WINTER GARDEN, Fla. -- Over 200 high school football players took to the field on Sunday, competing in the annual ESPN 300 Elite Underclassmen Camp. The recruits ranged from the class of 2022 to the class of 2025.
With plenty of observers, coaches, parents and media in attendance, this was one of the first opportunities for the players to put their skills to the test following their most recent season of high school football.
While all players at the event held their own, there were plenty that showed out from running backs, receivers, defensive backs and linebackers alike. Covering the event on Sunday, Sports Illustrated All-American noted plenty of top performers, including players already committed to or are drawing serious interest from some of the top football programs in the nation.
Jayden Gibson, 2022 WR, West Orange (Fla.)
A headliner entering camp, which took part on his high school field, Gibson looked as comfortable as any prospect in attendance. The listed 6-foot-6 wideout made several acrobatic grabs in one-on-ones and against air, a skill that regularly shows up on Gibson's tape.
However, it was Gibson's work as a route-runner that impressed our eyes the most. No one quite expected Gibson to move so smoothly throughout his routes given his size, but he notably kept his feet underneath him with little wasted movement to break outside on a short, double-move route, catching a pass in-stride while several steps ahead of the cornerback he was facing. Gibson's feet are a little heavy as he releases off the snap, but the nimble footwork in his route breaks suggests that he can clean up his release technique and become smoother near the line of scrimmage.
Jerrick Gibson, 2024 RB, Gainesville (Fla.)
Age is nothing but a number. As a running back in the class of 2024, Gibson produced in a way that caught the attention of many at the Elite Underclassmen camp. Earning his spot via the combine held for camp entry on Saturday, Gibson took the road less traveled but made the most of his opportunity, coming away with the running back MVP award among a talented group of prospects.
Pairing a well-versed route-running prowess with soft hands — which helped him haul in an over-the-shoulder reception for a score — Gibson impressed with his sudden movement and acceleration at the top of an angle route in one on one drills versus linebackers.
Despite being a freshman at Gainesville High School (Fla.) in 2020, Gibson is equipped with a mature skillset that required him to see the varsity field in year one. Headed to Grayson High School in Atlanta (Ga.) to continue his high school career, Gibson included his desire to obtain recognition at the camp and, specifically, an offer from Florida as the Gainesville native grew up a fan of the Gators.
Preston Smith, 2023 WR, Lake Gibson (Fla.)
Smith, 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, was one of the standout receivers at the Elite Underclassmen camp this weekend. Routinely making acrobatic catches, he showed his versatility as an outside and inside receiver, beating defensive backs deep for multiple receptions.
On one play, Smith lined up outside against fellow top performer and defensive back Antione Jackson out of Dillard High School (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla). While Jackson had tight coverage against Smith throughout the play, the wideout was able to box Jackson out to high-point and catch the football over his shoulder, staying upright to finish the play.
While he has not garnered much recognition nationally, it’s possible that his performance on Sunday could lead to more attention during his next season at Lake Gibson.
Cormani McClain, 2023 CB, Lake Gibson (Fla.)
One of a multitude of Lake Gibson recruits at the event, McClain commands the same respect as fellow Brave defensive back Sam McCall as well as Jyvonte McClendon (who was not in attendance on Sunday). An athletic freak, McClain recorded a jaw-dropping, camp-best 128-inch (10 feet, 8 inches) broad jump in addition to flashing as one of the top outside cover corners at the event.
McClain's first one-on-one rep came in the slot where he lost a step inside. That won't be his home at the next level, as the lengthy, 6-foot-1 defensive back is far more comfortable outside.
Moving to the boundary on his next rep, McClain showed patience in his mirror steps to force his receiver further outside than he intended to get. McClain quickly got his hip attached to the receiver and stuck to him down the sideline, utilizing his length to bar the receiver and slow him down without getting too touchy to draw a penalty. McClain utilized that leverage to get a step ahead of the receiver and prevent a deep reception. Few defensive backs at the camp were capable of making such a play.
Antione Jackson, 2024 CB, Dillard (Fla.)
The rising sophomore cornerback held his own in man coverage against bigger receivers and could have been mistaken for an upperclassman given his athleticism, length, and comfort on the field. Jackson's speed-turn in reaction to stutters and double-moves was incredibly smooth and allowed him to recover with ease moving down the sideline, hip-to-hip with his receiver.
Coaches vocalized their frustration by a lack of turnovers created by defensive backs in one-on-ones. Jackson took the field for his first rep shortly after their comments, and lo-and-behold came up with a leaping interception after getting on top of his receiver following a swift speed-turn.
This is a prospect to watch over the next couple of years who should emerge as a nationally-coveted man coverage cornerback with ball-hawking skills. We want to see Jackson's reaction timing improve against outside releases, but his recovery speed helps him in these situations.
Other notable performances
Waymond Jordan, 2022 RB, Escambia (Fla.):
As a result of the combine held on Saturday, Jordan was out to "show everybody why I deserved to be here," making way into the event with an opportunity to impress in the crucial months of his recruitment. An underrated member in the 2022 class, the Escambia product dominated his two-day venture from the Panhandle to Orlando with a memorable performance. Showcasing an ability to consistently separate from the linebackers in one on one drills, Jordan proved to be a versatile pass-catching back with crisp movement and agility. Former NFL receiver and a camp coach, Chris Chambers, considered Jordan for the MVP award among running backs.
Tony Livingston, 2022 ATH, Carrollwood Day (Fla.):
Livingston, 6-foot-6, 256 pounds, was one of the more impressive receivers at camp on Sunday. He was one of the biggest players at the camp and stood out, often dwarfing opposing defenders and teammates alike. While he has been noted as one of the top offensive tackles in the country, Livingston is a true athlete and could try multiple positions until locking one in with the Florida Gators, who he is currently committed to.
Livingston made multiple receptions on Sunday that showed off his impressive size, including one over a defensive back near the camp's closing. While he may not have participated in every drill during the day, he impressed in the ones he did.
Grayson Howard, 2023 LB, Andrew Jackson (Fla.):
In a day that was widely dominated by offensive performance, Howard improved upon his showing from the Elite Underclassmen camp that took place in Jacksonville (Fla.) last summer. Putting on 20 pounds, jumping from 185 to 205 during that span, Howard has lost little movement ability, providing fluidity and little wasted movement in his drills on the day.
Marking an impressive 115-inch broad jump, Howard tested better than a plethora of athletes out on the field in Orlando, creating a memorability that will aid the remainder of his recruitment. Walking away with the linebacker MVP award as a result, the Duval County native continues to jockey for offers in the 2023 class. However, his recognition at a highly regarded camp such as the one on Sunday inserts him into the crosshairs of Division-I coaches searching for talented players at the high school level.
Sam McCall, 2022 DB, Lake Gibson (Fla.):
McCall was one of the top prospects entering the camp and performed well, but perhaps not up to the level of his consensus ranking. Considered an elite athlete, McCall didn't close as well moving inside as we expected him to, however, the same couldn't be said when he worked outside of the hashes and near the numbers. He made an impressive pass-breakup near the boundary on his first rep in coverage, never losing a step while trailing a corner route while aligned as an off-man safety.
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