NFTC tour reaches South Florida

Loaded field of top athletes ready to battle at Barry University

Updated: April 13, 2012, 12:17 PM ET
By Jon Mahoney | ESPNHS.com

Jermaine GraceTom Hauck for ESPN.comMiramar (Fla.) junior linebacker Jermaine Grace will be one of several Sunshine State standouts in attendance at Sunday's Miami Nike Football Training Camp.

After a week off, the Nike Football Training Camp tour picks back up Sunday at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. And if there was ever an NFTC to match the collection of talent at the previous two NFTC stops in Dallas and Los Angeles, it's Miami.

Several elite prospects will be on hand at the Miami NFTC trying to earn an invite to The Opening. Nineteen players have received their Opening invites so far, including one who will be competing at the Miami NFTC.

Booker T. Washington (Miami) junior linebacker Matthew Thomas earned his ticket to The Opening at the Miami SPARQ combine, where he posted the event's highest SPARQ rating. Despite having already proven himself this offseason, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder is looking forward to backing up all the hype he's accrued.

"I still have something to prove to the other players because they've only seen me on film," said Thomas. "They don't have one-on-one experience against me yet."

Those who have gone up against Thomas haven't had much success. Last season, he racked up 117 tackles and 13 sacks and was a monster in the postseason for the Tornadoes. In a 33-25 loss to Bolles (Jacksonville, Fla.) in the Class 4A state championship, Thomas tallied 15 tackles and recovered two fumbles.

It's because of that loss in the state final that Thomas has been so motivated to do well this offseason.

"We're trying to get back to that stage and win it this time," said Thomas, who has offers from Miami, Alabama, Florida State and Oklahoma, among others.

The linebacker group will be strong at the Miami NFTC. Along with Thomas, there's Miramar (Fla.) junior Jermaine Grace, who had 118 tackles and 11 sacks for the Class 8A state runner-up. Grace totaled 10 tackles in the championship loss to Plant (Tampa, Fla.) and holds offers from Miami, Florida, Florida State, West Virginia and South Florida.

Hialeah (Fla.) junior George Williams, who's been offered by Miami and Nebraska, is another 'backer to watch.

The linebackers will have plenty of elite talent to test themselves against in the linebacker-running back one-on-one battles, including Glades Day (Belle Glade, Fla.) junior standout back Kelvin Taylor. The Florida Gators commit and son of former NFL star Fred Taylor is the Sunshine State's all-time leading rusher with 9,698 yards. Taylor cruised past the previous mark of 8,804 yards held by Emmitt Smith since 1986.

American Heritage (Delray Beach, Fla.) junior Greg Bryant is another stud back the linebackers will have to deal with. The Oklahoma commit was named an ESPNHS Underclass All-American in the fall after rushing for 2,180 yards and 25 touchdowns on 224 carries. In the Class 3A state final, he piled up 243 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries to lead American Heritage to the title.

Not surprisingly, the defensive back group at the Miami NFTC is especially deep. Leading the way is Glades Central (Belle Glade, Fla.) junior William Likely III. Likely was named Gatorade State Player of the Year and an ESPNHS All-American in the fall after intercepting five passes on defense and totaling 20 touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams.

Likely already holds offers from programs like Miami, Florida, USC, Alabama and LSU. He's also been named DB MVP during his previous two NFTC appearances as a freshman and sophomore.

"It's my goal," said Likely about earning another MVP, "but I'm just going out there to compete, and if it happens, it happens."

Likely knows he's not going to be able to win the award just based on his reputation considering the number of talented receivers who will be in attendance.

"It's tough because you never know what's going to happen," said Likely of the one-on-one competitions. "You have to be ready for anything."

Fellow elite cornerbacks and Florida State commits Sojourn Shelton of Plantation (Fla.) and Michael Johnson of Booker T. Washington will look to limit a physical group of receivers led by South Fort Myers (Fla.) junior Jayron Kearse.

A nephew of Jevon Kearse and cousin of Phillip Buchanon, Kearse has been training all offseason to play wide receiver for the first time. The Miami commit transferred to South Fort Myers in January after playing quarterback for two years at Cypress Lake (Fort Myers, Fla.)

At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Kearse has the physical tools to do well against the defensive backs, but his main focus Sunday will be learning more about his new position.

"I just want to get better at my route running, concentration and burst out of my break," he said. "I want to take every opportunity I can to get better."

Other top recruits expected to be in attendance include Booker T. Washington offensive tackle Denver Kirkland and St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) defensive end Joey Bosa.

Jon Mahoney is a football and baseball editor for ESPNHS. Email him at jon.mahoney@espn.com.