On a hot and busy day at USC, the first Nike Football Training Camp to hit the West Coast took place, with one of the best fields of talent ever collected in Los Angeles.
Scout named Taft's Michael Bercovici MVP of the New Level 7v7 in Las Vegas last month, and he was the top passer at the Nike Camp as well. Bercovici doesn't have prototypical size for a quarterback prospect, but there's no doubting that he makes the throws. He also made very good reads during the passing session, deftly lobbing a pass deep for a long touchdown, or quickly swinging the ball to a running back if the linebacker was cheating backwards. Bercovici has a quick release and the arm strength to hit the deep out.
Bercovici faced stiff competition from Dorsey's Joseph Gray. Gray threw a tight spiral throughout the day and displayed a strong arm. Gray threw excellent short and intermediate routes, but it was Bercovici's touch on the deep ball that gave him the nod for top quarterback on Sunday.
Glendora's Chad Jeffries was named the QB MVP by the NFTC and he's another prospect we think will emerge with some offers this spring. Jeffries has good zip on his throws and a strong arm, and was very consistent in his throwing.
Players come from all over the area to try and draw the eye of Scouts everywhere, and John Cabot of Torry Pines was that quarterback today. Cabot has excellent size at a listed 6-4 and 205 pounds, and he consistently hit his targets with tight spirals.
Michael Eubank of Corona Centennial is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the country. At 6-5 and 220 pounds Eubank generates a lot of velocity on his throws, but he has a loop in his motion that most of the country understands after watching Denver Bronco's 1st round draft pick Tim Tebow be deconstructed. Eubank reminds me of a different former Gator in Cornelius Ingram who was moved to wide receiver, but in the age of the spread offense, Eubank shows enough raw ability to be an intriguing quarterback option.
Jerry Neuheisel of Loyola has one of the quickest releases in the country. He lacks natural arm strength, but that is partly remedied by how quickly the ball leaves his hand. He threw underneath with good touch and accuracy.
Since we saw Travis Champion of Rancho Verde back in February and March on consecutive weekends, we've seen leaps and bounds improvement. Champion has refined his throwing motion in just two months, and looked much smoother in his release and delivering the ball on Sunday. He'll have some good receivers this fall, again, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see his recruitment pick up.
Honolulu St. Louis passer Marcus Mariota made the long trek over from the Islands and had a solid day throughout. Mariota has been eagerly hitting camps on the mainland and it's been worth it, as he's more than held his own against some of the California passers at the various camps. Mariota has one offer but as more coaches hit the Islands during the eval period, you can expect his recruitment to shake up more.
The running back crop was led by Harvey Langi from Bingham (Utah), the top running back in the West and one of the top ten backs nationally. Like we wrote last week, you can't fully appreciate how good Langi is unless you see him in pads, where he can pretty much run over anyone without causing a ruckus. But Langi still has good moves that a camp setting highlights, and he's an excellent receiver. During the individual drills at the start, just watching his feet, you can see he's got the quick feet college coaches want in their backs.
The MVP on the day was given to Nick Richardson of Los Alamitos. Richardson may lack the ideal size to be an everydown back in college, but he's a nice change of pace back. He's similar to former Birmingham running back Milton Knox, who won the running back MVP three years ago, though not as well put together as Knox was, but has better speed than Knox did.
Las Vegas Palo Verde back Brandon Wright was the top performer from Nevada in attendance, and like Langi, he should his skills primarily in catching the ball out of the backfield, and doing a great job adjusting to the passes thrown. Wright is cat-quick, and once he made a move on a backer, he was gone.
A name to remember for the future is Khalfani Muhammed from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. Only a freshman, the 2013 prospect has the look of someone who'll be one of the better running back prospects in the West in his class. Muhammed is pretty well put together, and has good instincts and superior hands, to go with his great speed.
Provo Timpview's Bryson McKenzie will be overshadowed all year in-state by Langi, but did the next best thing, dying his hair similarly to Langi, and at times, you couldn't tell the two apart (though when you looked closer, you could see Langi was clearly bigger). McKenzie is another gifted back who can catch the ball well and he's got good quick feet too.
The Best of the Rest: Will Gregory, Rhasheed Johnson
The quarterbacks had a talented group of receivers to throw to, including a solid group of tight ends.
Bercovici was on a different side of the field, but his teammate Michael Thomas made sure Taft was well represented with the receivers. Thomas has as good of hands as anyone on the West Coast, and he's capable of making the spectacular catch. He has long arms and is capable of running good routes. He makes hard catches look easy, and he always makes the easy catch.
Devin Lucien of Crespi also had a very good day. While Thomas' hands can be described as soft, Lucien has strong hands. The ball just sticks in his mitts when it gets to him. Lucien is a solid route runner. He lacks top end speed when compared with some of the elite receivers in the country, but he gets great separation with solid routes and catches everything near him.
By contrast, Victor Blackwell of Mater Dei has elite speed, but he was more inconsistent getting open when compared to Lucien and Thomas. Blackwell would take an extra stutter step when throttling down into a turn or cut, and it would allow the defensive back and extra step to close. Blackwell still shined his trademark burst and open field ability at times and was quite obviously one of the top athletes on the field.
Gabriel Marks of Venice was one of our Hot 11 Underclassmen at the Vegas 7on7 a year ago, and he again put his stamp on the "One to Watch" list for the 2012 class, earning NFTC WR MVP honors. Marks continues to show he's unafraid to make the tough catch and he's a flyer.
Davonte Neal may be the best 2012 prospect in Arizona, and already boasts a handful of offers. He showed why on Sunday with his blazing speed, crisp route-running and excellent hands. Neal reminds us a little of former four-star receiver Reggie Dunn.
Joel Porchia of Los Angeles Cathedral figures to be the Phantoms' go-to guy this fall with Anthony Jefferson gone, and while he doesn't have the all-around ability that Jefferson did, Porchia's hands and route-running is some of the best we saw this weekend.
Bryce Treggs was one of the best receivers out in Vegas at last month's 7on7 and he picked up where he left off on Sunday, consistently getting past the corners and, when the ball was there, making the tough catch.
B.J. Kelley is one of the premier playmakers in Central California and was easily identifiable by his orange shorts on Sunday. While overshadowed on his own team by four-star running back Brendon Bigelow, Kelley, who's got a handful of offers, showed his big playmaking ability and may have been one of the most consistent players in allt he camp.
Inglewood's Patrick Onwuasor was the strongest and most developed of the top receivers, and he was right with Thomas and Lucien in the hands and spectacular catch department. Onwuasor could outmuscle the defensive backs that dared press him, and he could run by most that tried to stick with him.
Sam Boyd from Corona Roosevelt was one of the most impressive looking athletes on the USC campus on Sunday. He's about 6-2, 230, and looks the part. He played receiver, but his future is at outside linebacker.
Dwayne Brown of Fontana Kaiser is going down the same road his older brother, Anthony, did a year ago: go to every camp and perform well. Anthony didn't get an offer until late in the spring, despite several stellar camp performances and ended up with a coveted offer (which he ultimately took) from USC. Dwayne doesn't have the body size that Anthony did, but he makes up for it with his play. He'll be a slot receiver in college, and he'll need to gain serious weight, but from a pure pass-catching and route-running standpoint, Brown is on his way.
Outnumbered heavily by the wide receivers, the tight end position arguably had more talent per man at the position headlined by Oaks Christian's Dillon Van Der Wall. I had considered Van Der Wall a likely candidate to move to offensive tackle on the college level, but his frame looks like he was stay in the 260/270 range at its peak in college. Also as a possible basketball player, he isn't likely to put on weight like most football players.
As it turns out, he doesn't need to. Van Der Wall terrific hands and has long strides to run with and past many linebackers in the defensive secondary. He pops a little too straight up out of his stance and is susceptible to being jammed, but he is still a total package at tight end with size, athleticism and hands.
Lakewood (Calif.) will have plenty of defensive talent this year, but the offense could have a lot of pressure on them to replace Jesse Scroggins and Kevin Anderson. That's just fine with Malik Gilmore, the 2012 tight end who figures to be a big part of the Lancers offense. Gilmore starred out in Vegas in the 7on7, named to the all-underclass team, and he's showing that he'll definitely be a bigtime prospect in his class. Gilmore is an effortless runner, he just glides when he runs, and with his nice, long frame, can catch mostly everything thrown to him. He's a big target, but he's also got some very good speed.
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is certainly capable of playing tight end on the college level, but he's already built like a defensive tackle at 6-4/260 as a member of the Class of 2012. He has great balance and body control, but with his build and athleticism, he'll likely find himself at a much more coveted position of defensive tackle on the next level.
On player that kept getting better and better throughout the day was R.J. Rickert who made his way over to USC from Gilbert, Ariz. (Mesquite High). Rickert tore off the line of scrimmage with the tenacity that exceeded many of the linebackers he faced, and he had a good change of direction to get separation out of his routes.
Long Beach Poly tight end Earnest Pettway will be a player that figures to get a lot of long looks from college coaches as they swing by the Poly campus in the spring. Pettway's built similar to Morrell Presley, more height than width, but still is well put-together. As he gets more consistent in his route-running, he figures to be heavily recruited. Pettway is also a basketball player, and you could see the athleticism he boasted.
South Hills offensive lineman Siaosi Aiono was named the OL MVP and deservedly so. Aiono didn't back down from any of the one-on-one's and only lost one, his first one to Antwaun Woods, and he'd get Woods back later in the session. After dropping the first contest with Woods, Aiono pancaked the next three defenders he faced. Aiono plays tackle for South Hills but projects inside as a guard in college, and he's a good athlete so the move shouldn't be a difficult one at all.
The Crenshaw player who came out with the best day overall was Marcus Martin. Martin plays guard for the Cougars and will be a guard in college, and with his frame, he is surprisingly very athletic and agile. He needs to continue to refine his body, he acknowledged after the camp that he's working on slimming down a bit, but Martin's got excellent footwork, is a knee-bender and uses his hands well. Martin also bounced back from losing his initial 1-on-1 with Woods, to take the next two, earning praise from Woods' teammate, Brent Williams (who's signed with Washington).
Gresham Barlow lineman John Wolfe made the trip down from Oregon and it was well worth the visit, as Wolfe, who likely projects to either guard or center in college, showed his nastiness on numerous occasions. Pound for pound, Wolfe was probably the best performer of the offensive linemen in attendance.
Torrian Wright is another Lakewood prospect to keep an eye on. We talked with a couple of his teammates who said he didn't play last year, but when you saw Wright in the 1-on-1's, he looked like he's got a bright future. Still a little slight in the frame, he's great balance and footwork and Courtney Morgan, who worked with the lineman, said he was one of the players he thinks is full of upside.
Jordan Simmons will be one of the elite linemen in the West in the class of 2012, and while he's still a little raw, there were a couple of 1-on-1's that showed why his future is bright. He was verbally offered by San Diego State and UCLA last week and you can see why the two in-state programs got a head start.
This is a stellar year for defensive linemen out West and the NFTC was a great venue to see that talent.
It was a toss-up to us who had a better day, Greg Townsend, a Top 50 player by Scout.com from Beverly Hills or Lakewood's Todd Barr. Townsend was named the MVP, but Barr wasn't far behind him.
The first time we got to see Townsend was on the same field a year ago at the Rising Stars Camp, and he showed his explosive first step and quickness off the ball. Even since we saw him six weeks ago in Vegas, Townsend looks like a college player, looking in great shape, and faster than what we saw in March (when he was playing tight end at the 7on7).
Barr is another player who's extremely well put together, and he's another guy who just flies off the ball. What we loved about Barr was his competitiveness and motor. He's always got a smile on his face, but he plays with nastiness and you could see it in the 1on1's.
Another player who was always smiling was Stephan Nembot from Montclair Prep, the Cameroonian native who's still learning the game of football after playing only one year. Nembot has a pair of Pac-10 offers, and while he's still far from a finished product, you could see flashes of it during the drills. What caught our attention was that Nembot was one of the few who was consistently asking the coaches questions, wanting to learn more and get the position. On a couple of 1on1s, his technique, which is still a work in progress, hurt him in losing those, but others, his natural athleticism carried him.
Jason Gibson is one of the best defensive prospects and while he projects to linebacker in college, he worked with the defensive linemen. His first 1-on-1 saw him throw a spin move on the offensive lineman who challenged him, and he even got nicked up, chipping his tooth. Gibson reminds us a lot of Josh Shirley, the pass-rushing phenom who will play linebacker in college. His Serra teammate, David Moala, is another high-motor guy, who's a little undersized, but plays low and cruised past the offensive line.
Jeff Worthy may play at a small school, Whittier Christian, but he played big on Sunday, showing great strength, a couple of different moves and a high-motor. SMU has already offered Worthy.
Probably the most consistent defensive lineman, and the most fun to watch, was Crenshaw's James Brock. No bigger than 5-10, 200-pounds, Brock didn't let his size stop him. He went 4-0 on 1-on-1s, firing off the ball to get past the linemen, who couldn't get a hand on him. While he's small for even a safety, Brock showed his toughness all day.
Drew James from Corona is a 2012 prospect who's no stranger to the game, his older brother Jordon was a top 10 running back a year ago. The younger James has a good frame for a defensive tackle, and while he didn't get his brother's speed, he more than made up for it with his size. James, though, is quick off the ball.
Tre Madden from Mission Viejo, a school known for its offense historically, showed the Diablos have some talent on defense. Madden is a well put-together backer and has great agility, speed and feet and very good ball skills.
Aaron Wallace followed up his LB MVP performance at TCU with another stellar showing in Los Angeles, where he just missed his second MVP award. Wallace was a guy we predicted two weeks ago would start collecting offers in the spring, and he's off to a good start, with Texas A&M doing so last week.
Fresno Edison linebacker Shaquille Moseley just missed being a part of the Scout 300 earlier this month, but Moseley could very well join it come fall. Moseley is a player you have to see in pads and a helmet to fully appreciate (which we got to see last October), but he was easily the most physically impressive linebacker in Los Angeles. Moseley did well in coverage, but he's more of a run-stuffer and hitter, two things he wasn't permitted to do at the camp. Still, he's got the agility you want in a linebacker.
Rahim Cassell is a player who's recruitment is beginning to really take off and the Lakewood product showed his quickness and good lateral movement throughout the day. Cassell looks like he'll end up on the weakside at the next level.
With a talented group of receivers to match up, the defensive backs had their hands full, but players such as Davion Orphey of Huntington Beach's Edison more than held their own. Orphey showed the ability to close over the top of a deep pass as he helped give protection to a corner, and he also worked well against the receivers in a one on one situation. He has safety size and great cover skills.
The MVP of the DBs was the Black Mamba, Crenshaw's DeAnthony Thomas, the top prospect in the West and Scout.com's #1-cornerback prospect nationally. Thomas didn't work out in the morning session in the individual drills but performed during the 1-on-1's and like we've said for months, showed he's an elite prospect and one of the best athletes in the country.
Pound-for-pound, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is one of the best defensive backs nationally, and the Chino Hills cornerback again showed that when you throw on him, he'll make you pay. After recording nine interceptions as a sophomore, teams stayed away from him as a junior. On Sunday, quarterbacks didn't have that option, and Ekpre-Olomu showed why he's got a half-dozen offers, with a couple of athletic deflections and breakups.
Mercy Matson of Bakersfield worked at corner throughout the day. He bounced in and out of his agility drills, and he backed up the athleticism shown during the SPARQ training session with good work during the passing session including an interception.
Thierry Nguema of Corona Centennial continued his good work this spring with good coverage through the day including coming back from a quadricep contusion to continue covering receivers.