Scout.com national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu called The Opening “the equivalent of the NFL Scouting Combine for a high school kid.”
“This gives players the ability to show they are best in the country,” he said. “They are superstars in their hometown but now they are on equal footing with other kids from around the country. There is no filler at any of these events. Every kid has earned his way there.”
The Opening Finals is set to get underway this week at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., with 166 of the nation’s top high school football players. Part of the event will be televised on ESPNU, both Saturday, July 9 and Sunday, July 10 at 8 p.m. ET both nights.
Here are five things we’ll be watching for.
Who’s No. 1?
The Opening presents a unique opportunity for almost all of the elite prospects to be in the same place at the same time running through the physical testing and positional drills.
Who the top prospect is the Class of 2017 will likely change multiple times before National Signing Day, and each of the major recruiting services will likely have a different opinion. At the moment, Top247 and Scout have California running back Najee Harris at No. 1; Rivals.com has Texas defensive tackle Marvin Wilson at No. 1; ESPN.com has Tennessee offensive tackle Trey Smith at No. 1.
“There’s more of a question as to who is the top player in the country this year,” said Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director for Rivals.com.
Ohio State commits
The Buckeyes’ recruiting class for 2017 is leading the rankings and will be on display at The Opening. Of the 14 commits, 11 have been invited – a record for any program.
The headliner is quarterback Tate Martell, who will get a chance to play with some future teammates and also will be working hard to get more elite recruits. Martell has a white board with his top targets that he posted on Twitter.
As is often the case, officials have teamed up players committed to the same school for the 7 on 7 portion of the event. Team Lunar Beat features five-star cornerback Shaun Wade, four-star cornerback Marcus Williamson, four-star safeties Isaiah Pryor and Brendon White, four-star outside linebacker Antjuan Simmons and four-star all-purpose back J.K. Dobbins. (Martell is one of the quarterbacks for Alpha Pro.)
In the linemen portion of the event, Ohio State will be represented by Josh Myers, the nation’s top offensive tackle prospect; Wyatt Davis, the nation’s top guard prospect; and four-star defensive end Haskell Garrett. Jake Moretti, a four-star offensive tackle, was invited but will miss the event after suffering a knee injury.
Beyond Ohio State commits, some key Buckeyes targets also will be at The Opening led by Mississippi running back Cam Akers and a group of three outstanding receivers that Martell is hoping to convince to join him in Columbus – Trevon Grimes from Florida, Donovan Peoples-Jones from Michigan and Tyjon Lindsay, Martell’s former Bishop Gorman teammate now in Southern California.
The mysterious case of Trey Smith
Smith, an offensive tackle from the University School (Jackson, Tenn.) is ranked as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 by ESPN.com. Not everyone shares that opinion. Smith, for example, does not appear in the Rivals 250.
The Opening provides another opportunity for Smith to make his case among scouts and recruiting analysts from throughout the industry in a year that is particularly strong for offensive linemen.
Smith, who is 6-6 and 302 pounds, plans to trim his list in July and then make his decision in December. He will graduate early and enroll for the spring semester at whichever school he selects.
“Trey has every reason in the world to be proud of what he’s done and his recognition, but he’s the most mature young man I’ve ever been around,” University School coach Rusty Bradley told Gannett partner The Jackson Sun. “He stays grounded and doesn’t get full of himself.
“He’s a great teammate and leader and great to have on our team.”
The fastest man
The 40-yard dash finals are among the highlights of The Opening and this year should be no exception. The players who recorded the top three totals in the Nike+ Football Ratings are all contenders for the title as well as the overall rating championship. The number is a composite of the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, vertical jump and power ball toss.
- Tyrell Shavers ran a 4.3 at The Opening regional in Dallas and parlayed that into an offer from Alabama, which he accepted in early June. The receiver chose the Crimson Tide over 26 other offers, many of which came after the regional event.
- O’Maury Samuels, a running back from New Mexico, was about as off the radar as possible until he ran a 4.4 at The Opening. He enters the final with the best Nike+ Football Rating.
- Cam Akers, the five-star running back from Mississippi, had the No. 2 overall rating, boosted by a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash.
While eighth graders getting offered by colleges has seemingly become commonplace now, that was not the case when Dylan Moses got an offer from LSU and subsequently committed.
Moses is now entering his senior year and transferred to IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), where he will play linebacker. Where he stands among the recruiting rankings depends on whom you ask. Some of that might be a function of his being on the national radar for so long.
The Opening will be a chance for him to show just how good he is with the other top players around him.
“Dylan Moses is the biggest question we all have at Rivals and I’m not sure if others have this question or not because maybe they’re assuming he will be a star that everyone expected of him,” Farrell said. “When he was offered young and committed young, he was a freakish big kid that we didn’t know what position he would play. Doctors were saying he would be 6-4, 240 and with long arms and be an elite pass rushing defensive end. He never physically reached there, but now he’s at linebacker and he can be as dominant a football player as we’ve seen in the NFL. He could be a hybrid in college and the NFL.
“But seeing him this spring and summer we have not seen him take the next step in quick twitch and change of direction that you look for in a freakish outside linebacker. He’s still a great player. Is he close to his ceiling and going to be a very good player but not an elite superstar? That’s a tough one. A lot of of the final evaluations will depend on his senior year if he blossoms at his position.
“You wonder if it’s paralysis by analysis. The more you see of a kid, the more flaws you find and the less surprised you are by anything they do. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. We’ve seen him since eighth grade and we have to figure if what we’re seeing is skewed by that.”