SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Rivals.com Southeast analyst Keith Niebuhr spent the past week at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas - attending eight practices and the game. Here are five things he learned during his trip to the Palmetto State:
1. As good as advertised
The three most hyped players coming in - defensive end Jonathan Bullard of Shelby Crest (N.C.), receiver Shaq Roland of Lexington (S.C.) and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins of Forest City Chase (N.C.) - were as good as expected. And not just on Saturday. During the week, Roland, a South Carolina commit, was flat-out spectacular, shining in every aspect, from route running to catching the ball to his cuts in the open field. Watkins, who is committed to Clemson, displayed great athleticism while playing end and H-back. On both sides of the ball, his sheer power was at times overwhelming to the opposition. Bullard showed off a terrific first step and great strength. Each of these three is a Rivals100 prospect, but this was our first chance to see them compete this year in something other than a camp. They certainly didn't disappoint.
2. The real deal
Uncommitted running back Todd Gurley of Tarboro (N.C.) came to Spartanburg after a special senior season in which he rushed for more than 2,000 yards and led his team to a state title. All he did was have a solid week of practice, then rush for 119 yards and two scores on 19 attempts (he also had a 94-yard rush called back because of holding). A three-star prospect at the moment, Gurley certainly gave us plenty to think about as we prepare for our final rankings in January. He not only is big (6-1, 195 pounds), but plays big. Gurley ran over a few defenders and more than once dragged some others for extra yardage. He also displayed excellent top-end speed, which he reaches pretty fast. Gurley can run a tad high at times, but otherwise he's a terrific-looking prospect.
3. Emerging prospect
Outside of the Carolinas, little was known about defensive end/linebacker Jamal Marcus of Durham Hillside (N.C.) before last week, even though he claimed offers from Ohio State and Florida. Well, now those of us who had never seen Marcus in person know why those schools like him. Because he's 6-2, 219 pounds, Marcus projects as an outside linebacker in college, and he had an excellent week of practice at that spot. He's a guy who can rush the passer or drop into coverage, and be good at both. What most impresses is his reaction time and closing speed. He's a player who typically is all over the field.
4. In due time
Some players who had quiet weeks no doubt will go onto have very good college careers. Two that come to mind are athlete Jay Jay McCullough of Fort Mill Nation Ford (S.C.) and offensive lineman Mark Harrell of Charlotte Catholic (N.C.). A Clemson commit, McCullough is a great-looking athlete who played running back mostly in high school, but likely will see time at tight end, fullback and H-back in college. At times, he looked out of sync during the week at tight end and fullback, which is understandable since he was new to both spots. But the fact is, McCullough has the frame and the all-around skills to make the transition a successful one. Harrell, a Notre Dame pledge, started the week at right tackle but eventually moved inside, and had a fine outing Saturday. At 6-5, 270, Harrell has a tackle build, but appeared to look more comfortable at guard.
5. Bargain Bin
After the week in Spartanburg it was pretty much unanimous that Minnesota has an absolute steal in receiver commit Jamel Harbison of Charlotte Mallard Creek (N.C.). On Saturday, he returned a kickoff 94 yards for a first-half touchdown. He finished with 153 return yards. During the week, Harbison was among the top performers on hand. He ran great routes, was sharp in and out of his breaks, caught just about every pass thrown to him and looked solid in the open field. The word that kept coming up by observers was polished.