Second in a summer series looking at top players for the 2018 high school football season. The first was on Malvern Prep's Keith Maguire.
Mohamed Toure enjoys a challenge. Why else would he transfer to his hometown school of Pleasantville in the middle of one of the worst losing stretches in recent South Jersey football history?
The 6-foot-2, 213-pound running back/linebacker first attended nearby Atlantic City High but transferred to Pleasantville after his freshman season.
He was joining a Pleasantville team that had consecutive 0-10 seasons and was 3-57 in the previous six seasons.
"I believed that Coach Sacco would turn things around," Toure said.
His belief was rewarded.
Chris Sacco went to Pleasantville as head coach in 2015 and, after enduring that 0-10 season, has moved the program steadily upward.
Toure should be credited with a major assist.
In Toure's first season at Pleasantville, the Greyhounds ended a 21-game losing streak and finished 4-6. That momentum carried into last season, when Pleasantville went 7-3 and earned a berth in the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs. The Greyhounds lost in the first round, but reaching the postseason brought the program to a new level.
"When I first got to Pleasantville, I talked to my friends about we had the chance to turn things around," Toure said.
The turnaround, led by Toure, was dramatic last season. As a junior, he rushed for 909 yards (8.7 per carry) and nine touchdowns. Toure added nine receptions for 137 yards and one score.
Toure's future, however, lies on defense, and he is being recruited mainly as an outside linebacker.
Last season, he had 93 tackles, seven for losses, including four sacks, and one interception. He also kicked two field goals.
"He is very conditioned to play the whole game, but the biggest thing is his football IQ and his passion for the game and commitment to help turn this program around," Sacco said.
Many players from struggling programs have trouble getting noticed by colleges, but not Toure. When Georgia Tech offered him a scholarship in late spring, it was his 17th offer.
"I never thought I would be where I am," Toure said. "I never thought I would have this many offers."
There is a lot to like about a linebacker who runs like a running back and hits like a truck.
"The first practice we saw him, we knew he was a physical player who never shied away from contact," Sacco said.
Another factor in Toure's achievements is his continued improvement.
"He made a big jump from his sophomore to junior year," Sacco said.
The statistics show that. As a sophomore, he played all 10 games and rushed for 370 yards (4.7 per carry) and two touchdowns and recorded 68 tackles, seven for losses, and one sack. That junior season got Toure on the radar of many recruiters.
“The best part of his game is he plays fast whether on offense or defense.” — Pleasantville receiver-strong safety Elijah Glover
"He is versatile enough to play inside or outside in college and be a three-down linebacker," said David McCarthy, publisher of the McCarthy Report, a publication that colleges purchase to catch up on New Jersey high school football prospects. "He plays the run and covers a lot of ground at linebacker."
Even though Toure has been recruited mainly as a linebacker, McCarthy mentioned his play on the other side of the ball.
"He is also a very good running back, a big bull of a running back," McCarthy said
The problem isn't getting Toure into the weight room. It's getting him out of there.
"He is a guy we have to cut back a little because he wants to do so much," Sacco said. "Sometimes you have to take a break and let your body recover."
Still, one of the reasons for his success is how much constructive time Toure puts in in the weight room.
"His work in the weight room has not only made him stronger but gives him the endurance to stay on the field virtually the entire game," Sacco said.
Jabril Shakur, a Pleasantville receiver-running back and free safety, said the weight room has made all the difference with Toure.
"I played with him when I was younger, and he has now developed more, gotten much bigger," Shakur said.
Sacco said that even before Toure played his first game for the Greyhounds, he knew, based on his time in the weight room, that he would be a major addition.
“It felt so amazing to get to the playoffs. This year we want to go farther.” — Mohamed Toure
More than just the work in the weight room has made Toure an impact player.
"The best part of his game is he plays fast whether on offense or defense," said Pleasantville receiver-strong safety Elijah Glover, who had received 12 scholarship offers at the beginning of the summer. "He is always going downhill."
Inspiration from family
Toure said that a major source of inspiration is his cousin Kemoko Turay, the defensive end from Rutgers who was a second-round draft choice this year of the Indianapolis Colts, the No. 52 overall selection.
"It was such an amazing feeling when he was drafted," Toure said. "It is motivation for me, seeing he could do it, and he only played his senior year in high school. I will have played four years, so that tells you that anything is possible."
Toure is closer with Lancine Turay, Kemoko's younger brother, a defensive end who is headed to North Carolina on a football scholarship after attending North Jersey's Irvington High.
Toure and his cousin have often worked out together.
"I am very proud of him," Lancine Turay said. "It's part of the family legacy."
Toure said his North Carolina-bound cousin has been invaluable in helping with recruiting.
"He has been through it and gave me a lot of good advice," Toure said.
Toure said he can't believe how quickly the perception of the Pleasantville program has changed.
"When I got here, there were some people who weren't serious about football. But the coaches made sure the team had players who really cared and wanted to put in the work," he said. "Now we are a threat, and we have multiple threats."
As he prepares for his senior year, despite all the recruiting attention, he is fueled by a drive to return to the postseason.
"It felt so amazing to get to the playoffs," he said. "This year, we want to go farther."