LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -– Team Nitro and Team Highlight took to the fields at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports on Monday for Day 1 of practice for Friday’s Under Armour All-America Game (5 p.m. ET, ESPN). Two powerhouse programs in the Southeastern Conference look to battle it out for one of the standout running backs, and one of the top uncommitted offensive linemen is out with an injury.
Tide and Dawgs at top for RB Kamara
The Under Armour All-America Game boasts a bevy of talented running backs, and after the first practice ESPN 150 prospect Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) drew comparisons to one of the best.
“They say I play like Percy Harvin,” Kamara said.
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound tailback has made a name for himself as a home-run threat out of the backfield or lined up in the slot, which makes it no surprise that programs across the country are pining for his commitment. Two from the SEC are in the lead.
“Alabama and Georgia are the front-runners, but I am still looking at Oregon -- and Tennessee too, with Butch Jones being there now,” Kamara said.
The nation's No. 4 running back has yet to set any official visits, but plans to do so after he gets home from the UA Game. A decision will likely come after his visits.
“This is not going to be a busy month so much as it is just something I need to buckle down and do,” Kamara said. “I am going to take these visits and base my decision off of that.”
One factor in his decision will be the relationship he has with the coaches recruiting him. The Tide could have a slight advantage because they made first contact with Kamara.
“Kirby Smart and I are really close,” Kamara said. “He was the first coach to ever talk to me. He snuck me his card after practice and I could not believe it. For a coach of his stature to be the first coach to talk to me is great. We have been in contact ever since, and we have a great relationship.”
Georgia might counter that with their running backs coach being Kamara’s recruiter of record.
“Coach [Bryan] McClendon and I have a great relationship too,” Kamara said. “With him being my position coach, I could see myself playing for him. We are on a friend level and we do not even talk about football most of the time.”
The in-state Bulldogs also have a few people in Kamara’s ear this week, though he admits they have been putting the pressure on him for quite some time.
“Even when we are not in a big event like this, guys like Shaq Wiggins, Brice Ramsey, even Reuben [Foster], even though he is not committed, are always asking where I am going,” Kamara said. “They are joking, but they are on me pretty hard sometimes.”
Newsworthy: OL Crowder deals with injury, sets officials
ESPN 150 offensive lineman Tyrone Crowder (Rockingham, N.C./Richmond) will be unable to play in Friday's UA Game after aggravating a hand injury he sustained a few weeks ago at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. While he is disappointed, Crowder said today he is looking forward to the home stretch of his recruitment and choosing from one of two programs.
“It is Clemson No. 1 and Georgia No. 2, and I will decide on signing day,” said Crowder, ranked the No. 2 OG in the country.
The Tigers have been after the 6-foot-1, 330-pound offensive lineman for more than three years now, and they have location and familiarity working in their favor.
“Clemson has been recruiting me since I was in ninth grade,” Crowder said. “I like what they have going on and I have built a strong relationship with them. It is close to home and I have some family close to Clemson. I will take my official there Jan. 11.”
Crowder has not been to Athens for six months, but he has fond memories of his visit.
“Georgia is a great powerhouse team in the SEC,” Crowder said. “When I went down there during the summer I really liked the campus and enjoyed meeting the coaches. I spoke to them two weeks ago and set an official visit Jan. 18.”
It was only the first day of practice, but Team Highlight (Black team) quarterbacks got off to an impressive start.
Penn State commit Christian Hackenberg, Alabama commit Cooper Bateman and Fresno State commit Zack Greenlee had their ups and downs, but offensive coordinator Chris Weinke said all three players impressed him in the opening session.
"All three guys showed flashes today," Weinke said. "The thing that was impressive to me is the fact that we gave them a lot of information in a short period of time and they were able to absorb it and process the information. The first day in an environment like this, whether it's the snap count or getting the snap from a new center or whatever it is, is better than I probably anticipated. Looking at the three guys, all of them can make the throws we are going to ask them to make. All of them made some good throws and all of them made some mistakes."
Though it's still early, Weinke thought Hackenberg probably stood out the most on the first day of practice.
"Really I think Christian Hackenberg is a guy that, right now, has probably shined a little bit more," Weinke said. "Cooper made some good throws in 7-on-7, he stepped up in the pocket in our team drill. Zach is a more fluid thrower than I anticipated and is a good athlete. I think all-in-all after the first day, as we progress through the week we'll see the guys that rise to the top. But all three have the ability to start for this team."
UA Game Day 1 awards
Ballhawk: LB Alex Anzalone (Committed to Notre Dame)
Within two minutes, the 6-3, 230-pound linebacker had back-to-back interceptions, one on a poorly thrown ball and one on a tipped pass. He had good instincts and put himself in a position to make plays throughout the initial team session.
Player of the Day: DE Chris Jones (Committed to Mississippi State)
Upon his arrival, Jones had many saying he was the most physically impressive prospect at the UA Game. The 6-7, 260-pound defensive end showed he had the game to match by blowing past offensive tackles throughout 1-on-1 competition and team practice. His performance had No. 2 prospect Carl Lawson saying Jones might be the No. 1 prospect in the country.
Mr. Versatility: ATH Tarean Folston (Undecided)
Primarily a running back in high school, Folston took to the practice field at defensive back and more than held his own.
Biggest Trash-talker: CB Shaq Wiggins (Committed to UGA)
Wiggins consistently makes his presence known on and off the field for being a vocal presence, but he was also able to back up his mouth with solid reps against Laquon Treadwell, Earnest Robinson and Stacy Coley.
Best Matchup: DE Carl Lawson (committed to Auburn) and OT Dorian Johnson (Committed to Pittsburgh)
While Lawson was unstoppable for most of the day, Johnson was able to get a solid punch on the five-star defensive end and slow him down somewhat.
Today's Top Tweets
Best Wide Reciever I've went against all year and today is @successfulquon .PERIOD.
— Shaquille Wiggins (@ShaqWiggins21) December 31, 2012
Just got picked to play in the under armour all american game my biggest dream ever#God is good#
— Rod(@Rod2real) December 31, 2012
— Kevin Olsen (@KOlsen19) December 31, 2012