NCF On The Trail: South Carolina Gamecocks

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: As the nation's No. 2 player, five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey has a lot of people pulling him in a lot of different directions. But when it comes time to make a decision, Ivey knows whom he can count on. Plus, Steve Spurrier has taken plenty of shots at Alabama and Nick Saban during the offseason, but Tuesday at SEC media days he called Saban a "recruiter for the ages."

Ivey won't let distractions get in the way
[+] EnlargeMartez Ivey
Tom Hauck for Student SportsMartez Ivey, the No. 2 overall prospect in the ESPN 300, is seriously considering Auburn and Florida.
Martez Ivey says he gets around 25 phone messages a day from college coaches, reporters and even fans hounding him about what the latest is with his recruitment. Ivey also used words like "crazy" and "impossible" to describe how he feels about the process. But the 6-foot-6, 268-pound five-star offensive tackle said there are a few people he can count on to help him make the final decision.
An early signing period can’t get here soon enough.

In fact, a number of SEC teams are recruiting as if it already exists.

On Tuesday, Auburn played catch-up with its league brethren by gaining its 16th and 17th total commitments of the 2015 class in four-star offensive lineman Tyler Carr and three-star tight end Jalen Harris. Still, Gus Malzahn’s group trails Alabama (19), South Carolina (19), Mississippi State (18), Tennessee (18) and Texas A&M (18) in terms of its total verbal pledges.

And to think, SEC rules permit only 25 signees per class, per year.

So what’s the rush then? It’s hard to say. In recent years we’ve seen the recruiting calendar steadily accelerated by both the coaches and the players. More and more prospects are committing early, in part to get the process over with but also to secure a spot at their desired school. If you’re a middle-of-the-pack recruit, Alabama offers you a scholarship and you see there are only six spots left in the class, you better act fast.

It’s important to note, however, that without an early signing period in effect, we’re still talking tentative numbers. A verbal commitment is still nonbinding -- on both ends. Players will continue to look elsewhere and other programs will keep trying to poach other schools’ recruits. Coaches will make the scholarship numbers fit, one way or another.

South Carolina’s 19 current commitments may not be the same 19 recruits in a few months time. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has only eight commitments to date and could see that number double by the start of the season. Just look at Auburn, which has gone on a tear since mid-April by nagging 11 total commitments.

Compared to the other big five conferences, the SEC is wasting no time recruiting. The ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 each have only one school in their respective conferences with 16 or more commitments. The Pac-12, meanwhile, has none and is led by Arizona’s 14 commitments.

Other conferences might be clinging to a recruiting era gone by, one where prospects waited until signing day to put pen to paper and decide. An early signing period might change that in the future, but for now the SEC is living in the present, getting while the getting is good.

By last count, 152 of ESPN’s top 300 prospects have already committed. There’s no time to waste.
In five years as South Carolina’s quarterbacks and tight ends coach, G.A. Mangus has become a key cog in the Gamecocks' recruiting efforts. As a lead recruiter for prospects from New Jersey to Tampa, Mangus has a true feel for how the Gamecocks’ recruiting brand has risen in recent years with the three straight top-10 finishes, 11-win seasons and marquee players that have been drafted in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeG.A. Mangus
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsG.A. Mangus and South Carolina are putting together a 2015 recruiting class that already features five ESPN 300 prospects.
Since you got to Columbia in 2009, how has the perception of South Carolina football changed outside the state?

G.A. Mangus: Well, I think it has changed a whole lot. I’m going into my sixth season here with Coach [Steve] Spurrier, and things have really changed in many aspects in terms of recruiting, but in the last three seasons, finishing in the top 10 three years in a row and the highest ranking we’ve ever had last year, the TV contract we have in the SEC … recruiting in New Jersey, or Florida and up and down the Eastern seaboard, there are definitely a lot more people that recognize South Carolina as one of the big boys now. I don’t know that was the case up and down the Eastern seaboard, and nationally five or six years ago.

Evaluating and projecting quarterbacks can be the toughest position to conquer. What is it you and the staff looks for in a quarterback prospect?

GM: … We put a lot into the intangible part of it. The biggest part of it is getting around these young men. You can watch tape and watch them play, but getting around them as a person is the best way to find out what their makeup is … and that’s what the most important thing is and that is something I learned from Coach [Steve] Spurrier a long time ago. I think good feet are imperative in today’s game and you have to have an ‘it’ factor. I don’t necessarily know how to define an ‘it’ factor, but you know it once you are around a guy. That’s why it’s important to be around those guys as much as possible … Obviously, the neck up is huge. You have to be a quick decision maker, a quick thinker. This game today, as athletic as everyone is on defense, you just don’t have a lot of time. You have to have quick feet, make quick decisions and have an ‘it’ factor on top of that. One of the things Coach Spurrier always emphasized is the courage. The ones that have courage is the common denominator. The ones that I’ve always been around that have courage were the best ones. You have to be able to hang in the pocket and take one on the chin every now and then, and then how they play the next play tells a lot. And the other thing is accuracy. You have to be accurate, and if you combine that with the good feet, quick decisions and courage … that’s what we are looking for.

The Gamecocks have the makings of a class that can finish in the top 10. With 15 commitments already in the books, what are the key positions remaining?

GM: We have the ability in this class to take a larger number than we did a year ago, so we are always looking for good players. The big thing when trying to kind of close out a class, I guess, is to have room for difference-makers, whatever position that may be. Closing with some offensive tackles, tight ends on the offensive side of the ball, and defensive ends on the defensive side of the ball is a priority. Defensive backs also.

What is the most important aspect of recruiting? And has the most important aspect changed in the last two or three years with social media seemingly taking over recruiting in some ways?

GM: It has changed, but I don’t think the meaningful fundamentals of recruiting have changed. … It’s still about relationships, and I think it starts and finishes with the families and the high school coach. I think the day the families and high school coach get removed from the process is probably the time I’ll really be glad I’m not a young coach just getting out of college because it’s just all over the map if we lose those fundamentals in recruiting. Social media has changed some things, and it has made it a little more wide open. Parents are on Facebook, and kids are on Twitter, and like kids like to say, Facebook is for old people and Twitter is for young people. I’m a little of both, I guess, I’m middle age (laughs). It’s more of a 24/7 with the social media, and I don’t think it’s going to stop. Every year there is new social media site that kids are becoming a part of and trying to be the fad, and again it’s all things we have to be flexible on as coaches.

Would the ability for prospects to make official visits in the spring of junior year help the process as a whole?

GA: I don’t know that it will help, or change a whole lot because so many of these kids are going on all these unofficial visits. I think it would be nice to be able to pay for the trips if the kids are going to make the visits. ... So many of these kids are changing to early commitments, and I’m all for an early signing period; if a kid’s ready to get it done, then get it done. Contrary to what everyone talks about, there are still a lot of kids out there that do it the right way and make a decision and that’s the end of it. Kids today don’t get to take their official visits that get it done. That’s the one thing I do feel bad for the players today is they don’t get to enjoy that part as much, as maybe my age group did. Kids today, they commit and take the one official and that’s it. And when they do take an official visit somewhere else, then it’s all over Twitter and creates a lot of drama. I do think we could eliminate some of the drama if kids could make official visits in the spring of their junior year.
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina Gamecocks hosted their annual prospect camp on Friday. With the three consecutive 11-win seasons and top-10 finishes, as well as producing a number of high NFL draft choices led by 2014 No. 1 overall selection Jadeveon Clowney, the level of talent at the camps continues to rise.

Here is some news and notes from the camp:


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ATHENS, Ga. – On Saturday, Georgia hosted the annual Mark Richt minicamp following the two-day 7-on-7 challenge. The three days of competition brought out many a top prospect, including several targets and future targets on Saturday.

Here are some observations from Saturday:


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SEC recruiting scorecard

June, 6, 2014
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College football doesn't have an early signing period, yet, but that doesn't mean we can't get an early start on some recruiting news.

As of Friday, the SEC has seven teams ranking within the top 15 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation team rankings. Five of those teams -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee -- are ranked inside the top 10. Alabama, which has 18 verbal commitments (16 ESPN 300 members), is No. 1, while Texas A&M (13 verbal commits/nine ESPN 300 members) is ranked second.

Here's a complete look at how the SEC is faring on the recruiting front, as we enter the month of June:

ALABAMA

2015 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: You know that Nick Saban loves collecting gems in the secondary, and that's exactly what he has in four-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City, N.J. He's a very smart corner who has good size -- with room to grow -- to compete with bigger receivers.

ESPN 300 members: 16 (Fitzpatrick; WR Calvin Ridley of Coconut Creek, Fla.; WR Daylon Charlot of Patterson, La.; DT Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, Ga.; TE Hale Hentest of Jefferson City, Mo.; OLB Mekhi Brown of Columbus, Ga.; OG Lester Cotton of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; S Deionte Thompson of Orange, Texas; S Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek, Fla.; RB DeSherrius Flowers of Prichard, Ala.; OG Richie Petitbon of Washington, D.C.; DE Christian Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; DT T.D. Moton of Shreveport, La.; OG Dallas Warmack of Atlanta)

ARKANSAS

2015 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: Defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt of Warren, Ohio, is exactly what Bret Bielema wants and needs along his defensive line. The ESPN 300 member could add some weight, but has nice strength and quickness to make him a valuable get for the Razorbacks.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Froholdt; DE Jamario Bell of Junction City, Ark.)

AUBURN

2015 verbal commitments: 15

Spotlight: Athlete Kerryon Johnson of Madison, Ala., is not only the third-ranked athlete in this class, he's the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson could line up all over. He could be a running back or safety for the Tigers.

ESPN 300 members: 6 (Johnson; OLB Jordan Colbert of Griffin, Ga.; S Ben Edwards of Jacksonville, Fla.; OG Kaleb Kim of Hoschton, Ga.; ATH D'Anfernee McGriff of Tallahassee, Fla.; OG Marquel Harrell of Fairburn, Ga.)

FLORIDA

2015 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: The Gators need to upgrade in the offensive playmaking department and athlete Derrick Dillon of Franklington, La., has made a lot of noise as a quarterback, but will likely play receiver at the next level. With his speed and explosiveness, he'll fit right in with Kurt Roper's up-tempo, spread offense.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Dillon; OG Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Tristan Payton of Jacksonville, Fla.; S Deontai Williams of Jacksonville, Fla.)

GEORGIA

2015 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: Athlete Terry Godwin of Hogansville, Ga., could hit a couple positions of need for the Bulldogs. He has excellent ball skills to be a cornerback and his hands yell wide receiver. His speed and athleticism should only get better as the year progresses.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Godwin; DE Chauncey Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.; DE Natrez Patrick of Atlanta; S Rico McGraw of Nashville)

KENTUCKY

2015 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: As the Wildcats look to enhance their defensive talent, outside linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, Ky., is exactly what Mark Stoops needs. With questions and depth issues at linebacker, Stoops needs top-flight players to come in at that position, and Brown could be a great pass rusher for the Wildcats in the future.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Brown)

LSU

2015 verbal commitments: 12

Spotlight: Cornerback Kevin Toliver II of Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation's top-rated corner prospect and has the build of that prototypical, elite LSU corner. He has great size and instincts, and excels in man coverage.

ESPN 300 members: 5 (Toliver; OG Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas; RB Nick Brossette of Baton Rouge, La; RB Derrius Guice of Baton Rouge; S Kevin Henry of Baton Rouge)

MISSISSIPPI STATE

2015 verbal commitments: 16

Spotlight: Outside linebacker Timothy Washington of Yazoo City, Miss., could provide some very good depth if junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney decides to leave early for the NFL. He's still a little raw, but has the speed and quickness to be a real threat off the edge.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Washington)

MISSOURI

2015 verbal commitments: 7

Spotlight: Quarterback Drew Lock of Lee's Summit, Mo., could come in handy for the Tigers in the future. This is Maty Mauk's team, but once he's gone, let the battle begin. Lock is more of a drop-back passer than Mauk, but knows how to buy himself time in the pocket.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Lock)


OLE MISS

2015 verbal commitments: 6

Spotlight: The Rebels will have to help their depth at running back, and Eric Swinney of Tyrone, Ga., is a quick, strong, explosive back who has the ability to hit the home-run ball at any moment. Swinney's natural talent and upside could give him the opportunity to compete for playing time early.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Swinney; ATH Willie Hibbler of Sardis, Miss.)

SOUTH CAROLINA

2015 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Defensive end Arden Key of Lithonia, Ga., has great size at 6 feet 5 inches, and has plenty of room to grow with his 210-pound frame. He also has solid speed to cause trouble as a pass rusher and has the patience/strength to play well against the run.

ESPN 300 members: 5 (Key; ILB Sherrod Pittman of Jacksonville, Fla.; CB Mark Fields II of Cornelius N.C.; DE Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton, S.C.; WR Jalen Christian of Damascus, Md.)

TENNESSEE

2015 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Preston Williams of Lovejoy, Ga., is the prize of the class, as the nation's No. 2-ranked wide receiver. The Vols might have signed a couple of impressive receiving talents in the last couple of classes, but getting a big, physical and fast player like Williams on campus would be extra icing on the cake.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Williams; DE Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta, Ga.; OG Jack Jones of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; ATH Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro)

TEXAS A&M

2015 verbal commitments: 13

Spotlight: Don't be surprised by all the foaming at the mouth from Aggies fans after the commitment of quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas. He's the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB for a reason. He isn't the biggest player at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and delivers a beautiful ball inside and outside of the pocket.

ESPN 300 members: 9 (Murray; DT Daylon Mack of Gladewater, Texas; S Larry Pryor Jr. of Sulphur Springs, Texas; WR Kemah Siverand of Houston; OT Trevor Elbert of Heath, Texas; TE Jordan Davis of Houston; OT Connor Lanfear of Buda, Texas; RB Jay Bradford of Splendora, Texas; S Justin Dunning of Whitehouse, Texas)

VANDERBILT

2015 verbal commitments: 3

Spotlight: Cornerback Donovan Sheffield of Nashville would fill a hole at a position of need once on campus. He's a very patient and smart player, who has exceptional coverage skills.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Sheffield)

DESTIN, Fla. -- If the college football recruiting landscape does change, the SEC made sure this week that it will be ready.

A couple of weeks after watching the ACC propose an early signing period to begin on Aug. 1, the SEC on Wednesday offered its own recommendation to have a signing day on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said he hopes there won't be an early signing period, but if there is, he wants his league to be prepared.

The league wasn’t happy about the ACC’s proposal for an earlier signing period because of how it would change the recruiting calendar, something the SEC absolutely doesn't want. The league also decided that in its model, it would ban official visits for recruits who want to sign early, therefore lessening the pressure and clutter of having overstocked official visits during the season and on game weekends.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisMississippi State's Dan Mullen believes a late November early signing day would protect both the prospects and the schools.
SEC coaches believe that a signing period that comes after the college and high school regular seasons allows recruits to play out their senior seasons while studying the teams they’re interested in and figuring out coaching staff stability. By banning official visits for recruits who want to sign early, coaches wouldn't have to cram important recruiting visits in during the season and could focus on coaching their teams.

An early signing period would also save money as coaches wouldn't have to invest in recruiting trips to re-recruit already committed prospects.

“I’ve been a proponent of that for years,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “It’s long overdue.

“It clears the picture up.”

To Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, it clearly makes sense for the league.

“It’s one that keeps our calendar pretty consistent. It allows the guys that have been committed to their school to sign with that school,” Mullen said. “It also protects the student-athlete as best as possible.”

When Mullen says “protects,” he means that players who don’t want to bother with the recruiting process won’t have to hear from opposing coaches still trying to get their signature before national signing day on the first Wednesday of February. The recruit also would guarantee his spot in the class by signing early.

Mullen also said that the SEC's proposal would protect the schools that don’t want to lose those recruits with months remaining before they sign their national letters of intent.

In the current recruiting culture, you just can’t take every recruit at his word. This way, you take him at his signature before Christmas rolls around.

The SEC’s model would make the Monday after Thanksgiving a one-day signing day and a dead day for communication between coaches and recruits. The Sunday before would become a quiet day, and Tuesday would begin the next recruiting period.

Richt One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy.

-- Georgia coach Mark Richt, on an ACC proposal for an early signing day
The goal would be to not make this the new national signing day. This is just for the handful of prospects whose minds are made up.

“Obviously, if you’ve got guys that have signed and are with you no matter what, you don’t have to continue to worry, ‘Is this guy going to change his mind; is he going to flip at the last second?” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Everyone would like some sanity in that regard.”

What Richt does find insane is the ACC’s proposal to have an early signing period before the regular season even starts, which would essentially destroy the current recruiting calendar and rush spring and summer evaluations.

“One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy,” he said. “We think there would be no summer for anybody, no sanity for anybody.”

The SEC and ACC have plans, but whether this happens is unknown. To Florida coach Will Muschamp, getting enough people to agree on a date could be a mountain of an obstacle because of varying agendas for different schools.

“A lot of coaches, including myself, don't want an inordinate amount of visits during the season because it takes away from your football team and your preparation, your preparation for the next week, so I really think we're going to have a hard time agreeing on something that's good for everybody just because of the regions of the country,” Muschamp said. “A lot of the northern schools don't want kids visiting in January because it's freezing cold and they lie to them and tell them it's really warm year-round. I think that's something you've got to deal with, so I don't know if we're ever going to come to a common ground in my opinion, based on the information I have.”

Judging by what many conference members have said, it appears the sport is creeping closer and closer to an early signing day, with the interest mounting from coaches. What’s a little more change in college football, anyway?
When you’re one of the top junior college prospects in the country, the spring evaluation period can be both a blessing and a curse. Just ask defensive tackle D.J. Jones.

Jones already has offers from a who’s who of college football, including Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC.


Jones has taken a number of unofficial visits this spring, including recent trips to Auburn and Tennessee. Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and South Carolina look to be the schools highest on his list. But don’t be surprised if the Head Ball Coach lands Jones in the end. Jones is originally from Piedmont, S.C., and he openly talks about wanting to get back closer to home.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The state of Florida has become center of the recruiting universe in recent years. Whether it’s because it’s arguably the most talented state for prospects or the fact that teams go head-to-head in spring matchups, the Sunshine State has become the go-to state for college coaches in the spring evaluation period.

In the Jacksonville area, there is an abundance of talent in not only the Class of 2015 but in the 2016 and 2017 classes as well. Here is the latest news and notes from that talented part of the state.

Prediction time
[+] EnlargeJeffery Holland
Gerry Hamilton/ESPNOLB Jeffery Holland, No. 24 in the ESPN 300, says Auburn is a slight favorite, but Florida, UCLA, USC, Bama, Tennessee and Ohio State are still in the mix.
Jeffery Holland, No. 24 in the ESPN 300, continues to list Auburn as a “slight” favorite over Florida, with UCLA, USC, Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio State on the periphery. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound edge-rushing specialist had the Gators on top of his list from the start of his recruitment, but the Tigers have pulled in front in recent weeks. Holland is expected at Auburn’s “Big Cat Weekend” on May 31 with a decision possible in early July, or closer to the Under Armour All-America Game. Auburn and Florida are scheduled to be at the Trinity Christian spring game Thursday, with Florida recruiting him the hardest. Holland is working to be a mid-term graduate in December.


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Playmaker Bruce Ellington has departed for the NFL, but South Carolina already gained a commitment from a player who will remind their fans of the former standout. Below, Tom Luginbill gives his take on ESPN 300 wide receiver Jalen Christian:


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Many observers of football in Texas agree the SEC’s impact on the recruiting trail in the Lone Star State is going to only grow in the future. However, not every SEC team is making a beeline to Dallas, Houston and East Texas to recruit. Plus, both USC and UCLA did their best to impress one of the nation’s top corners recently.


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Charlotte NFTC awards 

March, 30, 2014
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte was the fifth Nike Football Training Camp stop for 2014. And after four straight strong turnouts, there was a bit of a dip in overall strength of talent.

While it was wet, the rain stayed away for the most part. Compared to a year ago when this tour stop featured harsh conditions, the weather this time wasn’t much of a factor. And while this event didn’t quite meet the high bar set in previous weeks, there were still some promising prospects in attendance. Here are some of the event's most notable performers in the RecruitingNation NFTC awards.


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ATLANTA -- Jawon Pass was sitting at a stoplight recently when he looked to his left and saw a Georgia Bulldogs bumper sticker. Then he turned to his right and saw a South Carolina Gamecocks logo staring at him from a window of another car. Then directly in front of him were vehicles with Tennessee Volunteers and Clemson Tigers license plate frames.

Pass, a highly regarded 2016 quarterback from Columbus (Ga.) Carver, has lived in 10 different cities while growing up, but when he arrived in Georgia six years ago, he immediately noticed things were different.

“There are fans from everywhere here,” said Pass, who already has scholarship offers from Clemson, Florida, Mississippi State, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. “Georgia is the heart of college football. Georgia fans are all over. But you’re also going to see a lot of Clemson, Auburn, Alabama fans and everybody else. It’s like nowhere else I’ve lived before. Georgia is the melting pot of college football, if you ask me.”


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Atlanta NFTC notebook 

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
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ROSWELL, Ga. -- The Atlanta Nike Football Training Camp is generally one of the most impressive groups of high school football players you will find in the country. This year’s camp didn’t disappoint. Eight invites were handed out to The Opening, a prestigious invite-only camp held in Beaverton, Ore., in July.


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SUGAR HILL, Ga. -- With the world’s busiest airport down the road, quarterbacks from across the country flocked to the Atlanta Elite 11 regional camp on Friday at Gary Pirkle Park, including several highly regarded passers from outside the Southeast.

Part of that group was Indianapolis Decatur Central’s Tommy Stevens. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Stevens traveled more than 500 miles, but it was worth every mile because he proved he has the tools to compete with the best of the best.


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