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  • IndyStar | The Indianapolis Star

    One of nation's top recruits, Damien Shanklin's goal is to get Warren Central back on top

    By Kyle Neddenriep, Indianapolis Star,

    28 days ago

    The tradition of Warren Central football is not lost on Damien Shanklin .

    When he was a sixth grader, Shanklin sat in the bleachers at North Central — on the Warren Central side, of course — for the Class 6A regional showdown on a cold, windy November night that numbed the fingers and toes. David Bell’s 63-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter put Warren Central ahead to stay on the way to a 42-32 victory; two weeks later, the Warriors wrapped up an undefeated 2018 season with a state title — the ninth in program history.

    “I was sitting there and spilled hot cocoa on my shoes,” Shanklin said of that night. “Red and white Jordan 9s. I remember all of that.”

    Those were impactful memories for the 6-5, 245-pound Shanklin, who made the trip to Louisville in Week 2 of that season and watched the Warriors upset nationally ranked Louisville Trinity, 42-41. He went to almost every game in between, including a 27-7 win over Carmel in the state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

    “We had fun, met new people,” Shanklin said. “Later on, at the state game, they let me chill with the team. We were playing on the fifth and sixth grade travel team, so we got to hang out with those guys.”

    Since that night of Nov. 23, 2018, it has been a mixed bag of success for Warren Central. Then-coach Jayson West stayed two more seasons, going 8-4 and 4-6, respectively, before taking the job at Franklin Central . Warren Central alum Mike Kirschner, after leaving Ben Davis off a state championship season in 2017, built Mt. Vernon into a power in three seasons. He returned to Warren Central and has led the Warriors to two sectional titles with an overall record of 16-17 in three years.

    There is belief the 2024 season could be a breakthrough. If it is true games are won up front, the Warriors should be well-equipped to be a contender. Shanklin, who will be a senior, coming off a season that saw him make 66 tackles and nearly break the school’s single-season record with 17 tackles for a loss (Chris Graham had 18 in 2002).

    His defensive line teammates include senior-to-be Tyrone Burrus Jr. (15 tackles for loss; has top five of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville and Michigan State), junior Jerimy Finch Jr. (14 tackles for loss; offers from Indiana, Louisville, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee and others) and senior Marcus Bell, who has offers from St. Francis and Marian and Kirschner said “might be the most physical defensive lineman we have.”

    “It’s an impressive group,” Kirschner said. “Probably the best group I’ve been around in a while.”

    Shanklin takes it a step further.

    “Honestly, I think we have one of the best defensive lines in the country,” he said.

    It certainly starts with Shanklin, who is ranked as a four-star prospect by 247Sports and the No. 47 overall prospect in the country in the 2025 graduating class. That also puts him as the top prospect in the state.

    “I don’t really care about the rankings and stuff like that,” Shanklin said. “Because regardless, I’m going to do what I do. I just try to remain humble and maintain that spot.”

    Shanklin is preparing for his senior season but also gearing up for a key stretch of his college recruitment. He has official visits planned for LSU (May 31-June 2), Ohio State (June 7-9), Tennessee (June 14-16) and Alabama (June 21-23). He is also looking to get back to Michigan for an unofficial visit to talk with the new staff.

    As of now, Shanklin said he is planning to make his decision and announce Sept. 21, which would be the day after Warren Central’s game against rival Ben Davis.

    “Mainly when I go on visits, I look at the coach and how they bond with the players and see if they are being themselves and not just trying to recruit somebody and not being themselves,” Shanklin said. “I see if I see myself being there and being around people I know are going to help me in every which way. When I’m here (at Warren Central), I have a nice support system and have everybody on my side motivating me to do better. I just want to make sure I’m comfortable with everything.”

    Shanklin said he has been staying connected with other top recruits in his class, including the No. 1-ranked player in the country, five-star quarterback Bryce Underwood of Belleville, Mich. Underwood, notably, is an LSU commit. He said he also communicates with DJ Pickett, a Florida cornerback ranked in the top-10 in the country and will visit LSU the same weekend. Kaliq Lockett, a five-star receiver from Texas, will also visit LSU the last weekend in May.

    Shanklin said he would like to take two or three game visits in September prior to making his college announcement.

    “When I go on visits, I get to know everybody,” he said. “I’m trying to be friends with them. I can’t be a weirdo and go on a visit and not talk to the guys.”

    When Kirschner arrived at Warren Central, Shanklin was in the second semester of his eighth-grade year. Those football players would come to the high school for after school workouts. Right away, Shanklin’s size and athleticism made him stand out.

    “He was a lot skinnier at that age, obviously,” Kirschner said. “But he was 6-2 or 6-3 already and I was impressed by his physical ability and the way he ran to the ball for an eighth grader. He’s very easy to coach. He shows up every day and you don’t have to worry about him.”

    Shanklin’s natural position is defensive end. But that’s not all he can do. He was a kicker in middle school and ended up finding himself back in that spot when Elijah Slibeck, the 2022 Mr. Football position award winner at kicker, was injured. Slibeck filled both the kicker and punter roles for Warren Central.

    “You never know where it’s going to go when he’s kicking,” Kirschner said of Shanklin. “But he has done it. The punting was kind of by accident. When Elijah got hurt, (Shanklin) said he had done it. He did a good job last year when he wasn’t faking it when he wasn’t supposed to. We laugh about it now, but it wasn’t funny at the time.”

    Shanklin might be one of the few four-star defensive end prospects in the country with kicker and punter responsibilities. Kirschner said he has improved as a punter and will be continue in that spot as a senior. He averaged 32.3 yards on his 28 punts as a junior and had touchbacks on three of his 18 kickoffs.

    “I didn’t really want to kick,” Shanklin said with a laugh. “But I did a little bit of everything growing up. I played quarterback, played tackle in eighth grade. I got here and played some linebacker, then moved to defensive end. They made me kick freshman year, then our punter left so I started punting again. Then I was long snapping, then punting again. Just being an athlete.”

    Kirschner, who took Shanklin to Alabama for an unofficial visit, said he does not get the impression distance from home will be a factor in his choice.

    “He doesn’t get too overwhelmed or excited one way or another,” Kirschner said. “It’s become kind of a national deal and some kids can get whacked out by that a little bit. But he’s just trying to weigh all of his possible options. I think he’s intrigued by the (SEC programs) but when you talk about the likes of Michigan and Ohio State, those are impressive Big Ten schools. I don’t know what he’s going to do but I know there are a lot of people in his corner trying to help him out.”

    Shanklin said he does not necessarily have individual goals as he prepares for his senior season. The main goal is to get Warren Central back on top.

    “I’m just trying to get to that level in November and make sure we get that blue ring,” he said. “But one of my goals is to just be that team leader and make sure everybody is in that right mindset to be better than we’ve been the last couple of years. It comes with everybody buying in and just being here. Watching that David Bell and then, that tradition can never leave. I think about that every day, watching videos and stuff. It gives me goosebumps. I think we can do the same.”

    Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

    This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: One of nation's top recruits, Damien Shanklin's goal is to get Warren Central back on top

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