The Opening: Oakland Preview

The NIKE Football Training Camp has given way to The Opening Regional Camps. Sunday, Northern California will get its chance to have a piece of football heaven as prospects throughout the region vie for a shot at the big stage in Beaverton (Ore.) this summer.

The class of 2016 has been lauded for its depth at wide receiver, and while The Opening Regional in Redondo Beach (Calif.) in March was stacked with talent, some of that skill will spill over to The Opening Regional in Oakland this weekend as well.

Roughly two dozen prospects with scholarship offers from USC will be in attendance, including about a half dozen wide outs. Of that group, perhaps the most well-rounded receiver in the state will perform after sitting out The Opening Los Angeles. Corona Centennial wide receiver Javon McKinley had a very impressive 91 receptions for 1,900 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, and although he remains hampered by a groin injury, he want an invasion to The Opening Finals in July.

McKinley has had a good spring on the passing circuit playing for B2G Five Star, so Sunday’s camp may be more about how he performs with an injury in testing and drills. Every player can play their best when the sun is out and they’re 100-percent healthy, but perseverance is what makes the elite the elite.

SPEED might be found in an usual spot Sunday. The latest player on the field could end up being Gardena (Calif.) Serra quarterback Kahlil Tate. Although rated by Scout as an athlete, Tate is committed to Arizona as a quarterback. While testing is optional for players, Tate is the type of good all-around athlete that could be up huge SPARQ numbers.

Whether Tate plays quarterback or wide out, he’ll have to deal with some very good defensive backs Sunday. That includes Pittsburgh (Calif.) four-star cornerback Jordan Parker. Like Tate, Parker is in contact with USC despite being committed elsewhere. In fact, Parker, will camp at USC next month even though he just recently committed to UCLA. Parker is rated the top cornerback in California, but he’ll have to compete against two wide receivers also committed to UCLA Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian four-star Michael Pittman and Clovis (Calif.) West Darian Owens.

While USC stopped recruiting Owens in March, they have stayed in contact with Pittman. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound wide receiver is rated as an athlete by Scout, so it will be interesting to see how his attributed stack up with his future position open ended.

POWER is a part of the equation when it comes to explosive football players. Gardena (Calif.) Serra defensive end Oluwole Betiku is one of the most impressive physical specimens of the class, and his raw, explosive power will be put to the test against one of the more proven offensive lineman in the region.

Mater Dei offensive guard Frank Martin had a good performance at The Opening Regional in Redondo Beach, but will return the nation’s top camp tour in hopes of winning a golden ticket to Beaverton (Ore.) in July. Oluwole, who skipped the regional in Los Angeles because of a wrist injury, will have a chance to prove that he is more than just a good looking player on the hoof. With so much physical upside, Oluwole must begin to display that he has made the game of football his own and that he will develop into a productive defender off the edge.

Martin, who is committed to the Trojans in April, has performed as an offensive tackle at such events, but is projected to suit up as a guard when he gets to USC. Saguaro (Ariz.) sophomore offensive guard Kayden Lyles will be another player to watch Sunday. Both Lyles and Martin may have to deal with Concord (Calif.) De La Salle four-star defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa if they choose to move inside. Tagaloa is not being recruited by USC, and how much he participates in the camp remains to be seen after injuring himself at a camp last off season.

AGILITY and power are what make Clovis (Calif.) West five-star Caleb Kelly the No. 1 rated linebacker in the state. However, no linebacker has a good day performing at a camp unless they are dominant in pass coverage drills.

Coming for Kelly will be the nation’s No. 1 player 2017 in Antioch (Calif.) five-star running back Najee Harris. The Alabama pledge, verbally committed so softly that it goes with graham crackers and Hershey chocolate, will be one of the top overall athletes of the camp as a 6-foot-2, 210-pound tailback. Kelly and the other linebackers will have their hands full.

While it’s clear Harris’ recruitment is far from over, Kelly introduced USC back into his top 10 college choices after cutting them from his top 12 earlier in the spring. We still view the Trojans as a long shot to garner his commitment, but it will be interesting to see how and if Kelly can stack up against the likes of Osa Masina and John Houston, who will suit of in cardinal and gold this fall.

In addition to dealing with Harris in one-on-one drills, Kelly will be tested by the best tight end on the West Coast in Concord (Calif.) De La Salle four-star Devin Asiasi. Among the prospects attending the camp, Asiasi maybe the most intriguing from an evaluation perspective because of his size and strength. At almost 260-pounds, everyone wants to know if Devin Asiasi has the agility and speed to be a receiving threat or whether his size will eventually bump him over to the defensive line.

REACTION time and anticipation were what made Long Beach (Calif.) Poly four-star athlete Jack Jones Opening MVP in Los Angeles as a cornerback in March. Sunday, Elk Grove (Calif.) Franklin three-star safety Lamar Jackson will join Saguaro (Ariz.) four-star cornerback Byron Murphy in the defensive back field. Both players have scholarship offers and have been evaluated by USC in person in recent weeks.

Jackson has already stated his intention to win a spot at The Opening Finals, but if McKinley, Pittman, Owens and Westlake Village (Calif.) Westlake four-star wide out Theo Howard all participate in one-on-one drills, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound safety will have his hands full.

Led by Los Angeles (Calif.) Salesian cornerback Deommodore Lenoir and West Linn (Ore.) cornerback Elijah Molden, there are several underclassmen in the defensive secondary who could make life difficult for this rockstar group of wide outs.

QUICKNESS is the final SPARQ attribute evaluated at The Opening Regional Camp. While 40-yard dash times are a good measure of top end speed among the wide receivers and defensive backs, the game of football is build around quickness. What often stands out is how quick top players are ready to take reps.

Having covered the NIKE Camps and The Opening for more than a decade, good players do not shy away from competition. The best players want to prove how dominant they are and jump in like quickly for rep after rep in drills and seven-on-seven. Will the Bruin contingent of Darian Owens, Michael Pittman and Jordan Parker get those reps, or will it be a three-star like Lamar Jackson who wants to prove to Scout that he can be a Sean Taylor type ballhawk storming the field with size and speed.

If history tells us anything, the Northern California stop on the NIKE tour always has it’s surprise performers. Hosted in a region often overlooked for talent, there’s always a Colin Kaepernick or Ndamukong Suh to watch out for at this event that brings in players from California, Utah, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Washington.


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