This is the seventh year of the NIKE Football Training Camp tour and few cities have been host every year, but Miami has been one of them.
Simple: the talent level is so good, it'd be impossible to skip South Florida. Some feel that of the 60-plus NIKE Camps held since 1998, the very best may have been held in Miami, and this year's edition hopes to give the 1998 Miami NIKE Camp a run for its money.
It was a hot, muggy summer day in Miami as high school seniors-to-be from all over Florida came to the University of Miami for the first NIKE Football Camp ever held in the Sunshine State.
How good was the camp in terms of talent?
Looking back, it's not hard to see that the talent invited to this camp set the bar for all other events afterward. Two dozen players ended up going to major D-I college including at least four future NFL players such as WR Andre Johnson (Miami/Houston Texans), RB Clinton Portis (Miami/Denver Broncos/Washington Redskins), WR Antonio Bryant (Pittsburgh/Dallas Cowboys) and CB Phillip Buchanon (Miami/Oakland Raiders).
Buchanan, a complete unknown at that point in his high school career, was brought down by his mother that April six years ago and after locking down all the receivers in the drills she was told by one scout, "You son just won a scholarship today."
More than that, as his high school coach would later say, "Phillip owes the NIKE Camp a whole lot of money, because it helped put him in the NFL."
This year's camp figures to be one of the best in recent memory in South Florida, as 250 of the state's best have confirmed and are ready to learn from the best and compete with the elite. Here's a position-by-position breakdown of some of the top players to look for at the April 4th event.
The quarterback position should be well-stocked, with headliners like Clearwater (Fla.) Countryside's Harrison Beck and Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland's Jonathan Garner leading the way. The 6-2, 200 pound Beck had a couple of solid camp performances last spring as a rising junior and has already picked up offers from schools like Nebraska, N.C. State, Virginia, Maryland and a few others. Garner, a savvy 6-5, 200 pound lefty, led Mainland to the Class 5A State title last fall and has an early offer from Stanford.
Catching the football should not be a problem on Sunday, as several top receivers, including Jessie Hester Jr., will be out trying to embarrass the defensive backs in the one-on-one drills.
Other top receivers to watch out for include Cape Coral's Taurus Johnson, who boasts offers from Florida and North Carolina, Plantation's Cedric McGee, who's uncle is none other than "The Playmaker" himself, former St. Thomas Aquinas and Dallas Cowboy's star Michael Irvin, and Tampa Middleton sleeper O.J. Murdock.
One more to watch out for could be Top 100 prospect Patrick Turner out of Tennessee, who said two weeks ago that he was planning on coming down to South Florida for the camp as well.
The receivers certainly boast some speed, but everyone will be watching Pahokee running back Antone Smith to see if he can equal or surpass the lightning-fast 4.29 40-yard dash he clocked at the 2003 Miami NIKE Camp. Going back in NIKE Camp history, no player has ever clocked the best 40-yard dash time in back-to-back NIKE Camps - so the 5-9, 185-pound back could make history on Sunday.
Dixie County's Paul O'Hara might not run a 4.2 on Sunday, but the 6-0, 210-pounder has logged more than 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first three years and will rank as one of the state's all-time leading rushers by the time he's done.
Edgewater's massive Matthew Hardrick will anchor the offensive line corps - the 6-5, 340-pounder was the most outstanding lineman at the 2003 NIKE Camp in Gainesville, even with players like Drew Miller and Jim Tartt (both Florida signees) in attendance. Edgewater coach Bill Gierke gushed about Hardrick recently, "I think he's without a doubt the best player in the state this year."
Ely's Ronnie Wilson is another big man at 6-4, 340, and he's looking to carry on the recent tradition of Ely linemen.
The offensive linemen better be ready to get out of their stance and pass block, because they'll be facing quite a defensive line group in one-on-one drills.
Players like Carol City's Ricky Jean-Francois, Naples' Spencer Adkins, Palm Bay's Neefy Moffett and Jupiter's Courtney Harris are all hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers that can bring a ton of speed of the edge - both Adkins and Moffett attended NIKE Camps a year ago, Adkins clocking a 4.56 40 and posting a 37-inch vertical with Moffett racing to a 4.60 40 and a very quick 4.13 shuttle.
Defensive tackle Jeff Owens (Auburn offer) out of Plantation figures to provide a stiff challenge with his strength.
If both Adkins and Moffett slide back and play at the linebacker, that position figures to be well stocked as well. They would join Mainland's Matt Lewis, Apopka's Quentin Taylor, Northeast Oakland Park's Demetri Stewart, and Plantation's Steve Johnson. Stewart currently lists offers from Auburn, Rutgers and Duke, while both North Carolina and N.C. State have offered Johnson.
Several positions look to be deep in talent, but perhaps the strongest position at the 2004 NIKE Football Training Camp in Miami will be the defensive backfield, where no fewer than five players already have scholarship offers.
It's hard to name a headliner in the group, but it just might be Mainland's Avery Atkins at this point. Atkins, who attended the 2003 NIKE Camp in Gainesville and clocked a 4.50 40, was a key cog on Mainland's state title team last fall and said Thursday night that he now has offers from FSU, LSU, Miami, Georgia, Florida and Michigan State to name a few.
The player that could put this group into the stratosphere would be Carol City's Kenneth Phillips, who at this time is still trying to change his schedule and make it to the camp.
While all these top players figure to come out and show off their talent, rest assured that more than a few great sleepers or unknown players will emerge as well.
Also this year at the NIKE Camps, a new way to look at the testing results is being introduced with the SPARQ Rating. Student Sports and Rivals100.com will be using the SPARQ Rating system to evaluate the overall athleticism of football prospects. The player's 40, 20, vertical jump & bench press are used in the formula.
Be sure to check out StudentSports.com on Sunday night and all next week for complete NIKE Camp coverage.