NCAA Football

Iman Marshall Proves at the Opening That He Is a Must-Have for USC Trojans

The USC Trojans should be excited about these studs for the future. Out at The Opening in Oregon, these future Trojans and a big time target—Ricky Town, Isaiah Langley and Iman Marshall—were putting on a show against some of the best players in the country. What are the odds that these three all end up at USC?

Watch Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder break down these future monsters' performance out in Beaverton at The Opening.

Rankings From 247Sports Composite

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Iman Marshall Proves at the Opening That He Is a Must-Have for USC Trojans

The USC Trojans should be excited about these studs for the future. Out at The Opening in Oregon, these future Trojans and a big time target—Ricky Town, Isaiah Langley and Iman ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Alabama's Barnett and Ridley Connection Grows Strong at the Opening

The Alabama Crimson Tide should be excited to have these two studs in the future. Out at The Opening in Oregon, this dynamic duo was connecting on many occasions for some highlight reel plays. How well do you think these two will do at the next level?

Watch Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder break down these future monsters' performance out in Beaverton at The Opening.

Rankings From 247Sports Composite

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Georgia Defensive Duo Commits Patrick and Rivers Wreak Havoc at the Opening

The Georgia Bulldogs should be excited to have these two defensive studs in the future. Out at The Opening in Oregon, this dynamic duo has shown that they will have an immediate impact in Athens. How well do you think these two will do at the next level?

Watch Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder break down these future monsters' performance out in Beaverton at The Opening.

Rankings From 247Sports Composite

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Elite 11 2014: The 10 Biggest Takeaways

The Elite 11 finals have concluded in Beaverton, Oregon, with nearly 20 quarterbacks participating in the event. It's the most prestigious quarterback camp for high school passers in the nation, which is why a lot of scrutiny comes with it.

As the event was followed and tracked, several observations and opinions were drawn. A 5-star quarterback from California is the closest thing to "perfect" in this year's class, while the MVP of the camp may get an extra star.

Also, a 4-star passer's biggest strength is his biggest weakness.

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Biggest Takeaways from UCLA's Recruits at The Opening

The UCLA Bruins had a strong presence this past week at the famed Nike camp "The Opening." Four UCLA commitments participated in the event. The amount of Bruin pledges at such a prestigious camp truly does lend credence to the notion UCLA is a rising power in the landscape of college football. 

This piece will detail three takeaways in relation to the Bruins' commitments at the event. Not only did UCLA receive two verbal pledges at the camp, but many prospects in attendance have a sincere interest in joining Jim Mora's program.


Takeaway No. 1: UCLA did very well from a recruiting standpoint

As previously mentioned, UCLA garnered the commitments from two players. Athlete Stephen Johnson out of San Leandro, California, chose the Bruins over Oregon on Tuesday afternoon. 

Offensive tackle Andre James out of Herriman, Utah, opted for UCLA on Thursday night. He pledged to the Bruins over Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Southern Cal, among others. 

Johnson tested out exceptionally well. He clocked a 4.37 time in the 40 and ran an impressive 4.09 shuttle time. He also had a 34.5" vertical jump. Analyst Greg Biggins of (subscription required) was complimentary in speaking about Johnson's athleticism, pure speed and playmaking ability. 

Johnson is a versatile prospect with the ability to play on both sides of the ball. It's likely Johnson will start out on the defensive side of the ball as a corner. He should also have the chance to return kicks as well. Speed is something UCLA needs on its roster, and Johnson brings tons of pace to the table. 

James is one of the elite offensive tackles in the western region. The 4-star tackle has the requisite amount of athleticism needed to protect a quarterback's blind side. The fact UCLA was able to land a very talented prospect at a position of need—against strong competition—was massive. 

At 6'4.5" and 278 pounds, James does need to get physically stronger. However, the athletic tools are there for him to be very good down the line. His lateral quickness and agility make him a candidate to play on the left side of the line (ideally as a tackle). He also could, in theory, line up as a guard.  For James, it'll be about gaining good weight in the upcoming year. 

Here is a short clip of James battling elite defensive prospect Keisean Lucier-South. 


Takeaway No. 2: UCLA's prior two commitments had solid showings

Quarterback Josh Rosen and tight end Alize Jones both competed this past week at the camp. 

ESPN has Jones ranked as its top tight end in the country. Similarly, has Jones rated as a 5-star prospect. The Bishop Gorman High School prospect measured in at 6'5" and 220 pounds. He ran a respectable 4.67 in the 40 but had an eye-popping 4.03 shuttle time. It's an extremely fast time for a man of Jones' size. 

Rosen impressed thoroughly with his physical tools. Quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. lauded Rosen's performance on Twitter. Rosen shined during seven-on-seven play with his tremendous arm strength and superlative touch.

Despite Trent Dilfer's opinion of Rosen, it appeared as if he "wowed" at the event. The UCLA commitment is also doing a bit of recruiting during his time in Oregon for the Bruins. 

Both prospects demonstrated why each is considered among the best at their respective positions. With Jones' ability to be a nightmare mismatch, I'd expect UCLA to use him early. He's far too gifted a talent to redshirt. 

As for Rosen, he'll enter a completely wide-open quarterback competition. Conventional wisdom suggests Brett Hundley leaving after this year for the NFL. Rosen will be competing against Asiantii Woulard, Jerry Neuheisel and Aaron Sharp for the starting gig.

If he can graduate early and enroll in January, it'll help to give the former tennis prodigy a better shot at starting right away. 


Takeaway No. 3: The Bruins are in the hunt for many participants at the event 

It's truly startling as to how many prospects in attendance have a strong interest in UCLA. Again, the buzz in regards to the program illustrates how hot of an entity UCLA is right now from a national perspective.

There were a number of local prospects participating in Beaverton, Oregon, with a genuine interest in the program. This list includes Lucier-South, defensive back Marvell Tell, offensive tackle Dru Samia, defensive end Rasheem Green, defensive back Dechaun Holiday and defensive back Iman Marshall.

Out-of-state prospects at the camp with an interest in UCLA include athlete Soso Jamabo, receiver Cordell Broadus, linebacker Osa Masina, athlete Porter Gustin, linebacker Roquan Smith, offensive lineman Fred Ulu-Perry, receiver Ryan Newsome, athlete Ray-Ray McCloud and defensive end Austin Bryant. 

Masina recently included UCLA on his final list of schools. Jamabo has UCLA on his short list, as does Samia (according to analyst Adam Gorney). 

A strong season in Westwood could turn in an elite '15 recruiting class. 


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Biggest Takeaways from UCLA's Recruits at The Opening

The UCLA Bruins had a strong presence this past week at the famed Nike camp "The Opening." Four UCLA commitments participated in the event...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Biggest Takeaways from Michigan Wolverines Targets' Performances at The Opening

Nike's "The Opening" is an all-star gala designed to showcase the country's top college football prospects, and it's also a great way for commits to help their respective coaches on the trail by whispering into the ears of their friends. 

"Hey, come to my school," they could say. Or, "Man, Coach Whatever really knows how to get guys to the next level. You should consider School X." Other programs had that luxury this week in Beaverton, Oregon,

But Michigan didn't. 

Chris Clark, a 4-star tight end and 2015 commit, was supposed to head out west to spread the maize-and-blue word for Wolverines coach Brady Hoke. Who knows? Maybe Clark could have swayed George Campbell back to Ann Arbor. The 5-star wide receiver decommitted during the winter but remains of interest. 

Or maybe Clark could have changed the tune of Damien Harris, a 5-star running back who jumped ship shortly after Campbell bailed. But due to personal reasons, Clark—a 6'6", 247-pound Big Ten tight end if there ever was one—didn't make the trip to Phil Knight's place, leaving the Wolverines without an ambassador during one of the biggest weeks of the offseason. 


Someone's Enjoying the Process

Well, this observation predates The Opening. 

But not by that much. 

During the past couple of months, Jacques Patrick has become one of the most interesting recruits to follow. The 6'2", 230-pounder out of Orlando has used social media to his full advantage, posting photoshops of himself cloaked in Michigan-Heisman glory while even adding childhood photos of himself draped in a Florida jersey (that's on his Facebook page). 

Sure, the No. 2-ranked running back, per 247Sports, is having fun. Sure, he probably loves the attention and gets a kick out of getting reactions. All of those likes, retweets and fans going crazy can certainly pump one's tires. But he's not committed to any school. He's a free agent. He didn't pledge to Hoke only to reconsider. He's visited Michigan, liked it and continues to weigh options. 

In short, Patrick is perfectly playing his recruitment. He's kind of toying with the public, but he's not going overboard. He's a hot commodity and only gets to do this thing once, right?

Per Jamie Newberg of, the Floridian Goliath plans to narrow his list to five by the end of the month. Thus far, Florida State and Alabama are his top two. But Michigan's in there, so sit tight. 

As for his time at The Opening, his SPARQ score of 118.44 was good enough for No. 20 overall, per


Mike Weber Will Make UM Wait

Per Gary Laney (special to, Mike Weber says that he's heavily considering a stay in Big Ten Country, rattling off Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State during an interview at The Opening. He said that he had a top five but that it could "change any day." 

Per Laney, Weber also said that the event wasn't ideal for running backs, but he was happy to have had the opportunity to attend. doesn't have scores for Weber, but there was one thing: He checked in at 5'9" and 210 pounds. Other databases have had him at 5'10" and 5'11". Back in June, I interviewed him at Sound Mind Sound Body in Detroit, and he seemed to be a legitimate 5'10". Then again, maybe I'm trying to make myself feel better about being vertically challenged. 

The Detroit Cass Tech superstar was reportedly wearing Wolverines garb in Oregon. So there's that. But again, there's a part of me that fully believes that the recruits want their clothing to be a hot topic. They want to generate buzz. Wearing a school's gear, whether intentional or not, gets people talking. 

However, it could be a great sign that one of the nation's top prospects feels comfortable enough to wear maize and blue at one of the biggest recruiting events in the sport. 

Then again, maybe that's all he had for the day?! Let's not read too much into this one...just prepare for it to drag out for another few months. But feel free to reset at the moment he leaves the Michigan BBQ at the end of the month. That'll get things going once again. 


Harris Is Back on My Radar

I've often stated that I believe that Patrick is the best back of 2015. I'm sticking to that, at least talent-wise. There's potential and all of that for Damien Harris, but we can tackle that later with another post. Today, right now, if I need a No. 1 option, I'm taking Patrick over anyone. 

But I've warmed up to Harris, and not because of his performance on the field at The Opening, but due to his showing off of the field. During an interview with Laney, Harris came across as a sharper, more focused young man. Not just a guy hanging out with the bros, tweeting photos and hashtagging things such #GrindHardEryDay, #D1Dreams and so on and so forth (or whatever guys are tweeting these days). 

Harris on development (spoiler: He's not going to "just ball out.")

For me, I've got to continue to work on my moves because you can't just outrun everybody the way you can in high school. That's not just for me, that goes for a lot of people I've seen. A lot of people just try to run by people and by defenses, but they can keep up out here with the top players in the country (on defense).

That's how it's going to be in college. So you have to adapt to it and take what you learn here and work on that whenever you get back home to high school.

I've been lukewarm on Harris lately. I don't think that he'll choose Michigan, but he's the high-IQ type that Hoke and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier wish they could secure for their next class—along with every other coach in the land. 

Per, his SPARQ score of 126.93 was No. 13 overall. He also clocked a 4.48-second 40, which wasn't all that impressive. But that stuff doesn't really matter. He's phenomenal athlete who understands big-picture concepts.

They can all "ball." That's not the question—it's "can they learn?"


Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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The Biggest Takeaways from LSU Recruits' Performance at The Opening

LSU head coach Les Miles and his coaching staff probably watched The Opening with a smile from ear to ear. 

A multitude of LSU's commitments and top targets had superb camps in Beaverton, Oregon this week. The Tigers' highest-rated commit so far in the 2015 class, Kevin Toliver II, emphatically proved why he is the No. 1 cornerback prospect in the country with his dominant play. Toliver II was named to All-Tournament team, per Brandon Huffman of

Toliver II was pleased with his play as well, posting highlights on his Twitter page:

Here are a few more LSU players of interest who shined this week. 


Xavier Lewis' Commitment Was Huge

Xavier Lewis re-committing to LSU this week was one of the biggest stories from The Opening. Lewis renounced his commitment to the Tigers in February after giving his original vow to the Tigers last August, per The Advocate.

Lewis proved his worth on the field in Oregon. The rangy cornerback made an amazing interception in the finals of the seven-on-seven competition, per's Charles Power.

LSU's secondary has plenty of young talent. Tre'Davious White, Rashard Robinson, Rickey Jefferson, Ed Paris and Jamal Adams will all be back in 2015. But Lewis adds even more depth and could form a dangerous duo in the future with Toliver II. 

Tyron Johnson is the Real Deal

LSU brought in four receivers in last year's amazing 2014 class, highlighted by Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn. But if the Tigers reel in Tyron Johnson, the receiving corps of the future will be amongst the nation's best. 

The uncommitted Johnson is a slick receiver who showed off his amazing catching radius in the seven-on-seven competition. Bleacher Report's national college football recruiting writer Tyler Donohue was impressed with the New Orleans prospect:

As Donohue notes, Texas Tech is currently in the lead for Johnson's services. But proximity and his relationship with Dupre could lead to a commitment for the Tigers. 


Nick Brossette Is Elusive

LSU running back commit Nick Brossette can break ankles. Brossette put Tennessee commit Cecil Cherry on skates in a drill this week:

Brossette gives LSU some much-needed depth to the running back corps in 2015 as seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will depart. Expect the 4-star prospect to contribute right away.


Justin Reid Is a Sleeper

Safety prospect Justin Reid was one of the lowest-rated players that competed in The Opening. But the 3-star Reid proved that stars do not mean everything.

Reid was one of the five players to jump over 40'' in the vertical leap, per's Steve Wiltfong. He also played for the seven-on-seven champions Apocalypse.

Reid is the younger brother of former LSU All-American and NFL Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid. The Dutchtown, Louisiana native says he has a great relationship with the Stanford and LSU coaching staffs, per's Barton Simmons, though neither has offered him. 


*Rankings and additional recruiting information provided by Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.  

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Hottest Topics Entering College Football's Media Days Frenzy

Just over six months have passed since Jameis Winston’s last-second touchdown pass topped Auburn in the final BCS national title game. We’ve gone through the coaching carousel, winter workouts, spring football, summer workouts and, quite frankly, it’s time to start talking college football seriously again.

Luckily, college football writers have you covered. Starting with next week’s SEC media days (a four-day event in which over 1,000 media members are expected to attend), leagues across the nation will trot out commissioners, coaches and players to talk about the 2014 season and issues facing the game.

Some coaches and players will be media magnets. Others will speak chapter and verse from the unwritten book of cliches, making media members run for the nearest caffeine boost.

Regardless, some hot-button topics are guaranteed to emerge, giving fans and writers something to discuss before preseason practices open in early August.

Here’s a look at the hottest topics entering college football’s media days frenzy.

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Inside the Mind of 4-Star Isaiah Langley in His Final Hours Before Committing

Hours before one of the most monumental moments of his life, Isaiah Langley stood face to face with his hero.

He couldn't help but spill the beans.

“Richard Sherman was actually one of the only people who knew I was committing to USC," the high school senior said, still starstruck.

Langley let the Super Bowl champion in on a secret the rest of America would find out by the end of Tuesday. He was going to be a Trojan, and he was ready to tell the world about it on national television.

The California cornerback was one of more than 150 high school football prospects participating in The Opening, an annual event held at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, that showcases a high-profile coaching staff, expansive media coverage and intense competition between the stars of tomorrow.

Like his fellow participants, Langley spent Tuesday embarking on an action-packed three-day stretch of drills and games. Rated a 4-star prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings, the Foothill High School (California) senior came in contact with a vast collection of coveted recruits early and often during the opening day of action.

From celebrity encounters to an abundance of new gear, The Opening offered plenty of excitement beyond the field for its guests. Langley, joined in Beaverton by family members, provided Bleacher Report with a firsthand account of a day he'll never forget.


6:30 a.m.: Rise and Shine

When Langley woke up he was well aware Tuesday's events would change the dynamics of his life. His commitment announcement, scheduled to occur later that day live on ESPNU, had plenty of people speculating which college program the 5'11", 170-pound defender would pick.

"There were definitely some nerves from the start of the day," he admitted.

After grabbing a shower, Langley made his way to breakfast with roommate Bryce Love, an uncommitted running back from North Carolina who holds more than 20 scholarship offers. The two were paired up on Monday, when players arrived in Oregon for a campus tour, dinner and opening ceremony.


7 a.m.: Fuel Up

Breakfast featured an abundance of options for athletes aiming to store energy for a demanding day of physical activity. Langley passed on the French toast, loading his plate with bacon, eggs and fruit.

After hanging out with the talent-packed group of prospects for a short period, it was time to work.


8 a.m.: Bus Ride to SPARQ Testing

Sports companies are always examining new methods of measuring athleticism, so it's no surprise that global giant Nike appears to be ahead of the curve. Prospects invited to The Opening initially underwent SPARQ (speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness) testing at regional camps, which helped them earn a ticket to Beaverton.

The test features four events, and each performance adds up to result in a final score. The vertical leap, shuttle run, kneeling power-ball toss and 40-yard dash present participants with a gauntlet of challenges.

There was mild tension in the air during a bus ride to the field, where 10 competitors would emerge as finalists for the SPARQ national championship, set to air from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on ESPNU. Some guys spent the trip conversing, while others zoned in with music.

Langley listened to "The Devil Is a Lie" from Rick Ross' 2013 album, Mastermind.

"That was on the top of my playlist," he said.

Upon arriving at the field, athletes spent time stretching and eventually worked their way through a circuit of tests. Langley wound up "scratching" his scores.

"They weren't what I thought they'd be," he said.

Langley wouldn't be one of the 10 finalists flashing their skills on national television, but the spotlight would still shine on him during the broadcast.


11:15 a.m.: Training Camp

Immediately after SPARQ testing, Langley and his peers headed to Ronaldo Field across campus for a two-hour session of positional drills. However, before they hit the grass it was time for a wardrobe change.

“Every time we turn around, we get new gear," Langley said.

Athletes went from SPARQ outfits to training camp attire, complete with new jerseys, shorts, cleats and everything in between. Langley came to Beaverton prepared from a luggage standpoint.

“I brought a big suitcase with nothing in it," he said. "I came ready. There was one shoebox, a few pairs of underwear, some socks and my hygiene stuff. Other than that, nothing. It’s already starting to get  pretty full with all the Nike stuff.”

He also picked up a different uniform for seven-on-seven games, which would get underway Wednesday.

Training camp action included technical instruction, footwork drills and one-on-one coverage matchups that put Langley against several of America's premier wide receiver prospects. 

“Everyone wants to do their best in this situation, and there’s no doubt I was going to perform," he said. "It’s great competing against this level of talent. Plus, we had Richard Sherman coaching us up, which was awesome.”

That's right. The self-acclaimed best cornerback in the NFL was in attendance and was among several notable instructors patrolling the field. Former LSU Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu also provided defensive back royalty for players at the position.

"Having guys like Sherman and Honey Badger around you is special," Langley said.

“I told Sherman that he’s my idol," Langley said. "I was just like, ‘Look it up. In most of my interviews, I compare myself to you.’ He played wide receiver for a long time and made the transition to cornerback like me. And now we’re both Pac-12 guys.”

Langley let it slip he was heading to USC. The former Stanford standout congratulated him and discussed a man they both immensely appreciate.

"I told him how much I respect Pete Carroll," he said. "USC is what it is today because of Coach Carroll. Obviously he's meant a lot to Sherman too."


12:30 p.m.: Lunch with the McKenzies

Langley worked up quite an appetite after a morning filled with physical demands.

“Oh man, I ate a ton," he said. "There’s was so much stuff.”

Langley scarfed down chicken, steak, potatoes and a milkshake, enjoying some time off his feet. He was joined by another coveted recruit at the lunch table.

Kahlil McKenzie, a 5-star defensive tackle from California, ate with Langley. His father, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, sat with the them.

The dominant lineman was also scheduled to announce his commitment on ESPN during The Opening, with a decision between Tennessee and Arizona arriving Thursday. Langley's collegiate declaration was now just hours away, though he wasn't exactly sure when he would stare into the camera and reveal his choice.

"They told me it would be toward the end of the broadcast but I didn't know what time so I was a little anxious," Langley said.


5:00 p.m.: SPARQ Finals

Athletes changed into more relaxed attire and spent time touring more Nike facilities. Aside from the 10 SPARQ finalists, competition and drills were done for the day.

Meanwhile, Langley fielded some last-minute sales pitches from a few committed players.

“There’s definitely been a bunch of guys talking to me about joining their class," he said hours before his announcement. "Ricky Town (USC), Brady White (Arizona State) and a few others. But I only brought one hat so I guess some of them are going to be bummed."

By now, players had begun to bond and shared conversations on Ronaldo Field in anticipation of the nationally televised SPARQ finals. Langley saw some quickly go from strangers to friends, including Indiana linebacker Darrin Kirkland (Michigan commit) and Texas receiver Ryan Newsome (targeted by the Longhorns, UCLA, Notre Dame and Oregon).

As finals action continued, the television broadcast periodically teased Langley's commitment. The camera caught him on the field a few times, resulting in an outpouring of attention from friends, family and fans.

“I kept getting texts and tweets from a bunch of people," he said. "They were like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re on ESPN.' My phone was blowing up the whole time and people were telling me where they thought I should go to school. It was wild.”


6:45 p.m.: Showtime

Finally, the moment arrived.

Langley was told to head up to the ESPN broadcast stage, joined by his family. It turns out his announcement would be the grand finale in a series of commitments Tuesday night.

“I didn’t realize I was going to be the last one," Langley said. "I was nervous but I just rolled with the punches and shared my decision.”

With the red light on and football fans watching, it was time for his big reveal. Langley pulled out the only hat he brought—one with a USC logo—and placed it on his head.

Shouts of joy came from his smiling family, his father gave a fist-pump and the kid from California was officially staying in state.


7 p.m.: Welcome to the Family

Langley made his way down a staircase from the stage, moments after Louisiana athlete Kirk Merritt edged out Virginia defensive end Josh Sweat for the title of SPARQ national champion.

Town was waiting below.

"Ricky was really one of the only people who knew where I was going beside my family and Sherman," Langley said. "He was pumped."

The 5-star quarterback prospect flipped to USC from Alabama in late January. The two embraced in a hug, acknowledging they'd work to win a title together for years to come.

Cameron Smith, another USC commit, raced over from across the field. The 4-star linebacker gave Langley another welcome to the 2015 class.

The trio of prospects still have senior seasons to play in high school but, in that moment, it was clear they're already Trojans.

Langley let USC head coach Steve Sarkisian know his plans earlier, though he gave him a slight scare at first.

“I called Sark and actually tried to trick him," he said. "I kind of made it sound like I wasn’t going to USC. I said, ‘Unfortunately coach, my recruitment process is over. But look at the bright side—I’m ready to be a Trojan.’ It was all good."

Other phone calls weren't quite as fun to make. He attempted to let his other college finalists know about his decision in advance but could only get through to Cal.

“Unfortunately, that’s the other part of it," Langley said. "This recruiting process is tough when it gets to this point. I tried reaching out to some of the teams this week but Utah and UCLA had to find out on TV."

Sarkisian wasn't the only one who dealt with a little trickery Tuesday. Fellow Southern California defensive back and seven-on-seven teammate Iman Marshall was played by Langley.

“After the announcement, I walked up to 'Biggie' with a big smile and he started yelling because he was surprised," Langley said. "I totally had him fooled. I told him I was going to Cal so he thought that was the plan."

The 5-star cornerback remains uncommitted and could join Langley in the Trojans secondary.


11:30 p.m: Lights Out

Curfew brought a close to an eventful day for Langley and company. Despite all the physical exertion, he wasn't ready to crash just yet.

A 7 a.m. Wednesday breakfast loomed large, but Langley took some time to savor the moment.

“It was really hard to fall asleep," he said. "I laid in bed so excited about everything. What a day."


All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

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How Nike and Oregon Created College Football's Perfect Brand

On a gloomy December day in 2011, under overcast Eugene skies, Oregon conducted a secret test, which was actually more of a science experiment...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

How Nike and Oregon Created College Football's Perfect Brand

On a gloomy December day in 2011, under overcast Eugene skies, Oregon conducted a secret test, which was actually more of a science experiment.

With the Rose Bowl just weeks away, the now infamous “LiquidMetal HydroChrome” metallic helmets hit the practice field for the first time under observant eyes.

The entire project remained surreptitious—somehow, a feat that has grown increasingly difficult in an era built on access and information. With scattered clouds overhead—and not a single camera phone or public opinion in sight—the operation proved successful.

They were ready. The 12-step process to create this headwear—most of which took place with the aid of water or underwater testing—had worked. The unique helmets were packed and shipped to Pasadena, awaiting their master reveal.

When the Ducks finally took the field on January 1, 2012, however, a rush of concern hit those tucked behind the neon curtain.

The cloudless sky and bright California sun provoked a much different reaction. The helmets shined—unlike anything we had seen before—and our televisions struggled to keep up. Early on, there was genuine concern that the spaceship-infused, magnificent chrome creations were not going to be allowed because of the reflection they cast.

“I was nervous for that game,” Oregon’s football equipment administrator Kenny Farr said. “We were worried about the legality of it, blinding our quarterbacks and thinking about a Plan B if we couldn’t wear them. But thankfully everything worked out.”

The helmets sizzled, chameleon-izing throughout the day as the sun hit the headgear from various angles. On the field, the Ducks provided a high-octane attack that seemed fitting of the Daft Punk-ian attire.

As the sun went down, and the reflective properties faded, Oregon capped off a 45-38 over Wisconsin to earn its first Rose Bowl title in 95 years.

"None of us were around 95 years ago, and we never talked about it," former Oregon coach Chip Kelly told after the game. "We're a forward-thinking operation, and we're always looking ahead."

It’s this mentality that has helped drive Oregon football into another stratosphere over the past decade. Metallic helmets can’t score points—and they didn’t account for a single portion of the 621 total yards—but their role in the Ducks’ dramatic rise to football power is undeniable.

It’s why 4-star guard Zach Okun, a 2015 commit and one of the best players as his position according to 247Sports, visited Eugene and committed before he headed home.

“I don’t know how you visit Oregon and don’t commit,” Okun said. 

Some of the nation's premier recruits from the 2014 class shared a similar sentiment. While parity was prevalent when they were tasked to name the best fans and coaches in the country, the question on uniforms required no further debate.

In a sport that rarely produces a consensus, we have found one. The Ducks have won college football's Cool Contest. 

Getting to Know the Future Stars of College Football

Which school has the hottest girls?

Who is the NCAA's scariest coach?



Should college players be paid?

Some should
For retail sales
Which school has the craziest fans?

Which school has the best uniforms?

One word to describe the SEC


Oregon’s rise goes beyond winning football games at an incredible rate. It’s the product of a bold blueprint built around loud, attention-grabbing uniforms and facilities so good you won't want to leave. And the entire process, with a helping hand from a very rich man and his very rich and creative company, has worked our brilliantly.


Abandoning Tradition: The Chameleons and Trendsetters of College Football

Only three years later, Oregon is off of chrome. The godfathers of this wide-spreading helmet fad—the architects that pushed televisions to their very brink—have had enough. And quite frankly, it’s our fault.

“Everybody’s doing it, and we’re kind of moving on because of it,” Farr said regarding the chrome helmets. “It’s onto the next thing.”

To seek out the next great thing, you must first abandon your past. In a sport built on tradition, sights, songs and smells, hitting the reset button is almost never encouraged. It might as well read “self-destruct.”

But Oregon saw what we saw, two nine-win seasons before 1994, neither of which occurred before 1950. The Ducks needed a change. 

“Our tradition is that we’re willing to push the envelope when it comes to uniforms and branding,” Farr said. “There are a lot of schools that are based on tradition, and I understand and respect that. But Oregon embraces not having tradition.”

Farr, who has been with the school since 2008—the football program specifically since 2009—has watched the program go through its various stages. Before he was the team’s football equipment administrator, he was a student in Eugene.

As the equipment manager, it’s his job to ensure that the team is always dapper and ready to play to the cameras. He’s in charge of ordering and coordinating—from the helmet, to the socks, to the neon-splashed mouth guards (which are more popular than you would imagine, according to Farr). He also plays a prominent role in the creative process.

Farr graduated from Oregon in 2002, which served as an integral time in the program’s history. It was during his tenure as a student that he saw, specifically, a change in the branding.

“Between the 1998 and 1999 season, we went from our traditional interlocking U-O to the O,” Farr said. “When we went to that, we also went to mallard green helmet. That kind of started the whole process.”

Slowly but surely, it expanded. Oregon took on new looks—pushing the envelope a bit further each time—and it has succeeded in doing so. The brand change in 1999 may seem subtle compared to the unbelievable advancements on display weekly, although it has been a gradual, calculated climb to reach this point.

Surprisingly, Farr's “wow” moment didn’t come at the Rose Bowl. His moment actually came a year prior when Oregon competed against Auburn for the national championship in socks you could see from space.

“I got the most contacts from people I hadn’t heard from in a long time was when we wore the carbon fire helmet, the neon “O” and the neon socks in the national championship against Auburn,” Farr said. “That reminded me of what an impact this stuff can have.”

Although the neon socks are still matched by few, the chrome helmets and alternate uniforms have become common practice. Once unexplored waters have now grown crowded. 

Oklahoma, a program proud of its timely look, just released its bright and boisterous alternate threads.

Bringin' The Wood! #BringTheWood#Unmatched#0to100RealQuick /

Bob Stoops (@OU_CoachStoops) July 1, 2014

Other teams with rich traditions, such as Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame, have also dabbled with new ensembles. Closer to home, Oregon’s direct competition is now thoroughly invested in thread experimentation.

“There aren’t many schools in the Pac-12 that don’t have multiple jerseys and multiple helmets,” Farr said. “It’s taken on a life of its own.”

Because of this, Oregon has to stay in front of a booming market. Thus far it has done so.

It’s not easy (or cheap), but it is worth it. More importantly to Oregon, there’s a reputation to uphold about being the mad scientist that always delivers just the right amount of mad.

“It’s cool to be the trendsetter,” Farr added.


Bringing Neon Together: Oregon’s Melting-Pot Approach to Uniform Design

It’s all about speed.

When Nike announced Oregon’s 2014 Nike Mach Speed Uniform—as seen against Texas in last year’s Alamo Bowl—those were the first words used in its release.

Speed is, without question, Oregon’s paramount currency. Nike knows this, which is why terms like “laser perforated mesh” and “heavy-duty stretch-woven panels” are bullet points to describe football attire and not components of nuclear missiles.

But the process of creating these uniforms—from the now infamous spring game digs to a potential championship game ensemble—requires more of an Alabama-esque approach. It takes time, patience and, most importantly, it involves more than just a few Nike fabric savants destroying a whiteboard with various shades of green.

“The ideas come from so many places,” Farr said. “Nike will send their creative teams to meet with our players. Our golf coach might have an idea, or maybe somebody’s wife will suggest something at a party. We’ll throw all the ideas into a bucket and talk about each one.”

The player involvement is integral; it’s also incredibly rare.

This isn’t simply a gesture of courtesy on Nike’s behalf; it’s genuine interest. Those who wear the uniforms will have a say—not just in when they wear them—but how they will look going forward. That’s a recruiting pitch in itself.

It’s an open line for innovation, which was evident with the latest Oregon creations. The players wanted the focus to be on comfort and performance.

Nike listened.

“We meet with the team on a regular basis to gain insights into what they need on the field,” said Todd Van Horne, Nike Football VP and Creative Director, when the uniforms were revealed. “They’ve told us that uniform fit, range of motion, and airflow make a drastic difference on the field, and we are excited to provide them with a uniform that solves those problems and helps them perform on the field.”

It all sounds so simple, although the alterations are anything but. The colors are outlined accordingly, and the technology undergoes vigorous testing in order to determine if it’s functioning as planned.

It takes time—not days or weeks—months. Before a uniform can be deemed game-ready, it is sent down various avenues for approval.

“Everything has to be approved through Nike, the football program and coach [Mark] Helfrich,” Farr said of the process. “I won’t just get a call that we’re making a new uniform and it will be there in two weeks. It’s a much longer process than that.”

While it’s ultimately Nike’s job to craft Oregon’s gear, the path to the final product involves as many insiders as are willing to get involved. It’s a collaborative attack that begins with the simplest, most experienced and most knowledgeable source.

"Our relationship with Nike is unique and continues to be incredibly beneficial to our program and our players," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said when the Mach Speed Uniforms were announced. "To see their feedback translate directly into improved uniform and equipment design is awesome, and it will only add to their level of confidence and performance on the field."

It has, and it will. Players will continue to shape the way the Oregon uniforms are crafted moving forward, and the products will only continue to improve thanks to this insider help. 


The Man, the Swoosh and the Willingness to Spend

In 1978, Phil Knight, co-founder of Blue Ribbon Sports, decided it was time to change the name. He settled on Nike—the Winged Goddess of Victory—and paid a student $35 to draw up an edgy logo.

That logo has become iconic, the company a giant and Phil Knight was recently recognized at No. 44 on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people. His net worth is reportedly $19.2 billion.

In his Forbes profile, the Oregon alum was featured in a sport coat at a Ducks sporting event, with a trendy Oregon “O” t-shirt in place of a suit and tie.

This, in many ways, is the elegance and edginess that mirrors the Oregon football team’s attire. Knight’s influence is felt in what the Ducks wear, but it’s not exclusive to just that. The branding that has taken place within the program is an extension of his creativity and an enormous bit of generosity.

“The relationship with Nike, Mr. Knight and all the former Oregon players and alums working up the road in Beaverton has created a great partnership,” Farr said. “They’re [Nike] pushing the envelope in terms of innovation and style, and we’re willing to try those things. It’s a great marriage between the two.”

We’ve known of this marriage for quite some time. It’s why the masses will push their East Coast bedtimes back on Saturday nights, just to see what Nike has drawn up this time. But Nike’s (and Knight’s) influence on the football program is more than just the threads. In fact, the endless neon clothing designs are the tip of the iPad-equipped, self-navigating iceberg.

Knight recently donated nearly $70 million so Oregon could build the nation’s most elaborate football operations building. It is a state-of-the-art electronic football playground with Brazilian hardwood, a barbershop, custom foosball tables, Ferrari leather chairs and a lobby equipped with 64 flat screen televisions.

The players reacted to the opening of the facility as you might imagine.

“It’s indescribable and it’s even better in person,” Helfrich told Bleacher Report when the facility first opened.

The business chairs come with yellow trimming. The comfortable “war room” leather seats feature a giant “O” in the middle of each one. In the cafeteria, “Eat Your Enemies” is etched in enormous neon writing on the wall followed by “And the Other Food Groups” on the other side.

It is a football palace built for the player, by the man who has the means and appetite to provide. For his contribution, Knight was given a permanent parking spot at the facility, and yes, his very own locker.

Yes, Phil Knight has his own locker

— Jen Beyrle (@JenBeyrle) August 5, 2013

Over time, Knight’s donated more than $500 million to the school, spreading that money through various avenues and departments. Nike's influence on the university as a whole is undeniable, and Knight’s generosity within the football program has shaped the dramatic climb.

The timing isn’t just coincidence.

He might not direct each and every stripe on a proposed helmets or suggest ways to improve airflow through mouthpieces, but he’s still deeply involved with the happenings of the program. 

Passion and business have come together, all at once.


The Art of the First Impression: How Oregon Sells Itself

Before Zach Okun was one of the nation’s premier guards, he was a high school freshman touring the Oregon campus. This was long before Phil Knight’s starship was complete, of course, although the California native was intrigued by the Ducks even before he knew it would be a real option.

On his second visit in March of this past year, he was given the full mallard green carpet treatment and shown everything the Ducks had to offer.

He verbally committed before heading home.

It was the coaches, the players, the campus and the education that led Okun to his decision, as it should be for recruits. He found comfort in Eugene, something he recognized early.

But it was also the power of the visit—the wave of neon enticement that hits you when you step inside the program and see the array of technology that is just a signature away.

“I visited a bunch of schools, but the whole package at Oregon was incredible,” Okun said on Oregon. “Every facet of the program is just top notch.”

“It’s unreal. Everything there is for you.”

The helmets didn’t directly lead to his commitment. Neither did the immaculate facilities. It plays a role in the process—especially in the courting of the player—but the fit has to be right first. When it is, the gorgeous amenities within the program start to take over.

The look and feel of a football program—from the uniforms, to the locker room, to the overall vibe—can serve as a kicker in a decision. For Oregon, showcasing these perks early on is even more important than it is for most.

"It's quite a trip to Eugene, Oregon from most places, so there has to be a hook and motivation to get prospects there and expose them to the brand as the Ducks,” 247Sports’ national recruiting director JC Shurburtt said. "Things like uniforms and facilities can help Oregon get its foot in the door with top recruits across the country.” 

Only 17 players on the Ducks’ current roster come from the state of Oregon. From Hawaii to New Jersey, Oregon’s courting hinges on successful first impressions and on-campus encounters. What better place to do this than the football future.

Okun’s future teammate, 4-star quarterback Travis Waller, recently announced his verbal commitment to the school, picking the Ducks over Notre Dame. Like Okun, the California product came away dazzled after getting the grand tour.

“It was definitely the best one hands down,” Waller said on his visit to Oregon. “It’s going to be hard to beat that visit.”

For Waller, it was more than just the visit. As the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat quarterback, according to 247Sports, he saw an opportunity to a) play in a system suited for his physical gifts and b) perhaps play early—if all goes well—with an opening at quarterback next year.

The little things mattered, but Waller also approached his decision with a realistic understanding of the situation.

“You have to be a little mature about it, and it can’t just be about how crazy the uniforms are,” Waller said. “They’re great, but it’s a great school overall.”

Still, even with this astute, levelheaded approach Waller—like his future teammate—was hypnotized as he was given the grand tour. One of the greatest recruiting tools in the country struck again.

“It’s like the future basically,” Waller said on Oregon’s football operations building. “It feels like 2035 in there.”


The Bottom Line: What It’s Meant and Where They’re Headed

In 2013, 66.6 percent of Oregon’s athletic revenue came from football. The next highest revenue generator for the program was basketball, which produced 12.4 percent of all revenue. What’s most intriguing about this discrepancy is that it is not the least bit surprising.

Over the past nine years, Oregon has watched its athletic revenue skyrocket, which again, should come as no surprise. The appearance in the BCS National Championship—as outlined by the enormous outlier in the graph below below—prompted a surge of momentum, one that has further propelled the brand and performance to another level.

Now Oregon is on a steady path, cracking the top 10 in total national revenue this past year. This upward trend, especially after a $21 million jump in only one season, speaks volumes about where the program is headed.

In front of our very eyes, Oregon has transformed itself into a football power. A club that rarely accepts newcomers has embraced the Ducks with open arms. Quite frankly, it has had no other choice.

It hasn’t come through the typical path of rich tradition and decades of football success. It instead has been a product of winning, unmistakable speed, original, bold branding and a helping hand from the world’s most successful provider of athletic apparel.

Nike’s influence has been critical. And Oregon has done its part to help The Swoosh on the other side.

Thanks in large part to the brand recognition that has come with Oregon—and also a long history of delivering eye-popping, quality materials—Nike now provides attire for 88 colleges.

From a financial standpoint, Nike, Inc. just announced that revenues totaled $27.8 billion for the fiscal 2014 year, up 10 percent from 2013. Of course, Oregon's football look isn't the sole reason for Nike's incredible success, but the Ducks have done wonders to enhance Nike's reputation in the business.

The two are the best-working, most-convincing and best-looking couple in college football today. The relationship has resulted in money, success, and a recruiting device that is unmatched in college football.

What's perhaps most intriguing about the relationship is not where they've come from, but where they're headed. As much progress has been made in the past decade—pushing others to alter their traditional approaches entirely—Oregon and Nike are only scratching the metallic, tantalizing surface on what can be done.

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Projecting Every College Football Conference's Surprise Team for 2014

At this time last year, very few people could have predicted that Auburn would play for the national title. Coming off a 3-9 record and with a new head coach, there might have been hope and optimism, but to expect what the Tigers did wasn't realistic.

But that's how college football can be sometimes. Though most of the traditional powers tend to dominate year in and year out, each campaign a number of surprise teams come out of nowhere to put together a great season.

Besides Auburn, Missouri also went from 5-7 the year before to reaching the SEC title game. In addition, Marshall played for the Conference USA Championship (as well as knocked off an ACC team in a bowl game) after being 5-7 in 2012. Boston College, Tulane and UNLV each went from two wins in 2012 to seven a year later, and seven other teams went from below .500 to bowl-bound.

Who will be this year's surprise teams? Looking at the schedules and making some history-backed assumptions about the prevalence of turnarounds, we've identified one school from each FBS conference that should do far better than in 2013.

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Andre James to UCLA: Bruins Land 4-Star OT Prospect

Taking the opportunity of a lifetime to announce his collegiate decision on national television, Andre James made a whole lot of UCLA fans pump their fists on Thursday.

ESPN College Football had the news:

James gave his verbal commitment to the UCLA Bruins on ESPNU as part of Nike's The Opening camp in Oregon. A 4-star offensive tackle prospect out of Herriman High School in Utah, James chose UCLA over Oregon, USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Utah.

His recruitment has been up in the air throughout the process. When James announced he would verbally commit at The Opening, 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictor had Oregon as a slight favorite over USC. By the time Thursday rolled around, momentum had clearly swung away from the Ducks and toward UCLA.

The Bruins had been recruiting him for much of the process, and he indicated in a June visit to Los Angeles that Jim Mora and Co.'s persistence was a factor.

"I'd say [USC] has some making up to do, they haven't been recruiting me as long," James told Lindsey Thiry of "UCLA was the second school who ever offered me, so I have had a great relationship with UCLA for a very long time."

Because he is a Class of 2015 recruit, the spurned schools still have plenty of time to sway James' answer. His verbal commitment does not lock him into UCLA, but merely acts as a preserver for his scholarship. James can decommit anytime between now and national signing day without suffering an NCAA penalty.

Listed as the No. 18 tackle in the country by 247Sports' composite rankings, UCLA hopes the next year only affirms his desire to play in Los Angeles. James has a unique combination of size (6'5", 275 lbs) and athleticism, showing a quick first step off the line and ability to quickly adjust his footwork when needed.

While 275 pounds is not ideal for Pac-12 competition, his frame should allow him to bulk up without much problem. If he's able to add 10 or 15 pounds by next fall, there's little reason to think he can't compete for playing time as a freshman. James is a two-way player who should be a weapon against the run and pass.

Of course, all of this is speculative. James still has his senior season to go, during which anything could happen. He might vault up recruiting rankings and suddenly get the likes of Alabama knocking down his door, sending a monkey wrench into his recruitment. Though less likely, things could also go the opposite direction.

Either way, Thursday was one of celebration for one of 2015's best young linemen and UCLA alumni and fans everywhere. 

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Meet Blake Barnett, the Elite 11 2014 MVP

It's been a steady climb to the top for Blake Barnett, who capped a fantastic week at Nike's "The Opening" in Beaverton, Oregon, with a win in the seven-on-seven championship game and the Elite 11 MVP Award, given to the camp's top quarterback.

Here he is accepting the award:

"It's a great group of quarterbacks and I'm glad I had the opportunity to come out here and compete against the best," Barnett said after winning, per Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue. "It's an honor."

That humility is part of what makes Barnett so sought-after. And it's not an act, either. After spending some time with him and his family this past week, Donohue spoke highly of Barnett—not just as the on-field star of "The Opening," but as an impressive young man:

Barnett is the No. 63 overall player and the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback on the 247Sports composite rankings.

Among the many talented quarterbacks he beat for MVP honors were the only four who rank ahead of him: Josh Rosen (UCLA), Kyler Murray (Texas A&M), Ricky Town (USC) and Jarrett Stidham (Texas Tech).

Barnett himself is committed to Alabama, but the road the Corona, California, native has has taken to get here has been complicated.

According to Tom Loy of 247Sports, he didn't really hit the national recruiting scene until appearing at a few local camps last September. Afterward, he was graded an 88 on 247Sports' subjective ratings—a score that in hindsight looks small but at the time represented a sea change in his recruitment.

He committed to Notre Dame on November 24, one day after taking an unofficial visit to South Bend. But as the year went on and his ratings continued to climb—first to a 90, then to a 94, then to a 95 and now to a 96—he began to bring in offers from other schools.

He wondered if he had committed too soon.

Eventually, he decided that he had. He took an unofficial visit to Oregon on June 2, decommitted from the Irish on June 4, visited Alabama on June 11 and committed to the Crimson Tide on June 18, announcing his decision live with Adam Lefkoe of Bleacher Report:

"I think I committed too early," Barnett told Bleacher Report's Chris Simms of his decision to leave Notre Dame. "I jumped on the whole Notre Dame picture—I jumped on it really fast.

"I didn't really get to explore all the schools and the places that I had an opportunity to, and I think as time went on I regretted that."

If he sticks with Alabama throughout the cycle—and there's no reason to think he won't—Barnett could redefine what it means to be a Crimson Tide quarterback under Nick Saban.

His mobility sets him apart from predecessors such as AJ McCarron, Greg McElroy and John Parker Wilson, and his size (6'4.5", 200 lbs) and arm talent set him apart from current senior Blake Sims. 

He's the best combination of raw, athletic tools that Saban has landed at the position.

And Barnett is already ahead of the game when it comes to a rapport with future teammates. He was paired with fellow Alabama commit Calvin Ridley, the No. 40 overall player and No. 6 wide receiver in the country, during the tournament, and the chemistry they showed in Beaverton was a sight to make 'Bama fans blush.

"Get used to 'Barnett to Ridley,'" wrote B/R's Barrett Sallee, "because it will be a dominating theme in the SEC for years to come."

"We really found a rhythm together," Barnett told Donohue of playing with Ridley. "He's such a talented receiver and it's big that we have a chance to build some chemistry before we both arrive at Alabama."

The Crimson Tide have options at quarterback—just as they do at every position. Florida State transfer Jacob Coker might still be around next season, and even if he isn't, former blue-chippers Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell will still be underclassmen.

There are no clear paths to playing time in Tuscaloosa.

But if Barnett shows to Saban and Lane Kiffin what he showed Trent Dilfer—and, really, the entire college football scouting community—in Beaverton, it will be impossible to keep him off the field.


Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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5-Star Kahlil McKenzie Commitment Will Be Program-Defining Pledge for Tennessee

Forget bricks. Tennessee added a big ol' pillar to its rebuilding project Thursday night when 5-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie committed to the Volunteers.

After being named the Defensive Line MVP at The Opening, the 6'4", 341-pound prospect committed to the Vols over Arizona in front of a live television audience on ESPNU.

McKenzie is much more than a major recruiting win at a position of need for UT coach Butch Jones. The recruit has the ability to be a program-changer and the cornerstone of a defense.

In a league where championships are won in the trenches, McKenzie's commitment marks the biggest remaining puzzle piece that Jones needed to secure to get Tennessee back in the conference arms race.

McKenzie decided to follow in his family footsteps and commit to Tennessee, where his father Reggie and uncle Raleigh played in the 1980s.

"First I’d like to say thank you to my family and all my friends, and thank you to God for blessing me with tremendous talent in this sport of football that I love so much," McKenzie told ESPNU's Tom Luginbill. "But for the next few years, I’ll be attending...the University of Tennessee."

Before McKenzie uttered his final destination, he reached for his signature bucket hat. This one was orange with two white stripes and had a power T prominently displayed.

"It's just a second home," McKenzie continued. "Everything about it I love. From top to bottom, everything about it is just a perfect fit for me."

Now, the younger McKenzie is firmly in the fold and can attempt to recruit other elite defensive linemen to join him on Rocky Top.


McKenzie Turned Heads at The Opening

Regardless of McKenzie's family ties to the program, Jones recruited him like he was never a UT lean.

The second-year UT coach doggedly pursued him via visits, constant communication and social media, ultimately landing a prize that—along with last year's pledge by Jalen Hurd—is one of the two biggest of the coach's short tenure.

The Concord, California, defensive tackle proved this past week he's the kind of player Jones couldn't take for granted, even with his connections to the school.

McKenzie is fresh off a dominant performance against the nation's best at The Opening, where he did nothing but solidify (if not elevate) his status as one of the biggest impact players in the 2015 class.

Analysts such as's Scott Kennedy wondered aloud if McKenzie shouldn't be the nation's top overall player:

Regardless of where he finishes in the recruiting rankings, McKenzie left little doubt he was worthy of his 5-star status. He is also going to be a handful for linemen for the next four years.

Against some of the nation's top offensive linemen, he showcased his talents as a dominant pass-rusher, blowing quickly by them into the backfield.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder recognized McKenzie as one of his biggest freaks from The Opening. Felder also mentioned him prominently as one of the beasts who blew up the lineman challenge.

His performance made everybody in the nation take note of one of the fastest-rising prospects in the cycle.


Can McKenzie Cure All?

McKenzie possesses the skill set that Tennessee has lacked on the defensive line in recent years. Not only is he blessed with a thick, powerful body and tree-trunk legs, but he also has incredible athleticism for his size, as evidenced by his 101.04 SPARQ Rating at The Opening, per

A lane-clogging interior force who also has the quickness to bull rush quarterbacks is a luxury the Vols haven't consistently boasted.

Current Denver Bronco Malik Jackson had that talent during his career in Knoxville, but not since the days of Albert Haynesworth and John Henderson has UT had a player with the size and athleticism of McKenzie.

The Vols have struggled miserably on defense during their recent swoon, especially during the past four years.

A study of composite rankings from 2009 to 2013 shows the Vols' recent struggles to sign elite defensive linemen. Of the 26 linemen who did commit to UT, 10 didn't finish their careers in Knoxville.

  • UT signed only 12 defensive ends during that span, and their average recruiting ranking was 30th at their respective positions.
  • Of the 14 players who wound up as defensive tackles, UT's average positional ranking was 31st.


Jones Turning Fortunes Around in D-Line Recruiting

With Jones at the helm, the Vols attempted to cure those ills with the 2014 recruiting class, signing eight defensive linemen. Six of those were 4-star prospects on either the 247Composite rankings or on 247Sports.

Still, just one of those players (Michael Sawyers) is a no-doubt interior defensive lineman. Others like Derek Barnett and Dimarya Mixon were ends that the Vols are growing into tackles, and guys like Charles Mosley may eventually fit on the offensive line.

Not McKenzie. He's a star defensive tackle all the way who can stop the run and rush the passer. He's a rare breed with the athleticism to complement his size, and he's the kind of player around which championship defenses are built.

The moment he signs his letter of intent, McKenzie will be in the defensive tackle rotation. Not only is he that good, but he's that big of a need.

Given UT's inability to sign elite defensive tackles in recent memory who possess the skill set to dominate in a league loaded with quality players, McKenzie is the kind of player who will go a long way in curing the Vols' defensive ills.

If Jones can pair him with another top target remaining on the list, such as defensive ends Josh Sweat or Kyle Phillips or defensive tackles D.J. Jones, Shy Tuttle or Tim Settle, the Vols will be set for the future in the defensive trenches.

McKenzie is the biggest cornerstone yet for Jones' program.


All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite. All statistics gathered from

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:


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Kahlil McKenzie to Tennessee: Volunteers Land 5-Star DT Prospect

It turns out the allure of carrying on the family name was greater than Kahlil McKenzie's desire to stay on the West Coast.

McKenzie committed to Tennessee at a scheduled announcement on Thursday. The 5-star defensive tackle announced on Twitter last month that he would be deciding between the Volunteers and Wildcats, narrowing down a robust list of offers to two schools.

Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue had the report:

McKenzie also made his voice heard on Twitter:

McKenzie is the son of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, who starred as a linebacker at Tennessee and played parts of five seasons in the NFL. The elder McKenzie spent the 1993 season as an assistant coach under Phillip Fulmer before going into player personnel.

The younger McKenzie seems eager to follow in his father's footsteps.

Tennessee seemingly had an insurmountable lead throughout the recruiting process. 247Sports' Crystal Ball feature gave a 98 percent chance that McKenzie would head to Knoxville as of July 3. He's also had fun on social media throughout the process, retweeting numerous fan pleas for both schools while openly answering questions.

"I like Tennessee because I have a ton of family there in Knoxville and around," McKenzie told Wescott Eberts of SBNation. "I had never really been on campus and seen anything that they had done with the football stuff, so it was really cool to get in there and see all the new changes that they have made to the football facilities and meet the coaches to see what type of guys they are."

Arizona, a dark horse rarely mentioned in the early get-go, stood out because of its infrastructure. McKenzie cited everything from the coaching staff to the facilities as being impressive.

In the end, Butch Jones got his man.

Listed at 6'4" and 330 pounds, McKenzie is already built like a grown man. He overpowers offensive linemen with the sheer force of his being at the high school level and can knock players off-balance with a quick first step. It will be interesting to see how he develops at the collegiate level. Coaches will need to work on adding a more complete arsenal of moves at the line if he wants to develop into an above-average pass-rusher. Working against the run should be a more natural transition.

Rankings are somewhat scattered for that very reason, but few deny McKenzie's potential. 247Sports' composite rankings have McKenzie as the No. 32 overall prospect in the class of 2015, and he's the seventh-best defensive tackle and player in the state of California. 

Those rankings may wind up improving even more during McKenzie's senior season, when he'll transfer from to Clayton Valley Charter-Concord. He'd previously played for De La Salle, where he recorded 74 total tackles and 12 sacks last season.

A propensity for transferring might be something to watch over the next year. McKenzie's commitment does not become official until national signing day in February. Until then, opposing coaches can still attempt to woo him into flipping or re-opening his recruitment. McKenzie has embraced the process and seemed steadfast in paring his schools down, but crazier things have happened.

For now, though, Tennessee fans can look forward to the next potential defensive cornerstone.


Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:

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Biggest Takeaways from Miami Recruits' Performance at The Opening

Nine prospects either currently committed or being heavily recruited by the Miami Hurricanes recently participated in Nike's The Opening.

The camp included SPARQ testing, individual drills and 7-on-7 battles, giving many of the nation's premier high school talents multiple opportunities to stand out.

As the dust settles on the high-profile event, three major takeaways emerged from the performances of the players who head coach Al Golden and his staff have targeted.

Plus, one recruit even gave a verbal pledge to the 'Canes during the camp, highlighting an eventful week for Miami football.


Jordan Scarlett Shines, Then Commits to Miami

Running back Jordan Scarlett recorded the fourth-best SPARQ score at his position, but he was the fastest sprinter at The Opening. The 4-star's 40-yard dash was, per Student Sports, timed at a ridiculous 4.30 seconds.

While it's insanely difficult to buy into that number, one thing is for sure: Scarlett is not slow.

Regardless, Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required) called Scarlett the position's "Alpha Dog" of Tuesday's portion, saying he is "an explosive speed back in a big man’s body (5'11", 210 pounds). He had the change of direction and vision to go with the breakaway home run speed and nobody made more explosive plays—highlight film-worthy plays."

Though Scarlett had headlined Florida Atlantic's class, it was long considered only a matter of time before he flipped somewhere else. And the St. Thomas Aquinas back, as expected, committed to the hometown school.

According to Safid Deen of The Miami Herald, Scarlett will now be a player-recruiter for the 'Canes, focusing on 4-stars Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess-Becker.

"We definitely want to play together at the college level," Scarlett said while pointing out the Monarch duo is attempting to persuade him toward Alabama.

Scarlett is the fourth 4-star running back commit in the current class, but the log-jam being created in the Miami backfield is an excellent problem to have.


Miami Targets Post Surprising Numbers

And not necessarily in a good way. Five of the Hurricanes' six commits or top targets who participated in SPARQ testing ranked in the bottom third of their respective position.

Every player wants to be judged by in-game performances, when they are wearing pads and reacting to a given situation. That, obviously, is completely fair, but it does not change the surprise at lower numbers from Miami targets.

Note: Dexter Williams, Burgess-Becker and Tevon Coney did not participate.

Dieter Kurtenbach of the South Florida Sun Sentinel helped explain what exactly the subpar scores mean:

SPARQ is an artificial system; reputations can be built up through it but it doesn't mean you are a great football player. [The biggest question is] do they get the job done and fill the role they are expected to fill. There is literally nothing a SPARQ score can do to convince me someone is a good football player or not a good one.

Athleticism is great, but it does not define whether or not a player excels at football. Kurtenbach used the example of Tom Brady being outstanding in a football sense but a horrible athlete, whereas Terrelle Pryor is a fantastic athlete but mediocre on the field.

The SPARQ result is an all-around number that quantifies athleticism. Camps are trying to quantify skills, but skills are reflected by ability to follow direction.

Just because Jordan Cronkrite didn't post a great score doesn't mean he is not an elite running back. I don't know of many situations a vertical leap is necessary. He is not going to run a 4.3. He is not going to shake a bunch of people. But what he will do is drop his shoulder and ruin your life.

For example, key target Jaquan Johnson posting the second-worst score would be more concerning were he not phenomenal from a football standpoint last season. Instead of recruiting the buzzword of athleticism, Miami is banking on targeting elite football talent.

That also means the Hurricanes' coaching staff is largely relying on their evaluation processes. In other words, the staff is focused on nailing their collective scouting because these players will typically be less flashy than more athletic competition.

Which method is better? Well, that is a matter of subjective opinion, and Miami prefers the latter route for the 2015 cycle.


Calvin Ridley Ready for Next Level

Ridley did not test well SPARQ-wise, finishing 12th of 14 participants at his position. Once the receiver lined up opposite a cornerback, however, Ridley showed why he is such a heralded recruit.

In the accompanying video, Bleacher Report's Michael Felder highlighted Ridley as a top performer, noting the receiver's ability to get open. Additionally, Felder said:

The speed and precision have been his biggest sell. The receiver has gotten himself open consistently with some great route running and he has the hands to finish the play. I don't think Ridley's been the best receiver at The Opening but he's been a consistent performer who is clearly ready to contribute at the next level.

It appears Ridley will be a tough pull from the Crimson Tide, especially after he built rapport with quarterback Blake Barnett at The Opening. The fellow 'Bama commit was Ridley's quarterback during the 7-on-7 competition, connecting with him all over the field.

But until pen meets paper on national signing day, Miami will continue chasing him—just like opposing secondaries.


Note: All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Results from The Opening courtesy of Student Sports.

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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5-Star DT Kahlil McKenzie Commits to Vols, 'All-SEC-Type Player'

Kahlil McKenzie is a monster 5-star defensive tackle in the 2015 class. He is the No. 7 defensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports composite. McKenzie has just committed to the Tennessee Volunteers out at The Opening. His size and strength are off the charts, which will allow him to come in and produce at a high level for Butch Jones. How well do you think he will do in Knoxville?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder break down this future Volunteer.


Rankings from 247Sports CompositeHighlights Courtesy of XOSDigital.

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