How Owen Pappoe Became Youngest Recruit Ever to Earn Invite to The Opening

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystJune 10, 2016

Credit: 247Sports

Months before his first varsity tackle, immense expectations surrounded Georgia football standout Owen Pappoe.

Now, a historic invitation to America's premier prospect showcase should set the bar even higher for this 15-year-old phenom.

The Opening, an elite, invite-only event held annually at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, will feature a rising sophomore for the first time when Pappoe hits the field next month:

The Opening @TheOpening

Congrats to LB Owen Pappoe (@opfreak15) Grayson (GA) on being invited to #TheOpening Finals! #GOTOPEN https://t.co/ilEglx5OmS

Despite expansive accolades about his skill set, Pappoe didn't anticipate the development was even a possibility.

"I was very surprised. No way was I expecting this," he told Bleacher Report. 

Frankly, neither was The Opening staff.

"It definitely wasn't something we were looking to do, in terms of inviting a freshman, but his resume as we got to the end of the year was certainly very strong," Student Sports president Brian Stumpf said. 

Each summer, the most impressive college football recruits assemble in Beaverton for multiple days of testing, on-field and off-field training and a star-studded seven-on-seven tournament. Event alumni include Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who was the second defensive player selected in the 2016 NFL draft.

Among the 166 top-tier athletes invited to compete July 8-10, only six are underclassmen. In this group, five are headed toward their junior season and aim to eventually emulate recent two-time Opening attendees such as No. 1 overall recruits Rashan Gary (2016 defensive lineman) and Najee Harris (2017 running back).

And then there's Pappoe, who could potentially become the first of his kind—a three-time competitor.

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"I'm just going out there to do what I do every day—play football," he said. "I'm not really worried about all the older guys who are ranked high because I want to go against the best of the best so I can prove to everyone what I can do."

Pappoe, who lists himself 6'1", 205 pounds, is predominately viewed as an outside linebacker prospect. However, since he remains in early stages of physical development, he understands his future progression may ultimately push him to safety or even defensive end.

We're looking at a prodigious defensive talent who carries more than 30 scholarship offers, could impact all three levels of a game plan and already spearheads a talent-laden attack at Peach State powerhouse Grayson High School.

"He was a very good player on a very good team as a freshman with over 100 tackles," Stumpf said.

Pappoe's rise to prominence occurred much quicker than he ever imagined. Until seventh grade, he viewed himself as a basketball player.

"I've only been playing football for three years so I never thought I'd make it to this point," Pappoe admitted.

He credits youth football coach Kenyatta Watson for convincing him to give the sport a shot. After some initial acclimation, the young playmaker found his groove and hasn't looked back since.

"It was kind of like hitting the ground running," Pappoe said. "I got all the jitters and butterflies out during those first summer practices."

Just a year after his introduction to football, he recorded 50 tackles—21 for loss—with 17 sacks and 16 touchdowns as an eighth-grader, according to Wesley Sinor of AL.com. Intrigue swiftly surfaced among coaching staffs across college football.

During a 10-day stretch in April 2015, when Pappoe was in the process of wrapping up middle school, offers arrived from Auburn, Miami, Boston College and Tennessee.

Still months shy of entering a high school classroom, he became the country's most coveted 2019 football prospect.

"I really didn't let it get into my head," Pappoe said. "It never felt like I needed to prove the offers weren't just all hype. That's not how I looked at it. All I needed to do was play ball."

He created his own hype last fall with a sensational freshman campaign and continued to turn heads on the camp circuit. Pappoe commanded attention from The Opening staff during a March 20 regional camp in Atlanta.

"At the camp we saw him, he was a top 2-3 linebacker in position drills," Stumpf said. "That was a regional camp that ended up producing six other Opening invites at linebacker. He also finished our tour with the highest Nike football athletic rating for a linebacker (128.22)."

Physical measurements and attributes aside, Pappoe approaches the game with the vigor of a veteran. 

"I play very fast, smart and physical," he said. "I'm great in open space. That's one of my best things, open-field tackling. I can come downhill too and make plays, or make an impact against the passing game."

Pappoe can expect college coaches to keep chasing throughout his high school career.
Pappoe can expect college coaches to keep chasing throughout his high school career.Credit: 247Sports

Pappoe undoubtedly faces a lengthy whirlwind of a recruiting process that won't conclude until winter 2019, setting the stage for plenty of travel and countless conversations with several coaches who will change jobs during this duration.

Pappoe reports he's already journeyed to approximately 20 college campuses this year. Though he has high-level interest in various schools, including Miami, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Clemson and Kentucky, don't expect an extremely early outcome here.

"I'm not going to rush into any big decisions," he said. "I was about to come out with a top-five list a couple months ago but I talked to my parents the night before and we decided not to close any opportunities just yet. It's still very early in this process so it's important to take my time with it."

The spotlight will grow even brighter in July when he joins America's elite athletes at The Opening, where some participants are 18 years old. Despite years of hesitation to include someone Pappoe's age, the staff simply couldn't ignore his accomplishments.

"When we factor [season and camp performance] together, again it wasn't something we were looking for, the kid did everything that was asked of him going to a level beyond as a freshman. He earned a spot to come out and compete," Stumpf said.

Pappoe, becoming more comfortable with life as a high-profile prospect, plans to take it all in stride. He has work to do, in Beaverton and beyond.

"I play like I have no offers," Pappoe said. "If you come into a game thinking about how good you are because of all your offers, you're not going to play to the best of your ability. Rankings and offers don't matter on the field so I just give it all I got."

All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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