Shrine Bowl: Movers and Shakers

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Every year since 1937, the top players in North Carolina battle the top players in South Carolina in a game dubbed "The Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas." This year has more talent than ever before, and has been on-hand for every practice thus far.

Today we take a look at the North Carolina squad and see whose stock has risen and who needs a strong ending to the week.

On the rise:

A five star running back already, Toney Baker (right) made his presence known early and often. With arms equal in size to most South Carolina offensive linemen, the Ragsdale running back is a physical presence, but his ability to find holes, burst into the line, and find daylight had the college coaches on-hand acknowledging what they already knew; Baker was the best player on the practice fields.

Derek Nicholson (left) certainly solidified his position as the number two player in North Carolina, flying all over the field taking on blocks, shedding, and still making solo tackles. The linebacker from Mount Tabor seems to have trouble with the phrase "stay up" as head coach Dick Cline emplored all through practices, but at the bottom of each pile arose number fifty.

A player quickly rising on the charts is Montario Hardesty (right), a running back from New Bern. He could end up as the fastest player on the field for both teams and coming in at 6-feet, 190 pounds that is a tremendous feat. He could see the field at a variety of positions, but his hips are terrific and could hint at a potential stardom as a cornerback at the collegiate level.

Mohamed Massaquoi is the class of the wide receivers on the North Carolina squad. Coming off a state championship with Independence, Massaquoi is as polished as ever with a great frame, large hands, and terrific body lean into his routes. Those very crisp routes are giving him plenty of separation against the defensive backs, and give him an opportunity to earn awards after Saturday's game.

James Arnold (left), whose nickname of Cooter is heard quite often from his teammates, is a very versatile player for the North Carolina squad. The North Carolina coaches are trying to find ways to get the ball in this playmaker's hands, who could play as many as six positions in the game on Saturday including on special teams. He has adequate speed for a running back, plays above the ground as a receiver, and moves well in space.

For a very big man, Maurice Covington caught the eyes of several coaches with his improved play over where he was last summer. It seems as tough Covington is starting to feel more comfortable with his 6-foot-4, 210 pound frame. He is able to play physical, but really has a better ability to go one-on-one and out-wrestle the defensive back for the ball either from the ground or in the air.

Covington's teammate at South Durham, Brandon Woods, is also impressing at the wide receiver position. At 6-2, 205 pounds, Woods plays much bigger than that with soft hands and a better knowledge of the game than what he shows on film in which he shows single- and no-move routes. With that, Woods is looking to be a solid figure as a starter on a team with many tremendous wide receivers.

Just a few days left:

Curtis Crouch (right) is hard to miss with his 6-foot-6, 315 pound body, but Crouch is not anticipated to start in the game. Perhaps due to the lack of preparation for the game having learned he is playing late last week, Crouch is having trouble keeping up with the play calls and is not firing off the ball like Coach Cline, who is coaching the offensive line, wants. Chris DeGeare, who played for Coach Cline at Glenn High, is expected to start ahead of Crouch as of right now.

Everette Brown is on this part of the list mostly due to his size. Brown appears to be around 6-foot-2, 220 pounds rather than his previously listed 6-4, 240 and that could move his projected position from defensive end to a more likely linebacker role. While the potential is certainly there with tremendous athleticism, he still needs to play better in coverage to play the strong-side linebacker position.

Unfortunately for Levin Neal, it appears as though he will not be able to play in the game. After dislocating his ankle over the course of his senior season, the ankle is acting up again despite coming back to play in his high school's final game at Ashley.

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