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Ultimate Guide to Nike's The Opening 2016

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystJuly 4, 2016

Linebacker Dylan Moses is a two-time participant at The Opening.
Linebacker Dylan Moses is a two-time participant at The Opening.Credit: 247Sports

BEAVERTON, Oregon — It's time to head back to "football heaven."

The Opening, an annual showcase featuring 166 top high school prospects, gets underway July 5 at Nike's world headquarters. Premier athletes from across North America will make this pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest for an opportunity to solidify their status as celebrated collegiate recruits.

Action opens with quarterbacks and receivers operating in various offensive settings before players at every position enter the equation July 7, continuing to compete through July 10. Many of those in attendance carry dozens of scholarship offers—some arriving as early as middle school—and each was selected from thousands of competitors at 14 regional camps that spanned from February to May.

This invite-only event has developed into a coveted destination for future college football and NFL stars during recent years. Alumni of The Opening include 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, LSU standout Leonard Fournette and top-five 2016 NFL draft selections Jalen Ramsey and Ezekiel Elliott.

Bleacher Report will provide on-field updates throughout the week, including live video coverage, college commitments and scouting analysis. But first, let's help you prepare for what lies ahead, previewing an array of storylines sure to command attention in Oregon.

Expect Athletic Freaks to Shine in Spotlight

Before footballs begin flying around the pristine fields on Nike’s campus, we’ll get our latest glimpse at which high school stars have fully invested in physical training. The Opening staff will implement combine-like testing July 8, eventually leading to a showdown between top scorers in the Nike Football Ratings Championship.

These tests challenge prospects’ power, speed and agility in a highly competitive setting. The event is broken down into four phases—vertical leap, power ball toss, shuttle run and the 40-yard dash.

Last summer, rising junior receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones took the title with a cumulative score of 149.49 in the championship round. Now considered the country’s top prospect at his position, the uncommitted Cass Tech (Detroit) High School standout has his sights set on a repeat performance.

“I would like to go out there and reclaim my title,” he told B/R after becoming a two-time invitee in May. “I’m just going to have fun. This is a fun football event with the nation’s top prospects. We’re just all out there working and having fun with each other.”

Peoples-Jones, who is considering offers from Michigan, Florida, Ohio State and others, will face plenty of competition for the crown.

Michigan running back commits O'Maury Samuels (142.41) and A.J. Dillon (127.53), running back Cam Akers (141.33), Alabama receiver pledge Tyrell Shavers (138), cornerback Jaylon Johnson (132.41) and running back Darrian Felix (128.76) each posted top-10 overall rating scores during regional testing.

Elite 11 MVP Race Continues

Competition among lauded high school quarterbacks reaches a crescendo at The Opening, where 12 passers will vie for MVP honors. Hundreds attempted to make a strong impression in front of a highly experienced Elite 11 staff during the regional circuit, ultimately resulting in a field of 24 competitors at the Elite 11 finals June 3 to 5 in Los Angeles.

An intense three-day stretch in Southern California allowed coaches to whittle the process down to a dozen passers. Quarterbacks are analyzed and scrutinized based on a diverse package of components, ranging from fundamental skills, physical endurance and mental aptitude.

Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer serves as Elite 11 head coach. Alumni include No. 1 overall NFL draft picks Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford.

"It's an honor to make it to this point," LSU commit Myles Brennan said. "So many members of the Elite 11 fraternity have gone on to do great things. Everyone going to The Opening definitely had to earn their spot."

Members of the 2016 Elite 11 class punched their tickets to Beaverton, where further advanced and arduous drills await. Each seven-on-seven squad at The Opening is assigned a pair of passers for tournament play, where we witnessed recent MVP recipients Shea Patterson (2016 Ole Miss signee) and Blake Barnett (2015 Alabama signee) gain momentum and rise to prominence.

The latest collection includes quarterbacks from 10 different states, with multiple prospects representing Texas and Georgia. This group features the six top-rated passers in 247Sports' composite rankings, though a few dark-horse candidates could threaten preconceived notions and make a run at unanticipated positional MVP honors.

Elite 11 Finalists
NameHigh SchoolRankingRecruitment Status
Hunter JohnsonBrownsburg (IN)No. 1 pro-style QB, No. 17 overallCommitted to Clemson
Dylan McCaffreyValor Christian (CO)No. 2 pro-style QB, No. 22 overallCommitted to Michigan
Tate MartellBishop Gorman (NV)No. 1 dual-threat QB, No. 33 overallCommitted to Ohio State
Jake FrommHouston County (GA)No. 3 pro-style QB, No. 41 overallCommitted to Georgia
Davis MillsGreater Atlanta Christian (GA)No. 4 pro-style QB, No. 55 overallCommitted to Stanford
Tua TagovailoaSt. Louis (HI)No. 2 dual-threat QB, No. 60 overallCommitted to Alabama
Sam EhlingerWestlake (TX)No. 6 dual-threat QB, No. 152 overallCommitted to Texas
Chris RobisonHorn (TX)No. 7 pro-style QB, No. 172 overallCommitted to Oklahoma
Sean CliffordSt. Xavier (OH)No. 8 pro-style QB, No. 199 overallCommitted to Penn State
Jack SearsSan Clemente (CA)No. 10 pro-style QB, No. 205 overallContenders include Duke, Tennessee, UCLA and Utah
Myles BrennanSt. Stanislaus (MS)No. 18 pro-style QB, No. 385 overallCommitted to LSU
Tommy DeVitoDon Bosco Prep (NJ)No. 26 pro-style QB, No. 626 overallCommitted to Syracuse
247Sports composite rankings

Jack Sears is the lone uncommitted recruit of this bunch, while potential future rivalries will be on full display. Among them are Sam Ehlinger (Texas) and Chris Robison (Oklahoma), Tate Martell (Ohio State) and Dylan McCaffrey (Michigan), and Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) and Brennan (LSU).

NFL Players Provide Perspective

The Opening is an outright awesome week for its participants, who not only have a chance to measure themselves against the best of their peers, but also look ahead with the help of professional players. The field is typically swarming with current NFL athletes who take on mentorship roles throughout the week.

During recent years, this group has included Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.

Jamyest williams @Jamy0602

Had a great time gaining knowledge from this guy @RSherman_25 @TheOpening @usnikefootball 🔥🏈👌 http://t.co/vI3oQ3pcnZ

Expect more of the same in 2016, with Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott among confirmed guests.

The former Ohio State star and 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship offensive MVP expressed his enthusiasm for a return to The Opening on Twitter:

Ezekiel Elliott @EzekielElliott

Excited to attend @TheOpening next week. Ready to see all the future Buckeyes ball out.

Retired NFL stars also tend to be prevalent in Beaverton. Legendary Auburn and Oakland Raiders running back Bo Jackson made an appearance in 2014, while three-time Super Bowl champion Willie McGinest (New England Patriots) is a member of The Opening’s defensive coaching staff.

These interactions allow young athletes to more deeply understand the level of dedication required to transition from high school recruit to impact player at the college and professional level. Few developments in Beaverton create more excitement among attendees than when they’re working alongside NFL players previously only seen on television.

Star-Studded Seven-on-Seven Tournament Is Must-See

Things kick up a notch when the weekend arrives, as seven-on-seven action gets underway Saturday morning and caps off Sunday afternoon when a tournament champion claims victory. This is especially exciting for college football fans following along in Oregon or on social media since The Opening staff makes it a point to package members of the same recruiting classes together.

For instance, Team Alpha Pro is loaded with Ohio State pledges, and Team Vapor Speed is heavy on Alabama and Oklahoma commitments. This method enables future teammates to further enhance personal rapport nearly a year before they reunite as newly enrolled freshmen on the college campus of their choice.

It also creates a tremendous peer-recruiting environment. There are no college scouts on Nike’s campus, but committed players annually present sales pitches on behalf of programs in an effort to push other top-tier talent toward hopping on the bandwagon.

Quarterbacks often emerge as the ringleaders of these recruiting efforts, so expect Elite 11 finalists to emphatically target committed and uncommitted athletes alike.

Buckeyes pledge Martell will undoubtedly be delivering a full-court press for 5-star seven-on-seven teammates such as Trevon Grimes (receiver), Jeffrey Okudah (safety/receiver) and close friend Tyjon Lindsey (receiver). Hunter Johnson, a Clemson commit who sits atop composite quarterback rankings, will spend abundant time with Tigers receivers commits Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers.

Recruiting is the game within the game in Beaverton, but there’s a ton of football to be played. The seven-on-seven tournament sets high stakes for all involved, as it’s a major proving ground for those attempting to validate lofty recruiting rankings or rise up the chart.

Which linebackers can truly cover the pass with authority? Can the nation’s most lauded running backs also double as dangerous receiving threats out of the backfield? How will speedy receivers contend with physical defensive backs? Will quarterbacks avoid making the same mistake twice against a myriad coverage looks?

These are the questions we’ll carry into the weekend, and clarity will come as the tournament progresses. If you plan to tune in for B/R’s coverage of The Opening, be sure to make this portion of the event priority viewing.

 

Intensity in the Trenches Reveals The Opening’s Biggest Beasts

While skill-position players battle in a seven-on-seven setting, the competition can be far more revealing when the big boys go to work. The action grows fierce in a hurry when America’s most dominant defensive and offensive linemen inflict fury upon each other.

Some of the week’s most memorable moments will occur in the trenches, where there is no place to hide when your reps arrive in one-on-one scrums. Given the immense skill level and athleticism of these prospects, these drills go well beyond shoving matches.

Coaches challenge linemen with philosophical and fundamental principles that some have never encountered before The Opening. Relying on sheer physicality can be an effective method in high school, but that style of play isn’t sustainable in college, where technical details make all the difference at the point of attack.

Texas tackle Marvin Wilson (uncommitted), California end Jaelan Phillips (UCLA commit), Louisiana tackle Tyler Shelvin (LSU commit) and Georgia edge-rusher Robert Beal (uncommitted) are among top defensive linemen. They'll contend with an offensive line group that features 5-stars Foster Sarell (uncommitted), Wyatt Davis (Ohio State) and Alex Leatherwood (Alabama commit).

Multiple days of violent collisions will culminate in the coaching staff selecting a “Final Five” on both sides of the ball. Texas Tech offensive line pledge Jack Anderson is a rare two-time contender in the trenches. He follows No. 1 overall 2016 recruit Rashan Gary, a freshman Michigan Wolverines defender who head lineman instructor Todd Huber called the best to come through this phase of the event.

"I've always been confident in my abilities, starting as a freshman in high school and getting the college attention early, but it's an honor to compete at The Opening as a younger player," Anderson said.

Jack Anderson returns to Beaverton.
Jack Anderson returns to Beaverton.Credit: Student Sports

Half-Dozen Underclassmen Include Historic Competitor

How difficult is it to earn an invitation to The Opening before your junior season? Among the 166 athletes expected to attend this week, only seven aren’t approaching their final year of high school.

If there’s a surefire way to heighten expectations for an underclassman recruit, this is it. The group features highly pursued 2018 prospects in South Carolina defensive lineman Xavier Thomas, Los Angeles receiver Jalen Hall, Florida cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr., Atlanta offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer, Texas safety BJ Foster and Ohio running back Jaelen Gill.

Each of these young standouts will vie for a return trip next summer, joining elite company in the process. Peoples-Jones, Anderson, running back Najee Harris, offensive tackle Trey Smith, linebacker Dylan Moses and cornerback Jamyest Williams are repeat competitors in 2016.

For the first time ever, there is also the possibility of a three-time attendee. Georgia linebacker Owen Pappoe, a 15-year-old from Grayson High School, will make history as the only rising sophomore selected to The Opening since its conception.

His physical attributes and playmaking skills were impossible to ignore, according to Student Sports president Brian Stumpf.

"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," Stumpf said. "He was a very good player on a very good team as a freshman with over 100 tackles. ... At the camp we saw him, he was a top two-three linebacker in position drills. He also finished our tour with the highest Nike football athletic rating for a linebacker (128.22)."

Pappoe is the youngest participant ever at The Opening.
Pappoe is the youngest participant ever at The Opening.Credit: Student Sports

Pappoe, who stands 6’1”, 205 pounds, reached double-digit scholarship offer totals before his freshman year. He lists Alabama, Miami, Florida State, Georgia and Clemson among schools under serious consideration through early stages of a widespread recruitment process.

If Pappoe holds his own among a group of athletes that includes 18-year-olds, he’ll leave little doubt about all the hype. When 2019 recruiting rankings are released down the line, there’s a strong chance Pappoe will claim the top spot.

Consider The Opening as another breakout opportunity for this Peach State phenom.

"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."

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

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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