WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fast friends doesn't even begin to describe it.
In December, Yannick Ngakoue and Derwin Gray were practically strangers. After transferring to Washington (D.C.) Friendship in January, they became teammates. Now, they're close friends that are strongly considering playing college football together.
“Both of us transferred first of all, so we’re both coming in new,” said Gray, who played for Washington (D.C.) Dunbar last season. “We kind of have a bond off of that.”
Ngakoue, who transferred from Washington (D.C.) Archbishop Carroll, isn't exactly sure how the two became friends so quickly.
“I don't know,” he said. “We just connected.”
Just how far the bond will go remains to be seen. Gray said he thinks there's a “50/50” chance the two will sign with the same school. Ngakoue thinks the odds are even stronger.
“Seven or eight,” the linebacker said when asked the chances on a scale of one to 10. “But at the end of the day he's going to pick what school he wants to go to and I'm going to pick what school I'm going to go to.”
College recruiters have picked up on the bond.
“A lot of schools talk about a package deal,” Ngakoue said. “Most of the same schools have offered us both so we take our visits together. We have a real close connection.”
Gray and Ngakoue have visited several colleges together, including Tennessee recently. Ngakoue spoke glowingly of his recent visit to Tennessee, particularly how his recruiter, defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, runs the Vols' practice.
Other schools also have their own individual appeal. Ngakoue's mother would like to see him at Notre Dame. He'll visit South Bend on June 24.
“I know when I graduate from there, I will get a real good job,” Ngakoue said. “They have an independent league so they play anybody. That's real good too."
The two are considering nearby Maryland but Ngakoue would like to see significant improvement on the field after the Terrapins' 2-10 record in 2011. He's been impressed by South Carolina after seeing their practices online and he's recently visited Rutgers. Clemson is also in the running and one of the schools Ngakoue said he plans on visiting.
“I heard they have a beautiful campus but I haven't been down there yet,” said Ngakoue, who plans to study veterinarian medicine. “They're recruiting me to play D-end so that's something new.”
And perhaps not something Ngakoue would like to do. Ngakoue, who recently picked up a scholarship offer from Penn State, has said he'd like to play linebacker in college but it's obvious he could grow into a defensive end.
“I like where I am now,” the 6-foot-2, 225-pound prospect said. “I don't want to get too big. They'll try to put my hand in the dirt [to play defensive end].”
That may give a program that runs a 3-4 defensive scheme an advantage over a school that runs a 4-3. It's easy to see Ngakoue outgrowing the typical parameters of a quick, 4-3 linebacker. Still, he's not opposed to giving it a shot.
“I'll play it for money to go to school,” he said.
Ngakoue has already eliminated some schools due to their current roster. Playing time will be a strong factor in his recruitment.
“Depth chart is key,” he said. “I want to play early as a true freshman. I don't want to redshirt.”
Ngakoue is planning trips to several other schools, likely alongside Gray. Auburn is worth watching. Gray, in one of his rare solo trips, gave Ngakoue a very positive review of the school. The two may visit again.
Friendship head coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim couldn't be happier about his two latest transfers. An already talent-laden football program got that much better with two top-flight college football prospects.
“He's probably one of the most versatile kids we've ever had,” Abdul-Rahim said of Ngakoue. “His recruitment is sky high because as far as fronts...there's not a [defensive] scheme he can't fit in.”
As for Gray, when asked to evaluate him, Abdul-Rahim said, “Extremely athletic for his size. He's got some of the lightest feet I've seen on a kid that's 6-5. He's 295 [pounds].”
Gray has been the subject of some scrutiny in the Washington, D.C., area when chatter began that he might not qualify academically. Abdul-Rahim said that will not be a concern now that he has transferred.
“I think that was the whole purpose,” the coach said of the move. “Him coming over here had nothing to do with football. He needed a change of scenery academically. He needed a different type of support. I don't know what they were doing there, positive or negative, but he needs more support academically.
“He needs more discipline. Some high school kids can do it on their own. Some can't. In college, they don't take a chance. They're on top of you.”
Both players will get that opportunity soon. So what do they think about each others' ability now?
“He’s a great player,” Gray said of Ngakoue. “He’s very physical. He’s a great [Division I] player. He’s also quick off the edge and he has good pad leverage.”
Ngakoue shared similar praise.
“He's physical,” the linebacker said of Gray. “He doesn't quit and he just keeps coming back.”
That performance should only improve if the two continue to push each other.
“He keeps me on the right track and keeps me motivated,” Gray said of Ngakoue. “I keep him motivated at the same time and not let him get big headed and do stupid stuff. He’s pretty much like a brother.”
And perhaps a college football teammate.