Five things I saw in Oregon at The Opening last week out of the West region and one thought on a national scale.
Moving the Line
While it isn't as strong or deep as the 2012 offensive line class, the 2015 incarnation is definitely help the position trend upwards in the region after a down last two years.
The offensive linemen from the West at The Opening more than held their own in Beaverton, highlighted by Fred Ulu-Perry. The Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis center prospect, who committed to UCLA the day after he left Oregon, was arguably the best performer from the group at The Opening. Pound-for-pound, he may be the best lineman in the region overall.
Keenan Walker, the West's top offensive tackle, was excellent all week, his only blemish coming in the final reps, but at right tackle, Walker shined.
McKenzie Makes His Mark
Concord (Calif.) Clayton Valley defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie was the West's top prospect going in to the event.
Now he's the nation's top prospect.
McKenzie moved in to the top spot in the region after the Oakland NFTC after his stellar showing there, which included DL MVP honors.
He repeated that in Beaverton, with another DL MVP award, but this time in pads and on a national stage, and cemented himself as the region's best and now, the nation's finest.
On the other hand, the quarterback crop out West is as good as any over the last decade, and with five Golden State prospects being named to the Elite 11, they put their stamp on the glamour position nationally.
Ricky Town made the Elite 11, and led his team to the finals, where they came up short against Barnett. Travis Waller was on the same squad as Barnett, earning himself a championship and a spot on the Elite 11 as well.
And Sheriron Jones, the Florida-bound passer from the lineman juggernaut that is Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde, also had a good week in Oregon.
Lifetime Achievement Awards
The first time we saw Trent Irwin play, it was in 2011, when Irwin was an 8th grader playing on B2G's top squad, helping them win the Badger Elite 7v7.
It's not a stretch to say we've seen Irwin play 20+ more times since then at various 7v7s, Nike Camps and other showcases.
And it's not a stretch to say that Irwin has been the best receiver we've seen on the circuit this year or the past few years.
But Christian Kirk has a case to be made for that as well.
Like Irwin, Kirk has been at his share of 7v7's, NFTC's and showcases, and like Irwin, he's always left an indeliable impression.
A year ago, he was one of three juniors-to-be invited to The Opening, and showed he belonged. This year, he showed that he was one of the best in the country.
They're easily the two best receivers in the West and the most likely to succeed in college.
It was no surprise to see them both on the all-tournament team at the end of the Nike 7v7.
Kirk is the more explosive of the two, Irwin the more physical. Both catch everything thrown to them. Both run the pristine routes it takes to catch the ball every time it's in the air.
Either one is a quarterback's dream.
And Brady White, who plays with Irwin at Hart and on the 7v7 circuit, is doing his part to play with both of them, trying to get his longtime friend and teammate Irwin to follow him to Arizona State while also working on Kirk to stay home and play for the Sun Devils.
Five Make the Call
The Opening saw a number of prospects from around the country make their college commitment announcements during the event.
Five of them came from the West.
San Leandro (Calif.) cornerback Stephen Johnson followed Bowers, committing to UCLA, where he'll go in as a receiver first.
On the final day, Kahlil McKenzie committed to Tennessee, the longtime favorite for the five-star and the alma mater of his father, Reggie, and his uncle, Raleigh.
Not long after, Herriman (Utah) offensive tackle Andre James committed to UCLA, the Bruins landing their second verbal of the week.
One of the advantages of The Opening is that you see so many players from outside your region, most for the first time, and get a new appreciation for what they do in person after watching them on film, discussing them in rankings meetings and reading about them.
For myself, there were a few players I was eager to see from outside the West, and a few more I hadn't even given a second thought about who forced themselves to be seen.
This isn't the top performers outside the West, but rather the players that left an impression on me, whether it was their overall performance or their effort.
One of my favorite players to watch during the week was Tommy Hatton, the North Carolina-bound center. Hatton had the nasty you want in an interior linemen, mixing it up, playing through the whistle, and just showing that mean streak. While he was unfortunately hurt the last day, suffering a broken lower leg, it was the only downer for Hatton, who moved up to a four-star after The Opening.
Malik Jefferson, the five-star linebacker from Texas is a freak physically but is more than just an athlete- he's an absolute player. He's one of the top five players in the country and for good reason, instinctive, fast and strong with an eye on making the big play, but also the smart play, every time he dropped into coverage.
The West may be loaded at quarterback, but Jarrett Stidham is one of the names nationally who deserves to be mentioned with them. Stidham, from the beginning of the week at the Elite 11 until the end of his team's run in the 7on, was the model of consistency and accuracy the whole time.
Roquan Smith was right there with Jefferson as the linebacker who looked like he was on another level than the rest of the 'backers. Smith was excellent in coverage, with four interceptions during the 7on, the ball skills of a defensive back and elite instincts and athleticism.
Martez Ivey is the top offensive tackle in the country and looked like it. He started slowly, which spoke more to Byron Cowart than to Ivey not doing well. But then he got going the next two days and was the OL MVP. Ivey reminds me of former No. 1 offensive tackle Tyron Smith, who was the top lineman in the 2008 class and ultimately ended up the first offensive tackle taken in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Speaking of Cowart, he was the defensive lineman who caught my eye the most. He's quick off the ball, strong and technically sound.
Lastly, Rashan Gary was elevated to the No. 1 prospect in the 2016 class during The Opening. And the junior-to-be showed he absolutely deserved to be in Beaverton even as an underclassmen, while also showing that he deserves to be the top prospect in his class. Like McKenzie, Gary showed what an elite defensive tackle looks like and why the top two players in the country for their respective classes are both defensive tackles.