Great eight

Defense dominates, garnering eight of 11 Opening invites at Baltimore NFTC

Updated: May 13, 2012, 9:48 PM ET
By Dave Hooker | ESPN RecruitingNation

BALTIMORE -- A talented crop of prospects at the Nike Football Training Camp produced 11 more invitations to The Opening.

Defense dominated the camp and the list of invitees. Eight of the 11 prospects invited to The Opening were defenders, led by Kenny Bigelow, a defensive lineman from Eastern Christian (Elkton, Md.) who has been tabbed the No. 10 prospect in the Class of 2013 ESPN 150. Sophomore defensive end Da'Shawn Hand from Woodbridge (Va.) also should fortify the list of defensive-front invitees.

Linebacker might have been the strongest position at the camp, and the selection committee chose three linebackers for The Opening: Alex Anzalone from Wyomissing (Pa.), Dorian O'Daniel from Olney (Md.) Good Counsel and Doug Randolph from Woodberry Forest (Va.). Then came the cornerbacks, led by O'Daniel's teammate Kendall Fuller, who will be joined in Beaverton, Ore., by Eli Woodard from Voorhees (N.J.) Eastern and Tre' Bell from Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's.

Running backs Derrick Green from Richmond (Va.) Hermitage and Taquan Mizzell from Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside, along with tight end Adam Breneman from Camp Hill (Pa.) Cedar Cliff, represented the offensive players in attendance who earned invites to The Opening.

Considering some states won't produce even one invitation to The Opening, it was impressive that Good Counsel produced two prospects to attend the elite event that invites only 150 high school prospects from around the country.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," said Fuller, who is rated the No. 27 player and fifth-best cornerback in the country. "We always have a lot of fun together. To have someone going through the same things as you, it's always good. We're all about business. Coming in, we're all working, trying to get each other better. We're not thinking about just ourselves. We're just working on getting better as a team."

Said O'Daniel, "It's a good feeling to have someone you work out with every day and help get better compete [to receive such an honor]."

O'Daniel was all smiles when asked about the event, whose popularity continues to grow.

"I know it's a lot of fun," the ESPN 150 prospect said. "I know it's a lot of competition, and I hope to go there and have both.

Good Counsel certainly has a reputation of producing topflight talent every season, such as recent prospects like Maryland-bound receiver Stefon Diggs and current Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins. Now two of its prospects have received invitations to The Opening in one season. What does that say about the school?

"That we're going to try and keep producing top athletes year by year," O'Daniel said.

Woodard encapsulated what all the prospects selected to the event were thinking.

"It feels awesome," the Ohio State commit and 12th-best prospect in the nation said. "Just to know that all that hard work paid off. Now I get to go and compete against the best guys in the nation."

Woodard, who said he prides himself on his physical approach in press coverage, was pleased with his performance, eventually.

"I feel like I did well," the nation's third-best cornerback prospect said. "I feel like I started off a little slow but caught my stride and started knocking people down."

Breneman secured his invitation during his first appearance on a football field since this past fall. The nation's 39th overall prospect and top tight end had surgery on both shoulders in the offseason. Breneman ran routes on Saturday but didn't compete in any contact drills.

"It was good to get the rust off a little bit," the Penn State commitment said. "It feels good. I feel like I was running routes pretty well and caught the ball pretty well."

Breneman figures he'll be 100 percent in about a month. One month later, he'll be in Oregon.

"It's a huge honor," he said. "I'm really excited about. To go to The Opening with the best of the best is a really exciting opportunity."

Under center

With a weak quarterback group in Saturday's event, many eyes were on David Sills, the Southern California recruit who will be a 10th-grader this fall and committed to the Trojans in seventh grade.

"I feel like I started well with the six [technique] drills, and then in individuals I thought I did well," the signal-caller from Eastern Christian (Elkton, Md.) said. "I thought I kind of stepped down a little bit when we did routes. And then I thought I picked it back up in half-skelly [half-skeleton drill] and one-on-ones."

Those admitted struggles opened the door for Shane Cockerille to be named the MVP among the quarterbacks.

"It feels great," the Gilman (Baltimore) prospect said. "I came out here to compete with the best guys and I had a mindset to be the best. I feel awesome."

Many schools had recruited Cockerille as a safety, not a quarterback. Maryland saw potential in the pocket, and he committed to the Terrapins last month. Proving people wrong is his goal.

"People overlook me," Cockerille said. "That definitely motivates me to come out here and do my best and come out on top."

Another honor

Quin Blanding was the first underclassman named to the Gridiron Kings camp in the event's history.

"It feels great," the defensive back from Bayside (Virginia Beach, Va.) said. "It's an honor. It shows all the hard work is paying off."

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound sophomore could play cornerback or safety in college.

"I feel most comfortable at safety," he said. "I feel like I can roam the field and see things coming at me, and I'm big, so I can also come down and make tackles. That's why I like playing safety."

Blanding also was named the MVP of the defensive backs.

New position, same result

Linebacker Holland Fisher was named the camp MVP at defensive back just six days after his performance at the NFTC camp in Charlotte, N.C., garnered him an invite to The Opening. Fisher played safety in Baltimore on Saturday.

"I just like to come out and compete and show everybody what I can do," the ESPN 150 prospect said. " I like to compete with these players. I feel I did great."

Fisher said he'll likely play safety in college, but recruiters have said they could see him playing either position.

Self-evals

Defensive end Tashawn Bower from Immaculata (Somerville, N.J.) doesn't want to be known as just a power rusher. That's why the nation's No. 10 defensive end has focused on his speed during the offseason.

"I definitely worked on that a lot this past year," he said. "Definitely wanted to show people I'm not just a power guy."

Matt Rolin wasn't selected to The Opening on Saturday but is still thought to have a good shot based on his performance during the NFTC camp. He was certainly pleased.

"Felt like I did real good," said Rolin, the ESPN 150 prospect and No. 8 linebacker in the country. "Felt like there was a lot of competition at the linebacker position, and I felt like I stood out."

Other MVPs

Mizzell was named the running back MVP, junior David Coggins from Sacred Heart (Waterbury, Conn.) was named the receiver MVP, sophomore Spencer Bibb from Woodberry Forest (Va.) was named the offensive lineman MVP and Bigelow was named the defensive line MVP.

Dave Hooker

Reporter, RecruitingNation