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May 16, 2012

Offseason now camp season for prospects

For many high school football recruits across the country, there is no offseason.

When they're not playing for their high school team or arranging visits to colleges, they're often participating in camps or various 7-on-7 tournaments. Of course, it's pretty easy to figure out why some high school juniors would choose to spend the spring semester on the camp circuit.

Guys rated as fringe FBS prospects want to catch the attention of various colleges. Two-star prospects are trying to upgrade their ranking. Uncommitted players are still hoping for that dream offer.

But not all the guys at these camps fit into those categories. These showcases also feature plenty of elite recruits who seemingly don't have much left to prove. You'll also find many guys who already have verbally committed to a particular school and apparently wouldn't have much need to impress any other programs.

Why do these prospects spend their weekends competing instead of enjoying their offseason?

To get an answer to those questions, we talked to five high school juniors who are participating in multiple camp events this spring and summer. One of them is that classic under-the-radar prospect searching to make a name for himself and improve his offer list. The other four guys are all three-star or four-star prospects committed to major-conference programs.

Each has a different reason for his busy spring and summer itinerary. Here are their stories.


JAKE RAULERSON
Position: Offensive tackle
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 250
High school: Celina (Texas)
Rating: Four stars (No. 6 offensive tackle and No. 51 overall prospect)
College: Texas
Seeking spring training

Celina (Texas) offensive tackle Jake Raulerson already has the high ranking and major-conference offers that many of his peers are seeking. He's the No. 51 overall recruit in the junior class and became the first Class of 2013 player to commit to Texas.

So why is he still participating in camps? Raulerson sees it as his version of spring practice.

The University Interscholastic League in Texas only allows spring practice for the state's Class 4A and 5A schools. Celina, a 3A program, doesn't have any formal spring workouts.

But even though he can't train with his high school team, Raulerson still has plenty of opportunities to improve his skill set. He performed at the Dallas Nike Camp in late March and will enter the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge next month in Atlanta.

"I don't have spring ball," Raulerson said, "so this is all I get to do.''

The camps should help Raulerson recover from some off-field issues as he prepares for his senior season. Raulerson missed three weeks of training while getting his tonsils removed and lost 20 pounds in the process.

"I'm still not at a point where I need to be," Raulerson said. "I'm trying as hard as I can to get back in that shape."

Raulerson, who committed to Texas on Feb. 3, was still recovering from his surgery when he attended the Nike Camp.

"He definitely was a little bit different than he normally is," Rivals.com Texas recruiting analyst Brian Perroni said. "He didn't go through a lot of the position drills, but he did do one-on-ones and played a little bit on the offensive line and defensive line. He wanted to go against the best guys and still more than held his own."

Now that he's regained his weight, Raulerson is eager to showcase his skills again in Atlanta next month.

"I love his competitive spirit," Perroni said. "When he was invited to the Five-Star Challenge, he was wondering what other offensive linemen and defensive linemen were going to be there that he's going to go against. He wants to test himself against the best.''

The camps also allowed Raulerson to get to know some of his future teammates. The list of 2013 Texas commitments who joined Raulerson at the Nike camp included Lancaster defensive end Daeshon Hall, Dallas Jesuit wide receiver Jake Oliver, Fort Worth Arlington Heights defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, Belton tight end Durham Smythe, Whitewright quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and Houston Cypress Falls wide receiver Jacorey Warrick.

Swoopes, Sealy wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, Bastrop cornerback Antwuan Davis and Cypress Woods outside linebacker Deoundrei Davis - all Texas commitments - are expected to join Raulerson at the Rivals 100 Five-Star Challenge.

"Talking to guys like Tyrone Swoopes and watching and seeing how they're doing and getting to know them better has helped a lot," Raulerson said. "It will pay off in the long run."


CHRIS HAWKINS
Position: Cornerback
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 170
High school: Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.)
Rating: Four stars (No. 9 cornerback and No. 159 overall prospect)
College: USC
Looking out for No. 1

Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High's Chris Hawkins is ranked as the nation's No. 9 cornerback. As far as Hawkins is concerned, that's eight spots too low.

"What makes me go to these camps is my will and desire to be No. 1 at my position," Hawkins said. "I want to be known as the No. 1 corner in the nation."

No matter how much Hawkins accomplishes, he keeps setting his goals higher.

The Rivals250 prospect selected USC over Stanford on April 1 after receiving a national offer list that also included the likes of Florida, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.

Instead of settling things down after committing, Hawkins remains as busy as ever. He participated in the IMG Madden 7-on-7 West Regional in Redondo Beach, Calif. He was in the Passing Down SoCal Elite 7-on-7 Regional at Fullerton, Calif. He will make a cross-country trip next month to enter the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta.

His work is paying off. At each of the 7-on-7 events, Hawkins solidified his reputation as a top shutdown corner.

"He's ultra-competitive and surprisingly athletic," Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said. "He doesn't look like the most athletic kid when he's just walking around on the field, but once he starts playing, he always beats receivers to the ball. He has good vision when the quarterback throws the ball, and he never really gets beat on any play.''

That type of attitude caught the attention of USC's coaching staff.

But even though he's already made his college decision, Hawkins believes his work isn't done.

"People know me as the No. 9 cornerback," Hawkins said. "I think that's too far back for me and my standards. I want to be known as the No. 1 cornerback in the nation."

He continues to make a compelling argument.

Hawkins at least has made a case that he ranks among the top cornerbacks in the West. The only West Coast cornerback currently ranked ahead of him is Westlake (Calif.) Westlake Village's Dashon Hunt, who has made a soft verbal commitment to UCLA.

Now that he has made his case at a couple of California events, Hawkins is eager to show what he can do on the East Coast.

"The thing I like most about him is he's competitive," Gorney said. "He'll go anywhere to compete. He never misses any tournaments or camps. He always wants to prove he's the top cornerback in California. He's consistently done that this spring. He's really making a statement to move up the rankings."


QUINTON POWELL
Position: Outside linebacker
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 190
High school: Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland
Rating: Four stars (No. 18 outside linebacker)
College: Florida
Proving his versatility

Quinton Powell has made a name for himself as a defensive end at Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland, where played on a line that also featured 2012 Rivals100 prospect and USC signee Leonard Williams last season.

Although Powell has proved his pass-rushing skills time and time again, he also understands that his future is at outside linebacker. So even though Powell already is a four-star prospect who committed to the University of Florida on Feb. 18, he still entered camp season with something to prove.

"I wanted to prove I can play both with my hand in the dirt and that I have the ability to drop into coverage,'' Powell said.

Powell said he'd heard plenty of doubts about his pass-coverage skills. Much of the skepticism came from his peers.

"A lot of them say, 'He can't play in coverage,' and things of that nature," Powell said. "[They'd say], 'Why is Florida recruiting you?' It made me work harder to show I did have that ability."

There aren't nearly as many doubts about him now.

Powell shared the linebacker MVP award at the Rivals/VTO camp in Winter Park, Fla. He also participated in an IMG Madden 7-on-7 event in Bradenton, Fla. Throughout the spring, he has shown pass-coverage abilities he rarely has to utilize in high school.

"He looks like a natural back there," Rivals.com Florida recruiting analyst Chris Nee said. "He's very comfortable. He does a good job getting in and out of his cuts. He has good acceleration. ... I thought at the Florida VTO he was by far the best linebacker on the field.''

That's what made this spring so important to Powell.

Powell already has proved he's an elite pass-rushing defensive end at the high school level, but he isn't big enough to play that position in college. Powell currently is listed on the Rivals.com database as 6 feet and 190 pounds. While he certainly could add 30-35 pounds after arriving in college, Powell is best suited to play linebacker at the next level.

This spring represented his best chance to show all the skills he'll need for his future position.

"I'm not sure this year in high school he'll be used as a linebacker," Nee said. "We might once again see him lining up as a defensive end and rushing off the edge and using his speed, which is a great quality he has and something he's been very good at doing for years. But when he reaches Florida or wherever he ends up ultimately - right now obviously he's committed to Florida - when he ends up there, he's going to stand up. He's going to be a linebacker.

"You want to know if a guy who should be an outside linebacker has the capability of playing laterally to the sidelines and dropping back and keeping up with a running back or tight end as they go down the field.''

Now we know.


DANNY ETLING
Position: Quarterback
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 200
High school: Terre Haute (Ind.) South
Rating: Three stars
College: Purdue
Wanting that fourth star

Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo quarterback Danny Etling hadn't really thought much about his recruiting ranking before. Now he's eager to earn a fourth star.

The coaches at his future school emphasized its importance.

"Purdue kind of showed me if I could go to these camps and get my ranking up, it would kind of help with recruiting and everything," Etling said.

The idea is that the presence of a four-star quarterback recruit in Purdue's class might persuade other prospects to hop aboard. Etling, currently a three-star prospect, just might give Purdue a chance to test that theory out.

Etling boosted his stock quite a bit with impressive performances at Elite 11 camps in Dallas and Columbus. Morris committed to Purdue on April 17, after the Dallas event but before his breakout performance in Columbus.

At the Columbus camp, he gave Michigan-bound four-star prospect Shane Morris of Warren (Mich.) De La Salle quite a challenge in the competition to determine the event's MVP. Morris eventually received the honor, but Etling proved his point.

"He's a great-sized kid," Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. "He's all of 6-3, really thick. He looks like he can certainly take a punishing and probably get out and move on his own. He has the size component. He has very clean mechanics. His throwing motion, he has a nice and quick delivery. I was very impressed with his footwork. He gets into his drops very quickly and stays balanced. From a technical standpoint, he's very, very clean and well ahead of the curve.''

Etling's performance in these two camps has caused a dramatic change in the way he's regarded. Etling's high school team went 3-7 last fall. Even though he had some offers, Etling didn't think he was garnering much attention.

"Nobody really knew who I was until after I went to these camps," Etling said. "I kind of wanted to prove myself in a sense. I'm going to be a Big Ten quarterback. I feel like I wasn't quite getting the recognition I thought I deserved.''

He sure is getting it now.

Etling made quite a case in Columbus that he merits that fourth star that Purdue's coaches apparently wanted. The good news for Purdue is that Etling's rise could draw other recruits to the Boilers. The bad news is that it also already has caused rival schools to pay more attention to Etling.

"I thought committing would kind of seal the deal and that nobody else would talk to me, but it's just kind of amped it up for me," said Etling, a cousin of former Purdue linebacker Joe Holland. "They want to know how strong I am [in my commitment]. I feel pretty strong. I would say as long as Purdue doesn't do anything to make me decommit, I'm pretty sold on Purdue.''


EVAN ENGRAM
Position: Tight end
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 207
High school: Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove
Rating: Unranked
College: Undecided
Needing more offers

All but one of the prospects we've profiled in this story were three-star or four-star recruits with verbal commitments to major-conference programs.

Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove tight end Evan Engram is the exception.

Engram didn't have a single offer from a college program - FBS or FCS - before participating in the New Level Athletics Elite 7v7 and the Rivals.com/VTOSports Elite 100 Georgia camp this spring.

"Over my past three years in high school, I've kind of been flying under the radar," Engram said. "I think I have the talent to get out there and compete with the top talent in the country. I just wanted to get out there and showcase those talents. I think I did that. I think I raised my stock."

He sure did.

At both events, Engram continually showcased the type of pass-catching ability that could help increase his profile.

"He can stretch the field nicely," Rivals.com Southeast recruiting analyst Keith Niebuhr said. "He runs smooth routes. And because of his size, the quarterback can put it in places where other guys can't get it. He can go up and get the ball. He's got a great set of hands. He's really a smooth receiver. He's a tight end, but he runs routes like a receiver.''

Engram's performance helped him earn a couple of offers from FBS newcomer South Alabama and FCS program Furman. But he still wanted more. Engram was working toward an offer from an SEC or an ACC school.

That finally arrived last week when Wake Forest came through with an offer.

"It was huge, just to get recognition or an offer from a BCS school like that - Wake Forest - with their success in football," Engram said. "It was really big for my coaches, my teammates and my family. I was very excited."

Engram plans to continue working the camp circuit this summer in hopes of landing more major-conference offers. He plans to decide on a school midway through his senior season.

He just might have a few more options than he ever could have imagined.

"You can either get exposed at these things, or you can rise above the competition," Engram said. "I think I went out there and did what I could do. It ended up being a great thing for me.''


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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Rivals.com/VTO Sports Tour: Best of the DBs
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