May 23, 2012

For many high school football recruits, there is no such thing as an offseason.

When prospects aren't playing for their high school teams or arranging college visits, they're often participating in camps or 7-on-7 tournaments. And it's easy to figure out why: Juniors rated as fringe FBS recruits want to catch the attention of national scouts. Uncommitted players are competing for an ever-elusive dream offer.

But not every participant fits that billing. Summer showcases can also be attractive to elite recruits who don't have much left to prove. Several previously committed players, those who don't have the need for additional impressions, continue to take part. It begs the question: Why do these prospects spend their weekends competing instead of enjoying their offseason?

To get an answer, Rivals spoke with five high school juniors participating in multiple events throughout the summer. Only one is a classic under-the-radar prospect; the other four are three- or four-star recruits committed to major-conference programs.

Each has a different reason for his busy football itinerary. Here are their stories.

Celina (Texas) offensive tackle Jake Raulerson already has a vaunted recruiting ranking and a staggering list of Division-I offers. He's the No. 51 overall prospect in the junior class, and became the first member of the class of 2013 to commit to Texas on Feb. 3.

So why is he still participating in scouting camps? Raulerson views it as his version of spring practice.

The University Interscholastic League in Texas only allows for the state's Class 4A and 5A programs to hold team workouts. His school, Celina, is a Class 3A team. Therefore, it doesn't have any formal spring practice.

But even though he can't train with the Bobcats (11-1 in 2011), Raulerson still has plenty of opportunities to improve. He performed well at the Dallas Nike Camp in March and will enter the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge next month in Atlanta.

"I don't have spring ball," Raulerson said, "so this is all I get to do.''

The camps should help Raulerson recover from some off-field issues as he prepares for his senior season. Raulerson missed three weeks of training while having his tonsils removed and lost 20 pounds in the process.

"I'm still not at a point where I need to be," Raulerson said. "I'm trying as hard as I can to get back in that shape."

Raulerson was still recovering from his surgery when he attended the Nike Camp.

"He definitely was a little bit different than he normally is," said recruiting analyst Brian Perroni. "He didn't go through a lot of the position drills, but he did do one-on-ones and played a little bit on the offensive line and defensive line. He wanted to go against the best guys and still more than held his own."

The camps also allow Raulerson to meet a spattering of his future teammates. The list of 2013 Texas commits at the Nike camp included Lancaster defensive end Daeshon Hall, Dallas Jesuit wide receiver Jake Oliver, Fort Worth Arlington Heights defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, Belton tight end Durham Smythe, Whitewright quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and Houston Cypress Falls wide receiver Jacorey Warrick. Swoopes, Sealy wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, Bastrop cornerback Antwuan Davis and Cypress Woods outside linebacker Deoundrei Davis are expected to join Raulerson at the Rivals 100 Five-Star Challenge.

"Talking to guys like Tyrone Swoopes and seeing how they're doing and getting to know them better has helped a lot," Raulerson said. "It will pay off in the long run."

Rancho Cucamonga's (Calif.) Chris Hawkins currently ranks as the No. 9 cornerback in the class of 2013. As far as Hawkins is concerned, that's eight spots too low.

"What makes me go to these camps is my will and desire to be No. 1 at my position," Hawkins said. "I want to be known as the No. 1 corner in the nation."

No matter how much Hawkins accomplishes, he continues to set his goals higher. The Rivals250 prospect selected USC over Stanford on April 1 after also receiving offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.

Instead of settling down after committing, however, Hawkins pledged to remain as busy as ever. He participated in the IMG Madden 7-on-7 West Regional in Redondo Beach, Calif., and took part in the Passing Down SoCal Elite 7-on-7 Regional at Fullerton, Calif. He will make a cross-country trip next month to enter the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta.

And his hard work is paying off. At each of the 7-on-7 events, Hawkins solidified his reputation as a top -- if not the top -- shutdown corner in the nation.

"He's ultra-competitive and surprisingly athletic," said analyst Adam Gorney. "He doesn't look like the most athletic kid when he's just walking around on the field, but once he starts playing, he always beats receivers to the ball. He has good vision when the quarterback throws the ball, and he never really gets beat on any play.''

That type of attitude caught the attention of USC's coaching staff. But even though he's already made his college decision, Hawkins believes his work is far from over.

"People know me as the No. 9 cornerback," Hawkins said. "I think that's too far back for me and my standards. I want to be known as the No. 1 cornerback in the nation."

Quinton Powell made a name for himself playing on a Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland defensive line that also featured USC signee Leonard Williams. But although Powell showcased his pass-rushing skills extensively last season, he understands that his future is likely at outside linebacker. Though he was a four-star prospect who committed to Florida on Feb. 18, he still entered camp with something to prove.

"I wanted to prove I can play both with my hand in the dirt and that I have the ability to drop into coverage,'' Powell said.

Powell has heard doubts about his pass-coverage skills. In fact, much of the skepticism came from his peers.

"A lot of them say, 'He can't play in coverage,' and things of that nature," Powell said. "[They'd say], 'Why is Florida recruiting you?' It made me work harder to show I did have that ability."

There aren't nearly as many doubts about him now. Powell shared linebacker MVP award at the Rivals/VTO camp in Winter Park, Fla. He also participated in an IMG Madden 7-on-7 event in Bradenton, Fla. Throughout the spring, he has displayed pass-coverage skills he rarely needs to utilize in high school.

"He looks like a natural back there," said recruiting analyst Chris Nee. "He's very comfortable. He does a good job getting in and out of his cuts. He has good acceleration. ... I thought at the Florida VTO he was by far the best linebacker on the field.''

Currently listed at 6-feet and 190 pounds, Powell could add 35 pounds after arriving in college and make a switch to the defensive line. But he's best suited to play linebacker. And by taking part in offseason camps, he's proving that he can do it.

Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo quarterback Danny Etling hadn't given much thought to his recruiting ranking. Now, he's eager to earn a fourth star. The coaches at his future school have emphasized its importance.

"Purdue kind of showed me if I could go to these camps and get my ranking up, it would kind of help with recruiting and everything," Etling said.

The idea is simple. The presence of a four-star quarterback in Purdue's 2013 class might persuade other prospects to hop onboard. Etling, a three-star prospect who committed on April 17, just might give Purdue a chance to test out that theory.

Etling boosted his stock behind impressive performances at Elite 11 camps in Dallas and Columbus. At the Columbus camp, he gave Michigan-bound five-star prospect Shane Morris of Warren (Mich.) De La Salle a run for the event's MVP award. Morris eventually received the honor, but Etling proved his point.

"He's a great-sized kid," said analyst Josh Helmholdt. "He's all of 6-foot-3, really thick. He looks like he can certainly take a punishing and probably get out and move on his own. He has the size component. He has very clean mechanics. His throwing motion, he has a nice and quick delivery. I was very impressed with his footwork. He gets into his drops very quickly and stays balanced. From a technical standpoint, he's very, very clean and well ahead of the curve.''

Etling's performance in these two camps has caused a dramatic change in the way he's regarded. South Vigo went just 3-7 last fall. Even though he had some offers, Etling didn't think he was garnering much attention.

"Nobody really knew who I was until after I went to these camps," Etling said. "I kind of wanted to prove myself in a sense. I'm going to be a Big Ten quarterback. I feel like I wasn't quite getting the recognition I thought I deserved.''

He is getting it now. And it could pay major dividends for the Boilermakers come Signing Day.

Most of the prospects in this story are three- or four-star recruits with verbal commitments to major-conference programs. Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove tight end Evan Engram is the exception. Engram didn't hold a single offer from a college program -- FBS or FCS -- before participating in the New Level Athletics Elite 7v7 and the Elite 100 Georgia camp this spring.

"Over my past three years in high school, I've kind of been flying under the radar," Engram said. "I think I have the talent to get out there and compete with the top talent in the country. I just wanted to get out there and showcase those talents. I think I did that. I think I raised my stock."

He's not wrong: At both events, Engram showcased the type of pass-catching ability that could help to increase his profile.

"He can stretch the field nicely," said recruiting analyst Keith Niebuhr. "He runs smooth routes. And because of his size, the quarterback can put it in places where other guys can't get it. He can go up and get the ball. He's got a great set of hands. He's really a smooth receiver. He's a tight end, but he runs routes like a receiver.''

Engram's performance helped land a couple of offers, from FBS newcomer South Alabama and FCS program Furman. But he still wanted more. Engram was working toward an offer from an SEC or an ACC school.

That finally arrived a few weeks ago: Wake Forest extended an offer.

"It was huge, just to get recognition or an offer from a BCS school like that -- Wake Forest -- with their success in football," Engram said. "It was really big for my coaches, my teammates and my family. I was very excited."

Engram plans to continue working the camp circuit this summer in hopes of attracting more major-conference offers. He has tentative plans to decide on a school midway through his senior season.

By then, he might have more options than he ever previously imagined.

"You can either get exposed at these things, or you can rise above the competition," Engram said. "I think I went out there and did what I could do. It ended up being a great thing for me.''

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