UA Game notebook: First impressions
December, 29, 2013
By Derek Tyson | ESPN.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -– Team Nitro and Team Highlight took to the fields at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports on an overcast Sunday morning for Day 1 of practice for Thursday's Under Armour All-America Game (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET). There were several players who impressed, a top linebacker is feeling pressure to stay at home and the nation's No. 1-ranked player isn’t too concerned with his lack of touches on the first day.
ESPN 300 linebacker feeling the pressure
Four-star linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) was one of the most impressive-looking linebackers during individual drills. The No. 84-ranked player in the country continues to have four schools at the top of his list.
"I still have four schools -- Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and UCLA -- on top,” Evans said. “Those four schools, they are pretty even. I’m going to take this whole thing slow and pretty much I’m going to take it out to signing day.”
Miller Safrit/ESPNRashaan Evans is feeling the pressure from hometown fans off the field.
Evans already took an official visit to UCLA in September and is planning to take two other visits in January.
"I’ll take either Bama or Auburn on Jan. 17,” he said, "and then on the 24th maybe Georgia."
As a native of Auburn, Ala., Evans admits he feels constant pressure to stay at home.
"It’s pretty bad,” Evans said. "Most of the time my day consists of Auburn people telling me, ‘Hey, don’t go to Bama, go to Auburn.’ It’s pretty bad, because most of the people I’m around are Auburn alumni. So I hear about Auburn each and every day. So when I go on visits, everybody knows about it and they always shoot me messages about Auburn.
"I feel like I would disappoint people if I did go somewhere other than Auburn. I’m in Auburn, I love Auburn, I’ve lived in Auburn all my life. I have family at Auburn. Most of my family has graduated from Auburn. People would be curious as to why I would want to leave Auburn, but at the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for me."
Coaches impressedTeam Highlight quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke was impressed with his group of QBs during the first practice. LSU commit Brandon Harris (Bossier City, La./Parkway), Penn State commit Michael O’Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG) and Auburn commit Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School) all made nice throws during the course of the practice.
"I think the one thing is that is they have to understand, schematically, what they are doing right now,” Weinke said. "The first day always creates hesitation. I spent more time with Harris, White and O’Connor, but looking at all six guys, they all did a nice job on the first day.
"Brandon Harris spins the ball really well. The one thing with him is now he has to tie his feet in to what he’s doing. O’Connor did a nice job of being very accurate throwing the ball today. Sean White did a heck of a job making some throws in some tight spots.”
Defensively, Team Highlight linebackers coach LaVar Arrington already has a good feeling about his players, which he thinks are a special group.
“I know they’re good when I remember their names, and I remember all my guy’s names,” he said. “They have nicknames. They were balling so hard I nicknamed them. You have Jacob Pugh, so I call him J.P., Kain Daub is K.D. and Tre’ [Williams] is a nickname in itself.
“Then Rashaan [Evans], I grew up being called Shad, so he’s Shad.”
Fournette not worried about carries
Running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), the nation’s top prospect, handled the football only a few times during nearly three hours of practice.
On one of the opportunities designed for him to get the ball, White kept the ball on an option play when Fournette clearly had an open lane. It resulted in one of the funnier moments of the day: One of the Team Highlight assistants pointed over to Fournette and asked White, "You see him? That's the No. 1 running back in the country. You are to get the ball to him and he's supposed to run around and over people. You can't do that."
Miller Safrit/ESPNLeonard Fournette likely will have a much busier day Monday than he did on Sunday.
For his part, Fournette said he’s not concerned. It's not the focus of his trip to Florida.
“It’s about the decisions we have to make,” said Fournette, one of seven players who will announce their commitments during Thursday's game. “We have to focus on the decisions at the end of the day.”
Fournette slimmed his options early in the season to LSU and Alabama. Recently, he added Texas to the list of finalists at the urging of Saint Augustine teammate Jermaine Roberts, a receiver committed to the Longhorns.
Texas is considered a significant darkhorse for Fournette, who did not take an official visit to the school but made it to Austin, Texas, for an unofficial trip last summer.
Still, Fournette said, he’s not penalizing UT for its lack of a head coach as Mack Brown steps aside after the Valero Alamo Bowl on Monday against Oregon.
“Doesn’t concern me at all,” Fournette said.
He also won’t be swayed by the advice of fellow prospects here.
“Everybody’s going to go on their own path, do their own thing,” Fournette said.
Fournette said he would settle on a school after speaking with his parents, who arrive in Orlando on Tuesday.
Top social media posts
There were some great one-on-one battles Sunday. Here are some highlights:
Miami-bound offensive lineman Trevor Darling (Miami/Central), who usually plays left tackle, lined up at left guard during the one-on-one portion and more than held his own. Here’s a look at Darling winning a matchup against Georgia-bound defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard (Fayetteville, N.C./Pine Forest).
Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) also impressed on the first day of practices. Here’s Carter getting the better of Michigan commit Juwann Bushell-Beatty (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic).
Uncommitted Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville), the No. 2-ranked safety in the country, had a tremendous pass breakup on the goal line during the team portion of practice.
Speedy Noil, the No. 8-ranked prospect in the country, put on a show the first day of practice. He hauled in pass after pass and did it all while wearing a gold watch on his wrist. The five-star receiver even had an impressive one-handed catch.
Michigan-bound defensive back Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic), the nation's No. 2-ranked prospect, took on Florida-bound receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead Senior), the nation's No. 28-ranked recruit, in one-on-ones. Lane got the better of Peppers the first two reps, but the two will have plenty of time to battle it out leading up to the game.
Qualifiers for the American Family Insurance Skills Challenge
After practice concluded Sunday, several players competed for spots in the finals of the American Family Insurance Skills challenge. The finals will air on Jan. 1 (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET). Here’s a look at who has qualified for the finals so far:
RB Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) -- Auburn commit
LB Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) -- uncommitted
LB Melvin Keihn (Baltimore, Md./Gilman School) -- Virginia Tech commit
Wide receiver/defensive backs
TE Jacory Washington (Westlake, La./Westlake) -- LSU commit
CB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) -- uncommitted
CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover) -- uncommitted
Jeremy Crabtree, Mitch Sherman and Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.