Sunday night CFFI was fortunate enough to scrutinize the future of collegiate football, as the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida played host to the Under Armour All-American High School Game for the second-straight year. A virtual showcase of the nation’s most highly-touted high school players comprising the incoming recruiting classes of 2009, Sunday’s contest (televised on ESPN/ESPNU) featured plenty of youthful speed, athleticism, and agility, this as the White Team, coached by ex-NFL head coach Marv Levy, outlasted the Black Team, coached by Mike White of Illinois, Cal, and Oakland Raiders fame, in a hard-fought four-quarter matchup, 27-16.
Committed as always to bringing you the best and brightest in the collegiate ranks, CFFI contributor Jason Roberts breaks down some of the names to remember from last night’s game and offers reasons why these particular players could soon be gracing the top of team owners' draft boards everywhere as early as next fall.
Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Barkley, a senior from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California who committed to Southern California as a junior, went 11-of-22 for 237 yards and two touchdown passes in Sunday night’s contest – the first, a 71-yard score in the first quarter to Marlon Brown of Memphis, Tennessee (see below), followed up by a 35-yard touchdown to Jamal Reid early in the second. A devout Christian, Barkley saw his overall numbers go down this past fall (177-for-325, 2877 yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions) after being named California’s Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year and the Los Angeles Times Player of the Year in 2007. Still, Barkley kept the faith in his abilities.
Though he watched his overall stock fall in the recruiting process in late 2008 thanks to the rise to prominence of Austin, Texas native Garrett Gilbert, Barkley proved himself the most productive passer in Sunday’s game. An extremely precise, pin-point thrower and well-composed when in the pocket, Barkley is undoubtedly more of a traditional drop-back quarterback than another of the dual-threat variety so popular today in collegiate spread offenses. Still, this young man has been exposed to plenty of excellent coaching and training and should do well as an eventual starter for Pete Carroll and the Trojans.
Garrett Gilbert, QB, Texas
A senior from Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, Gilbert overtook Matt Barkley as the No. 1 highest-recruited quarterback in the country in 2008, utilizing a strong arm and quick reflexes to catapult him to the Texas high school career record for passing with 12,534 yards and 136 touchdowns. Gilbert also finished 2008-2009 as the ESPN Rise Gatorade National Football Player of the Year, throwing for a state single-season record of 4,827 yards and 55 touchdowns. ESPN says the Texas Longhorns commitment is “confident, versatile and productive . . . . [he is someone who] can run and throw, but his sound decision-making with the ball may stand out most . . . . [he] already can be an impact college player, and he only will get bigger and stronger.” Gilbert led the Black Team Sunday with numbers similar to Barkley’s (11-of-22 passing for 161 yards) but was kept out of the endzone by an aggressive White Team defense that also picked him off once during the contest. He’s well-schooled in the traditional functions of a pocket passer, a trait which showed clearly Sunday evening; still, Gilbert, scouts note, remains athletic enough to effectively run the spread and should be a strong follow up to the Longhorns’ Colt McCoy once the UT quarterback departs for the NFL.
Russell Shepard, QB, LSU
Shepard provided the LSU faithful with a preview of the dual-threat potential he’ll bring to Baton Rouge this fall. While he completed just two-of-six passing for a total of 105 yards on Sunday, he did toss a remarkable 92-yard touchdown pass to Andre Dubose in the second quarter to put the first points of the night on the board for the Black Team. Shepard too proved dynamic as a ball-carrier, ending the night as the Black squad’s leading rusher with six carries for 38 yards and a second score on the ground late in the third quarter. A Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year and first-team all-state selection from Cypress Ridge High School in Houston, Texas, Shepard has been identified as “a complete player” by many in sports media, an athletic talent that reminds some of “Percy Harvin when lined up at quarterback.”
At 6’1” and 183 pounds, the athletic Shepard is remarkably fast and agile, yet still strong enough to deliver the ball downfield with deadly accuracy to either a short or long range targets. ESPN notes that he is “much further along as a passer than Terrelle Pryor was at this stage,” and is even “more explosive.” Predictions are that Shepard will remain at the quarterback position for the Tigers, but is far too talented to limit to just one position on the field. He certainly has “the biggest value of any prospect in this class,” ESPN concludes, and after seeing him last night we certainly agree.
Jamaal Berry, RB, Ohio State
The youngster from Miami, Florida played high school ball at Miami Palmetto High and quickly established himself as the third-best 2009 running back recruit. Possesing a marvelous combination of acceleration and speed, Berry is renowned for his vision, ability to hit a hole, and instantly break through into open space; he also possesses an uncanny ability to cut without sacrificing any sort of initial burst, making him elusive and hard to bring down.
Concerns about durability should be addressed with additional size and strength built at the collegiate level. Many point out, however, that Berry’s receiving skills leave something to be desired and this will be area in which the newest member of the OSU backfield will have to address.
Running backs for both Black and White squads had a tough time gaining any significant ground last night when rushing the ball, with each respective team’s defensive unit playing lights out along the line of scrimmage and thoroughly shutting down the run. Berry, however, averaged a game-best seven yards each time he touched the ball ( albeit it in only two carries for 14 yards) and finished the night second only to the Black Team’s Russell Shepard in terms of total yards rushing for the evening.
Terry Hawthorne, WR, Illinois
A product of East Saint Louis Senior High School in East St. Louis, Illinois, the 6’0”, 168 pound Hawthorne was the game’s leading receiver Sunday night, grabbing six receptions for a total of 120 yards for the Black Team. A member of the East St. Louis state championship squad this past fall, Hawthorne finished 2008 with 1,009 yards on 48 passes and reached the endzone 27 times on the season, statistics good enough to land him a Coaches All-State Team selection and Chicago Tribune All-State First Team nomination.
Hawthorne is very a physical player and not afraid to work across the middle of the field or go up to make an acrobatic catch. He’s viewed best out of the slot, especially on bubble screens, and has “soft and strong hands” which make him extremely reliable as a pass-catcher. Route running will need to be an area of focus in upcoming spring and fall camps at the University of Illinois, but expect Hawthorne to add additional depth to an already impressive wide receiving corps for the Illini. He was regarded by many in pre-game practices as the most impressive wideout for either the Black or White squads.
Marlon Brown, WR, Undecided
Brown is undecided when it comes to where he’ll ultimately end up playing football at the collegiate level next fall, but scouts from Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, LSU, and Ohio State certainly had to take notice after last night’s four reception, 60 yard performance for the White Team. The youngster from the Harding Academy in Memphis, Tennessee was simply electric Sunday evening, taking the first pass of the night from starting quarterback Matt Barkley 72 yards to the endzone in a burst of speed that left the nearest pursing defender some 10 to 15 yards behind. Regarded as a “do-it-all” type of player that in high school played not only wideout, but quarterback, running back, slotback, kick returner, and, on occasion, on the defensive side of the ball, Brown has great size (6’5” and 205 pounds) and speed good enough to overtake almost any opposing defender right from the line.
Brown should be an excellent go-to guy in the redzone, with plenty of physical presence and leaping ability favoring the No. 2 receiver in the country on fade routes and jump balls. Brown finished the 2008 season as Tennessee’s Mr. Football and currently is wading through more than 30 scholarship offers before making a final decision as to where to play. Early playing time will be a major factor in his final decision, Brown has told ESPN. Also regarded as a highly-touted basketball recruit, Brown could easily end up playing two sports at the next level and do very well in both.
Robbie Toma, WR, UCLA
The youngster from Hawaii didn’t have a single catch for the Black Team on Sunday evening, but made plenty of waves on Friday afternoon when the UCLA commitment at wide receiver won the Burger King All-America Skills Challenge Hands Competition. Toma is undersized at 5’10” and 170 pounds, but is a polished route-runner with excellent hands and great timing who always seems to come down with the ball in “big-catch and big play” scenarios (per ESPN). He’ll be challenged in going up against taller and more physical defensive backs in college but is deceptively quick in the open field. He was a Division I First Team All-State Selection and finished the 2008 season with 1,393 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns.
Army All-American Bowl Notes
On Saturday San Antonio also played host to a number of high-profile high school seniors. While we were not in attendance, here are some of the highlights.
- The East beat the West 30-17.
- East quarterback Tajh Brown (uncommitted) and running back Bryce Brown (Miami) took home co-MVP honors. Brown and Bryce hooked up on 60-yard and 41-yard scoring passes.
- Brown also added a 34-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Corey Brown (Ohio State). Brown finished the day with 187 yards passing and the three TDs.
- Bryce finished with 146 all-purpose yards and the two TDs.
- East running back Edwin Baker (Michigan State) did not play as he rehabs from a knee injury. Baker is expected to be ready this fall.
- Seven player announced their college commitments during the game: RB Christine Michael (Texas A&M), OT Xavier Nixon (Florida), LB Jon Bostic (Florida), DB Michael Carter (West Virginia), WR Bryce McNeal (Clemson), OT Brennan Williams (UNC) and DT/OT William Campbell (Michigan).
We'll have more recruiting information as we get closer to signing day. Next up, we will be jumping into our preseason Top 25s and conference look aheads.