Monday, April 20, 2009
Running back trio steals the show
By JC Shurburtt
The best of the West turned out for the Nike Football Training Camp at USC. Here's a look at the offensive players who impressed by position.
Perhaps the strongest group of running backs at any event this recruiting cycle highlighted Sunday's Nike Football Training Camp on the campus of the University of Southern California.
Leading the way in the loaded field was highly-touted runner Malcolm Jones (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian), Under Armour All-American Jordon James (Corona, Calif./Calif.) and camp position MVP Brennan Clay (San Diego, Calif./Scripps Ranch).
• Jones may not have been the best performer at the event, but you can combine his showing with his film and make a strong argument for him being the best college prospect with James right there with him.
"I felt we had a really great group of running backs," Jones said. "There were a lot of quick running backs and fast running backs. Even though I'm not really what you would call a fast running back, I am still way up there as far as being fast, so I competed with them.
"You can't really tell a good running back unless he's in pads because you never know when he is going to break a tackle or something like that."
It's easy to see why Jones is so heavily-recruited. He's got great size and speed. He can cut, catch and accelerate. He's as complete of package at running back as there is.
Jones' brother Marshall attends Southern California and the Trojans have offered, but Malcolm could be heading elsewhere. Oklahoma recently offered and the word is that Stanford is strong right now.
• It's obvious Scouts Inc. is on to something when they say that there may not be a back in the 2010 class with quicker feet and more suddenness through the hole than James.
James impressed as well and continues to show why high school football fans in Southern California missed out last year when James missed half the season. His low center of gravity allows him to have excellent balance and he's downright explosive with the ball in his hands. In a loaded field at this event and a loaded group in this recruiting cycle, James is a cut above. He recently ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds (laser-timed) at a local combine and that speed was evident Sunday.
James is a national recruit, but still is missing an offer from Southern California -- one he would like to have.
• Clay displayed excellent hands. He's a smooth runner and a good athlete. These attributes enabled him to put on an outstanding all-around display at the event. He was impressive in the position drills and one-on-one drills. All of the running backs coaches were complimentary of his ability, noting his speed and the strength, which he displayed during the training drills in the early portion of the camp.
Before the camp, Clay said that he felt California and Notre Dame could be close to offering. Michigan, Oregon and Stanford are among the schools that already have.
• Athlete Deitrich Riley (La Canada, Calif./Saint Francis) worked out at running back and actually stood out at the position, prompting some observers at the camp to speculate that he probably could play on the offensive side of the ball in college. Most programs are recruiting Riley as an athlete or on the defensive side. Southern California, Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA, Oklahoma and others have offered. Look for the Wolverines to get a visit from the 6-foot, 190-pounder this summer.
"That's my natural position," Riley said. "That's the position I love to play and I just wanted to come out here and show that I could play it."
Riley rushed for more than 800 yards last season for his high school team.
• In some years at this event, Anthony Wilkerson (Tustin, Calif./Tustin) would vie for the top running back prospect, but Sunday's field was simply too deep. Regardless, Wilkerson displayed the tools to be a special ball carrier in college. The first thing that stood out about Wilkerson is his size/speed combination. During one-on-one drills, there was rarely a time when Wilkerson did not outrun the linebacker he was facing.
Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Utah have all offered Wilkerson.
• The top sleeper was Anthony Brown (Fontana, Calif./Kaiser). He split carries last season and also plays defensive back for his team, but he was among the more elusive backs in the drills. No scholarship offers yet for Brown, but you can expect them soon as word about his ability and his tape circulates.
• Trajuan Briggs (Lake Balboa, Calif./Birmingham) has excellent size, vision, quickness and speed. He had a good showing during the one-on-one portion of the camp and position drills. Briggs recently picked up an offer from Southern California and it's easy to see why the Trojans like this prospect so much. He's an excellent athlete.
• Deontae Cooper (Perris, Calif./Citrus Hill) was also extremely impressive. Cooper has a lot of speed, quickness, excellent hands and cutting ability. He rushed for more than 2,900 yards last season, a staggering number at any level, and should only see his stock continue to rise.
• Other running backs who had nice showings at the event include Emery Schexnayder (Riverside, Calif./J.W. North), James McConico (Compton, Calif./Compton), Joshua Quezada (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) and Sedale Foster (Riverside, Calif./J.W. North).
• Under Armour All-American Xavier Grimble (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman) was one of the top overall prospects on display. The 6-5, 245-pounder ran great routes, displayed outstanding hands and showed an innate ability to get open during the one-on-one drills.
Southern California and UCLA got unofficial visits this past weekend and are in Grimble's current top five, along with LSU, Florida and Oklahoma.
• Camp MVP Kenny Stills (Carlsbad, Calif./La Costa Canyon) had an excellent day. Stills has hands, is explosive and showed he can be physical at the line of scrimmage during one-on-one drills.
He put up big numbers last season, catching 62 passes for more than 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. That's not a surprise given his showing on Sunday.
"I just wanted to come out here and represent San Diego," he said. "I wanted to show that we could play some ball down there."
Stills has offers from California, Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, Washington, Colorado, Penn State and others. He said he feels like USC is starting to show more interest.
• On Sunday, the world learned about Class of 2011 receiver Kasen Williams (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline). The 6-2, 210-pounder, who has been busy catching passes from highly-regarded quarterback Jake Heaps, is a big target who caught nearly everything that was thrown his way during the one-on-one portion of the camp.
• Class of 2012 speedster Davonte Neal (Laveen, Ariz./Cesar Chavez) impressed with his speed and hands. He was better than many of the upperclassmen at the event. Arizona State has had him in its camp for a couple of years and his reputation in the Grand Canyon State is well-deserved.
• Kenny Lawler (Upland, Calif./Upland) is also one to look out for in the 2012 class. The 6-1, 160-pounder has some filling out to do, but has the frame to do it and already has good hands and speed. He broke into the starting lineup at Upland midway through his freshman season. Upland sent Under Armour All-American quarterback Josh Nunes to Stanford in the 2009 class.
• Others who had eye-catching moments during the camp include DeShawn Beck (Los Angeles, Calif./Jordan), Tyler Slavin (Corona, Calif./Rosevelt), Cornell Wiley (Long Beach, Calif./Jordan), Tehvyn Brantley (Durham, N.C./Mount Zion Christian), Necho Beard (Rancho Verde, Calif./Rancho Verde) , Anthony Norris (Henderson, Nev./Liberty) and Dres Anderson (Riverside, Calif./J.W. North).
• Jesse Scroggins (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood) displayed the type of touch on his passes that allowed him to throw for 23 touchdowns last season. He is a smooth player with good feet and a quick release. He was the quarterback MVP of the event and several major programs have offered, including Arizona, Nebraska, Washington and Washington State.
• Peter Thomas (El Cajon, Calif./Valhalla) showed off his pro-style size and big arm. Maryland, Northwestern and other programs have offered Thomas, but it appears Southern California is starting to show interest as is North Carolina State and offensive coordinator Dana Bible, who coached Matt Ryan when he was at Boston College.
• Other quarterbacks that had some eye-catching moments include Bryan Bennett (Encino, Calif./Crespi) and Class of 2011 prospect Michael Eubank (Corona, Calif./Centennial). The 6-5, 220-pound Eubank is extremely raw, but his size and strength give him some potential to develop between now and the next recruiting cycle.
Overall, there have been stronger groups at this position, but it goes in cycles and there was some potential.
• Interior offensive lineman Manu Mulitalo (West Valley City, Utah/Granger Valley) won MVP honors for the camp. The 6-2, 305-pounder is hard-nosed and can move his feet well. He should start to emerge on the recruiting board of several Division I programs in the near future.
• Class of 2011 prospect Maataua Brown (Paramount, Calif./Paramount) looks the part. The 6-5, 292-pounder is one to keep an eye on the coming recruiting cycle.
• Wade Yandell (Carson, Calif./Carson) also had some nice moments.
JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.