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July 15, 2012

Underclassmen Challenge: What We Learned

MORE: Underclassmen Challenge: The Helmerronis

Rivals.com analyst Josh Helmholdt discusses what we learned from the inaugural Rivals Underclassmen Challenge in DeSoto, Texas.

Justifying the hype

The talk in Texas is that the 2014 group of defensive backs will lead the way for the state in the next round of recruiting, and could account for half of the state's top 10 spots in the class. That has been borne out through the number of early scholarships handed out at the position and from the performance of those prospects at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge. Beaumont (Tex.) Ozen's Tony Brown took home a well-deserved MVP honor for the position group, but six of the top eight defensive backs at the Challenge were from the state of Texas and four of those found spots among the top 10 overall defensive performers at the event.

Mansfield (Tex.) Timberview's Edward Paris looks like he will provide a stiff challenge to Brown for top defensive back honors in the state of Texas for 2014, but Lewisville (Tex.) Hebron's Jamal Adams made a case for being in that conversation as well. The most impressive aspect of the 2014 Texas defensive back group, though, is its depth and we saw that first-hand in DeSoto.

Recruitment not done

Few were under the illusion that Palm Bay (Fla.) Bayside defensive tackle Travonte Valentine's recruitment was finished after the 6-foot-3, 283-pound prospect committed to Louisville on May 31. But any doubts that Valentine would continue to look around were addressed when he showed up at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge sporting a South Carolina hat and talked about taking additional visits. The hat play paid off when the Gamecocks offered him a scholarship just days later.

Valentine said he was 80 percent sure he would end up at Louisville when all was said and done, but was also listing a top five that included the Cardinals, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and Alabama. Louisville struck a chord early for Valentine, but they have 18-plus months left to hold other teams at bay and keep the standout defensive tackle on their commitment list.

Centers of attention

It is rare that a group of centers jump out as the top performers among offensive linemen. Usually long and athletic offensive tackles fare best and attract the most attention during 1-on-1 repetitions, but the group of center prospects at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge were unusually deep and fared better than their guard or tackle counterparts as a whole.

Three true offensive center prospects who specifically stood out were Nacogdoches, Texas' Jacob Bragg, Woodbury (Minn.) East Ridge's J.C. Hassenauer and Van Alstyne, Texas' Connor Mayes. Additionally, Lincoln (Neb.) Southeast's D.J. Foster is definitely an interior lineman at the next level and did work out at times from the center position. Center is not a particularly deep position in the class of 2013 nationally, but teams looking for someone to snap the football in the next couple classes have some strong options in the 2014 class.

Bar set high

Based on what we saw in DeSoto on July 8, and the number of offers handed out in the state, Texas' wide receiver corps is not as deep as their counterparts in the defensive backfield for the class of 2014. Mount Pleasant's KD Cannon came in as the state's most heavily recruited wide receiver in the 2014 class, and he left the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge with an even greater gap between himself and the next tier of Texas receiver prospects.

Cannon's quickness and route-running allowed him to create separation from even the most talented defensive backs at the camp, and he caught everything thrown his way on the day. Despite his dominance in earning Challenge MVP honors, Cannon still has areas of his game that will improve as he matures. He has room to add weight to his frame and become a more formidable physical presence, which will complement his speed and make him that much more difficult for cornerbacks to check at the line of scrimmage.

No disappointment

The three biggest name defensive line prospects coming into the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge were Palm Bay (Fla.) Bayside's Travonte Valentine, New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr's Gerald Willis III and Wauchula (Fla.) Hardee's Keyon Brown, and those three stood out as the class of the defensive line group.

The 6-foot-3, 283-pound Valentine is ideally sized for the three-technique spot in college, and he physically dominated all but one of the offensive linemen he faced last Sunday. Willis is a big defensive end prospect at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds as a rising junior, but he is explosive enough to stay on the edge. Brown is the smallest of the group at 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds, and he is pure speed rusher who showed surprising strength and a nice array of pass rush moves.



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