NCF On The Trail: Morgan Mahalak

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Here’s are a few: WR Isaiah McKenzie is a bolt of lightning. He can really run, and while he may lack ideal measurables, he has some Tavon Austin qualities. RB Jeff Jones has flown way under the radar during the recruiting cycle and has been very impressive with his speed and explosiveness. We are still trying to figure out why no one is recruiting OC Jacob Bragg. We are hoping this week will open up some eyes. He has looked good. Considering four of our six original QBs have gone down to injuries and won’t be playing, we have been pleased with the likes of Rafe Peavey, Morgan Mahalak and Sean White as well. DT Garrald McDowell may be undersized, but he has been overlooked much in the same was as Isaac Gross was a couple years back down here for a lack of size.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Wednesday's Early Offering is coming to you from the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando. Here’s a sampling of some of the top news from the event so far and a look at who stood out in the third day of practices

[+] EnlargeTony Brown
Miller Safrit/ESPNA shoulder injury sustained on Tuesday could keep Tony Brown out of the UA game.
Brown suffers shoulder injury
Cornerback Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) was having a tremendous week of practices at the UA Game, but his week took a sudden turn when he suffered a shoulder injury during Tuesday’s practices. Brown was hurt while reaching to defend a pass in a non-contact coverage drill. He received medical attention at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and was transported from the practice facility by cart, his head buried in his hands and his arm in a sling. Brown's mother said Tuesday afternoon that her son still would like to play in the game, but it’s unclear whether he will. He is still on schedule to announce his college decision.
Three days of practice are now in the books and overall execution was sharper as the players begin to move into final preparations for the Under Armour All-America Game on Thursday. The productivity of the players picked up as did the speed of the play, and they’re continuing to think less and display their natural ability more. It was a physical day, with the pads popping and some big hits throughout the practice. Here are some of the highlights.

Top performers


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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- One thing is for sure for all the 2014 Under Armour All-Americans: This isn’t high school anymore. Day 1 is about gauging the competition. Some guys dive right in and some test the waters with their big toe, but by the end of the first day of practice, all those in attendance have a pretty good idea of where they stand and what they need to do to compete and get better.

Given that it is Day 1, the playbook is introduced (Team Nitro is going no huddle with wrist bands and limited plays), and there can be sloppy moments of indecision and uncertainty. With each rep, most, if not all, prospects began to get a better feel for what is expected. Most importantly, the center-quarterback exchanges were very good for the most part, which is generally the biggest worry. Upon completion of the first practice, here are some observations and things to look for over the week:

Top Performers


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Under Armour Game predictions 

December, 27, 2013
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If past Under Armour All-America Games have taught us anything, it's that we should expect the unexpected. Yes, there are some announcements where there’s not a lot of drama and it’s just a case of a player going public with a decision that everybody has already known about for months. There will be others where there is plenty of suspense throughout the week of practices and the pick will cause controversy in the end. Heck, this is the same game that we saw Landon Collins’ mom become a YouTube sensation when she disagreed with her son’s decision to commit to Alabama and spurn LSU. It’s what makes the Under Armour Game special, and ESPN RecruitingNation’s Jeremy Crabtree has some predictions on what we’ll see over the next seven days.

Fournette won’t be bothered by attention
When you’re the nation’s No. 1 player, you’re already used to the spotlight and never-ending attention from fans and media. But at the UA Game, No. 1-ranked Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) is going to be in a fishbowl even more than before. Everything he does this week will be documented for the whole world to see. Every rep in practice. Every interview after. Even when he’s hanging out in the hotel, there will likely be somebody there to tweet or discuss it. That will put a tremendous amount of pressure on Fournette, but those expecting him to fall at some point this week will be sorely disappointed. Fournette will prove once again on and off the field why he’s the best in the country and serve as an example of how other elite prospects should handle the recruiting process for years to come.


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Top Pac-12 Under Armour Game targets 

December, 26, 2013
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While there won't be a ton of West region prospects at the Under Armour All-America Game, there are a few extremely important targets for Pac-12 programs.

1. CB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra)

Jackson is the No. 7 prospect and No. 1 player in the West region, and he is still looking at a number of programs, including Florida, Florida State, LSU, Oregon and USC. The Ducks are clearly on the outside looking in, as Jackson hasn't yet visited Eugene -- though he does have one final official visit at his disposal. The Trojans got a big boost recently when Jackson visited Las Vegas and took in USC's bowl win over Fresno State, and Jackson's teammate, quarterback Jalen Greene, received an offer and committed to USC. Florida, Florida State and LSU have long been in the running thanks to strong football and track and field programs; Jackson is a decorated long jumper with dreams of participating in the 2016 Olympics.


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The 2014 Under Armour All-America game week has arrived, and the collection of talent is outstanding, with a roster that consists of nearly 90 ESPN 300 prospects, including 13 five-star recruits.

Throughout the week there will be plenty of electrifying plays and great battles. Below are some of the matchups to keep an eye on during the practices and the game (Jan. 2, ESPN, 4 p.m. ET).

OT Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La.) vs. DE Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin)
Robinson and Garrett are the top-rated players at their respective positions and among the top five nationally, setting the stage for some great battles throughout the week of practice. With both possessing prototypical measurables for their positions, the tale of the tape portrays a heavyweight-like showdown.

In Robinson, you have a nimble big man capable of protecting the edge. The Alabama verbal can set quickly with knee bend, get hands on and mirror rushers. He also displays some nastiness and a competitive nature. In Garrett, you have a defender with an impressive combination of size, initial quickness and athleticism. As a pass-rusher, the Texas A&M verbal possesses the ability to attack blockers in multiple ways and keep them guessing. When these two line up across from each other, neither will be able to rely on his size and natural ability alone. Robinson will need to be sound in technique, and Garrett will need to have a plan. Both will need to bring their A-games.

WR Ermon Lane (Miami/Homestead) vs. CB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen)
Players at these two positions often are challenged the least during their high school careers; they are often the best skilled athlete on the field and can get away with being undisciplined or taking chances because they compensate by being athletically superior. Brown and Lane are going to find out what they are made of in one-on-one situations, because the defenses will be in man coverage the entire week. In 2008, Janoris Jenkins and Julio Jones matched up on the first day of practice, and Jones got stunned for the first few reps. That relationship created an incredibly competitive environment.

When I think of competitive, Tony Brown comes to mind. He also will be confident. Lane must bring his best stuff and use his size and strength to make plays in tight quarters. It is always fun to see who sinks and who swims. When you get beat, do you sulk and go in the tank or do you rise up and play the next down? Something tells me these two will battle in quite a few contested matchups during the week.

OG Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls) vs. DT Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, Va./Frommel Smith)
With a wealth of talent along the offensive and defensive lines, the trenches will provide some great matchups all week. A great battle to watch inside will be between No. 1 defensive tackle Brown and top-rated guard Pierschbacher. Brown, who is committed to Virginia, is an explosive player capable of being a handful as a pass-rusher, while Alabama verbal Pierschbacher can be a tenacious blocker. Working around Pierschbacher could be tough, as he can set quickly and move easily laterally, though with a nice combination of size and power, Brown could challenge Pierschbacher with his bull rush.

DE Chad Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington) vs. OT Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle Institute
In a class that features very few true pass-rushers but several topflight run-stoppers, DE Chad Thomas likely will stand out in one-on-one situations. He will be one of the best natural pass-rushers in the 2014 Under Armour All-America game. Conversely, Jamarco Jones is one of the more athletic big men in attendance, but as with most young offensive tackles, he can be raw and technically unrefined. This is where the offense is at a distinct disadvantage. Thomas will be able to pin his ears back and go with an athletic edge between the two. Jones will have to pay close attention to his feet, balance, bend and lateral agility to hold up against Thomas' speed and explosive first step. However, where Jones can shut down Thomas is by using his strength and getting his hands on Thomas quickly. Thomas is undersized and lacks lower-body strength, which Jones must take advantage of to try to frustrate Thomas off the edge.

ATH Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) vs. CB Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic)
When the paths of these two five-stars cross at the UA game, it will be a meeting of players with outstanding athleticism. Both could line up at multiple positions and have an impact, but No. 1 CB Peppers will be roaming the secondary, while top-rated athlete Noil will be lining up at receiver. Peppers is a fluid athlete with good size and great speed and can be a lockdown corner.

With Noil, the name Speedy pretty much sums it up, as the kid can fly. He fills multiple roles for his high school and thus is still a bit limited in experience at receiver, but he possesses soft hands and is a talented athlete with a bit of a natural feel for the position. If he isn't sharp in his route running, creating separation against Peppers could be tough, but if Noil can get his hands on the ball, he can be very dangerous in the open field. These are two playmakers capable of bringing out the best in each other and providing an exciting matchup.

QB-PP Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) vs. Defensive secondary
Unfortunately, we have had four of our six Under Armour All-America game quarterbacks go down with injuries this fall. The bright side is that this provides opportunities for other worthy signal-callers, including Mahalak. We chose Mahalak vs. the entire secondary because this is going to be a significant jump in talent and speed for him when it comes to timing, anticipation and accuracy. In fact, this will be the biggest adjustment for all the quarterbacks.

Mahalak is a wonderful athlete and an instinctive player who spent time as a wide receiver and kick returner before becoming a full-time quarterback as a senior. But he actually hasn't played all that much, since he played on a dominant team that rarely gave him many snaps after halftime of games. The likes of J.C. Jackson (Immokalee, Fla./Immokalee), Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) and S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron), among others, will provide a great measuring stick for Mahalak and all the quarterbacks.

TE Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Christian) vs. S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron)
Both rated No. 3 at their respective positions, these two could make for some hard-fought battles in practice. Adams plays smart, fast and physical, and making plays against this top-25 prospect can be tough for any target, including Blazevich. While getting open against the talented safety will be challenging, Blazevich still can present a tough matchup. The Georgia commit has the size advantage, which can allow him to make the play in jump-ball situations. He has strong hands and good body control to adjust to passes, and even when covered he still can make the grab. Lastly, while he might not be able to run away from Adams, he displays some savvy as a route runner that could help him to create separation at times.

WR Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) vs. CB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
This is a matchup of perhaps the best route runner and set of ball skills (Rudolph) against the best pure cover corner when it comes to explosive quickness (Jackson) this game has to offer. Rudolph is a technician when it comes to route running. He consistently understands leverage, attacks alignment, eats up cushion, stays low and perhaps most important snaps his head around to be prepared for the football. As expected, this will force Jackson to employ the same level of discipline in man coverage, as he will not be able to rely solely on his superior skill set. Rudolph is really skilled at creating separation, and Jackson has proved he can close the gap. Something has to give. One thing is for sure, Jackson's coverage likely will be in place, but can he make plays on the ball against a player who relishes contested matchups? This is going to be a fun one-on-one to watch.

Under Armour game storylines: Pac-12 

December, 5, 2013
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The rosters for the Under Armour All-America Game were released Wednesday night, and several Pac-12 commits and targets are scheduled to take part.

Here are the top five storylines that Pac-12 recruiting fans should be watching for during the week of practices and the game, which is set for 4 p.m. ET on Jan. 2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will be televised on ESPN.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

December, 2, 2013
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Rivalry weekend brought plenty of excitement to the Pac-12, but it didn’t produce much recruiting activity aside from a few official visits. There were plenty of interested eyes across the West region, though, as UCLA knocked off USC for the second consecutive season, Arizona State reclaimed the Territorial Cup, and Oregon and Washington held off their in-state rivals.


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Early Offer: Tide tightens grip on No. 1 

November, 18, 2013
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: With the newest edition of the BCS rankings released, we take a look at the biggest headlines of the top five teams from the recruiting trail.


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Pac-12 recruiting storylines: Nov. 14 

November, 14, 2013
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A number of Pac-12 programs will have a chance to make statements this weekend that could help them greatly on the recruiting trail. The biggest game will take place at the Coliseum, as USC hosts Stanford, but both Washington programs will have a chance to make statements, while Oregon will have two important visitors on campus.

USC's second chance


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Pac-12 recruiting storylines: Nov. 7 

November, 7, 2013
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The game of the year in the Pac-12 is finally here, as recruits will tune in Thursday night to watch Stanford host Oregon (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). The UCLA Bruins proved that the offensive line recruiting magic from last year's class is still alive and well. Official visitors will be on hand at Utah and Cal. And fans of Arizona State and Oregon could get a glimpse of the future during a high-stakes high school clash on Saturday.

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It has been well documented over the past few years that programs have little choice when it comes to some aspects of the college football recruiting process.

Whether it is extending offers to juniors, sophomores, freshmen and eighth-graders, or the first 100-piece bundle of mail that chokes a prospect's mailbox, coaches across the country have rushed to catch up and join the race.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireCoach David Shaw and Stanford have limited in-season official visits and have a "Big Visit" weekend in January for recruits.
But while the unofficial visit and recruiting mailings become more and more important to the process, the official visit remains a significant tool, and one of the few remaining recruiting tactics that can be wholly personal to a coaching staff and program.

When most recruits begin thinking about what official visits they want to take, the first thing they discuss is what big games they'll be able to attend. In the Pac-12 this season, there won't be any official visitors for two of the biggest games recruits will be watching -- when Oregon visits Stanford and USC hosts UCLA -- because the Cardinal and Trojans have decreased in-season official visits.

"For a long time, there was kind of a lore that the official visit is about getting to see a game -- a notion that has been in movies, on television, in books and magazines," said Mike Eubanks, Stanford Assistant Athletic Director and Director of Football Administration. "The official visit is about going to see a game, see what the campus is like afterward and then sitting down in the coach's office."

But as Pac-12 coaching staffs dissect exactly what they want to showcase during an official visit, several schools are continuing to focus visits around a game weekend, while others have targeted the offseason as the best time to bring in official visitors.

Oregon, Utah and Washington State have combined to host 33 official visitors this season, compared to 27 for the rest of the conference combined.

It's not surprising to see those three programs hosting visitors during the fall. Not only could weather concerns in late January put a damper on bringing a majority of recruits in then, but Oregon specifically can take advantage of its game-day atmosphere.

"They're really cool either way and encourage you to go up and see a game," said Oregon quarterback commit Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) of the Ducks' coaches and visits. "It's a pretty fun game-day atmosphere to experience."

Mahalak said the policy has paid dividends already this season, as Oregon grabbed verbal commitments from ESPN 300 running back Tony James (Gainesville, Fla./Gainesville) and four-star receiver Jalen Brown (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe) after official visits.

"[Brown] had a great visit for the Tennessee game," Mahalak said. "I think that was huge for him to see what it'd be like to play there. You definitely leave Oregon after a visit with a better sense of the program."

Last weekend, Arizona had its first opportunity to host official visitors. The Wildcats went two-for-two with their uncommitted targets, grabbing commitments from offensive linemen Layth Friekh (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial) and Levi Walton (Cape Coral, Fla./Ida Baker).

Friekh, like more than a few recruits, said taking an official visit at this stage was a priority for him.

"Since I was planning on committing early, they said to come in whenever I wanted," Friekh said of the Arizona coaches. "It was really important for me to take an official visit now because I wanted to see if the school is behind the team and if all the fans are behind the team. I didn't want to go to a school where nobody supports the team, so that was cool to see."

While Friekh said he felt he had enough time with the Arizona coaches, that seems to be the biggest worry among schools -- Arizona included -- looking to push visits into the offseason.

"You want to be able to spend the whole 48 hours with them," said Matt Dudek, Arizona's Director of On-Campus Recruiting and Player Personnel. "You don't want to be worrying about a football game and you don't want to waste it, because we believe that you'll fall in love with our coaches when you get some extended time hanging out with them. That's our No. 1 selling point."

Dudek said an official visit on a game-day weekend is "more hectic than crazy or difficult," but they will always try to get official visitors to come after the season in order to spend more time with them.

"Every kid is different and we're never going to say no if a guy wants to come on an official during the season," Dudek said. "Some want to come on a game day, and if that's your deal breaker, you come on game day. There's a little less time to hang out and ask a bunch of questions at each stop. Out of season, it's no big deal to be five or 10 minutes behind schedule, but if there is a game scheduled for 7 p.m., that's not going to change."

For USC, Dec. 13 seems to be the first big recruiting weekend -- though what happens with the coaching staff could determine the true schedule of events. In the 2013 class, USC didn't host a visitor before Dec. 7, which was the big weekend for early enrollees. But the Trojans also found out the hard way this season that having a plan for official visits and carrying it out successfully can be two different things.

Enter the somewhat strange case of ESPN 300 cornerback Adarius Pickett (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito). Early in the process, it looked as though USC had the inside track for a commitment from Pickett, and the four-star cornerback alerted all his potential choices in the spring that he would take his official visits in the first four weeks of his season, then announce his decision the following week.

UCLA, going with the growing trend in the conference, suggested that Pickett wait to take his visit after the season.

"I explained to them what I was trying to do and they said it was fine with them," Pickett said of the Bruins' coaches allowing him to take an official visit for the first game of the season. "I told [USC coach Clay Helton] during the spring that I was going to UCLA first week and that I wanted to try to set up a visit to come down after my fourth game."

That visit to USC wasn't allowed to happen. Pickett said the decision to deny him an opportunity to take an official visit during the season ultimately came from coach Lane Kiffin and was delivered through Helton, but it didn't come as much of a surprise when Pickett announced his commitment to the Bruins following that conversation and his UCLA visit.

In large part though, USC's shift over the past few years to a January-centric visit schedule has paid dividends, and it's something Stanford has found success with as well.

In the 2013 class, 13 of the Cardinal's 14 eventual signees took their official visits during the "Big Visit" weekend in January. It's a success rate that is helped both by the number of already-committed prospects in attendance, as well as a clear message from the beginning about the official visit policy.

"By the time we get far enough into the process and building relationships, if somebody has this interest in Stanford and we're still with them because they've met all the academic challenges we've given them, then the recruit who has met us that far along in the journey tends to have the perspective and values that wants their official visit to be the same thing we want their official visit to be," Eubanks said.

That includes having the Big Visit begin on a Friday morning in the offseason, which allows Stanford to give its visitors an extensive look at a full day on campus during the school year -- something that is virtually impossible to do with an in-season visit, as recruits either have school or football responsibility on Friday and often can't arrive on campus until Saturday.

"To have somebody come here and not see a class is really shortchanging a good look at what Stanford should be," Eubanks said. "If it's just Saturday and Sunday, you've not done anything to address the academic question, which is maybe one of the biggest questions in the mind of these young scholar-athletes. That's pretty important for us."

While prospects will almost always hold the cards when it comes to their recruitment, it's easy to notice a fairly sizeable shift in the visit schedules for Pac-12 programs. While schools such as Oregon, Utah and Washington -- among others -- will almost always look to take advantage of nationally-recognized game-day atmospheres, Eubanks was careful to point out that it's important to note the decision to move away from in-season visits -- for Stanford and the other conference schools -- can't be seen as hiding from that experience.

"Especially as a national recruiter, going up against these giant stadiums with highly-regarded game day atmospheres, you don't want to make it look like you're hiding," Eubanks said. "If you argue against the importance of the game or the game day atmosphere to a young man who thinks the most exciting experience is to be on the big stage that he's dreamed of since he was little... If at any point you are dictating how things should be done, or talking instead of listening, you can lose them. And if you do, then that's rightfully so."

Top 5 under-the-radar quarterbacks 

October, 16, 2013
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Everyone knows about top-ranked quarterbacks such as Deshaun Watson and Keller Chryst. But those aren't the only ones with a chance to make an impact in college. The following five players may have flown under the radar -- for reasons ranging from injury to playing in a non-traditional football area -- but four seem to have found the right college fit and therefore could excel at the next level.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 14, 2013
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A Pac-12 North showdown went decidedly to the Ducks, while two Pac-12 South programs added impressive commitments this weekend. There also seems to be some positive energy coming from USC, while a number of future Pac-12 signal-callers put together impressive performances this past Friday.

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