Defensive back Denzel Fisher of Compton Centennial has breakout performance at 2013 L.A. Nike Football Training Camp. Defensive lineman Rasheem Green of Gardena Serra uses standout performance at Nike SPARQ Combine to earn invite and turn heads at NFTC.
By Ronnie Flores
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Redondo Beach, Calif. — There has been a Nike Football Training Camp in Los Angeles for 16 consecutive years and though the format of the event and the publicity surrounding it has changed over the years, its purpose remains the same. For one afternoon, elite football players from around the country — regardless of socioeconomic background, high school team success or exposure to top-notch coaching — are given equal opportunity to test, train and compete with their peers.
One player whose high school hasn’t enjoyed much success over the years is defensive back Denzel Fisher of Compton Centennial. The Apaches are overshadowed in their own backyard by crosstown Dominguez and traditional powers such as Carson and Long Beach Poly. On this day, however, nobody overshadowed the lanky and rangy defensive back who earned the praises of his position coaches and peers alike.
Possessing solid technique and long arms normally seen on budding basketball players, the 6-foot-1, 165-pound Fisher blanketed receivers and batted away downfield passes with ease. Not well-known around the state beforehand, other defensive backs vouched for Fisher’s ability before the start of one-on-one repetitions. When those were completed, there were no dissenters.
“I came in confident in my ability and I always do my thing when I get out there,” said Fisher, who reportedly carries a 3.0 GPA and lists UCLA as his early college favorite. “My father is 6-foot-4 and about 245 pounds, so I’m confident I will fill out.”
One defensive back who already has filled out and has the look and demeanor of an FBS Conference defender is Iman Marshall. Only a junior-to-be, the 6-foo-1, 186-pound Marshall is a natural on-field leader and was one of the defensive backs vouching for Fisher’s ability.
Long Beach Poly’s best cornerback last season as a 10th-grader when the Jackrabbits won the CIF Southern Section Pac-Five title, Marshall (who goes by the nickname “Biggie”) passes the eye-ball test and lead NFTC DB coach Mike Fletcher feels Marshall could develop into a strong safety down the line. His off-season work ethic has been noted to Cal-Hi Sports by longtime Long Beach Poly defensive backs coach Doc Moye.
“I want to be known as one of the best ever at Long Beach Poly,” said Marshall, who is fielding offers from all over the country but is open in his recruitment. “If you’re one of the best at Poly, then you’ll be known nationally. I feel like I’m a leader and this (Nike Camp) is an extension of me working out with college and pro players.”
Marshall had some memorable duels with wide receiver Desean Holmes, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior-to-be from Alemany of Mission Hills. Holmes, a compact and explosive athlete, had the highlight grab of the one-on-one sessions. He came up with a spectacular left-handed, one-arm grab in the end zone with Marshall draped all over him.
Other standout defensive backs, a group considered the strongest in recent memory to compete at a L.A. NFTC according to Fletcher and defensive back coach Eugene Jackson, were Naijiel Hale (5-11, 170, 2014) from St. John Bosco of Bellflower, DeMonte King (6-0, 187, 2014) of Los Alamitos, and Chandler Hawkins (5-11, 175, 2014), also of St. John Bosco. King ripped off a 4.16 in the 20-yard shuttle and Hawkins had a couple of interceptions during one-on-ones.
Standout Emerges From State Power
While Fisher comes from a school not traditionally known for its football prowess, another relative unknown emerged from the defending CIF Division II state champions. Serra of Gardena was well-represented at the L.A. NFTC, but one player who came into the weekend without a reputation outside the Cavaliers’ locker room was 6-foot-5, 269-pound defensive lineman Rasheem Green.
Green used a standout performance at Saturday’s Nike SPARQ Combine to earn an invite to Sunday’s NFTC and did not disappoint. His marks in the testing protocols were among the best of the 1,570 participants at the Nike SPARQ Combine and he actually improved those marks when he tested again at the NFTC. Green lowered his time in the 40-yard dash from 5.07 to 4.93, improved his 20-yard shuttle from 4.94 to 4.66 and his highest marks on Sunday were 39 feet in the Power Ball Toss and a 31.4 inch vertical jump good for a 97.47 SPARQ Rating.
“I want to get schools to know me as both a good high school player and a good recruit,” said Green. “I learned some new techniques and learned how to compete. I think I did well.”
A more well-known teammate, 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior-to-be Dwight Williams, was awarded MVP amongst linebackers. Lead linebacker coach Chris Gizzi also raved about the ability of Serra’s John Houston Jr. (6-3, 198, 2015).
“I love his athleticism and potential; both are off the charts,” Gizzi said. “He (Houston Jr.) has a smoothness you just can’t teach and I think he could eventually be a 240-pound player with the same abilities.”
Other NFTC Standouts
Although the linebacker corps was considered average overall, there were plenty of quality players across the line of scrimmage among the backs. The position MVP could have gone to any of three running backs, but the honor was eventually awarded to Royce Freeman, a physical specimen from Imperial High School in Imperial County located in the far Southeast portion of the state.
Despite playing against small school competition, Freeman is a big-time individual talent. Not only is his size and raw strength imposing, he also displayed solid footwork in drills. He doesn’t possess a lot of wiggle in the open field, but his overall strengths far outweigh any potential weaknesses he may have in space. Last season, Freeman was a first-team all-state underclass running back by Cal-Hi Sports, which came after he was an all-state sophomore.
Freeman’s 110.58 SPARQ Rating (4.71 in the 40, 4.09 20-yard shuttle, 38-foot Power Ball toss, 32.4 inch vertical jump) at the NFTC was 12 points higher than the next running back.
Three of the four highest SPARQ Ratings recorded at the NFTC were turned in by wide receivers. The only mark to best Freeman’s was the 112.14 recorded by Jonah Trinnaman from American Fork of Highland, Utah. He ran 4.51 in the 40-yard dash, had a 4.34 20-yard shuttle, tossed the Power Ball 36 feet and recorded a 41.1 inch vertical jump.
The third and fourth best SPARQ Ratings also came from out-of-state wide receivers.
2013 L.A. Nike Camp Position MVPs
Offensive Line — Damien Mama (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) 6-4, 352 (2014)
Defensive Line — Ainuu Taua (Lompoc) 6-0, 293 (2014)
Linebackers — Dwight Williams (Serra, Gardena) 6-1, 210 (2014)
Running Backs — Royce Freeman (Imperial) 6-0, 220 (2014)
Defensive Backs — Denzel Fisher (Centennial, Compton) 6-1, 165 (2014)
Wide Receivers — Christian Kirk (Saguaro, Scottsdale, Ariz.) 5-10, 187 (2015)
Quarterbacks — Kyle Allen (Desert Mountain, Scottsdale, Ariz.) 6-3, 192 (2014)
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