected in the NFL draft, headlined a Maine secondary that allowed a league-low 165.4 passing yards per game last fall.
James produced 36 tackles last year – 2.5 for losses – to go along with two interceptions, nine pass breakups and a blocked field goal. He finished his Black Bear career with 147 tackles, eight interceptions and 25 pass breakups over 48 games.
James was the 51st Maine player to join a NFL team overall and is the school’s last and highest ever selection.
Jerron McMillian, another Hillside High School product, was chosen by the Green Bay Packers with the 133rd overall pick in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
McMillian, a safety, played for Green Bay during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He was released by the Packers in December and then in January signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.