NFTC tour reaches South Florida
Loaded field of top athletes ready to battle at Barry University
- Tom 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.
Craig Haubert, national recruiting analyst for ESPN, on the Nike Football Training Camps:
Why they matter
NFTCs provide a great platform to become more informed as an evaluator, with the opportunity to see a large number of prospects go through drills and compete in one location. They can help cement a prospect's status if he's already highly rated by confirming what was seen on film. The camps can also be a good place for under-the-radar prospects to get more exposure and warrant further evaluation.
Why you should pay attention
The NFTCs attract a good number of high-profile prospects, the ones recruiting fans most want to hear and learn about. Not often in football do you get a group of top prospects in one setting and see them go through drills and compete. It helps supplement your film evaluation.
What he looks for
As an evaluator, having a large number of prospects in one place allows you to put them through the eye test to get a more accurate feel for heights and weights. It can also be helpful to see how the players compete against one another. We look at not only performance and the execution of skills, but also at who takes coaching well, who tries to take as many reps as he can and who tries to challenge himself against the best. But just because a prospect does well at the event doesn't mean that's all you need to see.
"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."
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