ALPHARETTA, Ga. – As one-on-one drills commenced at the MVP Camp Friday night, Antonio Riles looked hurt – both physically and mentally.
The 2013 Archer High (Lawrenceville, Ga.) defensive end kept stretching his hamstring while also continuously glancing toward his peers competing.
He wanted to get in the mix. But his hamstring was too tight to risk it, forcing him out of the drills after only one rep.
“It’s not really hurt,” he said. “I just keep flexing it. My muscles keep tightening up on me a lot, but it’s going to be OK.”
Riles already has over a dozen offers from schools like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. But that didn’t seem to matter in the heat of the moment during the camp.
“I mean everybody can get better,” he said. “I think I have to get way better, as far as my speed and my explosion. That’s what I’m working on. I just wanted to come out here and work on it.”
Considered a three-star prospect by Scout.com, Riles would like to improve his stock and raise his position ranking, which is currently set as the No. 54 defensive tackle in the country. His eagerness to compete impressed those who have a say in the matter.
“It shows me a lot about a kid when he already has the type of attention he has in recruiting,” said Fox national recruiting analyst Chad Simmons. “It shows me he is eager to learn, he knows he still has a lot to improve on and that he is a competitor. It seems like a lot of kids get offers and then feel there is no need to compete or work in a camp, but that is not true.”
With training to get better still at the forefront, Riles, who had 53 tackles and six sacks in his junior season, also plans to take as many unofficial visits this summer as he can. He wants to make his decision as soon as possible, but admits the process might drag out longer than he’d like.
“It’s a lot to think about, but you’ve just got to take it all in and keep calm about it,” he said. “I’m not the hat picking kind of guy, so I want to go ahead and commit.”
Here today, there tomorrow
Shaun McGee plays high school football 10 miles down the road from Riles at Brookwood (Gwinnett, Ga.). He plays on the defensive line for the Broncos, but at the MVP Camp he didn’t take part in drills with his hand in the dirt.
He took reps with the linebackers.
That’s because while McGee is a terror playing d-end and nose guard at the high school level, most colleges have offered him as a linebacker.
“I’m going to keep working because that’s where I’m going to be playing at the next level,” McGee, who has over 20 offers, said. “I know I still have some more work to do at linebacker.”
He’s taken to his new position quite well. McGee was awarded as the Top Linebacker at the camp. To a casual observer, it would be impossible to tell he’s still learning the ins and outs of a totally new spot on the field, where pass coverage can, at times, be tricky.
“The thing I’m learning now is to cover in space,” he said. “With the speed and everything I have I’m picking it up fast. I mean it’s just giving me a chance for me to see what I need to work on.”
Currently rated a three-star prospect, McGee’s stock is a bit of a mystery because of his time spent at two different positions. Standing at 6-3, 240 pounds, one thing is for certain – he’s a tremendous athlete.
“He moves well and he still is green at linebacker, especially in space and when he drops into coverage,” Simmons said. “But he would be a prospect I’d look at hard if I ran a 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker. He is big, physical, has a motor and he is athletic.”
Brookwood’s Shaun McGee trained with the linebackers at the camp.
(Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
Rolling (out) in the deep
At the conclusion of the camp, the coaches huddled to discuss which competitors would take home some hardware.
Most of the awards seemed cut and dry. But giving away the plaque to the top quarterback was a tough decision because as many six signal callers, at one time or another, looked like the best of the day.
After a long discussion, rising junior Devlin Hodges, of Mortimer Jordan High (Morris, Ala.), was announced as the winner.
“I came out and I worked my tail off,” Hodges said. “I didn’t know I was going to win, to be honest.”
A 6-2, 175-pound junior, Hodges threw for 1,376 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven games a year ago.
He beat out some good players Friday.
From the first whistle, the competition at the position was fierce. Josh Dobbs, throwing on his home turf, took advantage of the familiar surroundings.
“He was sharp when I watched him and he continues to impress each time I see him,” Simmons said. “He threw with good touch and accuracy.”
Others who impressed: Parker McLeod (2013, Walton High) and Taylor Lamb (2013, Calhoun High). McLeod threw the ball with “a lot of zip,” according to Simmons and Lamb reported looking bigger than his listed 6-2, 185 pounds.
Also, an intriguing prospect to add to the watch list emerged. Elijah Staley, a 2014 prospect from Wheeler High (Marietta, Ga.), impressed onlookers all night. A 6-7, 200-pound player who is also receiving recruiting attention for basketball, Staley threw the ball with great velocity.
“There is more to him than his size,” Simmons said. “He has a live arm and threw some beautiful deep balls Friday night. He has a lot of upside. Basketball is the sport he has offers in right now, but that will change if he keeps working at quarterback.”
2014 QB Devlin Hodges beat out great competition to win the Top QB Award.
(Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
Who was that?
In a recruiting world that’s full of camps, combines and competition, sleepers don’t remain unknown for long. Arabia Mountain High (Lithonia, Ga.) defensive end Danny Ezechukwu came to the MVP Camp as a lesser-known commodity.
He left as the Top Overall Performer.
“I came out here, I had a good time and I (represented) my school and my family,” he said. “I just had a good time and it was really a surprise. I guess you win when you’re having fun.”
A 6-2, 235-pound 2013 prospect, Ezechukwu zoomed past offensive linemen essentially all night. His offer list includes schools like Georgia Southern and Furman, but his performance indicates his ceiling for offers is much higher.
“I’m a low-key kind of guy,” he said. “I don’t really call in when I get a new offer every time. I just take it easy and take it one day at a time because I really want to make the best decision for me and my family. I’m not really buying into the hype of the whole recruiting process. I want to cherish it because you’re only in high school once.”
In speaking to Ezechukwu, he exuded an underdog mentality. Playing for Arabia Mountain this season, he’ll get his chance to perform against the likes of Tucker, Stephenson and M.L. King, all football powerhouses.
“I feel like it’s all in the name,” he said. “Ain’t no need in being scared of a name. Go out there, they put they’re pants on just like us. They play football just like us. We’ve all been playing this game a long time.”
If he backs up his camp results with a strong senior season, Ezechukwu could end up playing at a high-level college.
“I know I still have to get my body ready for any high-level college attention,” he said. “I may end up playing outside linebacker or maybe even stay down (playing defensive end), but I do know I need to get a little bit stronger, a little bit faster. That’s what I’m working toward.”
2013 Arabia Mountain DE Danny Ezechukwu won the Top Overall Performer Award.
(Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
Life’s a peach
Peach County receivers coach Nathan Clark made the 125-mile drive from Fort Valley to Alpharetta to instruct at the camp. He brought along 2013 wide receiver Demarcus ‘Bud’ Robinson and 2014 offensive lineman Chavis Dickey.
Both took home awards as the best at their respective positions.
“It feels great, it feels excellent,” Clark said. “All the hard work we put in has really paid off, and they’re working extremely hard in the weight room. Both of them had terrific springs.”
Dickey isn’t the household name that Robinson is. Not yet, at least.
“Chavis has come so far in the last four or five months it’s unbelievable,” Clark said. “He’s had such a hard work ethic. He’s always the first in the weight room. He’s the type of kid that’s going to give you everything he has and more. He has great grades and is already qualified.”
Robinson, meanwhile, stole the show, thanks to his receiving skills and for his multi-neon-colored socks, which could only be described as… loud.
“You’ve got to be really good to wear something like that,” one coach said.
And Robinson, who said his top three is currently Florida, Clemson and Notre Dame, was that good.
“I have always said he can be as good as he wants to be and he looks to be on the track for greatness,” Simmons said. “When he applies himself, he is clearly one of the top wideouts in the South. He ran very crisp routes, he caught everything, and he looked much quicker this time than when I have seen him in the past.”
Robinson has always exhibited remarkable athletic ability. The 6-3, 195-pound senior caught 53 passes for 1,024 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns a year ago.
The production has always been there, but something changed in Robinson this spring.
“He has really bought in,” Clark said. “He’s always had the talent and been so much better than everybody else for the most part, but he never really bought into the idea of team and winning. I mean, he did, but he didn’t totally sell out to it. This spring, he totally sold out. He started working hard. He’s done everything that we asked him to do. He hasn’t necessarily done that in the past. He’s doing the extra stuff, staying late and working on his technique and he’s taking the lead in a lot of things. I expect him to have just a monstrous senior year.”
2013 Peach County WR Demarcus Robinson in his stance.
(Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
This and that…
While there were over 100 athletes competing at the event, there were a few big names watching from the sideline. Milton High defensive end Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Walton High (Marietta, Ga.) offensive lineman Brandon Kublanow stuck to the sideline, chatting about the recruiting process and cheering on teammates. Lawson, considered the No. 16 defensive end in the 2013 class, is verbally committed to Auburn. The No. 9 offensive guard prospect in the country, Kublanow committed to Georgia in May. … The class of 2014 was well represented at the camp. Walton defensive back D.J. Smith took home the Top Underclassmen Award. His recruitment took off this spring, as Florida, Georgia, Nebraska and others offered the 5-11, 171-pound standout. “Smith will be one of the most sought after defensive backs in the South,” Simmons said. “He could be a big corner or even grow into a safety. He has a lot of natural ability.” Another underclassmen defensive back stood out, too. St. Pius X (Atlanta Ga.) rising junior Nick Ruffin was named the Top DB. Ruffin had some terrific battles with 2014 receiver Terry Googer. The Woodward Academy star was arguably the second best receiver at the camp behind Robinson. “Googer is a big target at wide receiver, and he is really starting to settle in at that position,” Simmons said. “He made good adjustments on the ball, he caught some balls in traffic and he has a chance to pick up some major offers in the coming months.”
2014 DB D.J. Smith lays out to break up a pass.
(Dean Legge/Dawg Post)