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Coaches see value in The Opening

Some 15 months ago, Brigham Young offensive coordinator Brandon Doman evaluated Idaho prep quarterback Tanner Mangum, an unheralded prospect who missed much of his junior season in 2010 with a shoulder injury.

With a quarterback pedigree that includes one season as a BYU starter and three years as an NFL reserve, Doman was stumped.

Where was the love for Mangum? From what Doman saw, the kid had it all -- arm strength, instincts, athleticism, accuracy and smarts.

"I had been all over the place, watching some of the so-called top quarterbacks," Doman said. "I thought, at the time, this guy is as good or better than anyone I've ever seen."

Doman offered this message to Mangum: They're going to find you. And when they do, you'll get invites to all the big showcase events.

At that point, the coach said, "You might as well win."

The summer showcase season is upon us. The Opening, which features 150 of the nation's top prospects in competition and training at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., runs Thursday through Sunday. The Elite 11 finals are set for July 18-22 in Southern California.

Mangum, who signed with BYU, saw his profile skyrocket last July. Others are sure to follow in his path this month -- and do it largely with the blessing of college recruiters.

"A great quarterback needs to have the ability to learn, the desire to learn and then be at his best when the best is needed," said Doman, who coaches the BYU quarterbacks. "I think a lot of these events provide an opportunity to show what a player can do.

"I like them. I pay close attention, because eventually, they name an MVP. To me, that's intriguing."

College coaches and recruiting coordinators, prohibited from attending such events, said they recognized the value of The Opening and similar showcases and that they closely monitor all reports on their prospects coming out of the summer circuit.

A high-profile camp or combine provides the opportunity for high school players to train in a competitive environment and experience other aspects of football that may ease the transition to college.

"There's nothing wrong with competition," first-year Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We're interested in what happens there. If there's film, we watch. I don't think many coaches will make or change evaluations based on one of these performances. That will come from game film, from what they've learned talking with high school coaches and what they've seen in the spring.

"But it is interesting."

There's a downside, of course.

"Some of the guys feel like they've already won the Heisman Trophy because they've competed well in an event," Rodriguez said. "There's a sense of entitlement. That's when it gets a little crazy."

Kent McLeod, who directs recruiting at Duke and also worked under coach David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss for seven years, recalls a defensive lineman who came out of the summer camps with a monster reputation.

"We figured we had to get on this guy," McLeod said. "Then, he came to our camp and didn't make it through the day. That's the thing, you've got to take it with a grain of salt."

Regardless, Rodriguez said, there's no turning back now on events like The Opening.

"We're a long way down this path," said Rodriguez, formerly the head coach at West Virginia and Michigan. "And I don't blame the high school kids for feeling the way they do, because they're getting more attention than they've ever received."

And if young players learn to handle the attention, well, there's another benefit to the summer experience.

Often, a prospect's performance in the summer validates the evaluation of a college coaching staff.

"Not that we need that co-sign," Baylor recruiting coordinator Kendal Briles said.

Briles, who also coordinates the Bears' passing game, said his father, Baylor coach Art Briles, traditionally won't push prospects to participate in summer events.

"For the kids who feel like this is something they need to do, that's great," Kendal Briles said. "It's a great chance for him to work on his skills. And he's not at home playing video games."

In the case of former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman winner never needed the extra attention provided by a summer showcase. Griffin III focused on track and field in the offseason, and that suited Art Briles just fine, according to Kendal Briles. The elder Briles recruited Griffin III to Houston, but he switched jobs in 2007 and took Griffin along to Waco.

"These kids get so much exposure, it's unbelievable," Kendal Briles said. "As a college coach, it can be hard. But in our profession, the bottom line is this: Can he help us win football games? That's how we have to look at it. If the kid has ability, hopefully, we can work through other stuff."

Doman, the BYU coordinator, said he sees it much the same way.

"The thing you're trying to learn about any player is if he's an elite guy," Doman said. "And once you realize that answer is yes, now you've got to find out all the other stuff, the intangibles.

"With any athlete, that's the hardest part. It's what the recruiting process doesn't always allow for."

And for college coaches, it's often the premier benefit of keeping tabs on an event like The Opening.