10 things I learned this weekend

Cowart vs Ivey

After attending the Elite 11 and the Orlando and south Florida Nike Football Training Camp here are 10 things I learned over this football weekend in the Sunshine State.

Here are 10 things I learned this weekend after attending the Elite 11 and the NFTC in Orlando and Miami.

1) Ivey has some dog in him and I love it
I like the dog in Martez Ivey (Apopka, Fla.). This offensive tackle prospect is a five-star recruit and the top prospect in the country. He literally got called out by four-star defensive end Byron Cowart (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) during one on one drills.

Cowart got his wish, as these two battled during the final five. They went head to head on three straight reps, Cowart as a right end and Ivey at left tackle.


Ivey and Cowart
Cowart whipped Ivey on the first rep with a pure speed rush. Ivey was visibly upset and embarrassed and immediately hustled back to the line of scrimmage and yelled out to Cowart to "get you're a$% back up there." Ivey then proceeded to bury Cowart in the ground on the second rep. The third was more of a standoff, as Cowart went with another speed rush to the outside and Ivey used his great length to ride him around the arc.

After the reps were over both players shook hands and had a friendly hug.

That was probably the best two-minutes of the weekend and provided for some pretty good theatre. But I like what I saw in both kids, as Cowart wanted to test himself against the best and Ivey showed he had some dog in him after he got beat. You have to have that mentality of both players if you are going to be successful at playing on the line of scrimmage.


2) Cowart has chip on shoulder
I have watched Cowart since the summer going into his sophomore season. He's always looked the part and had the body of a fifth year-senior in college. Cowart's always been the guy you wanted to walk off the bus first. He's a great looking defensive end at 6-foot-4, 250-pounds.

Last season I saw him twice, once against Tampa Hillsborough and he was absolutely dominant. His play matched the eye test on that night. Then I saw him play against Miami Central and Trevor Darling (Miami signee) in the state title game and he didn't record a tackle. It bothered me that Cowart was dominated by Darling and the Rockets.

I thought he had a very good day at the Orlando NFTC. Not only did he call out Ivey and play well against him but he was also competitive throughout the day. By far he took the most reps of anyone in the one on one session. He took them at both defensive end spots, defensive tackle and over the center. Cowart lost his first three reps and it seemed to really light his fire.

He prepped the event by watching film of guys like Ivey, Christian Pellage (Brooksville, Fla./Nature's Coast) and Abdul Bello (Montverde, Fla./Monteverde Academy). Cowart wanted the MVP award and an invite to the Opening (he ended up with both).

Best of all was what NFTC defensive line coach Chuck Wiley said afterwards. He loved all the natural ability that Cowart has. But even more Wiley loved his attitude, especially how coachable the kid was during the event.

Cowart is no diva that shies away from competition and reps against the best. He's eager and hungry and I love that in a recruit.



Torrance Gibson
3) Plenty of time for Gibson
Torrance Gibson (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) is far from a finished product, as he had an up and down day throwing the football at the South Florida NFTC. This five-star quarterback recruit is a sensational player and one of the most athletic prospects in the Class of 2015. But Gibson has his work cut out in front of him if he's to successfully transition to that position in college and beyond.

There's no question that this kid is ridiculously talented and athletic. He's big (6-4, 207), fast and quick. He could be one of the elite wide receivers in the nation if he were to switch positions. The same could be said if Gibson made the move to the other side of the ball as a safety.

Yea, he's got that "all that and a bag of chips" kind of talent to excel elsewhere.

But he wants to be a quarterback and to do that at a high level at the next level Gibson needs to become consistent throwing the football. He needs to work on his footwork, throwing motion and release. Gibson's mechanics need polish.

And who's to say that he can't work at it and become a consistent quarterback? There's already the chatter that Gibson won't be a quarterback in college. People said the same thing about Treon Harris (Miami Booker T. Washington) at this time one year ago. He just recently signed to play quarterback for the University of Florida, as Harris showed tremendous improvement throwing the football his senior season. The same thing was said about John Franklin when he signed at Florida State. There has been nothing but rave reviews about Franklin in Tallahassee in the year he has been on campus as a quarterback.

I think it's crazy to give up on Gibson as a signal caller. Let's all remember that he's still a junior in high school. Gibson has all spring, summer and his entire senior year to work on his craft. There's no doubt in my mind that I would recruit the heck out of this kid as a quarterback until the ink hits the paper on national signing day.



Deondre Francois
4) Speaking of quarterbacks…
Speaking of quarterbacks, who's the No. 2 guy in the state if Gibson is No. 1? It just may be Deondre Francois (Orlando Olympia) after his performance this weekend in Orlando at the NFTC and Elite 11 regional camp. He has good size (6-2, 185-pounds) and a very nice arm. I also like his release, which is pretty quick and tight. This kid is also an athlete who can run. If there's a knock to his passing game I would say he only has one speed and throws all fastballs. And when he misses receivers Francois tends to be high on his throws.

Another player very similar in size (6-3/180) and style is Lamar Jackson (Boynton Beach, Fla.). This is a kid I loved on film, especially the way he runs the zone-read. What I learned this weekend from Jackson was that he has a very lively arm. He's just very raw and needs polish and reps. Jackson appeared at the Elite 11 in Orlando and the South Florida NFTC.

There's a quarterback prospect at Lafayette (Fla.) Mayo named Brycen Lee that I think people will hear a lot about this spring and summer. He's not known like the others already mentioned and has nowhere near the offer list. Lee is sitting on a lone offer from Troy. This is a big signal caller (6-4/175) that is a strong and accurate passer. He has good arm talent. Lee was at the Orlando NFTC.

Two more players flying under the radar are Daniel Parr (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) and Brad Mayes (Tampa Berkeley Prep). Parr was much better yesterday at the South Florida NFTC than he was at the Elite 11 regional. He has size, a strong arm and I think this kid does a nice job of throwing his receivers open. Mayes is not the biggest guy out there (only 6-1/200) or has the best arm but he's solid and efficient, which is what you want out of your quarterback. Mayes performed at the Elite 11 and Orlando NFTC.

I was a little disappointed with the performance of Tampa Hillsborough quarterback Dwayne Lawson at the Elite 11. But it was just one day. This business is all about trying to project the future of these kids and his ceiling is enormous. He's every bit of 6-foot-5, 207-pounds. Lawson will be huge once he fills out his frame. He's one of the top high jumpers in the state and he has athleticism. Lawson just needs to continue refining his game as a passer, which seems to be the theme of this quarterback group from the Sunshine State.

Overall, it seems like a pretty typical year at this position in the state.



George Campbell
5) Wide receivers shined brightest
If you combine the two combines the most impressive group, by far, were the wide receivers. It's deep from top to bottom and there was a handful of top end players like Da'Vante Phillips (Miami Central), Calvin Ridley (Coconut Creek, Fla./Monarch), Sam Bruce (Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas), Dionte Mullins (Miami Gulliver Prep), and John Burt (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln) in south Florida and guys like George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake), Deon Cain (Tampa Bay Tech), Ray McCloud (Tamp Sickles), Nate Craig (Tampa Catholic), Deondre Farrier (Orlando Lake Nona), and Kalif Jackson (Jacksonville Neptune) in Orlando.

Phillips won the MVP battle yesterday and it seemed like a tightly contested race between he, Ridley and the two underclassmen, Mullins and Bruce. Farrier won the MVP in Orlando.

That's some star power of names but there were a handful of others at both events that did well. Again, they were both high on quality and quantity.



Abdul Bello
6) Bello a blank slate
I love a great recruiting story and Adbul Bello is just that. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackle prospect from Monteverde (Fla.) Academy has only been playing the game of football a few short months. Still, he holds scholarship offers from programs like Florida, FSU, Miami, Alabama, Georgia and others.

That's simply extraordinary and should signal what kind of serious upside this young man from Nigeria has with only one season under his belt.

There's no question that he was one of the prime attractions at the Orlando NFTC on Saturday. All in all Bello performed how one would expect him to perform.

First, he has enormous size and length and plenty of room to bulk up and add weight. Bello has those skinny ankles and can really move his feet. He impressed in drills and had a good, strong, natural punch. That was the good.

The not so good for Bello was the one on one session. He didn't fare well and got beat [quite a few times]. But lining up opposite experienced players like Cowart is a lot to ask for a newcomer to the game.

Hopefully he has the right mindset and takes it all as a learning experience. This kid is a blank slate and in four or five years there's no telling how good he can become if he applies himself to his craft.



Tyrek Cole
7) Lots of DBs too
One thing I have learned is that there is never a shortage of defensive backs in south Florida. Maybe the secondary wasn't quite as strong as the wide receivers but nevertheless it was still a very good group yesterday.

Tyrek Cole (Miramar, Fla.), Tavarus McFadden (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), Jaqaun Johnson (Miami Killian) and Calvin Brewton (Miami Central) all did some exceptional things. It was pretty even among these guys until the last hour of the event. That's when Cole just took over.

Cole and Tavarus McFadden are cornerbacks while Johnson and Brewton are all safeties. Speaking of safeties, Shawn Burgess-Becker (Coconut Creek, Fla./Monarch) was also in attendance yesterday but he got injured early during the event and did not participate the rest of the way. He's fantastic on both sides of the ball.

What I love about this area is always the next tier of players at defensive back and there was an abundance of those guys there like Ocie Rose (Miami Booker T. Washington), Ronnie Hoggins (Coconut Creek, Fla./Monarch), Malek Young (Coconut Creek), Malik Henderson (Halladale, Fla.), Tyler Byrd (Naples, Fla.), Rod Archer (Plantation, Fla./South Plantation), Davante Davis (Miami Booker T. Washington) and Richie Kittles (Ft. Lauderdale Stranahan).

Orlando didn't have nearly the numbers of elite defensive backs like south Florida. The headliner was no doubt Derwin James (Haines City, Fla.). He had one of the best performances of anyone all weekend and looked the part of being one of the top safety prospects in America. Other standouts there were Aaron Covington (Seffner, Fla./Armwood), Kenyatta Anderson (Gulfport, Fla./Boca Ciega) and Dante Thomas (Orlando Wekiva).



Ocie Rose
8) Who?
Who are some of those names above? Did you know about Kenyatta Anderson, Dante Thomas, Malek Young, Ocie Rose, and Ronnie Hoggins? These are going to be new names to many recruiting fans.

For me, that's one of the best things of going to the NFTC. I love finding new players.

Other under the radar or sleeper type of recruits I saw over the weekend are linebacker Carson Lydon (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake), defensive tackles Johnny Footman (Winter Haven, Fla.) and Darius Smalls (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood), offensive guard Romello Burke (Sarasota, Fla./Booker), defensive ends Ronique Robinson (Miami Booker T. Washington) and Janarius Robinson (Panama City, Fla./Bay), and running back Kerrith Whyte (Loxahatchee, Fla./Seminole Ridge).


9) Underclassmen
I had a chance to see many of some of the very best underclassmen over the last two days. The Class of 2016 wide receiving corps is going to be sensational with Nate Craig, Sam Bruce, and Dionte Mullins. That trio played as well as anyone over the weekend. Plant City (Fla.) star, Tavares Chase , was another good rising junior in Orlando.

Quarterback Feleipe Franks (Crawfordville, Fla./Wakulla) showed flashes. He's a big, tall quarterback prospect that could be 6-foot-5, 240-pounds down the line. He throws a pretty ball and spins it well. In fact, he threw the best deep ball of anyone quarterback I saw all weekend. Franks just needs to tighten up his delivery. He has a long release.

Robert Burns doesn't look like your ordinary freshman. He's already 5-foot-11, 210-pounds. He had the highest SPARQ rating of anyone at the South Florida NFTC.

Defensive end Janarius Robinson made quite a name for himself at the Nike Camp in Louisiana. He didn't disappoint in Orlando and was one of the top defensive linemen there. He's just a sophomore.

2016 linebacker prospect Shaq Quarterman (Orlando Oakleaf) had a good camp in central Florida.


10) Thank you Student Sports
I have been doing this a long time and have been attending the Nike Camps and Combines since they started 15, 16 years ago. I have always believed these events to be an invaluable tool for the prospects. Bottom line, they all learn some things to make themselves a better football player.

Hats off to the entire crew at Student Sports and all the coaches for what you do. It's always been a first class event and this weekend was no different.

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