NCF Nation: Football Recruiting

While many of the nation's best in the Class of 2016 were known commodities headed into the 2014 season, prospects still develop at different rates and appear on the national radar at different times. This spring, there are a number of ultra-talented prospects who will bring out college coaches by the dozens:

Damion Dickens, DE
ESPN Junior 300 ranking: No. 93

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- A day after the 19th annual Nike Football The Opening Miami Regional featured some of the nation's best skill prospects, the Orlando Regional on Sunday offered up depth at a number of positions, with the offensive line and linebackers standing out. As expected, a number of commitments and top targets of Power 5 schools competed decked out in team gear and delivered high-quality performances.

Here are some of the best sights and sounds from Sunday's ultra-talented Orlando Regional.

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Many of the West region’s best seven-on-seven teams were in Las Vegas over the weekend, joined by a few additional national squads for the Pylon Elite Las Vegas 7v7. When the dust settled, Ground Zero, a team made up of California’s Inland Empire prospects, took home the trophy after beating 702 Elite, which featured Las Vegas Bishop Gorman standouts.

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PLANTATION, Fla. -- The Nike Opening Regional at Miami always brings out some of the top skill prospects in the country, with Broward and Dade counties being the most talented neighboring counties in the country. On Saturday, the event at American Heritage High School brought out more than the future stars of college football, but also some of the area's most popular former stars such as Edgerrin James and Chad Johnson, as well as Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew fame.

Here are some of the best sights and sounds from the talent-laden Miami Regional.

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PLANTATION, Fla. -- The Nike football camp in Miami is generally regarded as one of the top camps, talent-wise, in the country every year and this year’s camp held at American Heritage School didn’t disappoint.

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The Nike Football Opening Regionals will officially begin on Saturday at American Heritage High in Plantation, Florida, with many of South Florida’s best scheduled to attend with hopes of earning invites to The Opening held in early July at the Nike World Headquarters.

Here are five things of many to know.

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Hundreds of the West's top prospects will head to Las Vegas this weekend for one of the region's marquee 7-on-7 events -- the Pylon Elite 7v7. For the past seven years, this event has helped unknown prospects become household recruiting names and provides potential bragging rights for the team who can stake a claim as the West's best. Pool play runs all day Saturday with single elimination games beginning Sunday morning. Here are five things to keep an eye on during the event.

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Jacob Eason is the No. 4 overall recruit in the 2016 ESPN Junior 300, and the top pocket-passer in the class. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound prospect has been committed to Georgia since July. Here is what makes Eason such a special talent.

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When Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy in 2007, no other sophomore quarterback had won the prestigious award. In fact prior to 2007, senior quarterbacks had won the award 21 times and juniors were recognized five times. But Tebow’s award displayed the changing landscape of college football where quarterbacks were being asked to do more and more early in their career.

After Tebow, we saw even more evidence of this trend when Oklahoma sophomore Sam Bradford captured the Heisman in 2008, and then Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel won it in 2012 and Florida State freshman Jameis Winston won it in 2013. More examples were played out on the fields of ACC schools this past season when five true freshmen quarterbacks started games in 2014. Even going beyond those instances, we see it more than ever before in college football: Freshmen and sophomore quarterbacks are impacting the game like never before.

Here’s a look at four recruiting reasons why quarterbacks are playing earlier

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On The Trail Show: Saivion Smith commitment

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
Top-ranked athlete Saivion Smith, the No. 19 overall player in the ESPN Junior 300, joined RecruitingNation to announce his decision.

Snoop's son gets 'Coming To America' birthday party

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
To quote King Jaffe Jaffer of Zamunda: "Time does fly fast, my son. It seems only yesterday I ordered your first diaper changed. Now you're a man ..."

For one night, Prince Akeem of Zamunda became Prince Cordell of Los Angeles.

Snoop Dogg's son, UCLA WR signee Cordell Broadus, turned 18 over the weekend. What did the proud papa do?

Broadus' "Coming To America" party gave plenty of love to the 1988 Eddie Murphy classic, including a throne for the prince, plenty of rose petal scattering and, of course, a photo of the royal family.

The royal family

A photo posted by snoopdogg (@snoopdogg) on

Malik Henry is the top-ranked quarterback in the 2016 class and the No. 3-overall recruit. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound dual-threat player committed to Florida State in November. Here is a look at what makes Henry the top-ranked signal-caller.

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Ultimate ESPN 300: Who's next? 

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
It’s never too early to look ahead to next year. Here are seven prospects in the 2015 class who could make their mark in future editions of the Ultimate ESPN 300.

DT Daylon Mack (Texas A&M): Last year it was DE Myles Garrett who made a splash for the Aggies, and Mack is expected to do the same in 2015. While Texas A&M returns some quality young defensive tackles, none has Mack's combination of explosive power and quickness plus the ability to be a disruptive force in the backfield.

S Derwin James (FSU):

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Within the Ultimate ESPN 300 are a number of players who were lightly recruited, overcame a multitude of injuries or had interesting stories behind their recruitments. Here are two with an ACC focus, plus a Pro Bowl safety from Texas who shared the field with an unheralded future NFL first-round draft choice on a Friday night in Southeast Texas.

Giovani Bernard, RB
Ultimate 300 ranking: No. 221

Bernard was one of 10 FBS prospects out of St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, FL) in the 2010 class and one of four eventual NFL selections from that nationally ranked high school team. While Bernard made it to the NFL, his path was different than those of 2013 second-round draft pick Lamarcus Joyner, 2014 third-round pick Brandon Linder and 2014 fourth-round pick James White in that Bernard battled injuries in high school, including a hamstring injury that forced him to miss most of his senior season, and then tore his ACL as a true freshman at North Carolina in the Tar Heels' third practice of the season. The compactly built back proved that he could battle back from scarce playing time for two years to the tune of 21 starts, 2,481 yards rushing, 3,596 all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns in the two seasons that followed. Bernard was selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, becoming the first North Carolina running back to go in the first two rounds since Natrone Means in 1993. Bernard originally committed to Notre Dame before signing with the Tar Heels in 2010.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonDespite questions about his height, Russell Wilson has gone on to have great success in college and the pros.
Russell Wilson, QB
Ultimate 300 ranking: No. 187

Wilson had a number of things working against him on the recruiting trail. He was under 6 feet (5 feet, 10 5/8 inches) and was slight of build at 180 pounds as a senior. He was also a talented Major League Baseball draft prospect. Only NC State and Duke believed in Wilson's talents as an undersized signal-caller who produced on the biggest stage in high school. And the rest is history, as Wilson went on to star for the Wolfpack for nearly three years after a redshirt year, as well as a season for Wisconsin in 2011. While Bernard overcame injury setbacks and time away from the field, Wilson used detractors and questions about his height to become one of the top quarterbacks in college football and now the NFL. What Wilson had in terms of skill set for the position couldn’t be taught and height doesn’t provide: 10-inch hands, a quick release with arm power and terrific feet and feel for playing the position.

Earl Thomas, S
Ultimate 300 ranking: No. 240

While Thomas played at Texas and not in the ACC, this is one certainly worthy of mention. Living in Texas at the time, I attended the Southeast Texas rivalry game between West Orange-Stark and Jasper to watch then-Texas commitment Deon Beasley and the talented junior Thomas. As it turns out, the dynamic duo for West Orange-Stark weren’t the lone big-time players on the field. Jasper had an outside linebacker and wide receiver by the name of Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon had one scholarship offer at the time as a senior (the University of Houston, where he was committed). That would all change after impressive senior season performances such as the one I was fortunate enough to witness. That meant the small town Class 3A game featured two future NFL first-round draft choices in Weatherspoon and Thomas. As for Thomas, he was a dominant Friday night player in high school as a jack-of-all-trades. He lined up at running back, cornerback, safety at times and returned kicks as a junior and senior.
With such a talented group of players on one list, the Ultimate ESPN 300, it was difficult to narrow things to three favorites. After all, these are some of the best ever to play college football. With that being said, here are three of my favorites:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesFew players have come off the edge like Jadeveon Clowney in his South Carolina heyday.
1. I've covered recruiting for several years, but watching defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (No. 1) go up against offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio at the 2011 Under Armour All-America game and practices was something I'll never forget. Clowney is the best athlete I have seen, and watching him go up against another five-star prospect was incredible.

Kouandjio more than held his own that week against the top player in the country, but there was no doubt Clowney was on another level. Clowney went on to have an incredible career at South Carolina, and who could forget the devastating hit he laid on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl?

2. Quarterback Tim Tebow (No. 2), with his unusual throwing mechanics and bruising style of play, had his doubters coming out of high school. Tebow, however, went on to have one of the most prolific careers in the history of college football by winning two national championships, two SEC championships and a Heisman Trophy.

To sum up Tebow's leadership ability and team-first mentality, I recall watching Tebow's high school team, Nease, play in the Florida state championship game against Armwood High School. Armwood had the ball and was driving for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown and a defensive lineman for Nease had to leave the game because of an injury. Tebow races out to the field and lines up at nose tackle. Though he didn't make the play, Nease won, and it displayed what kind of person he was. He was willing to do whatever it took to help his team win, and that's how he played throughout his college career.

3. Running back Derrick Henry's (No. 202) high school team, Yulee, didn't play in a very strong division in Florida, so the ridiculous stats (11,182 rushing yards and 153 rushing TDs) Henry put up in his high school career seemed to be somewhat inflated.

Henry's senior season, I had a chance to watch Yulee take on Belle Glade Glades Day School, which had Kelvin Taylor (No. 174), another five-star running back. I assumed that because of Henry's size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) he would likely move to another position on the next level. But after watching him play in person and seeing how athletic and nimble he was, Henry convinced me he had the tools to be a top running back. Watching both running backs rush for more than 200 yards on the night and seeing two future stars at their brightest was one of the most memorable games I've ever had a chance to cover.