July 11, 2012

Nike's The Opening took place over the weekend and there was no shortage of talent in attendance. After careful consideration, here are the event awards -- some good and some bad -- starting with a standout tight end who's campaigning for something even more prestigious than five-star status.

Winner: TE O.J. Howard, Autauga (Ala.) Academy

This award typically goes to a smaller player with great footwork who dominates in space. However, this time, it goes to a massive tight end in Howard, the most impressive all-around prospect in terms of size, athleticism and rarity. I have never seen a tight end with so many natural gifts in my decade-plus covering prospects, and Howard's performance would have been even better if he was targeted more frequently. Howard is a clear five-star talent, but a larger honor may be in play: Can he make a push for a potential No. 1 recruiting ranking?

Honorable mention: RB Ryan Green, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Catholic

Green is explosive, has excellent feet and boasts very good hands for a running back. He made some of the most electric plays of the weekend, highlighted by a one-handed catch over linebacker Matthew Thomas for a score. His ability to turn the corner was remarkable, and he even outran defenders despite playing one-hand touch.

Winner: O.J. Howard and LB Mike Mitchell, Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian Academy

This award goes to the player with the best build for his particular position. And once again, it has to go to Howard. He looks like Dwight Howard physically: massive shoulders, a thin waist and so much room to add good weight. However, since Howard is the obvious choice, let's also give credit to linebacker Mike Mitchell. He looks like a slightly smaller version of Brian Cushing coming out of high school. He'll be a 250-pound monster in no time.

Honorable mention: OT Steve Elmer, Midland (Mich.)

Elmer has a great body for an offensive tackle. He's massive at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, and he doesn't carry a ton of bad body weight. Once he gets into a college weight room and begins training, he should become a force to be reckoned with in the trenches.

Winner: ATH Ryan Switzer, Charleston (W.Va.) George Washington

This award goes to the smallest player who made the biggest impact. That's Switzer. He proved to be very difficult to cover in camp because he changes direction so quickly, and he displayed an excellent burst. Switzer was a major reason that his 7-on-7 team won the title.

Honorable mention: CB Will Likely, Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central

Likely was all over the field and fared well when covering taller receivers despite his diminutive 5-foot-7 frame. He is quick, physical and has an impressive vertical leap.

Winner: OG Ira Denson, Madison (Fla.)

This award goes to the player who was consistently the most physical, and -- as no surprise -- it goes to an offensive guard. Denson was easily the most physical lineman at the event and hammered a few guys to the ground. He is strong, has quick feet and is an excellent drive-blocker.

Honorable mention: DE Joe Mathis, Upland (Calif.)

Mathis bull-rushed basically every time he took a one-on-one rep -- and almost started a fight each and every time. But this mention isn't a reward; it's a wakeup call. Mathis worried some scouts by cussing out the camp's offensive line coach while ESPN cameras were rolling.

Winner: OT Christian Morris, Memphis (Tenn.) East

This award goes to the player who raised his stock the most from the camp. That would be Morris. He has great size (6-6, 292) and long arms that he uses to ride players to the outside. But what was really impressive about Morris was his ability to move his feet to fend off inside pass rushers. Though currently ranked as just a three-star prospect, he could be primed to receive an influx of top-flight college attention.

Honorable mention: S Keanu Neal, Bushnell (Fla.) South Sumter

Neal is currently ranked as the No. 21 safety in the class of 2013. That could soon be changing. The Florida commit possesses good size and closes on the football well, and that doesn't even factor in his reputation as a hard-hitter. Expect big things throughout Neal's senior year and beyond.

Winner: DE Taco Charlton, Pickerington (Ohio) Central

This award goes to the player who lowered his stock the most throughout camp. And while Charlton looks the part of a promising D-I defensive end, he really struggled. He has great size, long arms and is very athletic, but he also is very upright and possesses only one outside move. When coaches tried to teach him a misdirection or crossover, he didn't grasp the approach all that well. Charlton was beaten on the majority of the one-on-one reps that he took.

Honorable mention: WR Darrell Daniels, Oakley (Calif.) Freedom

Daniels has great size and can run well, but his hands betrayed him at times. He dropped passes and fought the football instead of embracing it.

Winner: QB Shane Morris, Warren (Mich.) De La Salle

This award goes to the most impressive passer, and it was very clear that Morris had the best arm at the event. He has a cannon and there are very few throws that he can't make. With some of the other quarterbacks tinkering with funky mechanics, it was fun to see him rear back and let it rip. Morris should be a beast this fall -- and give Michigan fans plenty to get excited about.

Honorable mention: QB Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union (Va.) Military

Hackenberg has a really strong arm. It's a tick behind Morris, but not by a significant margin. Problem is, sometimes Hackenberg can be his own worst enemy. He has a tendency to force passes that aren't there, and while having confidence is a good thing, he needs to exercise more caution at times.

Winner: RB Taquan Mizzell, Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside

This award goes to the most impressive pure runner, and Mizzell can claim it at practically every camp he attends. His footwork is amazing, his route running is exceptional and his cutback is devastating in the open field. That's quite the stellar combination.

Honorable mention: RB Mark Dodson Jr., Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven

Dodson performed very well in drills on Friday, especially in the gauntlet-type session in which running backs are asked to get by linebackers one-on-one. He also made people miss on more than one occasion during 7-on-7 play.

Winner: WR Laquon Treadwell, Crete (Ill.) Monee

This award goes to the receiver who shows the best hands, and that certainly was Treadwell. He made the most acrobatic catches over the course of the weekend, including a couple of touchdown grabs that he brought down in traffic. While he was slowed by a minor concussion on Sunday, he was still the wideout that made everyone take notice.

Honorable mention: WR Levonte Whitfield, Orlando (Fla.) Jones

Whitfield caught almost everything thrown his way and was the most reliable wide receiver for his team throughout the 7-on-7 tournament. He's not big as some others in his position group, but his quickness and separation are elite.

Winner: QB Cooper Bateman, Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood

This award goes to the player who showed the most mental toughness at The Opening. That was Bateman. He endured some rough days on Friday and Saturday, but when his team needed him the most on Sunday, he sprung to life. Bateman came through with some key passes and good decisions while limiting costly mistakes. That paid dividends: Bateman led his team to the 7-on-7 title.

Honorable mention: S Keanu Neal

Neal looked like a defeated man early in the championship game after he allowed a touchdown pass to sail over his head and into the arms of the receiver he was responsible for. But he didn't let himself stay down. Neal ended up making a huge play at the end of the game by batting away a potential game-tying pass in the end zone. That's the kind of short memory that any BCS-level defensive back needs.

Winner: QB Tyrone Swoopes, Whitewright (Texas)

This award goes to the quarterback who didn't see the field very well, and in that regard, signal-caller Tyrone Swoopes struggled more than anyone else. When he locked on his first read, he was easy to deflect. When he was forced to reverse his field of vision, things got even worse.

Honorable mention: QB Shane Morris

Morris was clearly one of the top three quarterbacks at the event and his team was loaded with weapons like Howard, Mizzell and Ahmad Fulwood. However, Morris' squad was eliminated early from the 7-on-7 tournament primarily because Morris focused on one side of the field and locked in on certain players. He has a cannon and a ton of upside, but his field vision needs to improve before arriving on campus.

Winner: CB Kendall Fuller, Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel

This award goes to the defensive back best at blanketing receivers, and at this camp, Fuller lived up to his five-star billing. He wasn't tested often, but that's mainly because he was amazing at playing off one receiver while jumping another's route -- in effect, covering two guys at the same time.

Honorable mention: CB Jalen Ramsey, Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy

Ramsey takes the runner-up position here just weeks after dazzling at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge. He was consistently one of the most effective defensive backs in coverage.

Winner: LB Matthew Thomas, Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington

This award goes to the player with the most interceptions. While it typically goes to a defensive back, Thomas was sensational. He hauled in three interceptions in one game against Georgia quarterback commit Brice Ramsey and came very close to several others. For a linebacker to be that dominant in coverage is nothing short of amazing.

Honorable mention: S Tahaan Goodman, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.)

Numerous players had multiple interceptions, so this is a hard one to narrow down. Still, Goodman pulled in at least three picks, so we'll give him the nod.

Winner: WR Torii Hunter Jr., Prosper (Texas)

This award goes to the under-the-radar player with best performance, and after his impressive weekend, Hunter has to lead the discussion. He made as many touchdown catches as anyone in attendance and he helped lead his team to the title. Currently with a three-star rating, Hunter could be on the verge of climbing several teams recruiting boards.

Honorable mention: OT Alex Redmond, Los Alamitos (Calif.)

Redmond is a mid-range three star prospect who had a very strong weekend, headlined by his pancake block of Placer (Calif.) defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. It knocked the 285-pounder out of Sunday's competition.

Winner: WR Eldridge Massington, Mesquite (Texas) West

This award goes to the player who was the most inconsistent, a distinction that usually goes to a quarterback for an up-and-down performance. However, this time around, Massington much more closely fit the description. After a very weak performance at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta, Massington came out Friday and was the best player on the field. But in 7-on-7 play, he once again struggled. He dropped two surefire touchdown passes and -- though he has clear skills -- can be very erratic.

Honorable mention: QB Cooper Bateman and QB Brice Ramsey, Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County

Take your pick between Bateman and Ramsey. The former struggled on Friday and Saturday but thrived on Sunday, while the latter did just the opposite. Ramsey was one of the top quarterbacks on Friday but threw multiple interceptions in the 7-on-7 tournament.

Winner: CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Tampa (Fla.) Wharton

This award goes to the player who suffered the most from injury concerns, and that's certainly Hargreaves. He injured his ankle in the shuttle on Friday, and though there was some hope that he'd be back in action on Saturday or Sunday -- especially when he wasn't noticeably limping on either day -- it wasn't meant to be. Hargreaves never suited up nor participated in 7-on-7 drills. That's unfortunate, as it would have been great to see him battling with Kendall Fuller for the distinction of No. 1 cornerback in the nation.

Honorable mention: ATH Derrick Henry, Yulee (Fla.)

Auburn (Ala.) linebacker Reuben Foster was injured on his 40-yard dash and some players said they could hear his hamstring pop, but the honorable mention here goes to Henry. He participated in the SPARQ challenge on Friday but was unable to go in either subsequent day in the 7-on-7 tournament. It was unclear what his injury was.

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