Lucky Seven

Two ESPN 150 recruits among seven to receive The Opening invites

Updated: May 23, 2012, 2:49 PM ET
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN RecruitingNation

SAN PABLO, Calif. -- No shoes? No problem.

Hatari Byrd -- the safety from Central High School in Fresno, Calif., who is coveted by the likes of Notre Dame, Oklahoma and UCLA -- showed up Sunday a step behind the competition at the Oakland Nike Football Training Camp.

Two steps, actually.

Byrd, you see, lent his football spikes to a friend for another event here at Contra Costa College on Saturday. They didn't get returned, so Byrd, limited in his sneakers, stood aside for many of the drills Sunday as his fellow defensive backs performed before the coaches and NFTC staff who distribute invitations to The Opening.

Apparently, they saw enough from Byrd -- or knew enough already.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior earned one of seven coveted spots awarded Sunday for the premier event, set for July 5-8 at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.

"It means a lot to me," said Byrd, rated No. 13 nationally at his position among 2013 prospects. "I was able to do a little back-pedaling, some positions drills, but I couldn't do it all today."

Other invites to The Opening went to linebacker Michael Hutchings (Concord, Calif./De La Salle), running back Justin Davis (Stockton, Calif./Lincoln), linebacker Kevin Palma (Tulare, Calif./Mission Oak), quarterback Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline), athlete Elijah Qualls (Petaluma, Calif./Casa Grande) and offensive tackle Cameron Hunt (Corona, Calif./Centennial).

Palma and Hunt also earned position MVPs at the camp, joining defensive back Kevin King (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O'Dowd), defensive lineman Misi Taifane (Sacramento, Calif./Grant), wide receiver Darren Carrington (San Diego/Horizon), running back Andrew Ballin (Fresno, Calif./Hoover) and quarterback Jared Goff (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic).

Byrd's teammate, receiver Rasean Jones, accumulated the highest score in the SPARQ index.

Receiver Darrell Daniels, the second-highest-ranked prospect in attendance Sunday at No. 52 in the ESPN 150, did not participate because of a hamstring injury.

Hutchings isn't far behind at No. 57. Like Daniels, Hutchings has been offered by USC but remains uncommitted. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker struggled in his first stop at an NFTC event last month in Los Angeles.

He said he played at a different speed on Sunday. The Opening, no doubt, will demand more.

"It's a good chance to go bond with guys," Hutchings said. "Guys are going to be recruiting for their schools, but mostly, it's a chance to learn a lot of football and have a great time."

If Hutchings' invite was expected, Browne's was nearly a lock. Rated No. 13 in the ESPN 150 and second among pocket passers, Browne's California stay began Friday night with an invitation to the Elite 11 finals as he won MVP honors at the Oakland regional. The 6-foot-5 USC pledge enjoyed some family time as a tourist in the Bay Area on Saturday and got back to business at the Nike camp.

His next stop on the offseason circuit comes with considerably less travel. In the Pacific Northwest, The Opening may feel like a home game for Browne.

"Usually, I'm the one who has to travel," Browne said. "We'll see how that goes. I hope it doesn't rain. That's no fun, but it is Oregon."

Browne and future USC teammate Davis congratulated each other after the five-hour camp on Sunday. Davis, who committed to the Trojans last week, said a spot in The Opening ranked as one of his primary goals for the summer.

"I know it's the top place to go in the nation," Davis said. "After all this stuff is over, I'm just focusing on my senior year of high school. I'm not in college yet. I've got another year, and I want to win."

Qualls recently added an offer from the Trojans to his list that includes Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Michigan, Nebraska, UCLA and Washington. The Opening should only help his exposure -- not that he needs it. But even the USC offer won't expedite his college decision.

"If I need to be rushed into committing to a school," Qualls said, "that's not somewhere I need to be."

Hunt said he didn't expect to punch his ticket to Oregon at the NFTC. He'll take it, though.

"It's another great way to get better," he said.

And then there was Palma, the least heralded of Sunday's star performers. He got emotional while discussing it, but the linebacker earned his invite.

His play caught the eyes of offensive coaches in attendance, prompting questions about Palma's list of scholarship offers. Told he held just three -- from Oregon State, San Diego State and Nevada -- one coach said that's about to change.

"It's an amazing feeling," Palma said. "I'm from Tulare, Calif. We don't have many players who get noticed like this or get this kind of opportunity, but Tulare has lot of good athletes who just don't get the chance to be seen.

"I want to put my town on the map."

And wasn't that the point of Sunday -- for players like Palma to get noticed? For a proven product like Hutchings, it's really no different.

"I wanted to show that I made improvements," Hutchings said. "I came out like I was on a mission."