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April 26, 2005

A passing trend

FT. WORTH, Texas - Throwing the football in Texas is becoming a real catch. And judging by the amount of talent at the quarterback and receiver positions at Saturday's NIKE Training Camp on the campus of Texas Christian University, its not a passing trend that is about to be dropped any time soon.

With a few of the biggest names in Texas at the quarterback spot not at the camp for various reasons it could be easy to think that the quarterback group was lacking in talent. Wrong. The quarterbacks at the camp ended up being one of the stronger positions of the camp, especially with the presence of Arlington (Texas) Bowie standout Sherrod Harris.

Harris came into the camp as one of the most-highly recruited players in the state and didn't disappoint all day like. He was in the 6-foot-3, 205-pound range and clocked a 4.65-second time in the 40-yard dash. Harris also didn't disappoint in the drills, as he spun the ball consistently and was right on the money working with the talented group of receivers.

"I'm always working hard to get better," Harris said. "Every quarterback out here at the camp was working hard, too, so it may just be hard to distinguish between all of us. I met a whole lot of quarterbacks about here and it just shows you how deep the states of Texas and Louisiana are this year."

The depth continued with guys like Greg McElroy of Southlake (Texas) Carroll and Christian Ponder of Colleyville (Texas) Heritage.

McElroy, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior that backed up Chase Daniel last fall and is getting the chance to shine this season, showed great technique, very solid footwork and finely tuned fundamentals. He was easily one of the more accurate passers at the camp, and despite the experience it's easy to see why teams like UTEP and Kansas have already stepped up to the play with offers.

Ponder had quick feet in the pocket and a displayed surprisingly strong arm. He made good reads in drills and was consistent in the one-on-one drills, working with a great group of receivers, which made it easy to play pitch and catch.

"It was really exciting to see Greg, Sherrod and the guys from Houston here," Ponder, who has offers from Baylor, North Carolina and Georgia Tech, said. "The camp was definitely a learning experience for all of us. I think we made ourselves better players, and the competition with each other pushed us to get better. We all wanted to be the best quarterback out here. That made us work even harder."

After surprising people at the E.A. Sports Elite 11 regional workouts on Friday, Nick Stephens of Flower Mound, Texas, did the same thing on Saturday. NIKE quarterback coach Bob Johnson said some players struggled with consistency during the weekend workouts, but he said that Stephens spun the ball as well as anybody with above average arm strength.

Consider the camp, Stephens' coming out party. He didn't play as a junior because he was ruled ineligible after transferring into school there, so he will be new to the state recruiting scene and don't be surprised if a few teams jump into the mix early after the way he played over the weekend.

There were several other quarterbacks that impressed, including Clark Harrell of Ennis, Texas, J.P. Tillman of Cypress (Texas) Cy Falls, Ross Jenkins of Houston Langham Creek, Daniel Ramirez of Sinton, Texas, and Joe Mauro of Hurst (Texas) L.D. Bell.

Harrell, the younger brother of Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, has an extremely strong arm, but because of injuries still is looking to make his mark for his program.

Tillman will get a chance this fall after playing TAPPS football to take over the reins at a major program in Houston. If he performs like he did this past weekend then he has a shot at being a solid Division I quarterback.

Jenkins showed great athletic ability by clocking a 4.0-second time in the shuttle, which was one of the top 10 times of the day. He looks like he has the goods to be a solid quarterback prospect and his athletic ability make him an intriguing prospect worthy of a look by major programs in the spring evaluation period.

Ramirez, who measured in at 6-1 and 166 pounds, was solid in every aspect of the camp on Saturday, despite pitching in a baseball game on Friday night. He threw for 1,500 yards and 17 scores as a junior and this South Texas gem also ranks as one of the bigger sleepers at the camp.

"I'm very accurate," Ramirez said. "I know what to do with the ball when I get into certain situations. I learned a lot on Saturday. The drills and footwork training was amazing. I came into it trying to learn as much as I could, and I think I took a lot of out of the camp."

Mauro is best when he can let both his arm and his feet do damage and obviously the camp is gearing more toward passing the ball on every play, which didn't give him a chance to do everything he's best at. Still, he proved to be one of the better quarterbacks at the camp, throwing a nice ball and displaying solid fundamentals.

While there is no question there was good talent at the quarterback spot, the receivers at the camp did more than a good enough job of helping the signal-callers look good. With quite a few high-level prospects at the position, it continued to prove that the passing game is here to stay in the Lone Star State.

The battle for the camp's top receiver probably came down to Phillip Payne, a Texas commitment from Garland (Texas) South Garland and Perrish Cox of Waco (Texas) University.

Payne was a long and physical looking prospect with good quickness and soft hands. He didn't have problem getting open in one-on-one drills, despite whoever was covering him. Payne also finished with a respectable 4.53-second time in the 40-yard dash, which showed he definitely has good quickness and the ability to explode.

"I was just out here to have some fun and push myself, too," Payne said. "I came out here to see if I could work with the elite, the best. I feel great coming out here playing with the top quarterbacks and top receivers, just seeing how I match up with everybody. I felt like I held my own."

Cox, who arrived at camp late after getting lost looking for the TCU campus. Once Cox hit the field, however, he was extremely impressive. He went straight from check-in to the SPARQ testing area, where he clocked a very strong 4.50 40-yard dash.

Even though a 4.50 was an excellent time on this day, Cox was disappointed with his time.

"I can run faster than that," Cox said. "I got here really late, and didn't get to stretch. I think I had an okay camp, I don't really know how much I was getting pushed out there though."

Cox made short work of defensive backs during one-on-one drills in the afternoon session. While he projects as a cornerback on the next level, Cox played well from his receiver position. He showed excellent body control on one play, coming back for and under thrown ball, and on the next play, shielding a defensive back from a slant pass.

Cox also displayed all the necessary speed and quickness that make him one of the most sought after cornerbacks in the country. To go along with quick lateral movements and leaping ability, Cox also possessed the length that the college coaches like, appearing to be all of 6-feet with long arms that help him get to the football first.

Payne and Cox were just two of a very impressive group of receivers. There were quite a few receiver that appeared physically a lot like Payne - tall, slender but with great muscular frames.

Arlington (Texas) Martin teammates James Iwuchukwu and Josh Marshall looked almost identical with Iwuchukwu around 6-3 and 195 pounds and Marshall at 6-4 and 215 pounds. Neither were the fastest kids, but they created tough match-up problems with their size and frame. Marshall, especially, seemed to catch everything thrown his way.

Bryan, Texas, two-way star Artrell Woods said he just picked up an offer from Oklahoma State to go along with his early offer from Texas A&M. He displayed good quickness and had a 4.6-second time in the 40. He did drop a few passes in one-on-one drills, but still he is a very high-level athlete worthy of the attention he's getting.

Steven Harris of Lewisville (Texas) Hebron on film plays both cornerback and receiver, but on Saturday he was strictly a receiver - a darned good one. With around a 4.5-second time in the 40, Harris moved real well and caught almost everything.

Oklahoma standouts George West of Oklahoma City Northeast and Laron Moore of Midwest City were blinding fast in drills and had no problem getting open in man-to-man situations. It was easy to see why West has offers from Notre Dame and Iowa State. Moore had one of the top 10 times in the 40-yard dash.

But Da'Marcus Griggs of Bay City, Texas, had the catch of the day when he leapt up and made a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone on a fly route. He came down with the ball in his right hand and somehow kept his balance, despite the defender literally dragging him down.

Even a few sleepers emerged with strong days and look for their names to move up the charts with college coaches. Wise Columba of Keller (Texas) Fossil Ridge impressed with solid drills and a 4.53-second time in the 40, and despite only one catch last season, he could be a name to keep an eye on this fall. V'Keon Lacey is coming off a knee surgery and didn't run a great time, but that didn't seem to stop him from getting open all day long in drills and in one-on-one competition. His frame and build made him look like he could eventually blossom into a tight end prospect, too.

Running backs
Running back Mon Williams of Mesquite Horn isn't mentioned enough by fans when talking about the top running back in the state. In what is considered to be one of the better years in Williams' name doesn't get thrown around as much as other names like Emmanuel Moody or Michael Goodson. But after watching Williams in every facet of the game on Saturday it's clear that he's one of the best backs around.

He tested well, running in the 4.5-second range, and in passing drills he made linebackers look like they were standing still. He caught everything that was thrown his way and the spin moves that he did in the drills were a thing of beauty.

If there was one back who actually could keep stride with Williams it was Alexandria, La. superstar Chris Brown. He displayed some top flight speed in his Rivals.com video and backed that up with an explosive 4.46-second 40-yard dash in Ft. Worth.

Brown may not have the size to equal Williams but looked to be a solid 5-foot-11, 180-pounds. More than anything Brown seemed genuinely excited to have the chance to compete against some of Texas' best.

"It was a long drive, but I think I did pretty well and there were some good players out here," Brown said. "I think I held my own."

Brown did more than that, and considering the impressive cast of players on hand, that's enough to make him a potential four-star prospect in the class of 2006.

Along with Williams and Brown, quite a few other backs showcased their talent.

Kansas State commitment Leon Patten was in the 5-foot-7 range, looked impressive in pass-catching drills, and his 4.55-second time made him an exciting prospect to watch in the open field.

North Garland standout Donte Bean was silky smooth in drills and looked great with the ball in his hands. Antwan Cobb of Pflugerville, Texas, wasn't the fastest kid on the field, but he sure was quick.

Another player that looked the part was Lewisville (Texas) Hebron running back Derke Robinson. The Texas commitment clocked a 4.6-second time in the 40-yard dash and was solid in drills all day long. The physical tools are all there for him to be a successful back on the next level and his frame looks perfect for what Texas will use him for.

One player that already has an offer Texas A&M is another speed based back with tremendous vision, Broken Arrow, Okla., star Prince McKinney. The diminutive back may find himself eventually playing corner, and with an offer on the table from Texas A&M it's easy to see he's got the talent to be an elite prospect in the Sooner State.

Offensive linemen
The offensive line didn't look to be one of the stronger positions of the camp, but there were a few standouts. Dimitri Lott of Sugar Land (Texas) Marshall won all of his one-on-ones, and just needs to square up because he's got the frame to be great. Cameron Ceasor out of Zachary, La., also looked good in the one-on-ones after he got beat in his first battle. But after that, he was dominant.

Junior-to-be Jerrod Gooch of Vidor, Texas, also performed well and will be someone to keep your eye on in the class of 2007. Isiah Thompson of Tatum, Texas, has a better frame for the offensive side of the ball, compared to defense. His 40-time of 5.8-seconds proved that. Patrick Turner of Houston Madison also passed the eyeball test and further investigation into him is needed.

Defensive linemen
Grand Prairie (Texas) South Grand Prairie strongside defensive end Brian Ellis, a Texas commitment, dominated the testing phase of the camp and looked good in one-on-one drills, taking home the top honors at the camp.

"I'm speechless," Ellis said when he was informed that he was named the top overall player at the camp. "I don't know what to say."

Many of the Longhorn commitments decided to sit Saturday's event out for a number of different reasons, but Ellis said the competitor in him wouldn't allow him to remain on the sideline.

"I know a lot of people told me that coming to something like this even though you're committed could only hurt you," Ellis said. "But I wanted to make myself better. I wanted to learn from some of the best trainers and football people around. I also wanted to test myself against all the great players in Texas."

He passed with flying colors.

Ellis, who is 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, ran a 4.75-second time in the 40-yard dash, had 17 repetitions in the bench-press, a 29.9-inch vertical leap and a 4.25-second time in the shuttle. He also was one of the most dominating pass rushers in the one-on-one competition, and he showed amazing change of direction and technique throughout the drills.

"I wasn't going to miss a chance to come out and compete," Ellis said. "I liked what I did today, but I still think that I could have done a lot better."

Challenging Ellis for top honors at the camp was Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma City (Okla.) Southeast. The 6-foot-4, 280-pounder didn't have the best 40-yard dash time with a 5.4-second electronic time, but that was the only thing that he did slow on Saturday.

Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Miami and LSU have already offered McCoy and it was easy to see why. Nobody - repeat - nobody could block McCoy one-on-one. He would beat helpless blockers time after time with a surprisingly quick first step. He then would use his amazing strength and very good technique to get by the blocker and the quarterback.

And don't even get started about his frame.

Nobody looked more out of the box ready to go than McCoy, and the college coaches, which included head coaches from Texas A&M, Missouri and UTEP, could be seen drooling over him throughout the camp.

"It was great," McCoy said. "At first I was nervous when I got here, but I saw the guys here having fun and all the coaches know what they're doing. They're intense.

"The biggest thing I learned was the speed of all the players and what to do in the speed drills. I learned a lot about how to improve my quickness. I'm going to go get me one of those SPARQ parachutes that we used in the drills. They really helped me today."

Another defensive lineman that looked the part physically was Pryce Macon of Corpus Christi (Texas) Carroll. Macon ran a 4.76-second time in the 40-yard dash and looked good in drills all day long. He's rumored to be close to picking up an offer from Arizona, and that probably won't be his last offer either.

Louisiana defensive tackle Josh Lavalais of Marksville also looked good, and his frame made him look like he could project on either side of the ball. With offers Auburn, Louisiana Monroe and Louisiana Lafayette, expect him to be a solid recruit once people see him in person more. He said he did have a disappointing time of 5.6-seconds in the 40-yard dash, though.

Broderick Marshall of Austin McCallum easily passed the eyeball test, but did show some signs of what he does on film in drills - got vertical too much. If somebody can work with him and coach him up, he could develop into a good player on the next level. Texas Tech and Nebraska already think he's worth a shot and have offered him a scholarship.

Richard Jones of LaMarque, Texas, could play either side of the ball but with his size might have to project on the offensive side of the ball. However, in defensive line drills he did beat blockers three times in a row. Jones already has an offer from Colorado State on his resume.

Linebackers
Lamarr Houston of Colorado Springs (Colo.) Doherty is considered one of the top players in Colorado, and he arrived late for the camp after an almost 13-hour drive. The late arrival didn't allow him to put up great marks in the testing phase of the camp, but there is no question that he was one of the most physically put together players at the camp. He is listed as a fullback in the recruiting database, but the way he looked he appeared to have big-time defensive end written all over him. He spent the day working out with the linebackers, but it's easy to see he's a star no matter where he ends up.

Justin (Texas) Northwest linebacker Blake Collier also looked more than ready to make the leap to the next level. He was chiseled like a rock, and he looked great in drills and one-on-one competition. But he blew the doors off with a 4.46-second time in the 40-yard dash, proving that his great track times translate to the football field, too.

With offers from Texas Tech and SMU, watch for his stock to rise once teams see how impressive he is physically.

"I think I did real well," Collier said. "I felt good, and I felt fast. I think I competed really well with the other linebackers, I think I was definitely one of the top ones out there."

Shomari Clemons of West Monroe, La., ran a 4.6 and could also fall the hybrid spot. With his speed and frame, it's easy to see why some teams like him at safety and others at outside linebacker. Clemsons said he has scholarship offers already on the table from LSU and Southern Miss.

Another hybrid linebacker/defensive back is Texas A&M commitment DeMaurier Thompson of Dallas W.T. White. He clocked a 4.68-second range, and in person, just like on film, he was extremely active all day long in drills. He will need to fill out his thin frame, but once he does, he should be a very good pickup for the Aggies.

Kansas State and Texas Tech have offered linebacker Justin Gent and from watching him in drills, it's easy to see why programs like him. He might not be the fastest prospect around, clocked in the 4.8-second range, but his nose for the football and motor that doesn't quit was on display all day long. Forget the speed in this case, because Gent is a heck of a player and worthy of high Big 12 attention.

Defensive backs
It was truly hard to single out a few defensive backs, but the position was also loaded with talent.

Safety Malcolm Williams of South Grand Prairie was one of the standouts at the position. The Aggie commitment clocked a 4.48-second time and looked both physical and quick in one-on-one drills. His hips made him look like he's probably athletic enough to play cornerback if needed, but with his physical, muscular make-up, it's easy to project him as a safety. Williams committed to A&M early on, and he's also recently picked up scholarship offers from Oklahoma and Arizona.

Danny McCray of Spring (Texas) Westfield is considered one of the top defenders in Houston and he more than lived up to the hype on Saturday. He clocked in the 4.6-second range, and he was one of the most impressive looking defenders at his position.

Plano (Texas) West cornerback Jordan Pugh hasn't been listed on too many people's state top 100 lists, but he more than belongs - especially after a strong performance in one-on-one drills Saturday. With offers from Purdue, Alabama and Kentucky in his pocket don't be surprised if he picks up even more offers by the end of the spring evaluation period.

Jamar Wall of Plainview, Texas, already has offers from Baylor, Purdue and SMU, and it's easy to see why teams like him. He was fluid in coverage as a safety prospect, and once he fully recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery he should be a sight to see. Even with the injury and recent surgery he ran a 4.68-second time in the 40-yard dash. No bad considering he was cleared to run just a week ago.

Alex Ibi of Ft. Worth Nolan also impressed in coverage drills and will be somebody to keep an eye on. He was easily in the 6-foot-2, 170-pound range and was one of the better players in Ft. Worth as a junior. Several college coaches were giving him a close-up inspection throughout drills.


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