SAN DIEGO - When he was growing up in Russia, Los Angeles Crenshaw offensive tackle Aleksey Lanis was more focused on basketball than football. But when he moved to America in 1994 and landed at Crenshaw as a sophomore, football became his new love, and he definitely showed his passion for the game at Saturday's San Diego NIKE Training Camp.
Lanis dominated the offensive line portion of the camp held at San Diego State and came away impressing college coaches from San Diego State, BYU, Arizona, Michigan, Boise State, Fresno State and several others that were on hand. Already thought of as one of the nation's top offensive line prospects, Lanis didn't disappoint and said he still has a long way to go in terms of improvement.
"I love football," he said.
"It's the only game where you can go out there and kill somebody and get away with it. I don't know how I got this good this quickly. I just started playing football when I was a sophomore, but I also know that I have a long way to go and that I'm going to get better."
A better Lanis - who measured in at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds - is a scary thought.
Lanis said he got his athletic talent from his father, who played basketball up until his mid-50s. When he was living in Russia - he was born in Siberia - Lanis said basketball was the sport that everybody played and American football wasn't even on the radar.
"Football is just now starting to show up and some of the younger kids are beginning to get into it," Lanis said. "But I really didn't know a thing about football when I got here. Then the coaches at school kept begging me to come out for football. I guess they were right."
And the rest is history. Yet Lanis isn't the only blue-chip recruit that is highlighted in this Rivals100.com breakdown of the fourth NIKE Training Camp for 2004.
Quarterbacks Mark Sanchez has been talked about like he's the top quarterback prospect in the state of California for several months now, and he did everything that you would expect of an elite quarterback on Saturday.
Sanchez impressed numerous college coaches, including Arizona head coach Mike Stoops, with amazing zip on the ball and an uncanny ability to put the throws in the perfect spot.
Mark it down, Mark Sanchez is legit.
However, he wasn't the only quarterback that looked like they have the goods to be a successful college quarterback. In fact this position was one of the stronger groups of the camp, especially with Hemet, Calif., quarterback Brandis Dew whipping the ball all over the field.
Dew looked more like an offensive tackle with his huge frame and imposing body, but he has a rocket arm, great elbow snap and can put touch on the ball when it needs it. His speed leaves something to be desired, but there is little doubt that in the right system where the quarterback chucks the ball all over the place, Dew could really be something to see.
The North Hollywood, Calif., stud looked like a potential five-star selection with his amazing athletic ability, great change of direction and ability to catch the ball in the passing drills. He was one of the most complete players that have been seen at the four NIKE Training Camps so far this year. He is about as complete of a package that you'll find.
There were a few other running backs that impressed, even though the number of high-quality prospects was somewhat disappointing. Spring Valley (Calif.) Monte Vista running back Darrell Mack had a good camp and once he adds more muscle mass to his frame, could be an every-down back in college.
Los Angeles Dorsey athlete Jeremiah Johnson looked impressive and has a great build and an extra burst that could allow him to carry the ball in college. Some coaches in attendance thought he could even project easily as a defensive back in college, but he definitely has the goods.
Wailuku (Hawaii) Baldwin two-way star Kaluka Maiava tested really well and he easily could be a player that projects at either fullback or inside linebacker in college. And Gilbert, Ariz., fullback Bob Ili opened up quite a few eyes with his natural instincts, soft hands and impressive nose for the football in drills. He didn't run a great 40-yard dash time at 4.9 seconds, however, several college coaches on hand said they're still toying with offering him because of his potential as a full back.
Wide receivers The receiver group overall wasn't especially impressive this week after seeing a great group last Saturday at Ohio State. Only a few players really stood out, including Phoenix Moon Valley Chris McGaha.
With the Arizona coaching staff on hand, McGaha likely earned a scholarship offer from the Wildcats with his performance at the camp. McGaha impressed with his solid route running, soft hands and 4.56-second speed.
Yet, McGaha could make an even better safety prospect with his amazing nose for the football. He just had an aura around him and a quiet confidence that he was going to always make the big play in drills and in the one-on-ones.
Charles Brown of Pomona (Calif.) Diamond Ranch lined up at tight end and definitely looked the part of an really elite prospect - easily tipping the scales at 6-5 or 6-6 and 245 pounds.
Brown looked quite athletic at the tight end position, yet with his feet and foot speed he has to project as an offensive lineman in college. But there is no question that he definitely passed the eye-ball test and the college coaches on hand were impressed with his very high upside.
Bret Lockett's name wasn't a hot target heading into the camp. But the Diamond Bar, Calif., standout impressed quite a bit with his great frame, great ability to change direction and his performance in one-on-one drills. He lined up and worked out mainly with the receivers, but he could easily be a cornerback, too, in college. Lockett is going to be a guy that college coaches are going to love watching during the spring evaluation period because he not only looks like a player, he is a player.
Offensive line Along with Lanis, another top 100 prospect was on hand and impressive. Offensive guard Rodney Picou had impressive credentials coming into the camp, and he didn't disappoint when he was going one-on-one in the pass-protection drills.
He's got really impressive feet for a big and bulky guard prospect. Picou of Moreno Valley (Calif.) Canyon Springs might need to continue to work on molding his body for the next level, but he's got all the tools to be a special prospect.
Maybe the surprise of the camp at offensive line was Richard Tuitu'u of Gilbert (Ariz.) Highland. He was already on the radar screen as one of Arizona's better prospects, but by the time it was over, the college coaches were drooling over him with his quick feet, great frame and astonishing build.
North Las Vegas (Nevada) Cheyenne offensive guard Perry Eppinger impressed also and should see his stock move up after a very good drill portion of the camp. He came into the came as somewhat of an unknown, except for locals, but he looked like he has all the tools to be a very good college offensive lineman. Vista, Calif., lineman Thomas Altieri could also be included as one of the better linemen of the camp.
Defensive line There were several linemen in this group that looked solid and all had really good frames and potential to be solid Division I prospects. Yet, San Diego Serra standout Fevaea'i Ah Mu stood out, along with Manhatten Beach (Calif.) Mira Coasta standout Mataele Pau'u .
With a bevy of impressive scholarship offers from teams like Arizona State, Michigan, Oregon, UCLA and several offers already on the table, Pau'u was solid as a rock through the day. Granted he's not the biggest and he's not the fastest, Pau'u definitely proved that he's going to be one of the better d-line recruits in California.
Ah Mu took a big step toward shaking the sleeper tag that he's been labeled with early in the recruiting process. Honestly, no one looked better than Ah Mu who was as hard to block as his name is to pronounce
Linebacckers This was a solid group, but not that strongest of the camp. The group was highlighted by Division I targets Prince Hall of Moreno Valley, Calif., Jared Fano of Fountain Valley, Calif., and Carlsbad, Calif., standout Vic So'oto.
Hall wasn't the tallest prospect in his position, but he did show good coverage skills and nose for the football. He did mention that several schools - including new recent offers from Oklahoma and Alabama - like him at fullback. And because of his height that might be a good spot for him, but he does have the tools to be a good college linebacker.
Fano had a good thick frame and moved laterally extremely well, and So'oto had a long and lean frame that's going to allow him to fill out in the future.
Defensive backs The defensive back group was one of the better of the camps, even though there might not have been too many true national recruits in the group.
The top performer in the testing phase of the camp was Mike Brown of Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep. He plays mainly running back in high school, but worked out with the defensive backs and showed that he might be an even better fit there than at running back, where some schools have projected him at.
Brown says that he will play any position that a school wants him to, and he showed on Saturday that he's capable of being a solid defensive back. He didn't get to compete in the one-on-one drills because of a slight injury to his right arch - yet he tested remarkably with a camp-high 4.31-second 40-yard dash and 42-inches in the vertical leap.
Another defensive back that impressed with his speed (4.56), long and lean frame and amazing hands was Henderson (Nevada) Green Valley Brett Johnson. By the time Johnson is doing this spring, look for his name to be near the top of the list with the elite recruits in the state of Nevada.
Long Beach Carbrillo defensive back Michael Samples didn't have blazing speed, but he had very good coverage skills. A few others that impressed included Fullerton (Calif.) Union cornerback Xavier Hicks, Oxnard (Calif.) Rio Mesa two-way player Kevin Thomas and Ferrari Welsh of National City (Calif.) Sweetwater.
For expanded coverage of the San Diego NIKE Training Camp, you should check out StudentSports.com. Access to StudentSports.com requires an additional membership. Coming Soon! The best is getting better. The Rivals.com Recruiting Database will include all authentic data from this summer's NIKE Training Camp schedule.