Last April, nearly 300 of the top athletes in the Southeast came out to compete in the Georgia Nike Football Training Camp, and more than 60 Peach State prospects in attendance from the Class of 2012 signed with FBS (Division I-A) programs. Many of them came into the camp with seemingly nothing to gain, but 14 standouts from Georgia soon learned that their unbridled passion to compete would earn them an invite to a new Nike experience, one that would quickly emerge as one of the premier high school football events of the summer.
That event, The Opening, brought together 150 of the top performers from the Nike Football Training Camps and Nike Football SPARQ Combines for the chance to stake a claim as the ultimate college football athlete.
The weeklong program in Oregon, with guidance from several NFL stars, provided competition for every position, including the Nike 7-on-7 tournament, Nike Linemen Challenge and SPARQ Rating National Championship.
DawgNation caught up with 12 of the 14 participants, starting with Georgia signee Quayvon Hicks, to get their take on The Opening and ask whether they would recommend to up-and-coming prospects their participation in other notable camps in hopes of earning an invite this year to The Opening.
ATH Quayvon Hicks (Blackshear, Ga./Pierce Co.)
6-2, 252 pounds
Signed with Georgia
"The Opening was an awesome experience," Hicks said. "I have never been outside the Southeast, so being on a plane was new to me, as was going to a place completely opposite of where I live. Meeting new athletes, not only from different places but from different environments and cultures, helped me become humble and thankful for the things I have. Getting hands-on coaching by the best was fantastic, and I know that, a couple years before, those guys were in our same shoes, so it helped me as an individual understand that my future is up to me. Seeing people I will be playing against next year challenged me to get better and compete, so some day we can come back and have the privilege to coach in The Opening down the road."
OG Kofi Amichia (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern)
6-3, 265 pounds
Signed with USF
"At The Opening in Oregon you get to learn from past and current NFL greats on how to make yourself a better athlete, and what they did to get where they are. You also have to bring your A game because even though you may be the best in your region/state, ESPNHS and Nike does such a great job of selecting an elite group of kids for you to go against that every competition is a challenge. But the experience was also extremely fun, because when you are not showing off your skills you are being treated to various things as well as the chance to meet other players from other parts of the world and possibly your future college teammates.
"It is something that I definitely recommend to future prospects in Georgia try and strive to get invited to, because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I wish I could do again."
WR C.J. Curry (Flowery Branch, Ga./Flowery Branch)
6-2, 195 pounds
Signed with Oklahoma State
"I think The Opening is a great experience for any athlete that wants to play at the next level. It gives you a realistic view on how strong and fast the collegiate athletes will be. There are guys that are 'the man' on their teams and even ranked very high in their own state. The Opening opens your eyes to the fact that football is bigger than just your state.
"I really do recommend future athletes from Georgia to come out to Nike Camp and try to earn the chance to participate in The Opening."
RB Mike Davis (Stephenson)
5-9, 202 pounds
Signed with South Carolina
"The competition at The Opening really helped me push myself as a player, and it motivated me to work even harder to get better because I realized there are guys out there just as talented, if not more talented than you are. It was such an amazing experience being out in Oregon, and I will always remember the guys I met that week.
"I would tell other prospects that, regardless of how many offers you have, it is worth coming out there to compete. I do not think it would hurt anyone's recruitment, plus you only get one shot to try and earn an invite to a once in a lifetime event like The Opening."
RB Kenyan Drake (Powder Springs, Ga./Hillgrove)
6-1, 200 pounds
Signed with Alabama
"It was one of the best experiences of my life so far. Besides actual games, nothing football-related comes close to it. The competition was top-tier and I met guys from across the country that I still talk to today."
DB Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Banneker)
6-2, 185 pounds
Signed with South Carolina
"The Opening was a great experience. I got to see things I never thought I would see, and met and talked to NFL players and Hall of Famers. I did not learn as much as far as football, but that is only because my coaches prepared me. I did learn things for preparation and the mental aspect of the game. I would recommend The Opening for any player that has a chance to experience it."
LB Ukeme Eligwe (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stone Mountain)
6-2, 215 pounds
Signed with FSU
"The opening was one of the best experiences of my life. Just being at the Nike headquarters, seeing the products, where they are made and designed, was amazing. I took home rocks just to say they came from Oregon and the Nike headquarters. In the end, when you are around all of those guys competing with the top athletes and training with Aaron Curry, Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden, it makes you feel like one of the elite prospects in the nation. It was the most unbelievable week of my life. Every morning we were wearing new Nike gear.
"I came into the Nike camp with plenty of offers, but my goal was to earn linebacker MVP and I was able to do that, and that is how I earned an invite to The Opening. For guys in the next class with offers, you have nothing to lose, but you do have something to gain. It is really for pride, the passion to compete and the opportunity to showcase your talent to the world."
OL Joe Harris (Lithonia, Ga./Lithonia)
6-3, 320 pounds
Signed with South Carolina
"The Opening is a week of hard, intense training and hard work. It showed me a lot about myself and where I am as an athlete. Everyone who is anyone should go to The Opening. It improves your game in excellent ways; the first day I arrived there I knew that it was going to show me how good of a football player I can be. It showed me great technique and showed me the ability I had as football player."
CB Josh Holsey (Fairburn, Ga./Creekside)
5-9, 175 pounds
Signed with Auburn
"Going to The Opening was a great experience, especially getting to be around all of the other top players from around the country for a whole week. Going there helps you realize where you really stand when it comes to the top players. You cannot beat being at the Nike Headquarters and getting new Nike gear every day."
LB Raphael Kirby (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson)
6-1, 215 pounds
Signed with Miami
"It meant a lot for me to participate in this event because of the level of competition that was there. I was honored."
LB Dillon Lee (Buford)
6-foot-4, 230 pounds
Signed with Alabama
"My favorite part about The Opening had to be competing against the best in the country. I was really impressed with the interaction we were able to have with the NFL players that instructed us. I am very appreciative of Nike's dedication to excellence with the player events and player's lounge. I would highly recommend to others that if you want to compete with the fastest and best talent in the country, come out to Nike camp and try and earn an invite!"
DB DJ White (McDonough, Ga./Union Grove)
5-11, 175 pounds
Signed with Georgia Tech
"For me, The Opening has been the greatest football experience I have had up to this point. It was fun just getting a chance to compete against other top-notch competition. It was also very inspiring listening to guys like Jerry Rice and Champ Bailey instruct us on how to be better football players. The entire week was awesome and I thank God for the opportunity."
Offensive lineman Vadal Alexander (Buford, Ga./Buford), a LSU signee, and defensive lineman Dakota Ball (Lindale, Ga./Pepperell), an Alabama signee, also participated in The Opening but were unavailable for comment.
Nike Football Training Camps are free of charge, and this year's Georgia event will take place April 21 at Buford High School.
Kipp Adams has covered University of Georgia recruiting since 2006. He can be reached at KippAdamsESPN@gmail.com or on Twitter, @KippLAdams.