The Fantastic Four
A quartet of top prospects snag invites to The Opening at the Memphis NFTC
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- One prospect came from hundreds of miles away. Another came back from a frightful injury. Two others didn't have the prototypical physique. All are going to The Opening.
Cornerback Noel Ellis, receiver Paul Harris, linebacker Marcus Robinson and tailback Altee Tenpenny secured invites to the annual event held in Oregon in July thanks to their performance at Friday's Nike Football Training Camp in Memphis.
It's a return trip for Tenpenny that many wondered was even possible. The tailback from North Little Rock (Ark.) suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle early last season. He said he returned to 100 percent only about six weeks ago.
Memphis NFTC Related Links
• Memphis NFTC recap
• Memphis NFTC All-Camp team
• Herron picks LSU at Memphis NFTC
• Memphis NFTC notebook
• Altee Tenpenny interview
• The Opening invites
• OL vs. DL one-on-ones, Part I
• OL vs. DL one-on-ones, Part II
• RB vs. LB one-on-ones
• WR vs. DB one-on-ones, Part I
• WR vs. DB one-on-ones, Part II
• Photo gallery
• Behind-the-scenes gallery
• Headshots gallery
"I never had doubts," the four-star tailback said. "Anytime that I felt down, I just prayed in the Lord, and he's blessed me with another opportunity."
Tenpenny was one of only three non-seniors invited to The Opening last year. As obvious by his second-place finish in the SPARQ competition that week, he wasn't intimidated. So is there pressure to win the event this time around for the Alabama commitment?
"There's a little pressure, but my mindset is just to go have fun and show that I'm one of the best players in the country," said the nation's No. 5 running back and No. 54 ESPN 150 recruit.
Meanwhile, Ellis wasn't the biggest prospect in Friday's event. Far from it. Yet the 5-foot-10, 175-pound prospect from New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr proved he belonged in The Opening.
"Just going to it and competing against all of those players to prove that I'm one of the best players in the country," he said. "I go out there with a chip on my shoulder to prove that I'm the best."
Ellis, who is primarily considering Tennessee, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, said he feels his work ethic and athleticism got him to such a lofty status.
Robinson might be the most intriguing prospect of the bunch. Not long ago, the lean 6-foot-3, 210-pound prospect was thought to be a safety. Now he seems to have found a home at linebacker, where he was named the most valuable player at Friday's camp.
"I felt like I was doing very well, very well," said Robinson, who has 10 scholarship offers and plans to visit Alabama on Sunday and LSU on Tuesday. "The coaches always told me to keep my head up and compete at my best so that's what I came out here to do."
Asked what position he prefers to play, Robinson said, "Anywhere coach needs me at I'll play. College coaches are the same way, anywhere they need me at."
Harris earned more than just a trip to The Opening -- he was also invited to Champion Gridiron Kings, which will take place in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in late July.
"I think it shows respect among your peers and coaches who watch," the receiver from Upper Marlboro (Md.) Frederick Douglass said. "I think it shows a lot of respect and shows that you work hard."
Harris wasn't able to attend the Nike Football Training Camp in Baltimore last month because of a track event. So he made the trip to Memphis in hopes of securing the awards he coveted. Mission accomplished.
"I'm just a go-getter," the 6-foot-3, 190-pound prospect said. "I work all the time. Even on Sundays. I don't have any strengths. I'm just good at what I do. I think I did pretty well [on Friday]. Coming from Maryland to here, a whole different group of corners, it shows me and people watching that I'm not just good in Maryland. I'm good no matter where I go. It shows I can compete against anybody and be successful. I thought I should have won MVP, but it is what it is. I got invited to The Opening. That's better."
Harris used the trip to Tennessee to visit the Vols on Thursday. He came away impressed.
"I love it," he said. "I love Tennessee. My brother runs track down there. He's a freshman, so I know I'll be surrounded by family."
Harris is also considering Southern Cal, Michigan and Penn State and said Ohio State is making up ground.
"I want to wait [until signing day], but a lot of kids are committing early and they're taking up spots," he said.
At least he has his spot at The Opening.
Several local prospects garnered praise at Friday's camp, led by Mark Dodson. The Ole Miss commit from Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven secured most valuable player honors among the tailbacks assembled.
"I did everything crisply," the four-star tailback said. "I came out with the mindset to do everything right and not just rush it. It was my first time on the field (since) track season just ended. I haven't been on the field in a while, so I was a little rusty to start off."
That didn't last long. Like Dodson, offensive tackle Christian Morris improved throughout the day. He was named MVP among offensive linemen.
"Basically, I'm not going to win it all, but I'm still going to give it my all on everything," the 6-foot-5, 280-pound prospect from Memphis (Tenn.) East said.
Much of Morris' toughest competition came from Frank Herron, a four-star prospect from Memphis (Tenn.) Central. Herron was named the defensive line MVP just moments before he committed to LSU in an emotional press conference with his family.
Cornerback Darrius Sims from Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven and receiver Anthony Miller from Memphis (Tenn.) Christian Brothers were the other local standouts to nab MVP awards. Austin Allen from Fayetteville (Ark.) was named the most valuable quarterback.
Joey Bloomfield was clearly not intimidated by the competition. He was actually motivated by it.
"Being from Kentucky, I have a chip on my shoulder," the offensive tackle from Louisville (Ky.) Ballard said. "People say I can't do it. I want to come out here and show them I can."
And he did. Sometimes the battles were slightly heated exchanges in which Bloomfield refused to give an inch.
"I feel like I did really good," Bloomfield said. "I've been working a lot in the offseason. I was pretty pleased with my performance."
Bloomfield has scholarship offers from Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Eastern Michigan and Tennessee-Martin.
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