There was no lack of drama at the IMG Academy and Auburn (Ala.) High School game on Friday night.
It was a cool night with steady rain throughout the second half of a contest that saw the No. 2 prep team in the country trailing in the second half. It would rally, thanks to Penn State running back commitment Kaytron Allen, who stamped the 27-17 victory with a signature display of patience, power and even emotion.
Leading up to that point there was plenty of back-and-forth to go along with standout moments from both programs. Sports Illustrated looks back at 10 upperclassmen who made noise in between the white lines.
Prospects listed in alphabetical order. Each is in the class of 2022 unless otherwise noted.
DB Joenel Aguero, IMG Academy (2023)
While much of the conversation surrounding the top junior is based on where he will play in college, as his decision approaches, the on-field product is ever impressive. Aguero has great size and length at 6’1”, 195 pounds and projects as an instant-impact safety, but he occupied the corner spot once again for the Ascenders. We didn’t see the junior give up a play in pass coverage and just as importantly, he was elite in run support. The Boston native has great play diagnostic skill and can finish more like a linebacker than secondary player, including a great stop in the open field near the line of scrimmage. Aguero navigates blockers well and closes in a hurry, part of the reason Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and just about every other major program is in on his recruitment.
RB Kaytron Allen, IMG Academy
We've said it for years with the future Penn State Nittany Lion. It's not the prettiest, most fleet of foot or explosive running style, but it has been effective for the Virginia native for years despite playing against the top competition in the country. Friday was no different, evident in his overall game, running with patience and through arm tackles on routine, but even when it is closing time when the entire stadium knows the ball will be handed to No. 13. Allen was tattered by a really good Class 7A defense in Alabama and he still seemingly got stronger as the game wore on, closing it the game out with a memorable score to put the game out of reach for good. Allen also showed some quickness and ball skills in the passing game to set up an earlier score, too, showing he may be more balanced as a running back than his wide frame suggests.
OL Tyler Booker, IMG Academy
Working at left tackle like he has all season long, the Alabama commitment was tested by a future Auburn Tiger in Powell Gordon. Some 100 pounds lighter than Booker, the future Iron Bowl opponent was able to contend around the edge with the bend that made Booker’s length and footwork stand out during the reps he won as the duo seemingly split their pass reps against one another. In the running game, though, Booker was able to drive most of the opponents he faced against their will, and few in the country finish like the former defensive lineman does. It will be intriguing to see where Booker lines up at the next level, where he could potentially play up and down the Alabama offensive front with his frame and skill set.
DE Jihaad Campbell, IMG Academy
Auburn's approach was heavy with the run game and didn't feature the type of drop-back passes Campbell usually thrives against off the edge, but the Clemson commitment found a way to make an impact anyway. The first step continues to turn heads but it’s not reckless to the point that he plays wide of the formation regardless of play call. Campbell showed the ability to play underneath, come down the line and finish against the run in a game in which IMG needed to play well up front to survive. He did and it did with the help of a key fourth quarter turnover, in which the future Tiger showed awareness, too, recovering a sudden strip by a teammate to help keep the Ascenders up for good.
DE Powell Gordon, Auburn
It's no small task to contend against Booker for four quarters, but Gordon made his mark right from the outset. When he won the passing reps against the top talent, it stood out, noticeable from the first play of the game. Gordon won with a strong first step, quick bend and arm extension on the game’s first snap — popping the football up from quarterback AJ Duffy’s arm and right into the hands of a teammate for a game-changing turnover. Gordon worked well on the edge against the pass all night long, logging at least one more sack on the evening, and showed good discipline in the run game when working up front or from the traditional second level. As he adds weight to his frame at Auburn, it won’t take a lot of imagination to see the local talent potentially play throughout Derek Mason’s defense. Gordon also got in some work on offense, not only blocking well in the run game, but capping the first Auburn drive with an impressive touchdown grab of his own with the ball slightly off target.
LB Jordan Hall, IMG Academy, (2023)
The player making us get back to google following the performance Friday was Hall. An uncommitted junior originally from Virginia, the possibilities may be endless for the front seven defender in terms of where he lines up at the next level. At 6’3”, 225 pounds with true closing ability and finishing power, we can see him screaming off the edge or playing conventional off-ball linebacker depending on the scheme he elects to play in. The junior was all over the field Friday, making plays against the run and the pass at as high a clip as any defender we tracked. Hall navigates traffic well and has a nose for the football, traits any college defensive coordinator can utilize. Hall is extremely coveted on the recruiting trail, having taken in recent game visits to Penn State and Virginia Tech.
LB Brad Harper, Auburn
Few prospects played both ways in this one at the rate Harper had to for the hometown Tigers. He worked at running back against that daunting IMG front seven and held his own, but it was his play on defense that really stood out. The Tigers were in front for most of the contest, thanks in part to limiting the Ascenders from breaking off chunk plays, which Harper and his back seven teammates did well. Rallying to the football, he and Gordon may have combined for more than 20 tackles on this night, including a few one-on-one in the open field against Power 5 prospects. Harper is tough, versatile and plays well within his responsibility, though his recruitment has yet to take shape. He told SI some programs, including local Auburn, are upping their communication.
OL Eston Harris, Auburn
For only having played offensive line for a year and some change, one wouldn't know it watching Harris work. Already a member of the SI99 rankings for his potential on the edge, the senior reminded us why against stellar competition. There are still plenty of areas “EJ” has to work on, especially in his technique and mechanics in the lower half, but the athleticism, length and grit remains present. Harris plays through the whistle and it affected some of the interior IMG defenders he was combatting, in both passing and running situations. His active mentality allowed for him to get a piece of multiple defenders on select run plays, burying a couple to the ground along the way. Harris has some old school trench mentality to his game with high tackle athletic upside in his future, a great combination for the Bryan Harsin era at Auburn.
DL Nick James, IMG Academy
No Ascender was more hyped to get the game going that the Alabama native, who was audibly happy to be near his home town of Prattville for one of his final high school games. James turned the excitement into production in a hurry, too, making plays behind the line of scrimmage with great hands, replacement skill and power. James was also opportune, playing down the line to string out a fourth-quarter running play before popping the ball out of the back’s hand to force a timely turnover. Then on the game’s final drive, James put an exclamation point on the performance, registering back-to-back sacks when Auburn High was in desperation passing mode. A college program will get a good one relatively soon, as the senior hinted at a commitment coming relatively soon when speaking to SI after the win. South Carolina and Indiana are among those in contention.
DB Nasir Pogue, Auburn
With great length at 6’2”, onlookers (and some college coaches) on the sidelines Friday night were curious about Pogue’s commitment status, and so were we. The son of Troy cornerbacks coach Al Pogue, there is an expected maturity to his game out on the island, but there is production to his name as well. The senior made one of the early plays of the game, turning IMG over on downs after a picture perfect break on the football with great timing at the catch point, breaking up a pass intended for his assignment, right at the sticks. Pogue showed a willingness to play the run game as well on the cold and rainy evening. Troy, Georgia Southern, Alabama State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff have offered and SEC programs Mississippi State and Vanderbilt are in communication late in the game. Austin Peay gets Pogue on campus next weekend.