NorCal NIKE Camp Standouts: Defense

We break down the most promising prospects at last Sunday's NorCal NIKE Camp, including guys like Kahlil McKenzie, Cameron Smith and Marvell Tell...


The defensive line was easily the most dominant group in the matchups in the trenches.  There were stars across the board, including a five-star right in the middle and another Scout 100 prospect not far behind him.

And there were plenty of sleepers who woke up on Sunday and put themselves on the map.

Concord (Calif.) De La Salle five-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie was the DL MVP and earned an invitation to The Opening as a result of his performance.

We knew McKenzie was good but he wowed onlookers with his strength and ability to man handle even the strongest offensive linemen. At 6-4, 330 pounds, he has an NFL body right now, powerful hands and very well could end up the top

Kahlil McKenzie
defensive tackle in the country by the end of the summer, as well as the top overall prospect in the West.

Any other event and Honolulu (Hawaii) Farrington defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko would have probably won the MVP honors, but he settled for an invitation of his own to The Opening.

Fehoko's first step was far too quick for any of the offensive linemen to stay with him and he easily one just about every 1on1 rep, using his quickness off the ball.  In the times where a lineman got his hands on him, he quickly disengaged, using good moves and quick hands to get past them.  He looks like he could play defensive end or tackle at the next level, depending on where his body goes.

Another Hawaiian had a good day in Mililani (Hawaii) defensive lineman Rex Manu.  A commit to Stanford, Manu looked plenty comfortable in the Bay Area, playing low and getting good leverage to get under his blocker.  He also did a good job of using his hands to free from the block and showed really good strength.

Folsom (Calif.) defensive end Sam Whitney was about 6-3, 220-225 and he shined, earning the praise of the line coaches.  He too gets off the ball quickly and plays low and tucked underneath his blocker efficiently to win his reps.

Mountain View (Calif.) St. Francis defensive tackle Thomas Toki was solid again after a good showing in Los Angeles.  Toki is quick off the ball and plays low, but just needs to bring it every play.

Sacramento (Calif.) Inderkum defensive end N.J. Falo may have been the quickest off the ball of any of the defensive ends, playing nice and low and firing off the ball.  He probably will be a rush linebacker in college, but with added weight could put his hand down often in college.

Oak Hills (Calif.) defensive end Dempsey Robinson is raw but has some natural ability with good size and will be a player to watch emerge this spring and fall.  Robinson is about 6-3, 240, with room to grow and showed good strength and quick feet.

Anaheim (Calif.) Servite defensive end Austin Thomas may be overshadowed by the offensive prospects on his team, but he showed well on Sunday.  He's only about 6-1, 215-220ish, but was a tough matchup because of his quickness and motor.  He probably ends up as a linebacker in college, but will provide a great pass rush for the Friars this fall.

Other 2015 defensive linemen we liked included Pittsburg (Calif.) defensive end David Lui, Kahuku (Hawaii) end Salanoa Wily and Hayward (Calif.) Stellar Prep's Tahji Williams.


Hurricane (Utah) linebacker Jeremiah Ieremia was the surprise choice for MVP but it was well deserved. The athlete was a standout at the SoCal NIKE Camp and looked even better in Oakland.

"He's a big kid and always under control," NIKE lead LB coach Michael Fletcher said. "He has a motor and is always intense but under control. He's a really cerebral kid and takes to coaching very well.

"He was great in the pass rush drills and matched up really well with the running backs in all the other drills as well. He has the frame to play inside or outside and shows a lot of versatility. He's a kid that just gets it and knows how to play."

Iermeia has seen a nice bump in his recruitment in the last month and his stock is rising fast.

In terms of upside, Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West's Caleb Kelly was the head of the class. His athleticism is off the charts and he'll be on the short list of players when discussing the top overall recruiting the West Coast 2016 class.

"He's one of the most athletic linebackers we've seen on the tour this year," Fletcher said. "He's going to be a monster, the size is there and he'll easily be able to add 10-15 pounds with no problem.

"He needs to continue to learn the game so he can read and react a little better. Right now, he just relies on his physical gifts but the sky is the limit for him. He can play inside or outside but I like him as an outside guy in that Anthony Barr type role. He's so fluid and just a natural on the football field."

Kelly already has offers from most of the Pac 12 along with national programs like Alabama and Oklahoma and by the time he's a senior, will have his choice of any program in the country.

Cameron Smith

Granite Bay's (Calif.) Cameron Smith had a strong camp and while he didn't get the Golden Ticket to The Opening just yet, it would be surprising if he doesn't down the road.

Smith is a pure inside ‘backer who has dropped almost 20 pounds since last spring and looks quicker and more agile. He plays with a high football IQ and is on a different level than other players in his ability to diagnose a player before it happens.

"He actually reminds me a lot of Peter Sirmon, who I played with at Oregon," Fletcher said. "He's always a step ahead of the offense because he's so smart but showed he has the athletic ability to make plays and is always in the right position.

"I think at times, he was pressing a little too much because I know he really wanted to make The Opening but I love him as a player. He loves to compete, is a bright kid, understands the run and pas game and runs better than people give him credit for."

A couple more underclassmen that stood out were Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd's Camilo Eifler and Fresno (Calif.) Bullard's Cvaughn Stewart, both out of the class of 2016.

Eifler was coached at O'Dowd by former NFL standout Hardy Nickerson so it's not surprising he was very smart and knew what he was doing. He has a great frame, well muscled, is a very good athlete and competed hard all day long. He also had the top SPARQ Rating of the day on Saturday at the NIKE SPARQ Combine with a 113.16 score highlighted by a 39" vertical leap.

Stewart had a nice day as well as was very strong in the pass rush drills. He has a big frame, is a naturally strong kid and very physical. Utah has already offered and expect more schools to follow suit by the end of the spring.

Oakland (Calif.) Skyline's Jacquese Steen has great film and had a strong camp Sunday. He has a non-stop motor and plays with relentless energy. He could lean up a little but moves better than expected and is a tireless worker.

There were several strong performances turned in by players from Hawaii including Kahului (Hawaii) Maui's Alexander Vainikolo. You can tell he plays a lot of defensive end because Vainikolo was dominant in the pass rush drills. He had spin moves, used his hands and was basically unblockable in the drills. He has a great motor and is an intriguing kid because of his size and skill set.

Los Banos (Calif.) Pacheco's Frank Ginda is another player who worked out at the SoCal NIKE Camp, did well and was back in Oakland for round 2. Ginda is a solid looking player at about 6-foot-0, 230 pounds. He's very strong, has good speed and is a good all around athlete who can definitely play at the next level.


The defensive back position always seems to be strong up north and the Oakland NFTC was no exception. There was a nice group of safeties and corners and a few talented underclassmen to watch as well.

Fresno (Calif.) Central corner Dehlon Preston took home DB MVP honors and is one of the best pure cover corners in the region. Although just 5-foot-9, Preston is so hard to get open against because of his physical play and quick feet.

Preston plays with great technique and closes very well on the ball. He's an instinctual player, very confident and plays with a high understanding of how to play the position.

"He has great feet and great speed coming out of his breaks," NIKE Camp lead DB coach Eugene Jackson. "He was great in the drills, everything was easy for him and he was so fluid in everything he did. He plays with a chip on his shoulder because of his size but he's a coachable kid and had a great day."

Isaiah Langley

The best prospect at the position was Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill's Isaiah Langley. Langley has a great frame at 6-0, 175 pounds, clocked a 4.51-40 in the testing portion of the camp and flashed his usual high level athleticism in the half-skelly and one on one portion of the camp.

Langley was very physical and plays with a ton of confidence. He has long arms and uses them well and showed great ball skills throughout.

"He was very impressive," Jackson said. "He needs work on his technique to avoid having to grab and hold a little but his talent is evident. He's a smooth athlete, closes on the ball and runs well. Once he refines his technique, he'll take his game to another level."

Langley was invited to The Opening following the camp.

Before he had to shut things down with a sore hammy, the NIKE coaches couldn't stop raving about Encino (Calif.) Crespi safety Marvell Tell.

Tell tweaked his hamstring running his 40 but battled through the rest of the testing and then showed his high level athleticism during the SPARQ drills and early position drills.

"I could tell he was hurt but he wanted to keep going, that showed me a lot," Jackson said. "He wanted to fight through it and that shows me his toughness. He looked incredible early on and every coach had him as their top guy.

"You can tell he has been very well coached because he knows what he's doing out there. He has that great frame and can play in any situation. He moves very well for a safety, he can flip his hips and change direction, play down hill, get off the hash and is a great looking player."

Like Langley, Tell was also invited to The Opening following the event.

Another player with a strong chance to make The Opening is San Leandro (Calif.) athlete Stephen Johnson. From an athletic standpoint, Johnson has few peers out West and has elite speed.

He clocked a 4.41-40, good for 2nd best on the day and it translates to the field as well. He's a dynamic athlete who is still learning how to play the position but his upside is incredibly high. He has long arms, quick feet and is a great all around athlete capable of playing multiple positions at the next level.

El Cerrito (Calif.) athlete Rodney Washington isn't a well known prospect outside the NorCal area but he has a ton of ability. He has safety size but showed very good cover skills. He moves well for a 6-0+ DB and was very impressive in the half-skelly period.

Making the road trip from Honolulu (Hawaii) Kamehameha was safety Dylan Kane, easily among the most impressive looking players in the camp, regardless of position. He looks all of 6-3 and close to 200 pounds but can move. He's versatile enough to play either safety position and could even move in to the box and play some linebacker down the road if need be.

Pittsburg (Calif.) athlete Shurod Thompson is a great looking underclassman that everyone should get on early. The 2016 safety does everything well and is a high level athlete, can play physical in run support and is a natural in coverage. He shows great instincts on the field, covers a ton of ground and projects very well in college.

Berkeley (Calif.) St. Mary's athlete Ron Smith was impressive in every drill and is one of those players that is always around the ball.

Fresno (Calif.) Central corner Savion Simms may be undersized but is lightning quick, plays with an edge and made a ton of plays. Like his teammate, Dehlon Preston, Simms plays with a chip on his shoulder and clocked the days fastest 40 time at 4.40.

Denver (Colo.) Mullen athlete James Jones is an impressive looking player who looked good at corner and safety. He has a nice frame that projects well as a safety but he showed the cover skills and athleticism to hang with a tight end or third receiver as well.

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