Nation's best comes out to close out the camp season at Gridiron Kings
64 of the top players in the country came out in the blistering Florida heat and humidity to cap off the end of the football camp season at the annual Gridiron Kings. With only pool play on Saturday among the four teams, split up generally be region, the first day of the two day event was generally just a get-to-know-you competition but plenty of action happened in Orlando.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- 64 of the top players in the country came out in the blistering Florida heat and humidity to cap off the end of the football camp season with a bang at the annual Gridiron Kings just outside Disney World. With only pool play on Saturday among the four teams, split up generally be region, the first day of the two day event was generally just a get-to-know-you competition as teams polished off their offensive play calls and learned to play with each other on defense before the games count on Sunday with the television cameras turned on.
One player who already had been warmed up was Wyomissing (Pa.) linebacker Alex Anzalone, who used his trip down to the Sunshine State to also participate in Florida's annual end of summer camp, Friday Night Lights.
"It was a lot of fun, I got to compete with the Florida boys and see what they're all about," Anzalone said. "I was able to get some tips from the coaches there and just had a good time.
"I had a ride there and was down here for free (in Florida for Gridiron Kings) so I might as well get some competition in. It was more than just 7-on-7 like here so I just wanted to do that."
The talented middle linebacker had strongly considered the Florida Gators when going through his recruitment. Anzalone committed to Notre Dame Fighting Irish at The Opening during the first week of July and assured the media that he was still "very solid" to the Irish despite the visit as the trip was just something on the bucket list that he had a last minute opportunity to take part in.
"I grew up a Florida fan. Even last night, it was just cool to play in the Swamp, something I always wanted to do when I was a kid," he said. "It was just a cool experience for me and hard to pass up.
"I think the position drills and the agility drills they had in the beginning were pretty intense -- they give you a good workout."
The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder was one of the rare top prospects from the class of 2013 that actually went though most of the drills on Friday and still managed to follow it up with a good day at Gridiron Kings despite the conditions. He took some time to talk with the coaching staff while in Gainesville and also stayed afterward to catch up with them and several other Florida prospects that came up.
"They're great guys, I know coach (Dan) Quinn has NFL experience, coach (Will) Muschamp has NFL experience, coach (D.J.) Durkin has coached at schools all across the country," Anzalone said of the staff. "They all have great experience that they can teach me and help me refine my technique."
While the surprise visit -- several folks tried to keep it a secret as best they could before he showed up at The Swamp -- made several folks raise an eyebrow, Anzalone made it clear that this trip wasn't at all about recruiting and that not even the Gators commitments were really trying to sell him on the program since he had committed elsewhere.
"No one was really trying," he said of others in his ear. "No one is trying to knock my decision down. They just presented, they didn't really do anything."
Anzalone is still undecided on taking official visits to schools other than Notre Dame but seemed to be leaning toward not doing them. He was prompted to go to the camp and unofficially visit Florida after his good friend and Tampa (Fla.) defensive end Jordan Sherit texted and even drove to Orlando to pick him up and take him back for Gridiron Kings. The pair has talked about playing together in college but are respectful enough of the process and each's decision that it very likely won't end up happening after Sherit committed to Florida Saturday afternoon.
FULLER READY TO PULL THE TRIGGER
In addition to the championship tournament on Sunday, a lot of eyes will be on Olney (Md.) cornerback Kendall Fuller as the four-star is set to make his commitment at Gridiron Kings between Virginia Tech and Clemson after months of speculation between the two.
"I'd say I'm excited," Fuller said. "I'm ready to get this recruiting process to an end and focus on the season."
Ranked as the No. 3 corner in the country by MaxPreps, Fuller took the two weeks in between The Opening and Gridiron Kings to take unofficial visits to both Clemson and Blacksburg to talk with the coaching staff, step into the stadium one more time and get one final pitch before pulling the trigger and committing.
"I didn't really learn anything, I was just waiting for that gut-feeling," he said. "I love both schools, I just wanted to get back out to both schools and be around the coaches and the players. I was just waiting for that feeling."
Fuller has had three brother become Virginia Tech Hokies and play for the program so familiarity with the staff and the school is considered to give them the slight edge when he eventually puts on a hat Sunday. Still, the Missouri Tigers have made quite the run on him and given how their recruiting class is full of momentum and contains the top player in the country, it's clear this is very much a tough, split decision.
"Clemson was great, it's a great family environment," Fuller added. "It's a good coaching staff and their defense has a lot of speed to them. They're definitely coming up and on a run after winning the ACC championship."
The 6-foot, 175-pounder is scheduled to announce between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET at the event. He is ranked No. 42 overall in the country and had a very good day on a Midwest squad that struggled at times as a team, picking off Georgia Bulldogs commit Brice Ramsey on one of the most notable plays he made.
MCQUAY RELAXED DESPITE RECRUITING ROLLERCOASTER
Of all the players at Gridiron Kings, Seffner (Fla.) safety Leon McQuay III might be the one with the biggest smile and most relaxed look on his face on and off the field. Savvy, smart and rangy, the talented five-star is fitting right in at a big national event on a lock-down secondary for the Southeast team that didn't allow much through the air while going 3-0 during pool play.
"I pretty much know all the coaches so that's a good thing," McQuay said. "I know most of the players too so it's comfortable."
The soft-spoken 6-foot-2, 190-pounder does not speak about his recruitment with the enthusiasm other top players do but he did discuss why his top three changed in the past week or so to Florida State, Southern California Trojans and Vanderbilt Commodores .
" Michigan Wolverines was in my top three but they were trying to get me to commit and I wasn't ready to commit yet," he said. "They said by the time I was ready, they might not have a scholarship available for me. If they don't have a scholarship available, there's no use for them to be in my top three.
"It is a great school with great fans. There's a lot of tradition, everything about them I liked a lot. I just wasn't ready yet."
McQuay banged knees with South Carolina Gamecocks commit Larenz Bryant on a play late in the Southeast's third game but appeared fine after walking off the injury. He helped form a Tampa-area no-fly zone with good friend and 7-on-7 travel teammate Vernon Hargreaves III and both combined for close to a double-digit number of picks. While Hargreaves recently committed to Florida this week, McQuay has moved their rival into the top three he's considering after the issues with Michigan.
"it's close to home," he said of the Florida State Seminoles . "They've got great coaches like (Mark) Stoops. It's just a great school. I talk to (receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey) too."
Proximity to home isn't a factor for the five-star and No. 4 safety in the country. McQuay has had a pretty good idea of what he's looking for in a program but, in part because of a busy summer filled with training, camps and 7-on-7, will likely take all of his official visits and generally let the recruiting process come to him instead of rush into a decision.
"I want a good opportunity to play, young teams that are coming up and they have great coaches," he said. "I'm interested in music and those are two great music cities."
McQuay has consistently had the Southern California Trojans in his top group and that's no surprise being a Tampa-area player the program is taking a long look at and recruiting heavily. The program has lured recruits out the area with good success in the past and they seem to have a talented safety that both Kiffins at the school have been pushing hard to don the cardinal and gold.
"I talk to coach Monte the most, that's pretty much who I talk to all the time unless he puts me on with somebody else like coach Lane," McQuay said. "We have a great relationship. He knows what he's doing. It's a great school, you've got him and he can make me a lot better than what I am and prepare me for the next level."
USC currently has the top ranked class in the country and though McQuay talked about an up and coming program being a selling point as opposed to a negative, he admitted that bringing in a group like the Trojans' staff is in 2013 is something in the back of his mind.
"I know when we get there we'll probably win the national championship," he added.
Florida State, Vanderbilt and USC will all receive official visits.
Virginia Beach (Va.) safety Quin Blanding
Yet again the 2014 prospect has shown up at a national competition and looked like one of the top guys at the event despite going against elite players a year older. He did a little bit of everything for the Midwest team on Saturday, from a touchdown reception to a pair of interceptions. Blanding has phenomenal body control and has a huge coverage range at safety given his quickness and long arms. at this point, there's no question the Virginian is a five-star for next year.
Tampa (Fla.) corner Vernon Hargreaves (#16, left)
The country's top corner did everything he could to live up to his ranking and then some. Despite playing a lot of safety, he didn't let anything past him and was an interception-machine after racking up the most picks total on day one and at least one in every game. The thing that makes Hargreaves so good isn't his size or speed (which are both very good for a corner) but being so savy when playing zone, quickness and anticipation of where the quarterback is going.
Orlando (Fla.) safety Marcell Harris
He only played the first two games before taking an ice bath and sitting out the third but Harris left quite an impact on the field. He looked bigger than a lot of linebackers at the event but closed on his man like a corner, knocking away several balls after coming out of nowhere. He ended up dropping a few interceptions but still left quite an impact for the Southwest squad.
Prattville (Ala.) tight end O.J. Howard
As one Rivals reporter remarked, Howard probably made the top performer list by merely stepping on the field. He looks the part and is a match up nightmare for linebackers because he's so big and physical but runs like a wide receiver. The Southeast didn't use him as much as they should but you can bet quarterback Brice Ramsey will look Howard's way just about every time on Sunday.
Tampa (Fla.) tight end Travis Johnson
Johnson was Mr. Reliable on Saturday as he caught just about everything thrown his way. He did have a drop and it was almost shocking after snagging every ball up to that point -- it was that good of a day for him. He's not super fast but he can still create match up problems as a stand up guy that can find open space along with making tough catches in traffic over the middle. Midwest quarterback Shane Morris had pretty much only two targets on day one and Johnson was one of them.
Seffner (Fla.) safety Leon McQuay
Lining up next to Hargreaves made things easy on McQuay but he was also part of the reason why the Southeast team looked so dominant on defense. He's so deceptive in that he can cover a ton of ground from the sideline to about midfield in an instant.
Orlando (Fla.) wide receiver Tony Stevens
One of the locals, Stevens also ended up as the top wideout at Gridiron Kings on an afternoon in which the conditions were very familiar to him. He didn't have the most accurate quarterback but that didn't seem to matter as he was Mr. Catch and Run on Saturday, turning up field and jetting to the end zone for several big plays. He's surprisingly shifty and though he's got a thin frame he can still do everything a receiver needs to.
Crete (Ill.) wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell
At times on Saturday, it was just the Shane Morris-to-LaQuon Treadwell show for the Midwest team. The pair really hit their stride during the second game and it seemed like every other throw to Treadwell making a big time catch. He's been on a tear against some very good secondaries as of late and there's not doubt that he's done well against them. The best part of his game at Gridiron Kings was that he was able to run just about every route -- fade, stop, slant, etc. -- and get open or at least open enough that the quarterback could get it to him. He didn't drop any easy ones and made the hard ones look easy as well.
Miami (Fla.) linebacker Matthew Thomas
There's not a more impressive outside linebacker, physically, in the country than Thomas and he's been on a tear during 7-on-7 competitions as of late. Of course he had the best secondary at the event behind him but the rangy linebacker took away almost everything underneath for the Southeast team. His long arms and quickness make him a runaway to land on the top performers list.
Orlando (Fla.) athlete Kermit Whitfield
He played a little bit of everything and, like a top athlete, did a little bit of everything very well. His highlight play was a long interception return in the final game off of Troy Williams that he nearly returned for a touchdown while he showed off his speed by racing everybody on the field and even one speedster off it. You could put him at a number of spots but slot receiver might be the one for him because he simply does something once he gets the ball in his hands.
- After not competing much at The Opening, Texas Longhorns commit Jake Oliver had a good first day at Gridiron Kings. He moves well but still likely ends up as a receiving tight end or H-back in Austin but he has pretty reliable hands and goes about his business without complaint. Fellow Longhorn pledge Durham Smythe had just of good, if not better, of a day and reminded many of TCU Horned Frogs signee Griffin Gilbert at this event last year based on his top-notch hands and ability to find the soft spots in coverage.
- The line of the day came from Georgia commit Shaquille Wiggins following a ball that was just out of the reach of Ohio State Buckeyes pledge Jalin Marshall Thundering Herd : "Urban Meyer's gonna take away your scholarship. Just going to take it right away." Marshall and several others got quite a kick out of the line.
- The West squad took some hits in the injury department, losing cornerback Priest Willis to back issues and running back Justin Davis to an injured shin/ankle after he got hit following a catch.
- In addition to Fuller making his commitment on ESPN on Sunday, Plano (Texas) linebacker Mike Mitchell might do the same as well. His father is at the event and the reigning Nike SPARQ champion from The Opening said he'll talk it over with his parents and possibly call coaches Saturday night to inform them of his decision. He's considering Texas A&M, Florida State and Ohio State.
- Marcell Harris said he would name a top five on Sunday at some point but wasn't quite ready to announce. He was also at Friday Night Lights and met with the staff afterward. He said he'll take an official visit to Texas for the program's first game on September 1st as well.
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