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May 15, 2005

Southern pride

ATHENS, Ga. - All hail the king.

The Southeast proved a few weeks back in the NFL Draft that it's tops for talent and after the Athens NIKE Training Camp on Saturday at the University of Georgia it doesn't look like the trend is about to reverse.

Dominating performances from Birmingham (Ala.) Huffman offensive lineman Andre Smith, Buchanan (Ga.) Haralson County defensive end Brandon Wood, Durham (N.C.) Southern offensive lineman Carl Johnson and Atlanta Booker T. Washington defensive back Rashad Jones solidified the South's position as the top talent-producing region in the country.

Wood, a Georgia commitment, took home camp most valuable player honors after an impressive morning in testing when he clocked in with around a 4.3-second time in the shuttle and had an even better performance in the one-on-one portion of the camp. Wood challenged both Smith and Johnson to one-on-one battles and the three took turns beating up on each other.

Yet in the end it was Wood that took home the top camp honors.

"I knew that two of the top offensive linemen in the nation were out here today, and I wanted to test myself against the best players and see where I stood," Wood said.

"I guess I did pretty well."

That would be an understatement.

Student Sports recruiting analyst Greg Biggins said he'd never seen anything like it when Wood would call out the top linemen for one-on-one challenges.

"It shows you again how competitive it is in the South," Biggins said. "You would never see anything like this anywhere else - well maybe in Miami. But you wouldn't see the top players at the camp calling each other out and telling them to bring it on like they did here. That was incredible.

"I've never seen anything like it."

Smith took a major step toward showing that he's one of the nation's best players - regardless of position. Smith admits that Wood did get the best of him a few times in one-on-ones but he also offered something up that might make things a little different under the Friday night lights.

"Get those pads on, and don't let him know that it's a passing play on every single snap, and I'd own him," Smith said. "He got the best of me a few times, but if we were all strapped up and playing with pads on, then I think the story would be a little different."

Smith's right, that's because everything that he did throughout the camp was impressive. His technique was flawless, and when he locked on a player then it was game over. He would use his great footwork, great upper-body strength and great hip roll in one-on-ones and in drills he was exception in technique.

"There isn't a better offensive lineman in the country," one SEC assistant coach said. "There are a lot of good ones out there, but this kid is the best out there."

Most of the more than 100 college coaches at the camp agreed. However, Johnson, who is widely considered one of the top two players in North Carolina, also showed that he's one of the nation's top line prospects.

Clocking in the 5.2-second range in the 40-yard dash and showing amazing agility for a big guy, Johnson was also brilliant in one-on-ones. He more than held his own against Wood and other challengers, and he had one of the most impressive feats of the day between drills when he did a full back flip. Not bad for a 6-foot-6, 325-pound kid.

"Carl and Andre came into the camp as two of the most highly regarded players in the Southeast," Biggins said. "I think they showed why they have so many offers and why they're two of the best. Every defensive lineman wanted a piece of them, but they both took on everybody that came at them and they didn't back away. That's the true sign of a competitor and a really great player."

Heading into Saturday's camp Jones from Booker T. Washington, one of the better talent producing programs in Georgia, was already a well known name. However his ability to lock down almost everybody at the receiver spot and his solid time in the 40-yard dash allowed him to blow up big time.

His name was unanimous among the college coaches observing at the top defensive back in the camp and don't be surprised if he ends up picking up quite a few more offers after this camp.

While Wood was the headliner at defensive line, he wasn't the only freak at the position. In what had to be the deepest d-line group of the entire camp tour, there were plenty of other big-time prospects that proved why they are national level recruits.

Columbia (S.C.) Richland Northeast defensive tackle Adam Patterson ran a Tommie Harris like time in the 40-yard dash. The 6-foot-3, 262-pounder clocked in the 4.6-second range and was extremely quick off the line of scrimmage throughout drills and one-on-ones. He definitely further solidified his name as one of the top two or three players in the state of South Carolina.

Defensive end/linebacker Morrice Richardson of Atlanta Westlake continued to prove why he's picking up national scholarship offers right and left. With very impressive testing results, including a 40-yard dash time in the 4.5-second range, and the ability to push both Johnson and Smith in one-on-ones showed that he's one of the South's best at his position.

Jermaine Cunningham of Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson was a little thin, but he had an amazing frame and looked like once he fills out he's going to be one heck of a prospect down the road. He also ran in the 4.6-second range, but said he was disappointed and knew that he could have easily clocked a 4.5 time.

Three of the better quarterbacks in the camp were from Alabama as Neil Caudle of Birmingham (Ala.) Spain Park, Earl Alexander of Phenix City (Ala.) Central and Steven Esminger of Opelika, Ala., had their moments at the camp. Alexander, who is around 6-foot-4 , was especially impressive during testing, clocking in the 4.4-second range. He could easily project at another position in college and should be highly recruited.

Running backs were solid all the way around, including several impressive looking players from a physical standpoint. Junior-to-be Caleb King of Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview ran a shuttle time around 3.8 seconds, which is blazing. Norman Whitley of Richmond (N.C.) Rockingham has a low center of gravity and it was easy to see why some teams like him, despite he's not the tallest. Mario Fannin, who tore up the Elite Combine last week in New Jersey, did not test on Saturday, but he showed again that he's one of the better backs in Georgia.

A few other defensive players looked the part, too. Bo Harris of Conyers (Ga.) Heritage had great testing results, especially in the shuttle and he was solid in drills. And Brent Brewer of Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek had good testing results and impressed during drills.


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