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Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Rutgers NFTC recap

By Mitch Sherman
ESPN Recruiting

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- His father tried to get him into soccer. Didn't work. Karate wasn't a good fit, either, so Eli Ankou tried football two years ago.

And next year after graduating from St. Peter High School in Orleans, Ontario, he looks set to land on the roster of a BCS-level college program.

Eli Ankou
Eli Ankou earned MVP honors among defensive ends at the Rutgers NFTC.

Ankou, a junior defensive end, starred Sunday at the Nike Football Training Camp at Rutgers, earning MVP honors among his position group.

His quick rise did not occur by chance. The 6-foot-3, 257-pound Canadian defender showed the skill of a much more seasoned player in pass-rushing drills. Not only that, his talent and dedication are unquestioned.

The Nike event in New Jersey marked his second of the weekend. Ankou made the 230-mile drive from State College, Pa., after attending the Nike camp at Penn State on Saturday. He doesn't need the exposure -- Ankou already boasts scholarship offers from UCLA, Vanderbilt and Virginia -- but he wanted to make the most of his time south of the border.

"This is a very high level of competition," Ankou said. "Back home, it's rare to see such big and strong and athletic players. I'm trying to get better. I came down here to put myself in a position to compete."

Ankou traveled to Penn State and Rutgers with his mother and his trainer, Victor Tedondo. If Ankou signs a letter of intent next February, he'll rank as the first U.S. college product out of Tedondo's Ottawa Gridiron Academy.

"It'd be a big feat," Ankou said. "It'd be nice."

He's also received interest from Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Buffalo and Syracuse.

It all started in December 2009 after Ankou's first season of organized football. In Canada, he said, football players are encouraged to play in several shortened seasons. When Ankou got serious about the game, he decided to focus on the high school season, which runs from September into early November before the postseason, he said.

The rest of the year, he trains -- often six days a week.

And for those days of playing soccer?

"That didn't work out too well," he said.

Football appears to be a much better fit.

Alabama interested in Lambert

Linebacker Quanzell Lambert (Sickerville, N.J./Timber Creek) fared well on Sunday at Rutgers Stadium, but he enjoyed an even better day about three weeks ago.

That's when Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson stopped Lambert between classes and told him Nick Saban wanted to visit on the phone. Lambert didn't get it at first, Hinson said.

"They don't recruit everyday guys," Hinson said. "If Alabama wants you, you're probably one of the top five, in their eyes, at your position nationally, so he was pretty impressed with that."

The 6-2, 232-pound Lambert, a member of the ESPNU 150 Watch List, also has offers from Pitt, Penn State, Northwestern and Stanford.

"I'm just taking it slow," Lambert said, "not trying to get too overwhelmed by it."

Lambert was thrust into action as a middle linebacker last fall when Quinton Alston, a 2011 Iowa signee, went down with any injury early in the season.

"He ran with it," Hinson said, "and in my opinion, became the best defensive player in the state of New Jersey."

Lambert said he plans to study mechanical engineering in college. He puts his intelligence to use in football.

"My strengths are more mental than physical," he said.

When Lambert called Saban last month to discuss the scholarship offer, the Alabama coach stressed academics. It impressed Lambert.

"It's definitely a big deal," he said. "They rarely offer guys from up north, so I'm very proud to hear that."

Red Lion teammates shine

Khaliel Rodgers
Khaliel Rodgers earned MVP honors among offensive linemen at the Rutgers NFTC.

Bear, Del., a dot on the map 12 miles south of Wilmington, showed up big on Sunday at Rutgers. Defensive end Kenny Bigelow and offensive guard Kahahiel Rodgers, sophomores from Red Lion Christian Academy, performed well in the five-hour camp.

Rodgers, 6-2 and 294 pounds, was named MVP of the offensive linemen for his repeated pancake blocks of the D-linemen in one-on-one drills. The 6-3, 276-pound Bigelow stood out, too, often matched with Ankou in position drills.

Auburn, Rutgers, Illinois and UConn have offered Bigelow. Rodgers awaits his first offer. If Sunday meant much, it'll come soon

"I think he was amazing," Bigelow said. "He's a great athlete. He's going to go very far."

No secret exists, Rodgers said, to his skill at the one-on-one battles.

"Basically, I train every day to get better," Rodgers said, "If they test the middle, I just overpower them."

The only thing he didn't accomplish on Sunday? A pancake of Bigelow. They joked with each other from across the line of scrimmage but never faced off.

"We're like brothers," Bigelow said. "We're going to talk, but at the end of the day, we can't make each other look bad."

Knights add two more

Rutgers added its second and third commitments for the 2012 recruiting class last week, including a pledge Saturday before the spring game from quarterback Blake Rankin of Bloomsburg, Pa.

Running back Desmon Peoples (Warminster, Pa./Archbishop Wood), who committed Thursday, approves of Rankin.

"We've been talking," Peoples said. "He's a pretty cool kid -- not too loud, not too cocky, like some quarterbacks are."

Peoples and Rankin earned MVP honors at the Rutgers Nike camp among their respective positions.

The Scarlet Knights' implementation of a pro-style system under new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. helped sway Rankin. He looks forward to playing with Peoples, he said.

"I think we're going to have some good years in the future," Rankin said.

More MVPs

Other position MVP honors Sunday at Rutgers went to linebacker Steve Longa (Saddle Brook, N.J./Saddle Brook), defensive back Tre Bell (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's Prep) and wide receiver Anthony Sweet (Pennsauken, N.J./Pennsauken).

Running back Javon White (Souderton, Pa./Souderton) recorded the highest SPARQ rating of 108.78.

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman