Shortly afterward, Roy McCullough chose Ohio University as

By Tom Hardesty Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Shortly afterward, Roy McCullough chose Ohio University as his collegiate football destination.

And now, Damien Fortson has become the third starter from the Ravenna Ravens' 1999 state-playoff team to join the Division I-A ranks with his verbal commitment on Sunday to accept a scholarship offer to play football at Michigan State University.

"Marcus opened up the gates for me and Roy because he brought in the recruits," said Fortson. "It was up to me and Roy to show what we could do. The recruiters noticed me through Marcus."

Fortson had just returned from his official visit to East Lansing this past weekend when he phoned Spartans assistant coach Don Treadwell with his decision to play at Michigan State.

"I liked the people there, I just liked the way the program was run," said Fortson. "I knew it was a challenge I'd like to take.

"I always knew I could play at the highest level in the best league. I never feel like I can't do something."

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Fortson, who runs a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, was a standout at quarterback and in the defensive backfield during his career with the Ravens, but will likely play cornerback at Michigan State.

Fortson missed the last five games of the 2000 season after undergoing emergency hernia surgery, but still registered respectable stats in the five games he saw action. As a free safety and cornerback, he recorded 41 tackles (2 for loss), four passes broken up and two fumble recoveries. At quarterback, he completed 31-of-60 passes for 456 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed 48 times for 336 yards and five TDs.

"Damien is a young man who enjoys a challenge and enjoys competing against the best, and at Michigan State he's going to have an opportunity to do that," said Ravenna coach Tim Place. "He's just going to get bigger and stronger at Michigan State. For his size, you just don't find someone with his pure athleticism. Playing in the Big Ten, playing against teams like Purdue and Northwestern that spread the field, you need someone who can run and cover. If you're looking for big corners with athleticism, Damien fits that bill.

"If he keeps his mind right and keeps going in the right direction, in my humble opinion he could be playing on Sundays someday."

Fortson took an unofficial visit to Michigan State when the Spartans hosted Drew Brees and Purdue Nov. 11 in East Lansing and pasted the Rose Bowl-bound Boilermakers 30-10. Fortson came away impressed with the Spartan secondary's performance against Brees, who was 26-of-43 for 279 yards and one TD in the game but was picked off three times.

"I liked it. It was intense," said Fortson, a Division II honorable-mention all-state selection at defensive back as a junior and senior. "They played a lot of DBs. I liked the scheme that they ran. They played six or seven DBs at one time and shut down Drew Brees."

Fortson was also offered by Ohio University, Akron, Kent State, Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio), with Minnesota also expressing interest. But getting a scholarship offer from a Big Ten school was simply too good to turn down.

"I really liked OU, but it was just the challenge I had to take of playing in the Big Ten," said Fortson, a first-team all-district DB the last two seasons. "I didn't want to wonder later on if I was good enough to play in the Big Ten."

However, one Big Ten school was conspicuous by its absence in recruiting Fortson: Ohio State.

"They recruit on a national level, so I can understand it," he said. "It's cool. I'll get a chance to show them."

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.