High-SchoolFootball: Get Familiar

Get Familiar: Stanford commit Peter Kalambayi

June, 27, 2012

Peter KalambayiTom Hauck/ESPNHSButler (Matthews, N.C.) linebacker Peter Kalambayi (left) picked up an invitation to The Opening at the Charlotte NFTC.
While the Miami Heat was building its Big 3 in the summer of 2010, the Butler (Matthews, N.C.) football program was getting set to unleash its own Big 3 in hopes of repeating as Class 4AA champs. On offense, there were sophomores Riley Ferguson at quarterback and Uriah LeMay at wideout while sophomore linebacker Peter Kalambayi helped anchor a strong defense.

Kalambayi stood out because he was one of just three players in his class to skip JV and play varsity as a freshman. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder hasn't disappointed in his three years, pushing the Bulldogs to a second straight title in 2011, posting 80 tackles and six sacks in just eight games last season and earning the No. 300 spot in the ESPN 300.

But while Kalambayi has done most of his damage on the east coast, he will soon be well acquainted with the west. During a visit earlier this month to Stanford, the senior committed to the Cardinal and in July, he'll join 150 of the nation's top recruits at The Opening. It's time to Get Familiar with Peter Kalambayi.

ESPNHS: After participating in NFTC camps the last three years, what was it like to get invited to The Opening and join 149 of the nation's top players?
I've been working hard all these years and I knew what I had to do, so it was great to have that work recognized and get invited to The Opening.

ESPNHS: What are you hoping to prove while you're at The Opening?
What a lot of people don't know is how fast I am, so I'm looking forward to working with and competing against some other fast guys to show I can play with them. I want to get a good 40 time in the SPARQ competition. I've been timed at 4.47, but it'd be nice to have a good time officially in the books there.

ESPNHS: Based on your goals for your upcoming senior season, in what ways will being at The Opening help?
It will help a lot, especially with my coverage skills, which I want to improve. I'll be going against some great guys there and I'll be able to take what I learn at The Opening into the season and adapt it to our defense.

ESPNHS: You won state titles in your first two years of high school along with 31 straight games at one point, so how hard was it to endure your first two varsity losses to begin and end last season?
It's terrible and it puts you in a bad mood. I'm still in a bad mood about it, really, because I'm just not used to losing. Even in eighth grade, my team didn't lose a game, so last year was my first loss in about five years. In my mind, last year was a failure because we didn't win the state championship and if we don't win this year, it will be another failure because that's what we play for — to win state championships.

ESPNHS: You just came off a spring season where you competed in the shot put and discus. When did you start competing in that and how does it affect your play on the football field?
I started in eighth grade and competing in those events definitely helps with football. You have to be very coordinated to do the discus and shot put, so it helps with my footwork and agility on the football field.

Butler (Matthews, N.C.)
Class: 2013
Position: Linebacker
Height: 6-3
Weight: 235

Fried Chicken
Movie: "2 Fast 2 Furious"
School subject: History
Athlete: Bo Jackson
Team: Philadelphia Eagles

Get Familiar: Casa Grande star Elijah Qualls

June, 25, 2012
Elijah QuallsTom Hauck/ESPNHSCasa Grande (Petaluma, Calif.) junior defensive lineman/running back Elijah Qualls has been one of the nation's most talked-about recruits following his impressive display at the Oakland NFTC.

It’s truly a sight to behold.

Here comes Elijah Qualls of Casa Grande (Petaluma, Calif.), listed at 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds but probably bigger, into the offensive huddle. He blends in just fine until the huddle breaks, the players clap, and the offensive linemen take their set positions -- and Qualls is nowhere to be found.

Instead, the rising senior has taken his spot behind the quarterback. He’s a running back, and he’s a pretty good one at that. He carried the ball 166 times last fall, rushing for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns. But he’s more than a bowling ball in the backfield, as he also caught 13 balls for 215 yards and another score. He even passed for a score once last season.

Of course, Qualls does more than just punish opposing defenses on the ground. On the other side of the ball, he takes a position more befitting of a player his size on the defensive line. The combination of skill, power, speed and agility has made him an intriguing recruit, and he’s been heavily recruited at both offensive and defensive positions.

Last season, Qualls led Casa Grande to a 9-4 record, and the Gauchos advanced to the second round of the CIF North Coast Section Division II tournament. But this season, Qualls and his teammates have higher hopes.

So who exactly is this larger than life running back? It’s time to Get Familiar with Elijah Qualls.

ESPNHS: How’d you get started with football?
Qualls: I got started when I was 5. I grew up in a horrible neighborhood, and my dad got me into it to keep myself out of trouble. I had a bit of a bad temper, too, so I got to use my anger for something productive.

ESPNHS: Were you always a bigger kid?
Qualls: I was always kind of wide, but never really tall. I didn’t really grow until the summer of my sophomore year. I’ve never been that big a person, and so I was always training as a running back, working to add agility and balance. And then all of a sudden I blew up, but I kept my speed and agility.

ESPNHS: You play some running back and some defensive end. Do you have a preference?
Qualls: It doesn’t really matter to me. Both positions are fun. I just want to ball out and have fun.

ESPNHS: How about the schools that are recruiting you? Who’s on your list right now, and where are they recruiting me?
Qualls: I’m down to six right now – Washington, USC, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon State and Cal -- and a couple want me just on the defensive line, a couple want me to do both, but some of them want me just as a running back, which is pretty cool. I’m still getting to know these coaches. I’m narrowing it down every few weeks, but I’ll probably make a decision within the next couple of months.

ESPNHS: How do you feel like you did at the Oakland NFTC?
Qualls: It went pretty good. Last year was my first year on the D-line, and I’m not extremely good at it yet. I’m not that good technique-wise. I played more with leverage and speed, but my hand technique isn’t that great. But I still won 60 or 70 percent of the time. I did use a little bit of my hands and I had a good move here and there. The rest was just speed.

ESPNHS: What was it like to walk away with an invite to The Opening?
Qualls: To be honest, at first, I didn’t really know what it was. But then my cousin explained it to me, and then I was really excited. It’s an honor to be considered one of the top players.

ESPNHS: Tell us a little about your high school team. What are some of the expectations for this season?
Qualls: We exceeded expectations last season. It was a good season, but this season is going to be a lot better. We have a lot of talent. We’re young, so we’re a little raw, but when we get the experience and the reps, we’ll be good.

ESPNHS: And I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting back out there at running back.
Qualls: It’s not every day you see a 280-pound running back. I’m really blessed.

School: Casa Grande (Peteluma, Calif.)
Class: 2013
Position: RB/DB
HT: 6-2
WT: 285
2011 Team Record: 9-4 (Lost in CIF North Coast Section Division II tourney)

Food: Spaghetti
Athlete: Barry Sanders
Musical Artist: Hopsin & Wiz Khalifa
Video Game: “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”
Movie: “Friday Night Lights”
Ezekiel ElliotTom Hauck/ESPNHSJohn Burroughs (St. Louis) running back and Ohio State commit Ezekiel Elliott earned one of five invitations to The Opening at the Champaign NFTC.
Ezekiel Elliott was a relative unknown heading into 2012.

Last season, the 6-foot, 200-pound running back rushed for 1,802 yards and 34 touchdowns on 211 carries (8.5 yards per carry) and scored 42 total touchdowns while leading John Burroughs (St. Louis) to a Class 3 state runner-up finish.

Yet, Elliott was barely a blip on the national radar. A big reason why is that Elliott had never attended a national combine or camp, choosing instead to focus on his other passion during the offseason — track.

But it all started to change this spring when Elliott began to receive serious football interest from big-time college programs. And on April 1, he committed to Ohio State over Missouri, where his dad played football and his mom ran track, and Notre Dame.

The No. 255 recruit in the ESPN 300, Elliott followed his commitment by attending his first major football camp, the Nike Football Training Camp in Champaign, Ill. There, Elliott was named running back MVP and earned invitations to both The Opening and Champion Gridiron Kings.

So what’s this Buckeyes commit got planned for the rest of the summer? Get Familiar with Ezekiel Elliott.

ESPNHS: Why did you never attend a football camp before this spring?
Elliott: It’s something I didn’t think was very important. I could have went to some if I wasn’t getting the looks I was getting. Also, I’m a track guy, so I’m competing at meets every weekend. I went to Champaign because of The Opening. I had seen it on TV and I was hearing about it from the other recruits. And then I heard from all the Ohio State guys who were going. It’s a great chance to go out and compete. I’m not necessarily ranked among the top guys in the country. It’s a great way to improve my ranking, compete and have fun.

ESPNHS: What did it feel like when you received The Opening invite?
Elliott: It felt great. Last summer, I wasn’t on anybody’s radar. To think in a year’s time that I’d be invited to The Opening and Gridiron Kings is incredible. It just shows that hard work pays off.

ESPNHS: You ended up missing most of your sophomore year with a broken collarbone. How tough was that to deal with?
Elliott: I broke my collarbone during the fourth game of my sophomore year. I had eight touchdowns at that point. It was tough to have to watch. My guys did great and made it to the state championship. But it was tough not being able to be physically part of the games.

ESPNHS: Your team lost in the state final for the second straight year last fall. How much has that motivated you and your teammates this offseason?
Elliott: It was very heartbreaking. It’s something I still think about every day. Now we know what it takes to get there and not get what we want. We just have to work hard, stay humble and stay motivated.

ESPNHS: You’re also a track star. Are you planning on running track at Ohio State and why do you love running so much?
Elliott: Running track has been in the conversation. I’m going to try it my freshman year and see how it goes. I just love to compete. Track helps me stay in shape, and being a hurdler helps my flexibility and my hips. I just can’t sit out a season. I also play basketball during the winter. I’ve been doing this since I was 7. I also run summer track and two-a-days start for football on Aug. 6. It just doesn’t feel right for me not to be physically active.

ESPNHS: What led you to pick Ohio State on April Fool’s Day?
Elliott: Nobody thought I was serious. I narrowed it down to three schools — Ohio State, Mizzou and Notre Dame. I visited each school twice. After I came back from the second visit at Ohio State, I sat down with my parents. It was tough. We wanted to wait it out, but it became overwhelming. When we came back from Ohio State, we talked about it and I woke up (the next day) and committed to Ohio State. I called coach (Urban) Meyer and told him I wanted to be a Buckeye. It felt great.

ESPNHS: How much did your parents help you through the process?
Elliott: I wouldn’t be where I am without my mom. She drives me to every practice and every game. My dad has been there for me, too. My dad played football at Missouri and my mom ran track at Missouri, but they supported me in every decision I made. They both love Ohio State. They’ll still be rooting me on. I credit everything I’ve accomplished to them. It’s great to have two parents who support you. I’m grateful for everything they’ve done.

School: John Burroughs (St. Louis)
Class: 2013
Position: Running back
HT: 6-0
WT: 200
College: Ohio State

TV Show: “Criminal Minds”
Movie: “Air Bud”
Musical Artist: J. Cole
Athlete: Lolo Jones
Pro Team: Miami Heat
School Subject: Physics
Food: Fried chicken

Get Familiar: OL Scott Quessenberry

June, 11, 2012
Portland SPARQTom Hauck/ESPNHSLa Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.) center Scott Quessenberry, rated No. 183 in the ESPN 300, had a strong day at the Portland Nike Football SPARQ Combine.
Despite measuring in at 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, Scott Quessenberry often gets overlooked when he's on the football field. It's not the La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.) junior's fault — that's just the way it goes for offensive lineman, who rarely ever make the box score with their play. But by using a combination of quickness and strength, Quessenberry has still earned his fair share of attention.

Ranked No. 183 in the ESPN 300, Quessenberry made his mark last season at right tackle, paving the way for a potent rushing attack and leading the Mavericks within one win of the CIF San Diego Section Division II championship game. His play has garnered offers from the likes of Arkansas, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Fresh off competing against some of the nation's best players at the Oregon Nike Football Training Camp this past weekend, Quessenberry is now focused on improving his skills enough to help the Mavericks win a title this coming season — and perhaps bring a little more attention his way.

ESPNHS: How long have you been playing on the offensive line?
I've been on the line my entire life. I actually wasn't really that big going into high school — I was about 5-10. Then, the summer before my sophomore year, I grew to 6-4 and got called up to play varsity that season at center. I played right tackle last year as a junior, will play left tackle as a senior and I'm being recruited to play center in college.

ESPNHS: What's the hardest part of being an offensive lineman?
Just being overlooked. Everyone sees the receivers and quarterbacks throwing the ball. Me and my guys up front are doing what we have to do, but we don't get our names in the newspapers. Of course, the biggest thing is winning and we know we did what we had to do to help our team, but sometimes it's tough to be overlooked when you're putting in a lot of work out there. A lot of times, offensive lineman get noticed only when they mess up, but at the same time, the only way to get better is to learn from your mistakes. No one is perfect, so you have to always look to improve.

ESPNHS: You made the latest ESPN 300 rankings at number 183 and are ranked as the second-best center in the nation. What's it like being recognized in that way?
It's great to be on the list. I'm always on there looking at rankings and when I don't see my name in there, I'll say 'That's cool,' but the in back of my mind I know I can play with anyone. It's great to be recognized for your hard work, but you can't focus too much on the rankings. I just have to go do me.

ESPNHS: Recently, you narrowed your list to four colleges. Where does your recruitment stand right now?
I had it down to four with Nebraska, San Diego State, Wisconsin and UCLA, but I was only at 12 offers at the time. Now, I have 17 and those new ones that came in were Oregon, Cal, Arkansas, Oregon State and Washington, so that changed things up a little. Those four schools I had it down to are still in the mix, but as of those point, I'm pretty wide open and want to take some visits before making a decision.

ESPNHS: Players have different experiences with the recruiting process — some good, some bad. What's your experience been like so far?
It's very interesting process. You hear different pitches from different coaches, which is cool and humbling. You also have to be sure to choose the right words, but if you say something the wrong way, the coach might think you don't want to go there when that's not the case. You have to be very intricate at times, but it's not a frustrating process.

ESPNHS: What are your strengths and what are some things you want to work on in the next year?
Playing outside the last two years, I want to work on improving my pass blocking. My strengths are my physicality, I'm very good in space and blocking the corner and safeties. I just try to get after it and have a motor that keeps going and going.

School: La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.)
Class: 2013
Position: Offensive line
Height: 6-4
Weight: 285

Southern California Mexican food
Athlete: Nick Hardwick
Team: San Diego Chargers
Car: Ford F-150 Raptor
School subject: History
Music artist: Guns N' Roses

Elite 11 Watch: Gilman QB Shane Cockerille

June, 7, 2012
Shane CockerilleTom HauckGilman (Baltimore) quarterback Shane Cockerille shined at the NYC Elite 11 regional in April and will compete at the final Elite 11 regional in Las Vegas on June 16.
Throughout this offseason, we’ve spotlighted Class of 2013 quarterbacks who have a shot at making the Elite 11 finals in July. This week, we profile Gilman (Baltimore, Md.) junior Shane Cockerille, who shined at the New York City Elite 11 regional in April and will be competing at the Las Vegas regional on June 16.

Shane Cockerille didn't quite know what to expect heading into the New York City Elite 11 regional competition.

The Gilman (Baltimore) junior quarterback was widely regarded as one of Maryland’s top football recruits, but he hadn’t yet made a name for himself outside the state. He was hoping to change that at the event at Randall's Island, but he wasn't familiar with the drills or the format.

All he knew was that he’d be going up against some awfully tough competition.

But Cockerille is no stranger to good competition. His Gilman team routinely faces some of the best schools in the region, and this fall the Greyhounds will open up against perennial powerhouses Moeller (Cincinnati, Ohio), Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) and Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), the latter of which finished this past season as the nation's No. 1 team in the POWERADE FAB 50.

A dual-threat quarterback, Cockerille will be tough for even those top teams to slow down. He threw for 1,100 yards last season and rushed for 1,300 more, accounting for 26 total touchdowns just one year after transferring from DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.). Cockerille helped Gilman finish 10-1 on the season, beating Calvert Hall (Baltimore) in the second overtime for the MIAA A Conference championship. The Greyhounds finished the year No. 21 in the FAB 50.

Now, as Cockerille prepares to make a run at an Elite 11 finals nod at the Las Vegas Elite 11 regional, we caught up with the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Maryland recruit to find out what he’s looking forward to this time around.

ESPNHS: How do you feel like you did at the New York Elite 11 regional?
Cockerille: I thought it went pretty well. I came out wanting to compete and to make myself known. I knew I was competing against some of the best guys in the area. I feel like I learned how the camp works. I didn’t know what a lot of those drills were, but I got a good feel for them.

ESPNHS: What are some of the things you’ve been doing since last season to prepare for your senior year?
Cockerille: I’m lifting four times a week and I ran track this season to work on getting my speed up. And I’m training with my quarterback coach on Sunday and Monday nights, too.

ESPNHS: Here’s a chance to be your biggest critic. What are some of the things you feel like you need to improve on?
Cockerille: I definitely want to work on my accuracy, and I am always working on my pocket presence.

ESPNHS: One of the knocks on you is that your accuracy suffers sometimes because of your arm slot being a little too low. Is that something you’ve worked on?
Cockerille: I’ve been working on that all offseason, getting my arm up. People have told me that in the past, that my arm is kind of low, and I’m working on it. You can definitely tell when my arm is up that my accuracy is better.

ESPNHS: Is that a tough thing to do? It seems like it’s a move from a natural movement to something that takes you out of your element.
Cockerille: It’s how I threw the ball naturally. I guess I relied more on my athleticism than just being a quarterback.

ESPNHS: You committed to Maryland in April. What made you choose the Terrapins?
: Our [third] game of the season, against Good Counsel, coach (Randy) Edsall was out there and he saw me play in person. One day later he called and said he liked the way I played. For your hometown school to offer you to be a QB was really exciting. I looked through the process a little to see what else was going on, but when I went to the spring game, I felt like it was time to commit to Maryland. It’s a dream come true to go to your hometown school and try to help them turn things around.

ESPNHS: Are you looking forward to being the leader for this team this season?
Cockerille: Definitely. I love to do that. I feel like when I have the spotlight on me, I play better.

Shane Cockerille
: Gilman (Baltimore)
Position: QB
Class: 2013
College: Maryland
2011 Team Record: 10-1 (Won MIAA A Conference championship)

2011 Stats
Passing Yards: 1,100
Rushing Yards: 1,300
Total TD: 26

Get Familiar: USC commit Ty Isaac

June, 4, 2012
Ty IsaacTom Hauck/ESPNHSJoliet Catholic (Joliet, Ill.) running back and USC commit Ty Isaac, the No. 68 recruit in the ESPN 150, received one of five invitations to The Opening at the Champaign NFTC.
When it came time for Ty Isaac to make his commitment, the Joliet Catholic (Joliet, Ill.) running back didn’t want any bells and whistles.

So no hats in front of a table, no fancy props and certainly no televised announcement.

Instead, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior called the coaches from USC and Michigan — the two schools he was considering — and then announced his commitment to the Trojans via Twitter.

That’s about as Hollywood as the low-key Isaac would go with his pledge. He’d rather make his noise on the field.

He's made plenty of it during his junior year. Rated the nation’s No. 68 recruit in the ESPN 150, Isaac earned ESPNHS Underclass All-American honors this past fall after rushing for 2,629 yards and scoring 51 touchdowns. His best game of the season came in the Class 5A state final against Montini (Lombard, Ill.) when he rushed for a state-title game record 515 yards and six scores, though Joliet Catholic lost 70-45.

And on Sunday, he earned an invitation to The Opening with a stellar performance at the Champaign Nike Football Training Camp.

Now that his commitment is out of the way, Isaac took some time to talk about his decision, preparing for his senior season and comparisons to Marcus Allen.

Get Familiar with one of the nation’s top running backs.

ESPNHS: How much of a relief is it to have your college decision out of the way?
Isaac: It’s huge. You don’t have to worry about 100 phone calls or texts asking you about what you want to do. It was getting to be a lot. It really started the end of my freshman year. I felt like I was so far along in the process that I was ready.

ESPNHS: What led you to pick USC?
Isaac: I like the staff, I like the players, the people around the program and obviously the whole school. It’s nice to be able to focus on my team now.

ESPNHS: What made you announce on Twitter and not make a big deal about your commitment?
Isaac: It’s not my style. I don’t like that kind of stuff. I like to be under the radar.

ESPNHS: You ended up making an impact on varsity as a freshman. Did you feel any pressure that year considering your dad used to be a star player at the school? (Note: Isaac’s father caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the 1987 Class 5A state final.)
Isaac: It taught me how to work. When you’re up on varsity, everyone is held to a higher standard. I felt a little pressure, but you just have to go out and make a name for yourself.

ESPNHS: How tough was it to take that loss in the state final?
Isaac: It was rough because we were in it the whole way. Then it just broke down. We have to take care of this season. That last game taught us how much harder we have to work. You learn from it and hopefully we’ll be a lot better off this season.

ESPNHS: What do you think of the comparisons to Marcus Allen?
Isaac: There’s no pressure. A lot of high school players are compared to somebody. But at the end of the day, you’re going to go out and build your own legacy.

ESPNHS: Who do you credit the most for getting you to this point?
Isaac: My dad. He’s taught me how to handle myself and take care of my business. He taught me there’s more to life than football. You have to take care of your academics. You’ve got to have a degree. You’re not going to go anywhere without one.

School: Joliet Catholic (Joliet, Ill.)
Class: 2013
Position: Running back
HT: 6-2
WT: 225
College: USC

TV Show: “Pardon the Interruption”
Movie: “Contraband”
Musical Artist: YG
Athlete: Russell Westbrook
Team: San Francisco 49ers
School Subject: History
Food: Shrimp

Get Familiar: Super soph. Da'Shawn Hand

May, 28, 2012

These days it’s tough to find a college football team that isn’t interested in landing Da’Shawn Hand. The sophomore from Woodbridge (Va.) has more than 30 offers from Alabama to Stanford and just about everywhere in between.

It’s easy to see why. Hand is as gregarious off the field as he is ferocious on it. And on the field, he’s a sight to be seen. The 6-foot-4, 238-pound defensive end put up a ridiculous 21 sacks to go with his 84 tackles this past fall. The Vikings finished with a 6-4 record, but expectations for this season are much higher.

It’s numbers like those that have made Hand one of the most popular athletes in the Class of 2014. Following his impressive performance at the Baltimore NFTC, Hand took down Top Underclassman honors as well as an invite to The Opening at the Nike Headquarters in July, and he has some speculating he could be the nation’s No. 1 recruit next season.

None of this, however, has gotten to Hand’s head. Despite all the offers and attention, Hand says he’s still got plenty to prove. What’s left for the stellar soph? We’ll let him tell you as we Get Familiar with Da’Shawn Hand.

ESPNHS: What was your reaction when you were told you got an invite to The Opening?
: I was just shocked and honored. I’ve seen clips of The Opening on YouTube and ESPN, and I was excited to be a part of it. The top 150 players in the country, and it’s Nike, so you can’t do better than that.

ESPNHS: What are some things you felt you did that impressed the coaches at the event?
: My technique, footwork and balance and stuff were good. I felt pretty good, overall, but I definitely noticed what I needed to improve on.

ESPNHS: Was there one event you felt like you really shined in?
: The one-on-ones, definitely, in terms of the competition. It was a good learning experience for me. I went up against some great offensive linemen.

ESPNHS: What are some things you feel like you learned from the coaches at the Baltimore event?
: There was a lot. There were a lot of very, very good coaches and they influenced me a lot. There were some pass rushing techniques and a lot of just basic knowledge of the game. It was cool just to see how they look at everything and just seeing what they did. It was a nice learning experience.

ESPNHS: Your popularity has skyrocketed this summer. Do you feel like a lot has changed?
: I don’t really worry about that stuff. I just try to focus on improving myself as a player, as a student and as a person.

ESPNHS: Tell us a little about your summer, what else do you have planned?
: Oh man, the summer is going to be really busy. I’m going to some camps at Virginia Tech and at Alabama, and I’m headed to The Opening on July 5 … and after that, it’s back to practice to get ready for the fall season.

ESPNHS: What’s the goal for Woodbridge this season?
: We want to win states, have the No. 1 defense in the state, be ranked No. 1 in scoring defense and just be dominant.

ESPNHS: Oh that’s it, huh?
: Our defense has a lot of returners, and our offense is piecing things together. I think during two-a-days they’ll get that all sorted out.

ESPNHS: You’re going to be one of the leaders this fall. Is that something you’re looking forward to?
: I’m definitely looking forward to seeing my team grow. A lot of people say I’m going to be the one that other teams targeted, but we have a lot of pieces on defense. If those other teams don’t worry about a lot of our other key players, they’ll get beat, and then they’ll stop worrying about me as much.

ESPNHS: What else do you have planned for this summer other than football?
: Definitely hitting up some amusement parks. I love roller coasters. No matter where I go, I always have to find the best roller coasters. I even get the fast pass so I can get right to the front of the line. Maybe the next time we talk, we’ll do our interview on a roller coaster. I bet we’d be the first guys to try that.

School: Woodbridge (Va.)
: 2014
: Defensive end
: 6-4
: 238
: Undecided

Food: Seafood
Athlete: Jason Pierre-Paul
Video Game: NCAA Football 12
Pre-Game Song: Anything that cranks with a nice bass

Christopher Parish covers high school sports for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter @CParishESPN.

Get Familiar: Versatile star Tramel Terry

May, 21, 2012

Tramel Terry didn't really know what to expect entering the Charlotte Nike Football Training Camp. After pulling his groin in the state championship game last fall and running track for part of the spring, the Goose Creek (S.C.) junior still wasn't close to 100 percent. Heck, he hadn't even run full speed in weeks.

But despite the uncertainty, Terry would settle for nothing less than an invite to The Opening while at the NFTC. He made good on his personal vow, using impressive route running and several acrobatic catches to secure a spot at the prestigious event set to take place July 5-8 in Oregon.

Adjusting to circumstances is nothing for Terry, who is ranked No. 47 in the ESPN 150. The Georgia recruit played three positions last fall, totaling 1,680 yards and 16 touchdowns as a wide receiver and running back and shining at defensive back in leading the Gators to the Division II-AAAA state championship.

Terry took some time to talk about The Opening, his commitment to Georgia and his favorite position.

ESPNHS: How did you feel about your performance at the Charlotte NFTC?
Terry: I was injured but still out there competing, expecting the best. Every Saturday, I prepared for the camp like it was a game. I would go to the weight room and work on this little machine that works your hips to stay loose. My groin didn't bother me once I got going, so I was able to work with it. At the end, I wasn't sure if I had done good enough to make it to The Opening, but I was real excited and happy when I got the invite.

ESPNHS: How did you hurt your groin?
Terry: I actually hurt it in the state title game. I wasn't resting so it had become a chronic problem and I had to stop running track. I've tried resting some but I committed to going to the NFTC, so I had to prepare for that. Now that I'm done, I'm going to rest up before going to Florida in June to train with Donovin Darius, who used to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

ESPNHS: What are your expectations going into The Opening?
Terry: I just want to represent my school, Georgia and my class. It's cool to be seen as one of the best players out there, but I know everybody will be good out there, so I'm just going to learn and do my best. I'm not going to press to be somebody I'm not; I'm just going to play my game.

ESPNHS: What was it like winning a state championship last fall?
Terry: It was crazy. We really should have more than one ring, in my mind. The year before, we lost by five yards [in the semifinals] because we threw a Hail Mary at the end and I caught it just short at the 5-yard line. But it was a tough fight in the state championship and it was great to get the win. Now we're looking to do the same thing next year. The leadership of me and the other seniors will be important because we want to make sure the young guys don't come in and think they don't have to work for another title since we just won one. Hopefully everybody will be humble and work hard.

ESPNHS: Which position did you initially play and how did you end up playing three at Goose Creek?
Terry: My first position was wide receiver, but I didn't play much as a freshman until they started throwing bombs and they saw I could catch them. As a sophomore, they taught me the Wildcat offense, so I started playing running back, too. And then my junior year, I played defensive back along with the other two. Next year, I'm going to start at safety and wide receiver and running back, so I've got to train hard to make some plays out there.

ESPNHS: Which position do you like best?
Terry: I can't lie; I'd have to say running back right now because we play in a running offense and I want the ball so I can make something happen. In our offense, it's a quick way to get the ball. But at the next level, I think I'd be a good defensive back in college. Next season, I'll be working on my transition some to being on the defensive side, but really, it's wherever Georgia wants me to play.

ESPNHS: You committed to and then decommitted from Georgia before committing again in March. What went into your decision?
I'm happy with it and know I did the right thing. In some ways, Georgia was kind of like Clemson but more of a modern campus. All the guys were real cool, like to have fun and do things I like to do, like fishing. There wasn't any hating from the players because you know sometimes players don't like recruits because they think they are coming to take their spots. But everybody welcomes you in and makes you feel like part of the squad. I love it down there.

ESPNHS: What have the Georgia coaches told you about how they want to use you out on the field?
Terry: They said they are looking at me to probably be like Malcolm Mitchell, where I play offense first and then transition to be a defensive back in the next year or two. The good thing is that I'll be graduating early and enrolling in the spring, so I'll get a head start and be physically ready when the season comes.

ESPNHS: In the meantime, how do you plan to build on the success from this past fall at three different positions, especially with more defenses targeting you?
Terry: Well, I'm not the only guy on the team. I just happen to be the most well-known senior, but we've got so many other weapons. They better not just worry about me. I'm still going to do my thing and produce, though, and make plays.

School: Goose Creek (S.C.)
Class: 2013
Position: Wide receiver/running back/defensive back
HT: 5-11
WT: 193
College: Georgia

Brandon Parker covers high school sports for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at brandon.c.parker@espn.com.

Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) junior Dorian O’Daniel knows all about the importance of tradition.

And it’s tradition that’s helped the Falcons become one of the nation’s top football programs. Specifically, it’s the upperclassmen’s job to pass along all the integral knowledge, like what makes Good Counsel so successful, to the talented newcomers.

So that means spending extra time in the weight room and studying the playbook off the field and then filling your role come game time.

O’Daniel, who moved from Pittsburgh in the seventh grade, was taught all of that coming up at Good Counsel, and now he’s sharing all he’s learned to the underclassmen. And that will be especially important this season as the young Falcons look to replace several talented players from a team that finished undefeated for first time in school history, captured its third straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title and was ranked No. 5 in the POWERADE FAB 50.

Rated the nation’s No. 73 recruit in the ESPN 150, O’Daniel played a huge role on last season’s team while splitting time at running back and outside linebacker. He finished with 897 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 127 carries (7.1 yards per carry) and 38.5 tackles (15.5 for loss) and five sacks on defense.

This will be O’Daniel’s first season as a full-time starter at both positions this fall, and he and the likes of teammate Kendall Fuller, the No. 27 recruit in the ESPN 150, will look to make sure Good Counsel keeps up its winning ways.

O’Daniel made sure there won’t be any distractions by committing to Clemson in April. And his focus was on display at the Baltimore Nike Football Training Camp, where he earned an invite to The Opening.

Get Familiar with the two-way standout to see what he’s looking forward to this year.

ESPNHS: What does it mean to play for Good Counsel?
O’Daniel: It’s truly a blessing just to be a part of Good Counsel. One of the first things people think about Good Counsel is they produce good student-athletes, and to be a part of that is a good feeling.

ESPNHS: How would you describe what you were able to accomplish last year and how can you do more of the same this fall?
O’Daniel: Coming into the season, we knew everyone was going to try to knock us off the top, so we had to play extra hard every week. It’s more of a responsibility for us this year. We have big shoes to fill. Everyone is going to have to play their role. We’re making sure the young guys are in the weight room every day. You have to start this bond early so things will click once the season starts.

I’m looking forward to (this year) a lot. It’s my senior year. I’m not going to get any games back, so I’m going to leave it all out on the field.

ESPNHS: What led you to pick Clemson?
O’Daniel: Just going down there and getting the whole experience, I got a good vibe. It felt like a family atmosphere. It felt like home, honestly. If I’m spending four years in college, I want to feel comfortable there. There’s more to life than football. I’m focusing on getting a good education at Clemson and being productive in football.

ESPNHS: Have you talked to the coaching staff about letting you play a little running back?
O’Daniel: Right now, it’s strictly linebacker. The thought has crossed my mind about playing both ways.

ESPNHS: Does it help having teammates like Kendall Fuller going through the process with you and are you trying to get him to commit to Clemson now?
O’Daniel: Kendall is my brother. Just to talk about recruiting and comparing and contrasting thoughts to mine is huge. I’m in his ear about Clemson all the time. But it’s all fun and games right now.

ESPNHS: Who do you credit the most for getting you to this point?
O’Daniel: My mom, Kerri. She’s made so many sacrifices for me. I owe it all to her. She stood by me through the whole recruiting process. She’s put a lot on the line to help me.

School: Good Counsel (Olney, Md.)
Class: 2013
Position: Running back/outside linebacker
HT: 6-1
WT: 205
College: Clemson

TV Show: “Gruden QB Camp”
Movie: “Friday”
Musical Artist: Juicy J
Athlete: Reggie Bush
Pro Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
School Subject: English
Food: Steak and potatoes

With a name like Taco, it’s hard not to get noticed. But Taco Charlton is also drawing attention for his play on the football field.

Charlton, whose real first name is Vidauntať and was given the nickname by his grandmother, is rated the nation’s No. 9 defensive end by ESPN and the No. 115 overall recruit in the ESPN 150.

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior from Pickerington Central (Pickerington, Ohio) shined on the gridiron this past fall, helping the Tigers to a Division I state runner-up finish. And he showed off his athleticism as the starting center on the Pickerington Central basketball team that captured its first state title in March.

Charlton has impressed throughout the offseason, earning All-Camp honors at the Long Beach Nike Football Training Camp on April 1 and then shining this past Saturday at the Columbus NFTC, where he snagged an invite to The Opening.

Charlton also got the attention of his family, many of whom are Ohio State fans, by committing to Michigan in February.

So what’s this defensive dynamo have in store for the rest of this year? Get Familiar with Taco Charlton.

ESPNHS: Who gave you your nickname?
Charlton: It came from my grandmother. It’s different. Nobody forgets it.

ESPNHS: What led a kid who grew up near Ohio State to pick Michigan?
Charlton: I just love the coaches there. I believe they can get me to the next level. It’s a great family atmosphere on the team, the fans there are crazy about their team and my parents love the academics. I always had Michigan as my leader. That’s where I really wanted to play. My whole family is Ohio State fans. At first they didn’t like it, but they’re starting to come along. They have scarlet and grey around their houses. I’m going to try to get them to change that.

ESPHS: How much does the loss in the state finals sting?
Charlton: It’s making us work even harder this year. We’re trying to get back there and win it this time. I won a state title in basketball in March, and I believe we can do that in football this year. I have to be a coach on the field. I want my senior year to be successful.

ESPNHS: What did it feel like to win a state title in basketball?
Charlton: To win the first state title in school history was crazy. Our school deserved it. We had a huge pep rally. Our coach got the key to the city. It was great to see. I got to go up against (2012 Michigan signee) Chris Wormley in the finals. It was a good matchup. I’ll tease him about it at Michigan.

ESPNHS: Why do you continue to compete at camps with all you’ve proven and having already committed to Michigan?
Charlton: I just love to compete and have fun. This is one of the few chances I can get to go against the best linemen in the country. And there’s the whole teaching aspect.

School: Pickerington Central (Pickerington, Ohio)
Class: 2013
Position: Defensive end
HT: 6-6
WT: 240
College: Michigan

TV Show: “The Game”
Movie: “He Got Game”
Musical Artist: Meek Mill
Athlete: LeBron James
Team: Michigan
School Subject: Math
Food: Chipotle burritos

Get Familiar: Standout RB Alvin Kamara

April, 30, 2012

Despite rushing for 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, Alvin Kamara understands if he's overlooked at times. In fact, the Norcross (Ga.) junior tailback says it's a given, considering the top two players in the ESPN 150 -- Robert Nkemdiche and Reuben Foster -- also starred in Georgia last year. But that doesn't stop Kamara from believing he's the best.

That's why his goals entering the Atlanta NFTC on April 20 were simple -- win the MVP for his position and earn an invite to The Opening. Kamara did just that, using his power and rushing skills to achieve both his goals and stand out among some of the region's best players.

BCS football programs are plenty familiar with Kamara, who once received more than 100 recruiting letters in one day from Alabama. And come this fall, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound rusher is confident that the entire nation will also get familiar with this emerging star.

ESPNHS: What was clicking for you that allowed you to win the running back MVP at the Atlanta NFTC?
Kamara: The way I prepared prior to the NFTC really helped. We do workouts every morning at Norcross -- the same type of stuff we did at the NFTC, like bag work and running cuts and drills, so it was almost like another workout and I was probably better prepared than most. Also, my confidence and the way I approach things helped. I feel like I'm the best. And that's in no type of cocky manner. I just go out to be the best in everything that I do and I think that's what separated me.

ESPNHS: What was your favorite part and what was the hardest part of the camp?
Kamara: My favorite part was the one-on-ones with the linebackers. That's what everybody was waiting for, being able to run plays and routes because either you were going to get the ball or get embarrassed. The hardest part was probably the blocking drills. You didn't really know what to expect at first. I wasn't really ready the first time and the guy went right past me. So I had to refocus and get serious after that so no one else would get by me.

ESPNHS: How big is it in your development as a player to get an invite to The Opening?
Kamara: It feels great. I mean, those are the top 150 prospects in the nation, so to get invited to be a part of that is great. And I feel like with my performance at the NFTC, I definitely earned it.

ESPNHS: You're ranked number 79 in the ESPN 150 among a lot of other Georgia players. How do you feel about where you're ranked?
Kamara: I kind of just busted onto the scene whereas guys like Reuben (Foster) and (Robert) Nkemdiche have been on the map, so I understand and I'm not mad about it. But I'm going to work hard so I can move on up toward the top with some of those guys.

ESPNHS: Last year, you had a star receiver in Jason Croom who got a lot of attention from defenses. Now that's he graduated, all eyes will be on you. How do you plan on adjusting to the extra attention while still being effective?
Kamara: I saw Jason deal with it last year with all the attention he had on him, and he handled it real well. That's what I plan to do -- just stay humble and lead my team the best way I can so we can win.

ESPNHS: What is your biggest strength and what's something you want to improve upon?
Kamara: I'll start with what I want to improve on -- my lateral movement. I'm more of a straight ahead, speed and power guy, so I need to work on the lateral part of my game. I'd say my strength is my vision and speed as a runner.

ESPNHS: Your recruitment has received a lot of attention recently, from the 100 letters from Alabama to you saying that you, Foster and Tray Matthews plan on going to the same college. Where does your recruitment stand right now?
Kamara: My recruitment is still wide open. I'm just enjoying the process, going through it and talking to the schools that are looking at me. I'm trying to learn everything I can learn about each school. As far as me, Reuben and Tray, that's something we want to do and we've flirted with the issue a little. I know they are committed to different schools right now, but if it comes down to us wanting to play together, it will happen. But we'll see.

School: Norcross (Ga.)
Class: 2013
Position: Running back
HT: 5-10
WT: 190

Movie: "The Blind Side"
Car: Black Dodge Challenger
Food: Chicken
Athlete: Tiger Woods ("I've seen some interviews and videos of him and the way he talks about being the best and saying nobody can beat him, I like that.")
Team: Green Bay Packers
Subject: Language Arts

Brandon Parker covers high school sports for ESPNHS magazine and ESPNHS.com. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at brandon.c.parker@espn.com.

A sojourn is traditionally understood to mean a temporary stay or short visit. But in the case of Sojourn Shelton, a star cornerback for Plantation (Fla.), he’s planning on a long football journey that transitions from Friday nights to Saturday afternoons, with a hopeful eye on playing on Sundays in the future.

The 5-foot-9, 152-pound dynamo played big at the Miami Nike Football Training Camp on April 15, earning some serious accolades. Not only did Shelton take home the positional MVP in a deep and talented group of defensive backs, he also earned top billing on the All-Camp team and a coveted invite to The Opening.

With a busy offseason ahead of him and his senior season just months away, it’s time to Get Familiar with one of the Sunshine State’s rising stars.

ESPNHS: What are your goals in this final offseason of your high school career?
Shelton: My motivation this offseason is to improve everyday and become the best player that I can be. You can never rest on what you have accomplished. I’m so excited to have been invited to The Opening and know from my friends Tracy Howard and Duke Johnson and others on my 7-on-7 team that went to it last summer that it’s a special event and a special honor to go there. But at the same time I can’t be satisfied. Motivation comes to me in so many ways; with the ESPN 150 coming out and me not being on it, I feel as though I should be on there and I’m determined to get there.

ESPNHS: What are the goals for Plantation in 2012?
Shelton: Man, making the playoffs for one. Our team goal as seniors is definitely to make the playoffs, especially since we haven’t made them since I’ve been in high school. Just talking to my friends on other teams who have been in the playoffs, and in Florida down here high school ball is so important, it is the type of pressure I want to be a part of and experience that win-or-go home feeling of the playoffs.

TBD Editor
Tom Hauck/ESPNHSPlantation (Fla.) cornerback Sojourn Shelton committed to Florida State this past June but is keeping his options open as he heads into his senior season.
ESPNHS: Is there a unique mentality to playing corner?
Shelton: The island mentality is to never let anyone beat you. On every single play when you are out there one-on-one as a corner the risk is six points on every play. There is nothing between me and the end zone, and getting beat can lead to six really quick. You have to have that confidence level knowing you are there to stop the guy you line up against. What I really like is that it’s a position that demands not just ability but confidence. The idea is that I have to protect my island.

ESPNHS: Florida has been known to produce talented players that bring a distinct swagger and confidence to the field. What is it about the football culture there that contributes to this?
Shelton: Everybody down here is competitive and the culture of football down here demands the best of you. The most simple way to put it is that in Florida football everyone wants to be the best and with so much talent you are always being challenged. It’s not that you face a team and they have one guy that is really good, it’s all over the field and everywhere you look you see that. We have that swagger and mentality that down here in the Sunshine State we are the best in the U.S. and when we get around players from all over the country it’s show time and we are always ready to compete.

ESPNHS: Even though you verbally committed to Florida State back in June, you seem to be keeping your options open as you head into your senior campaign. What are your priorities in the recruiting process?
Shelton: My main priority with the recruiting process is to keep an open mind and not close any doors. This is a huge decision and there’s no turning back once it’s clear where I’ll be spending the next four years of my life. I also have to consider how fast can I get on the field and feel really comfortable with the coaching. I also look to the college atmosphere and academics and want to become a stronger and better person all around during the process. There are a lot of things that go into the process, but with my ultimate goal being to play in the NFL one day, that takes the experience of college and playing time is the key to gaining that experience.

Sojourn Shelton
School: Plantation (Fla.)
Class: 2013
Position: Cornerback
HT: 5-9
WT: 152

TV Show: Whatever is on ESPN or NFL Network
Movie: “The Dark Knight” & "He Got Game"
Athlete: Darrelle Revis
Song: “All Of The Lights” by Kanye West
Food: A great steak that doesn't need any A1
Jayron KearseTom Hauck/ESPNHSJayron Kearse had a busy January, transferring from Cypress Lake (Fort Myers, Fla.) to South Fort Myers (Fla.) and switching his commitment from Auburn to Miami.
Jayron Kearse has never had to go far for expert advice.

That’s what happens when your uncle Jevon Kearse was a three-time Pro Bowler and your cousin Phillip Buchanon is a current NFL cornerback.

And this offseason, Jayron is taking in any advice he can, from both his family and from coaches, as he learns a new position.

At Cypress Lake (Fort Myers, Fla.), Kearse played safety his freshman season and quarterback the past two years. But after transferring to South Fort Myers (Fla.) in January, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior has been prepping to play the spot he’ll be playing this fall and is expected to play in college — wide receiver.

Kearse has been able to focus on strictly on-field stuff the past few months after switching his pledge from Auburn to Miami in January.

Now he’s aiming to follow in the footsteps of current Clemson star Sammy Watkins as the next great receiver from South Fort Myers.

Get Familiar with Kearse before he heads off to work on his game.

ESPNHS: What was it like growing up with an uncle and a cousin in the NFL?
Kearse: It helped a bunch just knowing what it takes to get to the NFL. You’ve got to have great character, be a hard worker and be able to separate yourself from people who don’t have your best interests. Go your own way and don’t follow the wrong people. They also told me that average people don’t make it to the NFL. I’m trying to be more than average.

ESPNHS: How have they helped you the most?
Kearse: My cousin told me to base my decision on all aspects of college — the school, the environment and academics, not just football. Hearing it from him helps a lot. He never told me one time about going to The U. He said to pick the school that fits me the best. My uncle was basically the same. Jevon has told me to stay humble through the whole process. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m better than anybody else.

ESPNHS: What led you to switch from Auburn to Miami?
Kearse: When [Auburn] lost coach (Gus) Malzahn, I didn’t know what my role would have been with them. With Miami, I knew what I would come into and what role I would have based on the year Tommy Streeter had with them, because he’s a big receiver like I am. I like the coaching staff and what coach (Al) Golden is doing with the program. I also like their academic programs. They have one of the top communication programs in the country and that’s what I want to major in.

ESPNHS: How difficult has the transition been from quarterback to wide receiver?
Kearse: It hasn’t been too difficult because I played wide receiver in Pop Warner. But I’m a step behind when it comes to in-game experience as far as running routes. I run a bunch of routes and catch a hundred passes a day after I work out. The toughest part is the concentration. Running routes across the field when people are trying to take your head off is hard. I have people jump out at me when I’m practicing running routes.

ESPNHS: Will you miss playing quarterback at all?
Kearse: When I got to high school, the position they threw me at was quarterback. They wanted the ball in my hands so I could make things happen, so I understood why they put me there. I’ll miss quarterback a little, but it’s nothing I can’t get over.

ESPNHS: Do you feel any pressure to match what Sammy Watkins did at South Fort Myers?
Kearse: I think our playing styles are totally different. He has more speed, but I think I’m more physical. I’m not trying to live up to what he did. I’m trying to be the best I can be since this is really my first year playing wide receiver.

School: South Fort Myers (Fla.)
Class: 2013
Position: Wide receiver
HT: 6-3
WT: 190
College: Miami

TV Show: “The Game”
Movie: “The Blind Side”
Musical Artist: Young Jeezy
Athletes: Calvin Johnson & Robert Woods
School Subject: Math

Growing up, Steven Mitchell dreamed of being the next great running back from Southern California.

But during the summer heading into his sophomore year at Bishop Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.), Mitchell was switched to wide receiver by his head coach, who believed Mitchell had the potential to be a star at the position.

Turned out to be a good decision.

Now a 5-foot-10, 177-pound junior, Mitchell is considered one of the nation’s top receivers and is an ESPNU 150 Watch List recruit. Mitchell currently holds offers from the likes of Washington, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Cal.

Mitchell does most of his damage from the slot, where he uses his speed and route-running skills to burn past safeties and linebackers. This past season, he caught 50 passes for 1,006 yards and scored 17 total touchdowns.

But all Mitchell remembers from his junior season is how it ended. Bishop Alemany went undefeated in the tough Serra League but was upset by St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoffs.

Bosco featured senior receiver Bryce Treggs, a Cal recruit rated the nation’s No. 25 wideout in the Class of 2012 by ESPNU. Mitchell spoke to Treggs for the first time after the game and the two have since become friends, training together this offseason.

The work Mitchell has done with Treggs and his Bishop Alemany teammates this offseason has already paid big dividends. On April 1, he was named the wide receiver MVP and earned an invitation to The Opening while at the Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp.

But Mitchell is far from satisfied with his accomplishments. Get Familiar with the converted running back to see what he’s got planned for this season.

ESPNHS: When did you first know you wanted to be a receiver?
Mitchell: All the way up to my sophomore year, I was a running back. I always wanted to be like Reggie Bush. I played running back my freshman year, and when they called me up to varsity my sophomore year, my coach told me I had receiver talent. I liked that when I caught the ball, I could make people look bad.

ESPNHS: How do you make up for your lack of prototypical size at the position?
Mitchell: With my agility and shiftiness. Most of the guys who cover me are safeties and outside linebackers. Whenever they see me, they underestimate me. It makes me play even harder and faster. People used to joke around about my size, but once I got on the football field, that joking stopped.

[+] EnlargeSteven Mitchell
Tom Hauck/ESPNHSBishop Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.) receiver Steven Mitchell was named WR MVP and earned an invite to The Opening at the Los Angeles Nike Camp.
ESPNHS: How would you describe your performance at the LA NFTC, especially against such a loaded field of defensive backs?
Mitchell: The defensive backs were good, but I felt like I did a very good job. And when I go to The Opening, I feel like I have to show out again and prove myself. I feel like I have to prove myself whenever I step on the field. When I saw The Opening on TV last year, I told my dad I was going to work so hard to get to that camp. When I got the invitation, I was ecstatic.

ESPNHS: How motivated are you after last year’s first-round playoff loss?
Mitchell: We were pretty down. We all know we could have won that game. The day after the game, we decided we had to get it right. We have to play more as a team. This year, we’ve made a commitment to the team and we’re going to work hard throughout the year.

ESPNHS: What did you learn from watching Bryce Treggs in the loss to St. John Bosco?
Mitchell: He’s a great receiver. I just wanted to show we had great receivers in our class, too. I tried to play to the best of my potential — we just came up short. After the game was the first time we met. He said I was a very good athlete and he was going to follow me throughout my senior year. It was a good experience. I’ve trained with him since then. It helps me a lot. He’s a great router runner and I try to get all the teaching I can get.

ESPNHS: Who do you credit for getting you to this point?
Mitchell: I have to credit my parents for all they’ve done for me. They’ve supported me my entire life. They come to every practice and all of my games. It helps me a lot, because I know that not everybody has a mother and father to support them like do.

School: Bishop Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.)
Class: 2013
Position: Wide receiver
HT: 5-10
WT: 177

TV Show: “Martin”
Movie: “The Lion King”
Athlete: Reggie Bush
School Subject: Math
Pro Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Food: Cabbage & cornbread

Get Familiar: Standout OL Patrick Kugler

April, 2, 2012
KuglerKugler family North Allegheny (Wexford, Pa.) junior Patrick Kugler (right) has learned a lot about playing the line from his father, Sean (left), the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Few things are certain in high school football, but it’s always safe to assume North Allegheny (Wexford, Pa.) is going to be in the state-title discussion.

Last season, the Tigers lost in the Class AAAA state semifinals by three points and finished No. 49 in the POWERADE FAB 50. And this fall, with many of their skill players returning, the Tigers will again be among the favorites to bring home the hardware.

One of the biggest reasons for the team’s consistent success is an always-strong offensive line, and junior offensive lineman Patrick Kugler is as good as you’ll find in the nation. The ESPNU 150 Watch List recruit and Michigan commit was named an ESPNHS Underclass All-American this past fall.

Kugler’s father, Sean, is the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And his brother, Robert, is currently in his first season at center at Purdue.

Clearly, it’s a family that knows the O-line. And Patrick might be the best of the bunch.

“He’s one of those guys who just loves to play,” says North Allegheny head coach Art Walker. “He plays hard every snap, he’s physical, he’s aggressive, and he’s a good locker room guy as well.

What makes this stellar junior one of the nation’s top offensive linemen? It’s time to Get Familiar with Patrick Kugler.

ESPNHS: How’s the offseason going? What are you up to so far?
Kugler: It’s been going really good. I’ve been doing some lifting, and this summer I’m hoping to play some AAU football. I’m staying busy.

ESPNHS: Is there a specific goal behind your lifting? Are you trying to get bigger, just gain strength, or just kind of stay where you’re at now?
Kugler: I’m definitely always trying to get stronger, and right now I’m just trying to mold my body. I have a little bit of a gut, and it would be awesome to get rid of that right now and just mold my body into a college-type body instead of a big wide-body high school hooligan.

ESPNHS: You play at a school — North Allegheny — that is always right in the state title discussion. What are your expectations for this upcoming season?
Kugler: If we don’t win a championship, it’s an unsuccessful season. We’ve got a great team coming back this season — great quarterback, great running game, great receivers and a great defense. The only question is going to be who starts on that offensive line, and obviously I’ll be there, and hopefully I can help give us a great shot at winning state.

ESPNHS: What are some of the things you think you need to work on before you get to college?
Kugler: Technically, I always want to improve on my pass blocking. I think we’re going to pass a lot more this year because we have a good quarterback and good receivers, and so that’s something I’m going to need to improve on. After that, it’s just keeping my feet underneath me and not losing my balance.

ESPNHS: Tell us about the process that went into your college decision.
Kugler: Well, I committed to Michigan a month ago, and it’s been nice having it over with and not having to talk to any other coaches.

ESPNHS: What were your favorite and least favorite parts of the whole process?
Kugler: My favorite part was just learning about all of the different schools, some prestigious programs. And my least favorite part was having to talk to all of these people who were trying to recruit me and continuously having to talk to people even if I knew I wasn’t going to their school.

ESPNHS: You’re from a family that knows its offensive line, between your dad and your brother. What are those conversations around the dinner table like?
Kugler: My dad doesn’t really talk a lot of football with us. We’re not criticized unless we ask for it, and then he’ll give us his two cents. But he’ll help us work out and improve. It’s not forced.

ESPNHS: Your brother just went through this whole recruiting process. How was he able to help you?
Kugler: He’s definitely really helped. He told me all sorts of schools to look at, and he told me what were some fun schools to go to and check out. He’s happy I chose a Big Ten school.

ESPNHS: You won’t line up directly against him, but is Purdue-Michigan the new rivalry now?
Kugler: Oh, definitely. We’re looking forward to it.

Patrick Kugler
School: North Allegheny (Wexford, Pa.)
Position: OL
HT: 6-4
WT: 280
College: Michigan

TV Show: “Family Guy”
Athlete: Maurkice Pouncey
Sports Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Food: Steak
Video Game: “Assassin’s Creed”