NEW ORLEANS — After a competitive day at New Orleans' Joe W. Brown Memorial Park, five athletes added their names to the growing list of competitors who will compete at The Opening finals, set July 5-10 in Beaverton, Oregon. That list is now 63 strong.
The five athletes—running back Cam Akers, safety Todd Harris, wide receiver Devonta Smith and offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and Nick Brahms—headlined a group of more than 400 athletes hoping to earn the summer trip. Here are some of the best stories of the day from the event:
2 OLs highlight event, 1 without player rating
Of the five invited to The Opening, two were offensive linemen. From a recruiting rankings perspective, on paper, the two entered Sunday's competition on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
On one hand, you had Alex Leatherwood, an Alabama commit and the nation's No. 9 offensive tackle. Leatherwood is listed via 247Sports' composite rankings as a 4-star offensive lineman. On the other hand, you had Nick Brahms, a player with 30-plus reported offers, but someone who not only wasn't ranked but also didn't have a composite rating as of early Sunday evening.
Ratings—or the lack thereof—never really bothered Brahms, he said following the competition. The composite rankings, per 247Sports, "compiles rankings and ratings listed in the public domain by the major media recruiting services, creating the industry's most comprehensive and unbiased prospect and team rankings."
Brahms said he was unsure why he didn't have a composite rating, but after Sunday, all that mattered was getting an invitation to compete against the elite athletes who did have ratings.
"It feels real good; it's amazing," Brahms said. "I've been working hard since freshman year or eighth grade to get to this moment. I'm looking forward to the season and everything coming up."
Brahms and Leatherwood both were impressive during linemen one-on-one battles. Leatherwood held things down at left tackle, while Brahms made an impression playing right guard.
"I came to put in work, and I came to be dominant," Leatherwood said. "I got the results. It feels good."
Mississippi's No. 1 recruit records 2nd-highest rating
There's a reason why 4-star running back Cam Akers is the top-ranked player in the state of Mississippi and the nation's No. 3 running back. He stays in the proverbial lab, perfecting his body, honing his skills and constantly tweaking his craft.
The extra work paid dividends Sunday, as Akers was invited to The Opening following an impressive showing not only in one-on-one competition but also in skills competition. His Sunday rating of 141.33—the second-highest rating of the 2016 circuit—caught the eyes of The Opening's representatives, and he was able to punch his ticket to Oregon.
"It's definitely a dream come true. It definitely shows that hard work does pay off," said Akers, who, at 5'11" and 212 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, completed the 20-yard shuttle in 4.09 seconds, threw the power ball 40 feet and recorded a 40.6 vertical jump. "I've been training really hard for this. It's a blessing."
A former Alabama commit, Akers said he is "wide open" with his recruiting process after decommitting from the Crimson Tide in March. He showed up to The Opening wearing an Ohio State hat and Georgia gloves. Both schools, as well as Arkansas, Ole Miss and others have extended offers.
For now, Akers is focused on getting better to showcase his skills at The Opening. He said he will continue working with his trainer and continue being someone who spends multiple hours in the weight room.
"Praying and working, that's what helped me get here," he said. "That, and just doing what I'm supposed to do."
Rich Rod on hand to watch son, Arizona QB commit
Arizona commit Rhett Rodriguez is a 3-star quarterback who attends Catalina Foothills High School just outside of Tucson, Arizona. He also is a native of New Orleans and made a trip back home for the first time in several years.
He's also the son of Arizona Wildcats head football coach Rich Rodriguez, who was a proud dad in the stands watching his son compete for a chance to attend the Elite 11 finals this summer in Los Angeles. Rhett has been an Arizona commit since January.
The elder Rodriguez said it's been fun watching his son mature into a college-bound quarterback. He also said he's been very upfront with making sure his son understands the recruiting process, even as an Arizona commit.
"It's kind of unique when you have a son who's a potential college player," Rich Rodriguez said. "He's grown up around it, and I think a lot of times, coaches' kids understand it more than others. But you still want to educate him on the process. As I told him, you want to make sure you're doing everything right so there are no negatives on the resume.
"Academics, work habits, leadership ... especially if you're at a position like quarterback, you want to do the right things. I'm proud of him. He's done all the right things and has had a great high school career. With one year left, I think he's primed for his best year."
Rhett Rodriguez is listed via 247Sports' composite rankings as a dual-threat quarterback. Per MaxPreps, he threw for 2,503 yards, 20 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 12 games as a junior for Catalina Foothills. He also rushed for 624 yards and 14 touchdowns.
4-star Harris the lone DB selected from NOLA event
Todd Harris remembers watching athletes get invited to The Opening at last year's New Orleans regional. He also remembers the feeling he had when he didn't hear his name called for an invitation to Oregon.
That was enough motivation for him to come back this year and compete. In the end, Harris, a 4-star athlete, a top-60 overall player and the nation's No. 4 safety, earned his stripes and punched his ticket.
"I saw guys get invited last year, and I kept saying, 'I can be in those guys' shoes,'" Harris said. "This year, I rested my body, and I came out and competed. Good things pay off."
Harris was a nuisance in one-on-one competition throughout Sunday, and he performed well in warm-up drills and seven-on-seven play. He was the only defensive back selected to compete at The Opening on Sunday—something he takes pride in.
"I just can't wait to ball," he said. "I was praying the whole time for it. It's amazing."
The Opening alum offers advice to 2017s
Shyheim Carter was a part of The Opening festivities last year. The Alabama signee was on hand Sunday taking in all the action.
He also was reminiscing.
"It's very different being on this side of it," said Carter, the nation's No. 9 cornerback and No. 71 overall player in the 2016 class. "I wish I was out there again."
Carter watched the hundreds of athletes fight for limited invitations to play in Oregon, and while he watched, he gave some advice that he said helped him as he was looking to not only improve as an athlete but also play for the coveted golden ticket.
Carter also gave advice to athletes on recruiting. He originally committed to the Crimson Tide at the end of his sophomore year on July 15, 2014, but decommitted just before the start of his senior on Aug. 10, 2015, to weigh his options. He ultimately recommitted to Alabama on national signing day.
"Go out and compete," he said. "You have some of the best players around the country come to New Orleans just to compete and get an invite to The Opening. That's the main goal."
Carter continued: "Don't commit to a school too early. You want to weigh your options until you feel comfortable knowing where you want to be. Take your time with your recruitment."
Carter was in attendance as an Opening alum, as was Kristian Fulton, an LSU signee. Fulton was the nation's No. 2 cornerback and No. 21 overall player in the 2016 class.
Additional highlights from Sunday
Speed galore and the multiple highlight-reel catches were among the topics of discussion once The Opening New Orleans regional concluded.
To start the day, The Opening had its "Fastest Man" race, pitting those with the fastest times in the 40-yard dash testing. The race included running back Caleb Jolivette, who won the Houston regional's race after running the 40 in 4.35 seconds.
It was Travis Etienne Jr., however, who stole the show. Etienne, a 3-star running back with a dozen reported offers, ran the fastest time of the camp, recording a 4.43-second 40, and then won a five-player race.
Outstanding catches seemed to dominate the day. One of those catches belonged to Devonta Smith, who ultimately earned an invitation to The Opening with his play. In red-zone drills, Smith made a leaping catch over a defender where it appeared he took away a potential interception.
While that catch was great, the one that arguably received the most oohs and aahs came from Gregory Clayton. The 2018 receiver from Lutcher, Louisiana, shook his defender and then made a remarkable one-handed catch.
Clayton has early looks from in-state FCS schools McNeese State and Nicholls State.
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles