With some talented linebacker prospects at the SoCal Nike Football Training Camp, it was a 2014 prospect who stole the show.
Gardena (Calif.) Serra linebacker Dwight Williams, who impressed us a week ago at the NLA Elite 7on7, was named the MVP for the linebackers at Cerritos College, and it was clear he had the best performance on the day. Williams was good in the individual drills, showing good agility and athleticism and looked real fluid and stepped it up in the 1on1's. Williams, who's about 6-1, 200, looks noticeably bigger than when we saw him in the fall, but moved very well.
Both are pretty well put together, each a legit 6-2, with Viliami a little thicker than Alani. Viliami plays in the middle and Alani plays on the outside, and both fit those positions well. Viliami is a little more physical than Alani, though Alani can play physically with the best of them, while Alani showed a little more athleticism in the drills. But both are talents and form one of the best linebacker tandems in the West.
One of the prospects who came in under the radar but really jumped on the map was Tulare (Calif.) Mission Oak's Kevin Palma. Palma, who measured 6-1.5, 235 on Saturday at the Sparq Combine, was quick off the edge and might have been the most athletic linebacker there. A day after recording the second highest Sparq rating at the Long Beach Combine, Palma was just as good in football-specific drills. In drills where running backs had to pass block the linebackers, he twice blew past the back without being touched to get to the bag. He looked good in the positional drills and the 1on1s until tweaking his arm. Expect Palma's recruitment to pick up as more schools find him in Central California. The coaches raved about Palma's play at the conclusion of the day.
A couple of Monrovia (Calif.) prospects had good days in George Frazier and Brett Walsh. Frazier was the bigger of the two and moved really well for his size. Frazier also plays quarterback, so he's plenty athletic, but he's gotten thicker since we saw him at the U.S. Army Combine but has maintained his athleticism. Walsh drew the praises of the coaches with his non-stop motor and effort on the day.
Placentia (Calif.) Valencia linebacker Gabe Perez also received high praise from the coaches, especially with his efforts in the pass-rush drill. Perez looks more like a defensive end waiting to happen, but showed the ability to play linebacker.
Concord (Calif.) De La Salle linebacker Michael Hutchings took in the camp after being at USC the day before, and he looks slimmer from where he was during the season. Hutchings has talked about playing safety at the next level, but we still think he's a linebacker all the way.
Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) cornerback Chris Hawkins took home DB MVP honors but in talking with the lead NIKE DB coaches, the award could have gone to a number of prospects and there was very little separating the top three players.
Hawkins came in and made an immediate impression showing great feet and quickness in the SPARQ drills. When the position specific drills started off, Hawkins again flashed his quick twitch ability and explosiveness coming out of his breaks.
Where he really impressed was in the one on one drills. Hawkins blanketed every receiver he went up against and won two head to head battles with WR MVP Steven Mitchell. It was definitely a memorable day for Hawkins as he was invited to The Opening following the camp and then committed to USC, his childhood favorite as well.
Right there with Hawkins was Tempe (Ariz.) Marcos De Niza athlete Priest Willis. Whereas Hawkins is a tad slight at the moment, Willis looks like a college safety and weighed in at a solid 6-2, 200 pounds.
Where he wowed onlookers was in his fluidity and how well he played in space. Willis has excellent speed but feet and quickness are more important at the corner position. The athlete showed the ability to change direction and he has always been a very physical player.
Willis has a very mature body right now and it still remains to be seen whether he can stay at corner in college or not. If he continues to grow, he could easily make the transition to safety but that's what makes him such a valuable recruit. There's not another defensive back in the region with his versatility who could play corner or either safety spot.
Speaking of the safety position, this where the region is really stacked. Rancho Cucamonga's (Calif.) Tahaan Goodman looks like a man playing with boys right now. Physically, Goodman has the ideal frame for the safety position. He's already 200 pounds but actually looks lean because of how well proportioned he is. He's very physical, runs well and has excellent football instincts.
In the half-skelly period (basically a mock 7 on 7), Goodman was flying around the secondary making plays. He loves contact and on a few jump ball situations, Goodman sent a receiver flying without even realizing he had hit someone.
Mission Viejo (Calif.) safety Max Redfield isn't as physical as Goodman but brings a lot of athleticism to the table. He's natural free safety who showed off a lot of range and can cover a lot of ground in the secondary. He's a high level athlete who can run and jump with anyone and is a talented player on the offensive side of the ball as well.
Redfield looks bigger than he did a year ago and has a very nice frame. He played basketball all winter and doesn't do much 7 on 7 like so many other players so he wasn't as game ready as some of the other defensive backs. Saying that, he's a tremendous prospect and a natural fit at free safety.
Two other safeties who not only look the part but can play as well were Encino (Calif.) Crespi's Tyler Foreman and Long Beach Poly's (Calif.) David Price. Foreman is a huge kid who looks like a linebacker but can definitely play safety. He moves with ease, is a physical player and is even better in pads.
Price has a college body as well with excellent ball skills. He has excellent football instincts and is always around the ball. He can play in the box but also covers a lot of ground playing deep centerfield. It's one of the bigger mysteries this spring that Price just has a single offer from SMU right now.
Speaking of Long Beach Poly, freshman phenom Iman Marshall had another impressive showing after looking great in Las Vegas two weeks ago. Marshall will play safety for Poly but worked out at corner Sunday and was in lockdown mode all day. He plays with a lot of swagger already and it's scary to think how good he can be with three more years to develop.
Getting back to the corner position, Westlake's (Calif.) Dashon Hunt is a very good football player who does everything well. He has great quickness, cover skills and will battle. He's a physical player and plays bigger than his size. Saying that, Hunt's size is a concern as he looked no bigger than 5-9 and that's being generous. There's no doubt he's a football player though and will make a lot of plays at the next level.
Los Angeles (Calif.) Dorsey has a pair of talented defensive backs in corner Daquan Brown and safety Jayme Otomewo. Brown is physical and aggressive and loves to play in press. He needs to continue to work on his feet and not clutch and grab as much.
Otomewo doesn't have the same kind of intimidating, physical frames as some of the other safeties in the region, but he's a very good football player. He runs very well and is a solid tackler. He can break down and plays well in space. He's also a natural leader, a front of the line guy and a great teammate.
A few other players who looked good included Portland (Ore.) Grant Nathan Halverson, Upland's (Calif.) Delvin Batiste, San Marcos (Calif.) Mission Hills' Devin Holiday, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco's Jaleel Wadood, Anaheim (Calif.) Servite's Demetric Woodard, Poway's (Calif.) Derek Babiash, Fontana (Calif.) Summit's Charles Okonkwo and Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita's Connor O'Brien.