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The DMV is a hotbed for NFL talent, and in recent years, the Washington Football Team has taken advantage.
From drafting Jonathan Allen (Stone Bridge) and Chase Young (DeMatha) in the first round to adding Logan Thomas (Brookville) and Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) in free agency, Washington has turned to its own backyard to construct a roster that helped the franchise win its first NFC East title since 2015.
In anticipation for the 2021 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 29, Washingtonfootball.com is examining some of the best local prospects in this year's draft class by talking to their high school coaches. Here are the players we have highlighted so far:
Next up is Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw, who played for Riverdale Baptist School and is considered by most scouts to be a first-round pick.
Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Christian Darrisaw was not like most eighth grade kids Riverdale Baptist head coach Ceasar Nettles had seen when he was recruiting young players to join the Crusaders' squad.
The first thing that stuck out was his personality. Riverdale Baptist is a strict school, where attributes like high character are held in high regard. Darrisaw was as quiet, humble and respectful, so Nettles was quick to check that requirement off the list.
Then there were his physical traits. At 13 years old, he was already towering above his teammates at 6-foot-1 and had extremely long arms. He was not too heavy at the time, only about 210 pounds, but had natural gifts. That was all Nettles needed to see; he wanted Darrisaw on his team.
"It was a no brainer," Nettles said. "We were really excited to get him in."
Darrisaw continued to grow after he enrolled at Riverdale Baptist, but size alone is not what turned him into one of the best offensive linemen in this year's NFL Draft class. It wasn't even the talent he possessed; it was the hours of practice and years of focusing on the smaller details from his coaches that turned him into a prospect scouts adore. Now Darrisaw, a masterful technician, is set to test his craft at the professional level.
It might go against what some coaches believe, but Nettles actually likes to coach players who are raw and don't have that much specialized coaching. The way he sees it, he can teach them the right techniques at an early age that doesn't allow them to fall into bad habits later on.
Nettles recognized that Darrisaw had a lot of skills you simply can't coach. He was a gifted athlete, but had never been taught proper hand placement and pad level. Nettles did not see those as a detriment, though, because those are things all taller athletes struggle with in high school.
"He had some of those issues, but that was good because when you're a raw lump of clay, it's easier to mold," Nettles said. "But...he was always strong. Even if he wasn't always strong in the weight room, he was strong naturally. He was laterally quick, and he was always humble and very hard-working. With that skillset alone, that's all you ever really want from a 13-year-old."
So Darrisaw worked every day to master his craft. He was someone who wanted to do his job to the best of his ability, and that mindset made him "extremely coachable." He never complained; he just went to work, and Nettles could see Darrisaw develop before his eyes. By his sophomore year, he had sprouted up to 6-foot-3 and packed on an extra 30 pounds.
By then, Riverdale Baptist was in need of a starting left tackle on the varsity team. Nettles already had the answer: Darrisaw.
"He's not going to be dominated. He's not intimidated," Nettles said. "I didn't have to put a fire in him. He's not a 'rah-rah' guy. You don't have to rile him up. He's already riled up. He's ready to play. Those were the things we looked for, and those are the things he has in him."
Nettles believes Darrisaw could have played varsity as a freshman, but it was clear he benefited from the year of development because of how crisp his technique had become. He had a knack for maintaining blocks for as long as 40 yards, his first step on reach blocks was the quickest Nettles had ever seen, and he had a discipline Nettles could trust to protect the quarterback's blindside on every pass play.
"That's not necessarily a football trait," Nettles said. "That's just a character trait that he had. And so I just trusted in him that he would do his job."
When Darrisaw started to get recruited by college scouts, Nettles was surprised he was only graded as a two- or three-star prospect. He assumes it had something to do with the fact that he was not the prototypical size, but there was no denying what his eyes had seen. He had witnessed Darrisaw hold his own against Chase Young in scrimmages against DeMatha. If he could handle a player like Young, who Nettles saw as the undisputed best defensive lineman in the country, there was no doubt he could play offensive tackle at the Power 5 level.
There were some schools that paid closer attention to Darrisaw. Virginia Tech was one of them, although it took some time to get to that point. The program was originally interested in Darrisaw's teammate, Tariq Castro-Fields, but the more the Hokies' scouts started paying attention to Darrisaw using his technique to clear running lanes and seal edges, the more they started to get interested in him.
"Why is that guy not getting more love?" Nettles remembers the scout asking him.
"You tell me," Nettles replied.
Darrisaw eventually signed with Virginia Tech, and Nettles has kept up with his progress ever since. He has bulked even more to 322 pounds and proven he can be equally potent in run-blocking and pass protection. He has the stats to back that up, too; he only allowed six pressures and was one of two offensive tackles to receive a 90-plus run-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus in 2020.
But all of that stems from his technical growth to Nettles. He stays low and works well on combo blocks. The physicality is still there, but his attention to detail has continued to grow. In a way, he's just a bigger, more efficient version of the player he was a Riverdale Baptist. And no matter where Darrisaw goes, Nettles hopes it will be to a team that highlights the traits that enticed him years ago: being a talented player who works hard on his craft and wants nothing more than to help his team.
"He will run through a brick wall for his team," Nettles said. "He is a great kid. So what I want is an organization that strictly wants to win and doesn't care about the numbers or ratings or what have you. They just want a kid who's going to come to work and do his job."