Nation's best ready for The Opening

Star-studded event features 84 recruits in the ESPN 150

Updated: July 3, 2012, 8:07 PM ET
By Christopher Parish | ESPNHS.com

There's never been a shortage of talent at The Opening, an elite event that brings the top football players from around the country together to the Nike campus in Beaverton, Ore., to take part in a litany of competitions. In fact, the 2011 iteration of the event brought in an impressive 60 recruits from the ESPN 150.

This year, that number has swelled to 84 nationally ranked recruits in the ESPN 150, making the 2012 event the most impressive collection of talent you'll find anywhere.

When the festivities get underway on Thursday, the competition will be fierce. And the athletes headed to The Opening have plenty to prove. Some want to prove their high national rankings are no flukes. Others want to show the competition they're better than advertised. Many of them simply thrive when the spotlight is on. They know this is as big an event as any to get the competitive juices flowing before the football season begins next month.

There are plenty of drills, workouts and competitions during the four-day showcase, but there are three major disciplines that make up the bulk of the festivities -- The Elite Lineman Challenge, the SPARQ Rating National Championship and the Nike 7ON. The athletes selected to participate in The Opening will all compete in the SPARQ Rating National Championship before breaking off to participate in either the Elite Lineman Challenge or Nike 7ON.

The nation's No. 1 offensive guard, David Dawson of Cass Tech (Detroit), said there is just one thing he's looking forward to this week.

"The competition," he said. "I love to compete, and it's gonna be the best of the best, so let's get it!"

Dawson's message was sent via text. In all capital letters. So yeah, he's pretty excited.

And he's not alone. Here are some of the things to watch for as the event kicks off.

Elite Lineman Challenge

For players in the trenches, there's no better way to showcase who's better than going one on one. This can be where games are won and lost, and the linemen at this event take immense pride in who comes away with top honors.

There's no shortage of elite talent on both sides of the ball. On the offensive side, look for Austin Golson of Prattville (Ala.), who is the nation's No. 3 offensive tackle. At 6-foot-6 and 277 pounds, he'll be tough to take down no matter who's on the other side of the ball.

Other top-ranked linemen include Jake Raulerson of Celina (Texas), Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West (New Lenox, Ill.), Dawson, Tyrone Crowder of Richmond (Rockingham, N.C.) and Kyle Bosch of St. Francis (Wheaton, Ill.).

But those offensive stars will have their hands full -- literally -- when they face off against some of the best defensive linemen the nation has to offer. It's a list that's headlined by Carl Lawson of Milton (Alpharetta, Ga.), the nation's No. 2 defensive end and No. 5 recruit in the ESPN 150. The Auburn commit will certainly be among the favorites at the event.

Other top defensive linemen include Demarcus Walker of Sandalwood (Jacksonville, Fla.), Caleb Brantley of Crescent City (Fla.), Eddie Vanderdoes of Placer (Auburn, Calif.) and Elijah Daniel of Avon (Ind.).

One of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 2014, Da'Shawn Hand of Woodbridge (Va.), will be an athlete to watch.

"I'm looking forward to competing against the best of the best in the one-on-ones," he said. "It's the closest event to a real game situation."

SPARQ Rating National Championship

No single event can attract attention to colleges like an athlete's SPARQ score. Just ask Colin Spencer.

The Woodrow Wilson (Dallas) cornerback wasn't getting much love from major college programs until he posted the third-best SPARQ score in the history of the NFSC tour this spring. His number -- 141.12 -- had college coaches paying attention immediately. Schools started calling almost as fast as his record-setting shuttle time. Just a few weeks later, he had committed to Kansas.

Now, he'll hope to follow up that impressive performance by taking down top honors at the SPARQ Rating National Championship at The Opening.

"I hope I take down the SPARQ National Championship," he said. "I know everybody up there will be great, so I'm just looking forward to competing against the best."

SPARQ stands for speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness. A SPARQ Rating is calculated by an athlete's results in the staple SPARQ drills -- 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, vertical jump and kneeling power ball throw -- and from their peak power score, which is derived from their body weight and vertical.

The competition for the top SPARQ Rating in Oregon will be stiff. Derrick Henry of Yulee (Fla), the nation's No. 4 athlete and No. 49 recruit, posted the nation's second-best SPARQ time this year at the Orlando NFSC. His 138.03 is certainly within striking distance of Spencer.

Other athletes who had some of the top scores in the country and will be at The Opening include ATH Jalen Ramsey of Brentwood (Tenn.), ATH Kevin Palma of Mission Oak (Tulare, Calif.), LB Johnny Ragin of Wilsonville (Ore.) and LB Isaac Savaiinaea of Punahou (Honolulu).

Nike 7ON

It might not be the best representation of true football. But 7-on-7 competitions are a great event for skill players to show their skill sets -- speed, agility, elusiveness -- and it's certainly fun to watch.

This year's Nike 7ON will feature some of the most impressive skill players in the country, including a strong crop of quarterbacks.

The nation's top signal-caller, Christian Hackenberg of Fork Union Military Academy (Fork Union, Va.), tops the list. The Penn State recruit is the No. 10 player in the ESPN 150.

Hackenberg is one of several highly ranked quarterbacks. Others include Max Browne of Skyline (Sammamish, Wash.), Tyrone Swoopes of Whitewright (Texas) and Shane Morris of De La Salle (Warren, Mich.).

Morris, for one, thinks the competition will be fierce.

"I'm looking forward to being around the best players in the nation for a week and competing against the best QBs," he said.

Those quarterbacks will have plenty of outstanding targets, including the nation's No. 1 wideout, Ricky Seals-Jones of Sealy (Texas), and the nation's No. 1 running back, Kelvin Taylor of Glades Day (Belle Glade, Fla.).

But for as good as the offensive side of the ball will be, the defense will be tough to contend with. It's a group that is loaded with elite talent, and it starts with the nation's No. 2 recruit in the ESPN 150, LB Reuben Foster of Auburn (Ala.).

Fellow defensive superstar Vernon Hargreaves III of Wharton (Tampa, Fla.), the nation's No. 1 CB and No. 4 overall recruit in the ESPN 150, will be shutting down quarterbacks all day. Others to watch defensively include CB Eli Woodard of Eastern (Vorhees, N.J.), LB Matthew Thomas of Booker T. Washington (Miami) and CB Cam Burrows of Trotwood-Madison (Trotwood, Ohio).

Shaq Wiggins of Sandy Creek (Tyrone, Ga.) is the nation's No. 6 CB and the No. 35 recruit in the ESPN 150, and he has high expectations for his team in the 7ON.

"I can't wait for The Opening," he said. "I hope to accomplish many things, but most importantly the 7-on-7. It's a must for me and my teammates to win that. And yes, I think I do have a good chance of winning."

We'll find out soon if he's right.

ESPNHS associate editor Brandon Parker contributed to this story.