GAINESVILLE, Fla. - On Sunday, April 6 at the University of Miami, the bar was set for the Nike Football Training Camps. On April 13, the bar was raised.
After a strong showing by the South Florida talent in Coral Gables last weekend, Northern Florida was not about to be outdone and took the talent to a new level at the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville.
To be fair, the level of play in Gainesville was helped by the re-appearance of some standouts from Miami. Miami Palmetto running back Jaamal Berry was one of the top performers just a week ago, but walked away empty handed when it came time to hand out the awards. Berry made it very clear that he wasn't going to be turned away twice and took home the running back MVP award on Sunday.
Running backs coach Jake Campbell noted that the decision came fairly easily for the coaching staff.
"Berry, he came out and had an impressive day," Campbell said. "I think he took some things he learned from the last camp and really came out and was head and shoulders above everyone else. He was just embarrassing people. It was ridiculous. I'm looking forward to seeing him on Saturdays."
A player that caught everyone's eye before the first whistle was blown was Manatee running back Ben Axon. At 6 feet 2 and 215 pounds, there wasn't a more impressive physical specimen at the camp at any position.
"Axon was impressive just walking out here then he showed why he was a big recruit," commented Campbell.
Several other running backs had strong performances as well. Bradley Battles of Mariana had good size and showed good versatility catching the ball. Fletcher running backs Deschion Baskerville and Parris Lee both had strong showings as did Mike James out of Ridge Community.
The quarterbacks were also an upgrade from the Miami event and though Aaron Murray took home the award for the top QB in attendance, he got some good competition from Miramar's Eugene Smith (Top QB at the Miami Nike Camp), Godby's A.J. Graham, Manatee's Brion Carnes and several other impressive arms.
Among the coaches working with the quarterbacks was former Florida star Chris Leak. Leak commented on the MVP following the event.
"He showed great footwork," Leak said of Murray. "He has a great arm, a very accurate arm. He puts the ball in great spots for the receivers and he's very athletic."
Murray looked on point all afternoon but everyone looked on point when they were targeting Miramar's Stedman Bailey. After establishing himself as one of the top wide receivers at the Miami Camp, he came back and left no doubts in the Gainesville camp, earning himself the MVP award.
"Stedman Bailey did a great job," said wide receivers coach Matt James. "He really separated himself during the one-on-ones. He's not going to kill you with blazing speed but he's shifty. He runs great routes and he's got great feet and hips."
Bailey made it look easy all afternoon with effortless route-running and some of the best hands at the event. He was joined by several other players that stood out, one being tight end Orson Charles.
Charles is a physically imposing player with the receiving ability to go head-to-head with cornerbacks. Lamar Scruggs out of Jacksonville (Fla.) Fletcher is as physically impressive as Charles and may eventually end up as a tight end like him as well due primarily to his massive frame.
The wide receiver group also featured two of the top underclassmen at the event as Karlos Williams and Chris Dunkley were two of the best receivers in attendance, despite being two of the youngest.
Defensively another youngster led the way. Marvin Robinson out of Lake Region, Fla., only a rising junior, already holds a Michigan offer and showed why on Sunday.
"Marvin Robinson has a lot of upside to him as far as his strength and motor," said defensive backs coach Eugene Jackson. "He was the best out there and he's very coachable."
Lining up at safety, Robinson asserted himself in one-on-ones and was one of the more physically imposing defensive backs. Giving him a run for that title however was Zeke Motta out of Vero Beach, Fla. Motta would look the part as a linebacker but has no problem running and covering with the safeties.
"Motta impressed me as a safety," said Coach Jackson. "I hope people don't try to change his position. I hope they keep him as a safety."
Ishmael Aristide didn't go unnoticed either. The Evans, Fla., defensive back took all comers during one-on-ones and impressed his coaches.
"Aristide is aggressive," said Jackson. "He's a ball hawk, he's ball hungry. He's physical. He plays hard and he's very coachable."
Though the skill play was strong, the positions where there was the clearest upgrade from the Miami Camp was on the offensive and defensive lines. In fact, defensive line coach, Marty Spalding saw this group as one of the better groups he has been around in the 15 or so years that he has been coaching at camps.
"That was as competitive a group of defensive linemen as I've had in my years of doing this," Spalding said. "I walked onto the field and looked these boys eye to eye. These are some very competitive kids. I would take that group over any in recent memory. The two most competitive guys were the two that were recognized as best D-linemen. Luther Robinson and John Drew."
Robinson, out of Fort Pierce Westwood, Drew out of Columbus (Ga.) Northside and Tyrone Dixon out of Eastside high school joined Galatian King out of Ware County, Ga., as the four players that stood out to Coach Spalding among a very talented group.
On the second level defensively was an equally talented group. Linebackers coach Chris Gizzi liked Denzel Drone from Plant City, Fla., in particular.
"Drone, he's got potential to keep growing," said Gizzi. "He's got some D-end potential. He'll do a lot of things on a college team. He can play linebacker too. He's got great feet and moved well. Bostic (Palm Beach Central LB Jon Bostic) was a close second. He's very, very smooth."
Though Bostic and Drone stood out overall, no one player impressed more in a single drill than Apopka linebacker Larvez Mars did in the footwork drills.
"His lateral movement was phenomenal to me," said linebacking coach Mike France. "We've got a great group of athletes and for one kid to standout in any drill is special. He's got some closing speed, no doubt."
With Phil Walker and Willie Ferrell named as other players with standout performances, the linebackers proved to be a deep and talented group.
On the offensive line, the MVP and the star of the afternoon was Jon Halapio out of St. Petersburg Catholic.
"Halapio was outstanding as a tackle," said offensive line coach Pete Brock. "He had great technique and is a good football player."
Camden Wentz of Lassiter, Ga., and Kamran Joyer of Wesley Chapel had great afternoons of drills and more than held their own against a talented group of defensive linemen. They rounded out the top performers in the trenches and rounded out a tremendous afternoon of competition.