A few minutes after the first game at the Badger Sports 7-on-7 event at Rutgers last Saturday, the heads began to shake in disbelief. A couple minutes later, the jaws on the sidelines dropped one by one. Halfway through the first game, everyone watching the team from Maine was scrambling for the event's roster to see exactly who was No. 124.
Meet Imadhi Zagon. Haven't heard of him? You will soon.
Without a single college offer of any shape, sort or variety, Zagon was the revelation of the event. On a weekend which featured some real talent, such as national recruits like Savon Huggins, Damiere Byrd, Desmon Peoples and Demetrious Nicholson, among others, Zagon showed time and time again that his name belongs with the blue-chip elite. He stepped up against some deep and talented programs, easily handling the competition. Problem is that no one had ever heard of him outside the state of Maine.
"I really began playing football in eighth grade," said Zagon, a junior at Portland High School. "I just began playing because I liked it. I really didn't know that much about it because I used to play soccer, but I wasn't very good at it."
Zagon says that he wasn't very good at football either at first, often confused and raw as an overwhelmed eighth-grader trying to learn the game. A year later as a freshman, he played some quarterback but didn't even get a sniff of varsity action. His sophomore year, as his frame filled out, he moved over to running back and made the varsity team. Eight-hundred yards and six touchdowns later, Zagon knew his game was coming around.
Cue his junior season: Zagon topped 1,000 yards on the ground, including a six-touchdown effort in one game early in the season.
He doesn't play soccer anymore, but he continues a lifelong passion for martial arts, handed down to him by his father, Besouro, who is an instructor in several such competition sports. While his father isn't what you'd call a football fanatic, he was willing to make the trek from Maine to central New Jersey to showcase his son's abilities on a bigger stage.
His son responded, showing good hands and an ability to make players miss with a wiggle of the hips and a burst of speed.
Right now, Zagon has only received interest from a handful of schools, most notably Boston College and Syracuse. He's a freakish athlete in every meaning of the word -- a 6-foot-2, 190-pound feature back who runs track. He is among the best sprinters in Maine, running the 100 meters in just under 11 seconds and competing in the high jump and long jump. But now, the soft-spoken and well-mannered Zagon is focused on one thing and one thing only.
"Playing for a college football powerhouse," Zagon said. "Some place with great fan support and where the team pushes you hard, to be the best you can be."
Zagon said that he will begin to send his tape out soon to programs to help generate interest. The skills he showed in the 7-on-7 -- great hands, outstanding feet and breakaway speed -- are reminiscent of another player who generated minimal interest from BCS schools: Pitt's Dion Lewis.
"I just am happy to be here and have a chance to go against great competition," Zagon said. "Being from Maine, I feel like I have something to prove."
Zagon then left the field after his team's final game in the early afternoon to walk around the facilities at Rutgers and check out the stadium and the football offices at the Hale Center .
"I haven't really ever seen a big program up close," he said.
It's been two trips up I-95 to New Jersey in as many weeks for Virginia Beach's Demetrious Nicholson, who last week was named MVP of the TEST Sports Clubs Premier Showcase event. Like last weekend's Badger Sports 7-on-7, the Premier Showcase was also held at Rutgers. Nicholson was the event's top player in the secondary, showing good hips and an ability to lock down on a receiver in tight coverage. Currently holding nine offers, "the 757" looks to have a star player as a true national recruitment begins to develop for the cornerback.
"I haven't gotten tired of it yet," Nicholson said of the recruiting process. "It's a great feeling to know that all these schools are after you."
With the likes of Clemson, Maryland, Stanford, Virginia and West Virginia after him, Nicholson has an impressive offer list as his recruitment gets set to take off. One school in particular, however, has been after him harder than most. In fact, he got a call from the program on Saturday morning before arriving at the Badger Sports 7-on-7 event.
"North Carolina is after me real hard, telling me just what I can be a part of if I go there," Nicholson said.
In fact, the Tar Heels are hoping that the Chesapeake cornerback will make the decision to commit to Chapel Hill as soon as possible.
"They told me that they plan on taking two cornerbacks in this class and that if I want my spot, I need to decide real soon," Nicholson said. "They want me to make my decision sooner rather then later or else they say that maybe I will miss out."
Despite the pressure from programs like North Carolina, Nicholson said he will keep his options open but. Though he did say the Tar Heels are "kind of my leader." He has a strongly built and compact frame and blends strength and athleticism incredibly well. Nicholson has visited only one other program -- Rutgers, for the events he has attended the past two weeks -- but he plans on taking in Virginia Tech's spring game on March 26th.
One of the most impressive performers on a stacked Maryland team was linebacker Darien Harris out of DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md. Harris looks far more solid than his 6-2, 225-pound listing, and Harris showed good mobility and recovery speed. He even registered an interception in one of the games for Maryland 1 on Saturday morning, reading the ball well and breaking to the pass nimbly. He also used his long arms to provide tight coverage and jam open space.
Currently, Harris boasts just a single offer from Syracuse but his performance at the event showed a player who wasn't afraid to match up against much larger athletes -- Harris often covered the other team's tight end or largest receiver, and he showed good enough footwork to hang with much smaller and more shifty players. He registered 67 tackles and seven sacks for head coach Bill McGregor last year, as DeMatha advanced to their ninth straight championship game in Maryland.
So far, Harris has visited several programs and looks forward to a busy spring and summer of checking out campuses. Wake Forest sticks out in his mind because of the small campus and the "vibe of the student body." He also has built a good relationship with Maryland and attended junior day at Rutgers. ("I really liked the facilities there and the team's mindset is similar to the one at DeMatha.")
Harris expects more offers to be coming soon as his tape gains momentum, with strong interest coming from Maryland , Northwestern, Marshall, Boston College and Vanderbilt.
Another standout at the Premier Showcase two weeks ago was safety prospect Ronald Baines out of Eastern High School in New Jersey, who also did well at the 7-on-7 event. Baines showed nice footwork and has solid frame, as well. He is anticipating his first offer to be from South Carolina very soon after a recent visit to the program. He said that a program's facilities and family environment was impressive. ... Maryland was loaded with talent at the event and one of their best was Vincent Croce, a tight end prospect from Good Counsel. Holding offers from Maryland, Michigan, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Duke, among others, Croce is waiting on the mailman to bring him tenders from North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin. Croce hopes to study pre-med and pursue medical school when his playing days are over. He will visit Virginia on March 6th and take in Notre Dame or March 20th but doesn't yet have a leader. "If the school is 30 miles or 3,000 miles away, it doesn't matter as long as it is right for me," he said. At the event, Croce moved very well for a player of his size. ... Recruitment is beginning to pick up for Baltimore's Devonte Jones, whose highlights are just beginning to hit DVD players in programs across the Big Ten, SEC and Big East. Clemson and Ole Miss are constantly in touch with him and seem poised to offer the safety prospect who showed solid cover skills at the event. ... A lot of attention was being paid to quarterback John Loughery from William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. He looks like a clean-up-hitting first baseman -- not surprising since the broad-shouldered quarterback plays baseball and basketball. While his mechanics are raw, Loughery remains an intriguing prospect -- North Carolina State and Boston College maintain steady interest. He is the cousin of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Event organizer Baron Flanery of New Level Athletics was raving about the potential of the player and his performance in the morning session. ... Though just a sophomore, Deontay McManus of Dunbar (Maryland) is claiming verbal offers from Maryland and Michigan. He is set for the Nike Combine this summer and will be long-jumping this spring. McManus showed good size and caught the ball very well as one of the youngest players at the event.