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July 7, 2013

Underclassmen Challenge: The buzz

MORE: Rivals250 Underclassmen Challenge

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

DeSOTO, Texas -- Leaving the University of Tennessee one-day camp without an offer was the best news of the day for Hoover (Ala.) High athlete Braderick Shaw.

On his drive back to the Birmingham suburb three weeks ago, Shaw received the news that the apartment his family was living in had burnt down and they had lost everything. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back was at the Rivals250 Underclassmen Challenge presented by Under Armour in Texas as much to take his mind off the situation in Alabama as to show he is a competitor.

"It is good to be here and playing football," Shaw said. "It is a little bit of an escape for me, for sure."

Shaw has an offer from Mississippi State, and after his performance at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge -- and what figures to be a season as the feature back at a national powerhouse -- more opportunities are likely to present themselves.

Rivals.com regional recruiting analyst Woody Wommack said that even with the limited time he has had to analyze the prospect he likes what he sees from him.

"He is very impressive looking," Wommack said. "If running back does not work out for him, I would bet there is a future for him at another position. He has a great frame and certainly looks the part of a next-level football player."

Wommack said Shaw's love for the game could become an added level of appeal for college coaches.

"For a kid to be able to put that kind of personal situation behind him and come to an event like this and not just compete but stand out says a lot about him," Wommack said. "It shows how much he loves the game and that he has a competitive streak in him that not everyone has."

Shaw said the support of the Hoover football family has been overwhelming.

"Having good people around us and helping us where they can has been great," he said. "It feels good to know there are good people out there."

The Shaw family has been living in a hotel as they look to regroup and find a new normal. Braderick said the ordeal has been hard but that he tries not to dwell on it.

"The apartment was gone," he said. "The building didn't all get burned down, but our apartment was gone. We have been trying to get back on our feet, I guess."

Hoover athletic director Myra Miles said the community has tried to rally around the entire family.

"Just working to get that family back on their feet," she said. "The Hoover family is really stepping up. It is easy to want to help any family that faces this type of devastation but especially when the family is as wonderful as the Shaws.

"Braderick has gone above and beyond what has been expected of him from his head coach, Josh Niblett, and his position coach, Jason Kervin. He is a good kid who loves his family, his teammates and his school."

Shaw is hoping more coaches follow the Mississippi State staff and love his game.

"That is what I am out here for," he said. "I want to show what I can do. I played a little last year, but I am ready to go right now.

"It is my time."

Brotherly love

Will Gragg may be unlike many underclassmen football players, but he is incredibly similar to almost every younger brother.

The 6-foot-4, 247-pound tight end from Pine Bluff (Ark.) High makes no bones that he wants to be better than his older brother, Chris.

"I tell him all the time that I am better than he was," the younger Gragg said. "I don't know if he likes it, but I tell him that he was just a two-star and I am going to be a four-star."

The elder Gragg was a 6-foot-3, 195-pound receiver out of Warren (Ark.) High before signing with Arkansas. He grew into a 6-foot-3, 244-pound H-back who ran one of the fastest 40-yard dashes for his position at the NFL Combine before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills.

While Will was participating in the Rivals Underclassman Challenge, Chris was in the stands taking in the event during his downtime from the recently completed optional team activities.

Chris said, all the comparisons aside, he takes his role as a big brother seriously.

"I know that (Will) looks up to me even if he is cracking jokes," he said. "I have to stay on him and make sure he is working hard and staying humble.

"For Will, that has been the hard part. He got a lot of attention when he was young, so I have to tell him to keep his head right and work hard."

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said he noticed the leadership quality about the younger Gragg.

"He is a big kid with a lot of confidence," Farrell said. "What I have seen from him is that he is out in the front of the drills. He was first in line a lot and coaching kids. To me, that says that he is a competitor and a natural leader."

With early offers from Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss, the class of 2015 prospect is taking tips from his brother on the field and in recruiting.

"He has been there and tells me a lot of things about recruiting and football," Will said. "We work on a lot of technique stuff and speed training.

"It is cool that he has gone through this because he has credibility in what he is saying."

With a long time to go before he has to make a decision on which college to attend, the younger Gragg said he is keeping his options open and that no school has an advantage.

"Arkansas is on me hard, but that is a different staff than when my brother was there so I am just getting to know them," he said. "I don't think anyone has an advantage right now because it is so early."

As far as who is better, it is the older brother who is showing his wisdom.

"You have to finish it because it is more important to be remembered than perceived," he said. "I think he has the talent to get there, but doing it is harder than people think."

MVP performances

With 235 prospects identified as the best of breed for the next three classes, it was difficult to create separation.

The four who earned most valuable player awards at their positions stood out above the rest.

Offensive lineman Josh Wariboko from Oklahoma City (Okla.) Casady took home the title from his group.

Farrell said he was impressed with the strength of the 6-foot-3, 310-pound prospect.

"He has great hands and a well-timed punch," Farrell said. "He was really strong and could move his guy to the place on the field that he wanted him."

On the defensive side of the ball, Atlanta (Ga.) Westminster end Russell Ude used his quickness to garner praise from the coaches and analysts.

"He was very fast off the snap," Farrell said. "He was quick and moved his feet well. I thought he dipped his shoulder and got to his outside moves very quickly."

The skill positions were more difficult decisions to make. The analyst team did not determine the winners until the final reps.

Claiming the offensive skill MVP award was Culver City (Calif.) High athlete Stanley Norman.

Norman is listed in the Rivals.com database as a defensive back at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds. He said he thought the decision should have been easier.

"I kind of expected to win it," he said. "I think I am a dominant player, and I thought I dominated today."

On defense, Hoover (Ala.) High linebacker Darrell Williams took the next step as he earned the position MVP after establishing himself at the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour stop in Birmingham.

"I just worked hard today," he said.

Williams is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound linebacker who added that one play, in his mind, set himself apart in the one-on-one challenges.

"I remember getting beat on a double move and coming back to make the play," Williams said. "I got back into the play and made a pass break-up. I think that one probably did it."

Being recognized as the best at the camp can be a launching point for players.

"The way recruiting works right now, there will be college coaches seeing those names and moving them from players they were considering to players they are recruiting and offering," Farrell said. "They all earned the recognition and the opportunities that come with it."



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